Monday, August 13, 2018

Cruising the Web

Small businesses are starting to feel the hurt from Trump's tariffs.
The impact is now rippling through the U.S. economy, and it is being felt particularly acutely by small businesses and startups. Compared with larger companies, they have less ability to deflect higher materials prices or pass along new costs to customers. Tariffs throw a wrench into pricing calculations and eat into profit margins. Smaller firms also are less able to shift production to other locations and have smaller reserves to draw on when times get tough.

Even those that benefit from a surge in domestic business are struggling to ramp up quickly enough to take advantage.

As a result, small firms selling all manner of goods, including high-tech light switches and the coated paper used to handle deli meats, are rethinking their strategies, suppliers, manufacturing locations and pricing.

Large companies have mostly shrugged off concerns over tariffs, as lower tax rates plus strong demand has helped deliver larger than expected profit. Among smaller firms, optimism for growth fell in July to its lowest level since the 2016 presidential election, according to a monthly survey of more than 750 small firms for The Wall Street Journal by Vistage Worldwide Inc.

“The tariff makes us feel we need to take our foot off the gas,” said M2S founder Eric Crews.

Scott Yates, sales director for Smokey Mountain Trailers in Lenoir City, Tenn., says the firm has been hit with “materials surcharges” of as much as 7% on the trailers it sells. That is because of tariffs on steel and aluminum. As new higher-priced trailers arrive on the lot, the company is charging more for them.

“At the end of the day, the consumer is paying,” said Mr. Yates.
Yup, that's why economists regard tariffs as really taxes on consumers. I wish that Trump was able to understand the economic harm he's doing to both consumers and business owners with his trade war policies.

The Democrats believe that they have found a winning political issue for this Fall's election - they can run against corruption and use the indictment of GOP Congressman Chris Collins, a man few outside of his district had ever heard of, as the face of Republican corruption. As the WSJ points out, however, there is a problem with this being a winning issue for Democrats.
Yet political corruption is hardly partisan, and in recent years as many Democrats have been rung up as Republicans. There’s Florida ethicist Corrine Brown, who served in Congress from 1993 to January 2017 but is now serving five years in federal prison for defrauding a charity. She’s appealing her conviction and still getting her congressional pension.

Or recall Chaka Fattah, an 11-term Member from Pennsylvania, who was convicted in 2016 for racketeering, money laundering and fraud. He’s serving a 10-year sentence.

And if candidates running for re-election this year are the issue, the poster politician for corruption is surely Robert Menendez. Prosecutors dropped corruption charges against the Senator this year only after a jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict.

The charges included favors Mr. Menendez did for a campaign contributor and friend, Salomon Melgen, who has been convicted of Medicare fraud, in return for perks like three nights at a five-star Paris hotel. The Senator lobbied regulators to change Medicare rules to help Melgen’s company and he helped the doctor’s girlfriends get visas to stay in the U.S.

Mr. Menendez barely escaped conviction thanks to the higher quid-pro-quo corruption standard established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell v. U.S. in 2016. He might be in jail now if the Obama Administration had agreed to change Medicare for his buddy. And in April the Senate Ethics Committee more or less made that point when it examined the charges and “severely admonished” Mr. Menendez for abusing his office.

“The Committee has found that over a six-year period you knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen without obtaining required Committee approval, and that you failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate Rule and federal law,” the committee said in a letter to Mr. Menendez, adding:

“Additionally, while accepting these gifts, you used your position as a Member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests. The Committee has determined that this conduct violated Senate Rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct.”

Is this also part of the “rampant culture of corruption,” Mrs. Pelosi ?

Republican Bob Hugin, a former biotech CEO, is running against Mr. Menendez this year. Mr. Hugin is largely self-financing his campaign, which Democrats claim to like for reducing the risks of corruption. Mr. Hugin has moderate views on taxes, health care and social issues that fit the New Jersey electorate.

If their ethics and corruption campaign had a scintilla of sincerity, liberal columnists would be writing in favor of Mr. Hugin the way conservatives supported Democrat Doug Jones against Roy Moore’s Senate campaign in Alabama last year. But Democrats and their media echoes aren’t really worried about corruption. Their pose is a tactic to regain power. Meet the new swamp creatures, same as the old.

Nancy Pelosi thinks
that NBC is out to get her.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said on Sunday that one of the priorities of NBC is to undermine her prospects to be speaker of the House again.

Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, who filled in for anchor Joy Reid on NBC's sister network MSNBC, asked Pelosi whether she would consider allowing another Democrat to take over as the leader in the House. She responded by going straight at NBC's journalistic practices.

"First of all, I know NBC has been on a jag, this is one of their priorities to undermine my prospects as speaker," Pelosi said.
Wait! Is she attacking NBC for #FakeNews? Does such an accusation represent an attack on a major media institution? Will 100 newspapers coordinate editorial attacks on her remarks?

Noah Rothman explains why the U.S. does indeed need a Space Force.
Though you would not know it from those who spent the day chuckling over the prospect of an American space command, the militarization of this strategically vital region is decades old. Thousands of both civilian and military communications and navigation satellites operate in earth orbit, to say nothing of the occasional human.

It’s impossible to say how many weapons are already stationed in orbit because many of these platforms are “dual use,” meaning that they could be transformed into kill vehicles at a moment’s notice.

American military planners have been preoccupied with the preservation of critical US communications infrastructure in space since at least 2007, when China stunned observers by launching a missile that intercepted and destroyed a satellite.

America’s chief strategic competitors — Russia and China — and rogue actors like Iran and North Korea are all committed to developing the capability to target America’s command-and-control infrastructure, a lot of which is space-based.

Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified in 2017 that both Moscow and Beijing are “considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine” and are developing the requisite anti-satellite technology — despite their false public commitments to the “nonweaponization of space.”

Those who oppose the creation of a space branch object on a variety of grounds, some of which merit more attention than others.

“I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint war-fighting functions,” Mattis wrote last October.

That’s a perfectly sound argument against excessive bureaucratization and profligacy, but it is silent on the necessity of a space command.

Both the Pentagon and the National Security Council are behind the creation of a “US Space Command” in lieu of the congressional action required to establish a new branch.

As for bureaucratic sprawl, in 2015, the diffusion of space-related experts and capabilities across the armed services led the Air Force to create a single space adviser to coordinate those capabilities for the Defense Department. But that patch did not resolve the problems, and in 2017 Congress’ General Accountability Office recommended investigating the creation of a single branch dedicated to space.

It is true that the existing branches maintain capabilities that extend into space, which would superficially make a Space Force seem redundant. But American air power was once the province of the US Army and Navy, and bureaucratic elements within these two branches opposed the creation of a US Air Force in 1947.

USA Today assures us
that it is quite common for ballot recounts to turn up missing or uncounted ballots. After all, humans are involved.
There are periodic news reports of found ballots. In November of last year, officials in Pierce County, Washington, discovered some 150 uncounted ballots from a primary election the previous August. They were found in a storage bin.

Also last year, a school board race in Wayne County, Michigan, may well have turned out differently because officials neglected to count ballots in a rush to certify the election.

In 2015, an organization called the Arizona Advocacy Network issued a report finding that more than 100,000 votes had not been counted throughout the past 10 years.

On occasion, post-election discovery of ballots are accompanied by allegations of chicanery. In one of the most famous examples, future president Lyndon Johnson won a U.S. Senate seat in 1948 after officials in South Texas dug up a box of uncounted ballots. The mystery of "Box 13" remains part of political lore.

More often than not, however, ballots are lost through human error that is often discovered.

"Every time people do recounts," Wertheimer said, "the numbers change."

Glenn K. Beaton, a former lawyer and a member of the Supreme Court bar, makes a good, albeit futile, argument that we shouldn't be looking to the Supreme Court to make decisions about issues that really are policy choices that should be decided by elected legislators.
We now ask the Court to decide, for example, whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant and whether contraceptive benefits should be mandated for Catholic nuns. Those issues wound up before the Court because Congress refused to decide them. Instead, Congress delegated the decision to unaccountable administrators at the EPA and unelected bureaucrats at the IRS.

These are not issues of law, but issues of policy. Congress dodges them for craven political reasons. They want to avoid disappointing one or another of their constituent groups. Congress does this because it works — for Congress.

The people are not blind to this game. That's why they overwhelmingly disapprove of Congress as a whole. But they still allow themselves to be seduced by their own representatives over and over at election time. Being seduced is destructive but seductive.

It's a failure of democracy, and it's our own fault.

Congress's abdication to the Court now risks the Court's reputation upon which its authority rests. The current justices — and also newly nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh — are extremely talented judges and very decent human beings. But they are only so-so policymakers and, moreover, they are unaccountable to the people.

Let's restore democracy. A good start would be for the Court to invalidate vague legislation that illegitimately delegates policy-making to unaccountable administrative agencies for review by unelected judges.

That would force Congress to make the hard policy decisions. That's Congress' job.

And it would force us to hold Congress accountable for those decisions at election time. That's our job.
In today's America, this seems like an impossible pipe dream. Members of Congress seem to avoid making those tough policy decisions. Or they must craft some sort of compromise that forces them to write a vague law and hand off the real policy-making to unelected bureaucrats who make hundreds of thousands of decisions that few people realize are being made and the impact that seemingly minor decisions will have. And with the president or Congress exercising oversight, suddenly the judiciary is the only check on the bureaucracy. This is so contrary to the vision of our government that the Founders had. They believed that Congress would be the first branch and wouldn't have even imagined such a powerful bureaucracy.

Marc A. Thiessen explains why it shouldn't seem like such a nothingburger of a story that there was a Chinese spy in Senator Dianne Feinstein's office for around 20 years.
Imagine if it emerged that the Republican chairman of the House or Senate intelligence committee had a Russian spy working on their staff. Think it would cause a political firestorm? Well, this month we learned that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) had a Chinese spy on her staff who worked for her for about 20 years, was listed as an “office director” on payroll records and served as her driver when she was in San Francisco, all while reporting to China’s Ministry of State Security through China’s San Francisco Consulate. The reaction of the mainstream media? Barely a peep.

Feinstein acknowledged the infiltration but played down its significance. “Five years ago the FBI informed me it had concerns that an administrative member of my California staff was potentially being sought out by the Chinese government to provide information,” Feinstein said in a statement — which means the breach took place while Feinstein was heading the Intelligence Committee. But, Feinstein insisted, “he never had access to classified or sensitive information or legislative matters” and was immediately fired. In other words: junior staffer, no policy role, no access to secrets, quickly fired — no big deal.

But it is a big deal. I asked several former senior intelligence and law enforcement officials how serious this breach might have been. “It’s plenty serious,” one former top Justice Department official told me. “Focusing on his driver function alone, in Mafia families, the boss’s driver was among the most trusted men in the crew, because among other things he heard everything that was discussed in the car.”

A former top CIA clandestine officer explained to me what the agency would do if it had recruited the driver of a senior official such as Feinstein. “We would have the driver record on his phone all conversations that Feinstein would have with passengers and phone calls in her car. If she left her phone, iPad or laptop in the car while she went to meetings, social events, dinners, etc., we would have the driver download all her devices. If the driver drove for her for 20 years, he would probably would have had access to her office and homes. We would have had the source put down an audio device in her office or homes if the opportunity presented itself. Depending on the take from all of what the source reported, we would use the info to target others that were close to her and exhibited some type of vulnerability.”

“In short,” this officer said, “we would have had a field day.”
Shouldn't this be a bigger deal?

This is a great story.
A month after Saudi women finally won the right to drive on June 24, eight of them are creating their own Harley-Davidson bike chapter.

“We have been waiting a lifetime for this,” Aliya, a 23-year-old student from Jeddah, told Fox News. “Always watching my brothers ride. Now they’re teaching me.”

Five of the women went to the Harley-Davidson store in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh wearing their compulsory black abayas while they browsed the motorcycles and Harley merchandise. The store has recently acquired gear and clothing for women and marketing posters displaying women on motorcycles.

The all-male staff reportedly welcomed the change and the trading manager of the store, Al-Mutlaq, claims many women have had a growing interest in bikes.

“This is for sure going to be growing, we already have had a large number of ladies asking about the training and asking to get a bike,” he said. “And we have already established the ‘Ladies of Harley’ Riyadh chapter, so they can go on their own group rides too.”

“The most important thing for now, is women learning to ride,” he added.

There are even weekly gatherings for women to learn how to ride outside the city on a racetrack where an experienced rider from Ukraine instructs an all-women's class. The program reportedly costs $400 and the women who participate sport safety vests, tight jeans, and practice cone weaving and U-turns.