NSA’s Bulk Data Collection on the Defensive

I chatted with Justin Amash today about NSA bulk surveillance of Americans and the reaction to his struggle to rein in the agency. Here’s the video.

Spoilers below:

  • He thinks James Clapper should be prosecuted for lying to Congress in March.
  • He thinks Chris Christie’s hamfisted (couldn’t resist) attack on libertarian Republicans is pointless.
  • He doesn’t necessarily agree that the NSA leaker shouldn’t be prosecuted, which his colleague Thomas Massie has suggested.
  • Neocon Brainhurt

    Can someone please explain this sentence to me?

    Republican hawks say they are firmly confident that the [Republican] party is, in its heart, more sympathetic to the George W. Bush agenda of expanding freedom and fighting terrorism, than to the Rand-style focus on limiting the government’s security powers that many congressional Republicans have recently embraced.

    I think you could make a plausible case that George W. Bush did his level best to expand freedom by devolving Social Security to individuals and reform immigration, but those are things that libertarian-leaning Republicans would agree with. Also, they’re not foreign policy or security issues. And if that’s not what hawks mean by “expanding freedom,” then whose freedom was expanded in the Bush years? And what kind of world do we live in where limiting government power isn’t a core Republican tenet?

    A Wager: Doubling Down on the Cardinals

    1031933xFriend and Braves devotee Jason Pye eventually made good on a wager by delivering a case of Dale’s Pale Ale to me after the Cardinals defeated his Braves in the Not-Really-a-Playoff Wild Card(s) Game. That game offered all of us baseball fans a good chance to brush up on the infield fly rule.

    The series between the Cardinals and the Braves offers us an opportunity to renew this wager. Instead of beer, the winner shall receive a fifth of the underrated Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Here’s hoping the better of the two first-place teams emerges victorious. And if that doesn’t work, go Cards!

    The Pain of Sequestration Felt at the White House

    995728_10151752491239656_1220271510_n Today I had the genuine pleasure of seeing my beloved Louisville Cardinals receive their perfunctory handshake and commendation from the President for emerging victorious from the NCAA basketball tournament.

    But as I waited with 200 or so other people for everything to kick off, we were entertained by the band pictured above. If this is the band they bring out during tight budgets imposed by sequestration, I can’t wait to see the band they bring out during the extravagant good times.

    White House tours, the most visible interaction that the hoi polloi might have with POTUS, are still on hiatus.

    Kentucky Attorney General Backs Away from First Amendment Suit

    Related to an earlier post about columnist John Rosemond, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway today released the following:

    Here’s the text:

    Attorney General Jack Conway today clarified some misinformation that has been reported recently by some media outlets and in some editorials regarding the John Rosemond case.

    “Mr. Rosemond, a nationally syndicated advice columnist, was sent a cease and desist letter by the Kentucky Board of Psychology. I did not write that letter, I did not authorize that letter and the letter was not sent on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General,” General Conway said.

    In Kentucky, state boards and agencies may hire attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General to serve on an hourly basis as board or agency attorneys. In this capacity, as counsel to the board, an attorney from the Office of the Attorney General sent this letter. The attorney sent the letter at the direction of the board and sent the letter as the board’s attorney. The action had nothing to do with the Office of the Attorney General.

    The attorney inadvertently printed the letter on Office of the Attorney General letterhead. This is not proper procedure, and all attorneys in the Office of the Attorney General have been reminded that if they are doing business of (sic) behalf of a board, they should use the letterhead of that board.

    Interesting. The question now is this: How often has this kind of threat been used where an individual believes he’s actually being threatened by the top law enforcement officer in the commonwealth? Do other states engage in this kind of “delegation” of law enforcement authority?

    Interesting also that this is in no way an apology for the actions of an attorney in an office under his direction.

    A Note on Detroit’s Bankruptcy and Paul Krugman

    Paul Krugman hopes that the debate over Detroit’s bankruptcy doesn’t go the way of the debate over the collapse of Greece. Huge budget deficits, he argues, were only part of Greece’s problem and pension woes are a mere part of Detroit’s problem. That may well be true. But Krugman does himself a disservice by suggesting that Detroit was primarily the “innocent victim of market forces.” The main market force he’s referring to, I have to guess, is the decades-long slide in GM’s market share. You’d be hard pressed to say that Detroit’s city government was caught off guard by the trend.

    Krugman_New-articleInline-v2But back to the pension issue. In citing the work of Alicia Munnell and others at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Krugman writes

    Are Detroit’s woes the leading edge of a national public pensions crisis? No. State and local pensions are indeed underfunded, with experts at Boston College putting the total shortfall at $1 trillion. But many governments are taking steps to address the shortfall. These steps aren’t yet sufficient; the Boston College estimates suggest that overall pension contributions this year will be about $25 billion less than they should be. But in a $16 trillion economy, that’s just not a big deal — and even if you make more pessimistic assumptions, as some but not all accountants say you should, it still isn’t a big deal.

    It’s true that CRR researchers have tallied up the estimates for pension underfunding to the tune of $1-trillion. They took government estimates of $2.8-trillion in actuarial assets and subtracted $3.8-trillion in liabilities.

    But that’s not even close to the end of the story. In the report Krugman cites, the researchers note (repeatedly) that the trillion-dollar figure is very likely a dramatic understatement of the size of the unmet liability.

    Munnell and her coauthors write

    These funded ratios and [Annual Required Contributions], however, are based on promised benefits discounted by the expected long-term yield on plan assets, roughly 8 percent, so the third section revalues liabilities using the riskless rate, as advocated by most economists for reporting purposes.

    Using something closer to a riskless rate (4 to 5 percent) to discount the liability, that same $2.8-trillion in actuarial assets gets dwarfed further by as much as 5.5 or 6.2 trillions of dollars in liabilities. That leaves the estimated unfunded liability at something between $2.7 trillion and $3.4 trillion.

    When state and local spending is holding steady in a sluggish economy, required pension payments (to retirees and pension funds) continue to eat a larger share of state and local budgets. That may not be a huge issue for the broader economy, but it’s definitely a huge issue for state and local governments trying to fund local priorities. For many local governments cited in the CRR report, the required contributions to pension funds is – on average – 15% of payroll and rising. Whatever the first-order impact on the economy, it can have a real impact on the most basic services local governments provide.

    By going along with the genuinely rosy discount rate of 8% on pension liabilities, Krugman has placed himself on the opposite side of surveyed economists who believe that the discount rates chosen by actuaries do not give an accurate picture of the size of pension liabilities. In the most significant state and local finance issue in decades, the numbers driving his analysis are those his own profession finds to be not at all credible.

    Note: Walter Olson also has thoughts on the subject.

    Kentucky Attorney General v. Free Advice

    In a parallel universe, U.S. Senator Jack Conway is presently writing legislation to license all newspaper columnists who purport to provide free (and worth it!) advice. In this universe, he’s just trying to shut down one columnist for advising without a license.

    From the video description:

    In May 2013, John Rosemond—America’s longest running newspaper columnist—received an astonishing order from the Kentucky attorney general: Stop publishing your advice column in the Bluegrass State or face fines and jail. The attorney general and Kentucky’s psychologist licensing board believe that John’s column, which is syndicated in more than 200 papers nationwide, constitutes the “unlicensed practice of psychology” in Kentucky when it appears in a Kentucky newspaper. Kentucky’s crackdown is part of a national surge in the abuse of occupational licensing laws to censor advice.

    Kentucky’s already got a poor track record with occupational licensing.

    An additional note to Jack Conway: The Institute for Justice has both the capacity and will to make your office look foolish, unprincipled, shortsighted and craven on a very public stage should you choose to dig in for the long fight.

    A Challenge to Kentucky Subsidies

    Steve_Beshear_by_Gage_Skidmore“Incentives” is little more than the public relations word for “subsidies.”

    FRANKFORT, KY. — Tea party activist David Adams has filed a lawsuit challenging the long-standing practice of providing incentives to companies that locate or expand in Kentucky.

    Adams claims in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Franklin County Circuit Court that providing such incentives is unconstitutional. He is asking that the practice be stopped.

    Kentucky has a long history of luring companies in with a variety of incentives that have been credited with helping the state land a variety of manufacturing plants.

    Adams has filed a couple of other lawsuits in recent weeks challenging other state government initiatives, including the creation of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange. That agency, ordered set up by Gov. Steve Beshear, is intended to help the uninsured find medical coverage.

    What’s notable about this is how it came about. David Adams (who replaced me when I quit my paid role at the Bluegrass Institute in 2007 and later ran the primary campaign of now-Senator Rand Paul) has filed two other suits challenging Governor Steve Beshear’s authority to both set up an ObamaCare health insurance exchange and expand Medicaid with no legislative approval. The judge, in tossing out Beshear’s request to have one of these lawsuits dismissed, wrote

    It is fundamentally the duty of the court system to decide disputes over whether government officials have exceeded their statutory and constitutional powers.

    That’s pretty bold language, and it appears to open the door to many more suits like the most recent challenge to the troubling system state subsidies for favored companies and industries. I, for one, can’t wait to see how these kinds of challenges go forward. Having spent time studying the General Assembly, I have a few thoughts about fertile ground for future suits.