The Supremes vs… Everyone Else?
I hear that EVERYONE is up in arms over the way the Supreme Court has ruled on this term’s cases. Conservatives are mad about the rulings on gay rights, liberals feel savaged by the ruling on the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Both are upset about the not ruling in the affirmative or negative on Affirmative Action. Indians are crying foul over an adoption case. All over the country, municipalities are wrinkling their noses over “new” limits on eminent domain laws. Governors had a large part of their executive authority executed, thanks to an overlooked ruling. Felons woke up with a hangover, realizing that they’re never going to be free of the Department of Justice. And in what may be a first, the Court managed to upset both liberals and conservatives with a pair of anti-discrimination decisions.
Yes, there was something in this term to make EVERYONE upset with the 9 Justices. Everyone, that is, except libertarians. We’re actually smiling at the end of this term. Essentially, the Supremes ruled that trying to regulate all of these social wedge issues are nothing more than a waste of EVERYONE’s time and effort.
The reason for this is actually easy to understand, if you look at the Court’s makeup. There are four staunch liberals, three staunch conservatives, one constitutional conservative and one originalist. If you’re unfamiliar with the terms, here’s a layman’s way of defining it:
- Justices Thomas, Alito and Scalia are the staunch conservatives. They generally rule for limiting government authority, except on social issues – where expansive government is perfectly acceptable in promoting socially conservative values.
- Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan are staunch liberals. They generally rule for expansive government, period. Unless the expansive government happens to directly threaten a liberal social value.
- Justice Kennedy is the constitutional conservative. He actually reads the text of the Constitution and tries to see where the issue lies within the document. Once upon a time, this is what social conservatives swore they wanted (remember the arguing over “strict constructionalism” in the late ’90s?). Then Kennedy started making decisions that weren’t socially conservative. That narrative is almost never heard anymore.
- Chief Justice Roberts is the originalist. He weighs precedent to see how past Justices have interpreted the Constitution and apply that to modern cases.
So, how does this wind up with a more or less libertarian court? In almost any case involving a socially divisive issue, there will be four votes for the liberal position and three for the conservative, even before oral arguments. This leaves Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy as the deciding votes on these cases. Justice Roberts tendency to avoid making new law from the bench means he generally votes with the conservative justices. That leaves Justice Kennedy, who is more concerned with actually applying Constitutional principles to the case being decided.
This dynamic gave us what we’ve seen this term. Kennedy voted with the majority in every decision, except for Hollingsworth v. Perry. In that case (the punt on Prop 8), there was a rare majority of conservative and liberal justices who voted 6-3 that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to bring the case. Kennedy, in his dissenting opinion, wrote that he believed the court had standing to decide the case regardless of the plaintiffs and that remanding it to lower courts only ensured the case would return later (he’s probably right, too).
Most commentators like to portray Justice Kennedy as a Reagan conservative who has surprised conservative lawmakers by often voting with the Court’s liberal bloc. I often wonder where these people have been for the past 30 years. While it is true that he was nominated by President Reagan in 1987, anyone who has cursorily reviewed his prior rulings would understand that his primary concern has been in determining the limits of government power. Among his 9th Circuit rulings can be found ideas like “indifference to personal liberty is but the precursor of the state’s hostility to it” and “a zone of liberty, a zone of protection, a line that’s drawn where the individual can tell the Government, ‘Beyond this line you may not go.’” These are the same principles that define the libertarian cause. Given that the “swing vote” of the Supreme Court espouses libertarian views, why is anyone shocked when the courts decisions follow the same?
For all practical purposes, the political result is that neither liberals nor conservatives are going to be terribly happy with this court. Which is how the Court’s decisions should affect popular opinion. After all, is the Supreme Court is supposed to be an independent arbiter on the Constitutionality of the laws passed by the Legislative branch and the regulations created by the Executive. It isn’t supposed to stick a collective finger in the air to determine which way the political winds are blowing.
What a difference 48 hours can make
So, despite an economy that’s in the toilet and a solid 40% of the nation never buying your policies, you’ve managed to ride your personal popularity to a slight lead in the polls. Just to make matters more scintillating, the opposition seems intent on NOT winning the upcoming election. After all, how else do you explain their choice for nominee, a man who epitomizes many of the things most Americans personally despise? On top of that, the nominee has all the personality of flat white paint and switches positions so often even he doesn’t know which side of the fence to sit on.
If you didn’t know better, though, you would swear that Barack Obama has looked aver these gifts and decided he just doesn’t want to be President next year. It’s the only thing that makes any sense at this point. Otherwise, why would he be doing his best Jimmy Carter routine with less than six weeks until election day?
I’ve been traveling quite a bit over the past 48 hours. In a way, it’s probably a good thing – otherwise this blog would’ve blown up form all the posts. But to recap the events (in case you were hiding under a rock)
- On the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, mobs attacked the US Embassy in Cairo and the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. As it turns out, the attacks now look like the work of al-Quaeda (what a surprise) and it also looks like the CIA and Homeland Security tried to alert the administration and the State Department of the threat 48 hours in advance. The response? The administration ordered the Marine guards in Cairo disarmed and State relied on local security forces in Benghazi. The Embassy in Cairo was stormed and the American flag burned. In Benghazi, the US ambassador and three of his employees were murdered.
- It’s also come to light that President Obama hasn’t sat in on any of his security briefings since September 5th. I guess between campaigning, raising money, golfing and shooting hoops, he doesn’t have any time left for mundane things like, oh – doing his job?
- Yesterday, the Federal Reserve announced that the economy is booming along so well that it’s now launching QE3. Unlike QE1 and 2, this time it’s open ended. The Federal Reserve will print upwards of $85 billion a month (that’s roughly 6% of the total economy) until unemployment reaches some magical number, now assumed to be 7.5%. Of course, Ben Bernanke could change his mind and decide on some different number later. Regardless of how you feel about this latest round of quantitative easing (I’ll probably write more on it later), it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the President’s fiscal policies.
- Yesterday, before the ink was even dry on the court opinion that the NDAA is unconstitutional, the Justice Department had already filed an appeal. Apparently, although holding foreign nationals and countries accountable for their actions isn’t part of this administrations repertoire, detaining American citizens indefinitely without a writ of habeus corpus is perfectly acceptable.
- Since the original attacks in Cairo and Benghazi, US Embassies in Yemen, Morocco, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, Pakistan and even London have been scenes of mob violence, while riot police and demonstrators have had a running battle in Cairo.
- And today, the President’s spokesman said (I kid you not), “This is not a case of protests directed at the United States.”
That last bit was the final straw. The Obama administration is obviously intent on throwing in the towel (and to Hell if he throws in the American people along with it). The question is, is Mitt Romney enough of a candidate to pick it up and run with it? I’m still not convinced he is. Until then, I’ll continue to support the only candidate on the ballot I see supporting American principles, values and commitments: Gary Johnson
Mike Rowe: the First Four Years are the Hardest…
You may be familiar with Mike Rowe from his show on the Discovery Channel, Dirty Jobs. Even if you’ve never seen the show (in which case I suggest you catch an episode), you’ve probably seen him shilling cars and trucks for Ford or paper towels for Viva. And if you watch ABC’s World News then you hear his voice every night – he’s the announcer during the opening and commercial breaks.
What you may not realize is that he is also a serious advocate for vocational training. His foundation, mikeroweWORKS, is dedicated to making education in skilled trades something other than a remedial course of study. He understands a point I made several weeks back, that a four-year degree is not the best path for every student. Or for our nation’s future.
Before you say that of course our nation still values the skilled trades as highly as a college education, ask yourself how you would react if your son or daughter announced their intention of becoming a truck driver after high school. Or a plumber, electrician, farmer, or welder. Even thought they are among both the highest paying and most consistently sought after trades by employers, I doubt it would be greeted with the same enthusiasm as an announcement they wanted to become an astrophysicist or surgeon.
Therein lies a major problem, both for the current economy and the economy of the future. Already the news is full of accounts of college graduates queuing up for job applications in the unskilled trades (think retail worker), simply because there isn’t demand for their skill set. At the same time, there is a desperate need for mechanics, welders, riggers, electricians, plumbers, HVAC techs – all you need to do is pick up the help wanted section of any metro newspaper.
Mr. Rowe understands this problem is a problem. To that end, he’s written an open letter to Mitt Romney. He wrote a similar one to Barack Obama during the least election cycle, but based on the President’s education initiatives it fell on deaf ears. You can read the full letter here, but I wanted to lift one line that I thought exemplified the problem:
“I always thought there something ill-fated about the promise of three million “shovel ready jobs” made to a society that no longer encourages people to pick up a shovel.“
In a nutshell, THAT is the biggest problem with getting our nation back to work today. Many of my conservative friends are adamant about making welfare and unemployment recipients work for their benefit checks. I don’t necessarily disagree with that sentiment. But in a nation that no longer values physical or skilled labor, how likely is a program akin to Roosevelt’s CCC or WPA to succeed?
I’m pretty sure everyone reading this has experienced a bad hangover after a night of too much partying. You wake up with an oversized cotton ball in your mouth, your head is ringing like a fire bell, you have strange cravings for McDonald’s French fries and you can’t seem to move faster than a poorly fed snail. You want to kick yourself. Yeah, the party was awesome (and you still can’t find that missing lamp shade), but man, the hangover is more price than you wanted to pay.
I get the feeling many on the left are feeling something like that today. First, after the euphoria of Bill Clinton’s speech Wednesday night, they had to deal with a less than impressive performance from Barack Obama last night. Either Obama’s speechwriting team needs a shake-up or the President is out of ideas; most of what we heard last night is best summed up as “Hey, I want a do-over!” Most media outlets, including admittedly left-leaning publications like the NY Times and Politico, panned the speech as not one of his best efforts.
Then, along came this morning’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No wonder the president wants a do-over.
By now, you probably read all of the doom-and-gloom reporting about it. Make no mistake, this was a pretty lousy report. But worse than the numbers themselves is what it all means when you actually dig into them a little.
First, the headline numbers: the economy only created 96,000 new positions in August, but the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1%. This should be good news for the President, right? The unemployment rate is dropping (if somewhat unsteadily) and may actually get under the magic 8% mark most pundits think is needed if Mr. Obama is to have a real shot at reelection. And 96,000 new positions is better than no new positions, right?
Well, yes, sort of. For a better picture of why the jobs report is foreshadowing a major problem, see figure 1. This is the raw BLS data for the past year. Before your eyes begin to glaze over, there are three numbers to pay particularly close attention to.
The first number is the increase in the working age population over the past year. The second is the number positions created in the past year. That last one? That’s the number of working age Americans who simply gave up looking for a job in the past year. To put it another way, more of your friends, relatives and neighbors gave up the hope of even finding a job than actually found one. Nearly a million more, in fact. That’s one million American’s who are now dependent on some outside source just for survival, be it a friend, relative or the handout machine that’s become the US government.
Most economists say we need between 110,000 and 175,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with population growth. But when you look at the actual increase in working age population, the average number actually needed is around 330,000. This is very bad news for team Obama, otherwise he could point to the average of 150,000 jobs created over the past year and claim that his policies are working, albeit slowly. But the reality is that his policies are, at best, creating jobs at only half the rate needed to bring the US back to full employment.
This is particularly troubling, given that every other indicator says we should have been creating jobs at a much faster pace over the past 24 months. If you look at hourly wages, those increased by an average of 3 cents per month between March 2010 and June 2012. Although not at the level of increase seen during the Reagan, Clinton or Bush recoveries, it is still stronger than historic wage growth. Worker productivity across all sectors is also nearing an all-time high and produced solid gains during the same period. Taken together, high wage growth and productivity gains always produced significant jumps in employment before – but not now. What could possibly be holding back the “jobs engine”?
The BLS publishes an “Employee Cost Index” on a quarterly basis, and a large part of the answer can be found there. While wages and productivity show considerable growth, the ECI is also growing – in fact, it’s grown by nearly 11% since March 2010. Of that, change only 18% is represented by increased wages and a 12% drop in non-cash benefits (things like health coverage and gym memberships) counterbalances that number. So, where is the additional 10.3% in employee cost coming from? The answer is a combination of regulatory costs and taxes, the results of 3 years of this administration’s ceaseless efforts to tie nearly every industry into a Gordian knot of inefficiency. New regulations and business taxes now exceed the productivity gains made by our nation’s workforce by a 4:1 ratio, effectively wiping out the need to hire. Indeed, those costs are probably now the single biggest impediment to real employment growth our nation faces. After all, if you owned a business, you would need to be looking at explosive growth potential, not just modest growth, before bringing that much excess on board.
Many of my friends on the left insist that breakneck pace of regulations passed by the Obama administration are not having a negative effect on the economy. I submit they’re not only negatively impacting the economy, but giving business owners throughout all 57 50 states a hangover of our own.
Obama’s Amnesty: Two More Cents
On Friday, President Obama shocked most of the country with his latest Executive Order. You know, the one that lit up the blogoshpere – his unilateral decision to stop deporting illegal immigrants who are attending school or served in the military. I figured as long as everyone else was chiming in on the topic, I might as well, too.
Let me begin by admitting that my thoughts on the illegal immigration issue run counter to most people on my side of the political fence. I think it is impractical and probably impossible to deport every single person who migrated to the US outside of the approved immigration policy. Did they break a book full of laws by settling here in that fashion? Sure, and for that I cannot see how any form of reward is proper. I certainly think that anyone who emigrated to the US (legally or otherwise) who engages in unlawful activity should be deported. I’m all for strengthening our border security, up to and including deploying the Army and Air Force with orders to shoot first.
What we do with those who are already here, though, is a much trickier proposition. A big part of the problem is that there really isn’t a way of finding them all: they live mostly in the shadows. There isn’t even reliable data on how many immigrants are here illegally; news reports I’ve read over the past few days use numbers anywhere from 600,000 to 4 million. It’s as much a crap shoot as any statistic you will ever come across. I’ve decided that, essentially, the status quo is probably the best that can be done in their case. Unless they run afoul of the law or ask for social services, we can’t find them. Of course, if they do they should simply be sent packing. But otherwise, I’m content to allow them to stay in their shadow communities.
Often, when thinking in terms of immigration policy and standards, I look at things through my mother and grandmother’s eyes. They arrived here in1959, fresh from the Soviet bloc. As immigrants, they fully understood the challenges faced by other immigrants, regardless of origin, native tongues or anything else. They were both adamantly against illegal immigration, and understandably so. Even as political refugees, they had to go through a battery of tests and pre-qualifications before being allowed into the country. They thought it eminently unfair that anyone should just walk across the border and set up camp, without any need to prove they were willing to fully assimilate into American culture – or even demonstrate they had the skills to contribute to society.
What did they think about the children of illegal immigrants? They both felt that the Constitution should be amended or clarified to ensure that the children of illegals, even if born in the US, should not be granted citizenship. They and their parents should be returned to their home nations and sent to the back of the line, so to speak, and await their turn.
So, extrapolating (there’s your big word for the day, folks!) from that premise, I cannot abide allowing those children to stay here on any sort of amnesty program. I realize the people the President’s order targets didn’t arrive here of their own accord. I’m even willing to let them return to their home countries with a preference on the waiting list. But if anyone thinks this is the beginning of meaningful immigration reform, they are seriously deluded. After all, even under the executive order those illegals affected won’t be granted residency status – only an act of Congress can do that.
We need to recognize this for what it is: an act of political pandering from the President Who Perfected Pandering. The EO signed on Friday only remains in effect until rescinded, either by a new President in 2013 or by the current one when he realizes it costs him more votes than it gains. It wasn’t a grand statement on the mess our immigration policy turned into after Ronald Reagan’s own bit of pandering in 1986 (the Immigration Reform and Control Act). Had Obama actually wanted to enact some type of meaningful reform, he would have combined the EO with a legislative proposal – not a Rose Garden speech asking Congress to do something. You’ll also note that in that speech, the President didn’t outline what he wanted as a result of the reform he demanded, a curious lack of leadership that is in keeping with his style.
What should be of greater concern to all, regardless of where you live, is this fits a pattern of flaunting the Constitution in order to score a cheap political point. In addition to this latest EO, we have other extra-constitutional power grabs that seem derived of partisan political maneuvering. Things like indefinite detention, refusing to support DOMA, international assassinations – the list is growing daily. The President, any President, does not have the prerogative of deciding which laws to enforce. His job is to enforce the law of the land and if he finds one unacceptable, he can request Congress rescind it. This latest EO actually requires a variety of law enforcement agencies, from the FBI and INS to Homeland Security, to willfully ignore the law. Such a situation should never be tolerated by the citizens of our republic.
The Narcissistic Liar-in-Chief
It doesn’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog that I am not a fan of Barack Obama. I never have been. I’ve never seen in him the things the media generally transposes onto the Obama persona. I’ve always seen him as nothing more than another cold, calculating politician. Just another in a long line of despotic Chicago politicians; a man after whom Bill Daley would find more in common than the typical working stiffs that populate the Windy City. And like all politicians, I always figured he was more than a bit narcissistic.
But then today came word that the Obama White House is attempting to actually rewrite history, to include one Barack Hussein Obama in some of our country’s greatest Presidential moments. If you’ve heard about this already, then it was probably the rewrite of the Reagan Presidency that got your attention:
“In a June 28, 1985 speech Reagan called for a fairer tax code, one where a multi-millionaire did not have a lower tax rate than his secretary. Today, President Obama is calling for the same with the Buffett Rule.”
It’s actually beyond narcissistic to rewrite this bit of history. Reagan was not arguing for higher tax rates on anyone, as Obama contends with his historical rewrite. Rather, the Gipper was proposing a complete revamping of the tax code – lowering rates for everyone and eliminating loopholes. You can read the full text of the speech here, but I figured I would give you the portions where he talks about the need for a simpler, fairer tax code. Keep in mind, this speech was given at the commencement for Northside High School in Atlanta. The main thrust of the speech was celebrating the students achievement in turning their once failing school into one of the ten-best in the nation, while also lauding the nation’s economic turnaround. Neither of these are accomplishments that the Obama administration can even hope to match.
“We’ve already come a long way. Just 5 years ago, when some of you were in junior high, America was in bad shape, mostly bad economic shape. Rising prices were making it harder for your parents to buy essentials like food and clothing, and unemployment was rising; there were no jobs for seniors in high school and college to graduate into. It was as if opportunity had just dried up, and people weren’t feeling the old hope Americans had always felt. And that was terrible because hope was always the fuel that kept America going and kept our society together.
Just a few years later everything’s changed. You and your parents are finally getting a breather from inflation. And if you graduate and go out into the work force in June, there will be jobs waiting for you. Hope has returned, and America’s working again.
Now, you know how all this came about, how we cut tax rates and trimmed Federal spending and got interest rates down. But what’s really important is what inspired us to do these things. What’s really important is the philosophy that guided us. The whole thing could be boiled down to a few words—freedom, freedom, and more freedom. It’s a philosophy that isn’t limited to guiding government policy. It’s a philosophy you can live by; in fact, I hope you do…
As you know, that last week I unveiled our proposal to make the Federal tax system fairer, clearer, and less burdensome for all Americans. Now, someone might say it’s odd to talk about tax policy with young people in their teens. But I don’t think so. You not only understand what taxes are, what effect they have in the average person’s life, but if you don’t understand, you will pretty soon when you get your first job. I know some of you already have part-time jobs, and I know you keep your eye on the part of the check that shows what Uncle Sam is taking out.
What we’re trying to do is change some of those numbers. We want the part of your check that shows Federal withholding to have fewer digits on it. And we want the part that shows your salary to have more digits on it. We’re trying to take less money from you and less from your parents…
We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that have allowed some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. In theory, some of those loopholes were understandable, but in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary, and that’s crazy. It’s time we stopped it.”
Of course, Warren Buffet was already a successful investor by the time President Reagan assumed office in 1981. And he was one of those millionaires Reagan was referring to, the ones who were paying nothing while bus drivers were paying 10% of their salary. The only difference is now, Warren Buffet still pays nothing, but that bus driver (assuming he’s still employed) is paying over 1/3 of his salary in taxes. And do you know who was at the forefront, leading the charge against the type of tax reform Reagan advocated? Yep, the same Warren Buffet who today is still against tax reform – instead opting for the Obama option of the “Buffet Rule.” And the reason for that is as simple as can be. Today, there are even more loopholes in the tax code than there were in 1985. Guys like Warren Buffet will still pay nothing. Note the difference in approaches: Reagan supported eliminating loopholes to equalize the tax rates. Obama just wants to raise rates.
So, yes, Warren Buffet is being disingenuous with his chicanery. But Barack Obama is, once again, flat-out lying to the American people – and all to make his ego feel better.
UPDATE: GDP Growth IS a result of government spending
I’ve heard from some of you, insisting I MUST have my facts wrong. After all, government spending has gone down over the past 3 years – not up. You know this because the esteemed Paul Krugman drills on this in every other column he writes and blogs about it daily. Besides, The Annointed One of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would NEVER LIE!!!
Funny, but I think those of you following that line of thinking are either (a) hoodwinked by the President or (b) Obama sycophants. The chart below was compiled by the Federal Reserve, and like most FEBR data, excludes inflation. But you’ll note that the increase in government spending as a share of GDP (and therefore, the commensurate reduction in GNP) eerily match the curve I developed.
So…..phhhhbbt. Stop listening to the liar-in-chief and his apologists. Learn how to do a little basic research on your own, people.