3 Items: All the news not fit to print

Q1 GDP Misses Expectations, Personal Consumption Unexpectedly Dives

The number:


People were looking for a 2.2% print, but instead Q1 GDP came in at 1.8%, exactly as the first measure.

What’s worse, personal consumption fell to 2.2% from 2.7%, when it was expected to rise to 2.8%.

The dollar is moving noticeably lower on the news.

Just add it to the list of signs the economy is clearly slowing down.

The full report can be found here.

Big Brother Is Watching You

Overreaching law enforcement puts privacy rights at risk.

| May 25, 2011

In 1991, George Holliday filmed the LAPD’s arrest and beating of Rodney King. The videotape provoked national controversy. If a similar incident happened today, it might provoke something else: the arrest of George Holliday.

Cell phones and cameras with video-recording capability have become ubiquitous. This has led to an increase in the filming of police officers, which has led to a backlash: Cops have begun arresting those who film them, on charges such as interfering with an investigation—even when the filmer is not interfering and the officer is not investigating.

In one now-famous example, motorcyclist Anthony Graber’s helmet cam was rolling when Graber was pulled over last March by a Maryland State Trooper. The Trooper came out of an unmarked car in plain clothes, yelling, with his gun drawn. Graber didn’t like that—and posted the video on YouTube. In short order he was arrested and charged with felony wiretapping. A judge eventually threw the charges out—six months later.

Such incidents have led to a national conversation about the propriety of videotaping cops, even as dashboard cameras have become standard in squad cars. There seems to be some tension in the assumption that, as Graber’s lawyer put it, “the officer has a privacy expectation, but the motorist doesn’t.”

That asymmetry has been underscored by recent rulings over global positioning systems. Last year the Virginia Court of Appeals said Fairfax County police did not violate a suspect’s right to privacy when, without a warrant, they surreptitiously put a GPS device on his vehicle to track his movements. Individuals have no expectation of privacy on the public streets, the court ruled—a position also taken by the Ninth Circuit in California.

Yet this past January, Kathy Byron, a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, introduced legislation that would have forbidden the use of GPS tracking devices for the purpose of following political candidates. People running for public office “are still entitled to some privacy,” she argued.

If ordinary citizens have little claim to privacy in public places, then what about their electronic devices? U.S. border-patrol agents often search the phones and computers of American citizens who cross the border—routinely “accessing email accounts, examining photographs and looking through personal calendars,” according to The Constitution Project, a watchdog group. “In some cases, electronic devices were confiscated for as long as a year.” And in Michigan, the State Police have high-tech forensic devices enabling them to download information from the cell phones of stopped motorists—something they have been doing without a warrant.

In New York, a cell phone alert system will send text messages with a unique ring tone in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency. By next year the system will go nationwide, and all new cell phones will be required to contain the special chip needed to relay the messages. Orwell comparisons are overdone, but it is hard not to think of 1984: “The voice from the telescreen paused. A trumpet call, clear and beautiful, floated into the stagnant air. The voice continued raspingly: ‘Attention! Your attention, please! A newsflash has this moment arrived from the Malabar front. Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory. . . .’ ”

Soon Americans might have no right to expect privacy even in the privacy of their own homes. Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that police officers may force their way into your domicile without your consent, without a warrant, and without what are usually referred to as “exigent circumstances”—e.g., someone inside the home yelling for help. The case, Kentucky v. King, concerned an incident in which police officers chasing a drug suspect ran into an apartment building, smelled marijuana, heard noises they thought might indicate someone was destroying evidence—and broke down the wrong door. This, said the Supremes, was perfectly fine.

Dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg asked an apposite question: “How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity?”

The Indiana Supreme Court recently issued two rulings of a similar nature. The first said police officers serving a warrant can enter a home without knocking if officers decide they need to. The second said residents have no right to prevent the unlawful entry of police officers into their homes.

Before long the police might not even need to enter your home to search it. Last year Forbes reported that a company called American Science & Engineering racked up $224 million in sales of ZBVs. Those are Z Backscatter Vans, equipped with x-ray machines that can see through walls and clothing. The magazine says the vans have become “powerful tools for security, law enforcement and border control.”

Let’s be clear about one thing: Asymmetry is not the same as injustice. The police can pull you over for speeding, but not vice versa—and that is as it should be. The whole idea of having police departments is to allow only certain authorized individuals — the ones with badges—to raid homes, arrest suspects, and so on. And many of the developments noted above will help law enforcement catch bad guys, which is a good thing.

But it is not the only thing. It is not even the primary thing. Catching bad guys is an ancillary goal for government, whose first duty is to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens. It’s hard for government to do that while simultaneously chipping away at them.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Power Line Blog: John Hinderaker, Scott Johnson, Paul Mirengoff

The real unemployment…

May 26, 2011 Posted by Scott at 6:59 AM

Walt Whitman famously observed to a friend in 1863 that “the real war will never get in the books.” Whitman knew what he was talking about, so the proposition can’t be discounted. But in the case of the Civil War, if the real war hasn’t gotten into the books, it’s not for lack of trying. Louis Masur even made a good book out of Whitman’s challenge.

The mainstream media are so desperate to portray economic trends in optimistic terms that a lot of our current malaise is left unexplored. I think this is especially the case with respect to unemployment. The scope of the suffering created by large-scale long-term unemployment has somehow failed to register. The real unemployment will never get in the books, so to speak, at least so long as a Democrat is president and an election is looming.

Consider Professor Edward Lazear’s take on the recent employment data: “[T]he increase in job growth that occurred over the past two years results from a decline in the number of layoffs, not from increased hiring. In February 2009, a month during which the labor market lost more than 700,000 jobs, employers hired four million workers. In March 2011, employers hired four million workers. The number of hires is the same today as it was when we were shedding jobs at record rates. ” Professor Lazear may not be the only observer to publicize this salient fact, but if not, he is damn near close to it.

Lazear also notes: “The combination of low hiring and a large stock of unemployed workers, now 13.7 million, means that the competition for jobs is fierce. Because there are now many more unemployed workers, and because hiring is only about 70% of 2006 levels, a worker is about one-third as likely to find a job today as he or she was in 2006. It is no wonder that workers do not feel that the labor market has recovered.” Looking for a job in the current environment is hard work.

Why is the hiring picture so unsatisfactory? One can make the necessary inferences from Lazear’s prescription: “low taxes on capital investment, avoidance of excessively burdensome regulation, and open markets here and abroad. We must create a climate in which investment is profitable, productivity is rising, and employers find it profitable to increase their hiring rate.”

About On the North River

Forty years toiled in the Tel-com industry, married for 36 years widowed at sixty-one. New girlfriend at sixty-five. Tea Party supporter. Today a follower of the God-Emperor Donald. Do like to kayak, cook, take photos, bike, watch old movies and read.
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