Foreign Leaders Nervous About Trump

On March 8th I spoke with Neil Cavuto about how many foreign leaders, particularly those in Europe, are getting nervous about Donald Trump’s statements. Living a good portion of my time in Italy I am able to have a richer perspective on how the rest of the world views what is happening in the U.S., and while I agree that the U.S. ought not chose its policies based on the preferences of other nations, it is always a good idea to at least listen to our friends and neighbors, just as we do in our personal lives.

The United States has the largest economy in the world and the most powerful military, so naturally the rest of the world has a vested interest in what happens here. Our entertainment industry is also the most impactful in the world, so that American cultural shifts are often rippled throughout the globe. What happens here, doesn’t stay here.

For most Americans alive today, World War II is something we read about in the history books. We don’t sense that it impacted our culture in any meaningful way, at least nothing like the way 9/11 has. In Europe there is a very different memory, one filled with great trepidation over those leaders that seek to use the military in ways that are outside of the law. Donald Trump’s repeated comments concerning how he is confident that the members of the military would defy their oath to uphold the law in order to obey his demands strike an alarming cord in Europe, where leaders in the past who used the military that way brought devastation to a continent.

Perhaps Trump is simply using the type of hyperbole that he found worked so well to garner attention for his reality TV show, but hyperbole of that nature on the global political stage, from a man who could be the commander-in-chief of the largest military in the world, in understandably cause for concern.

Dating Rules for Growing the Economy

Dating Rules for Growing the Economy

After listening to the Presidential debate last night, I thought about how much of the discussion becomes unnecessarily complicated, so let’s apply some dating rules for growing the economy.

This morning I saw this article in the Financial Times and felt like slapping those who defend the spying habits of the U.S. government upside the head.   Shocker… with all the information coming out on how the U.S. government feels free to peruse any and all information it can get its hands on, people outside the U.S. want to prevent their data from ever getting near America’s shores, a serious blow to American technology firms.

The older I get the more I appreciate I learned most of life’s lessons in high school.371182_orig  The U.S. economy would greatly benefit if politicians in this country learned one key rule of dating –

You cannot threaten someone into staying!

We all knew those kids in school who tried to force the object of their affection to stay with them through a variety of threats. Unfortunately for some, this strategy continues on into their adult years with intentional “accidental” pregnancies or threats of violence or some other sort of harm.  This strategy never turns out well for anyone involved, and often ends in tragedy.

Sadly the U.S. government has yet to learn this lesson.  It attempts to force businesses to keep their operations in the U.S. through either a punitive tax code or through threatening legislative or regulatory actions. You can almost hear the vitriolic tirade, “If you try to leave me, I’ll make you regret it!”

What most learn as they mature is that you are more likely to attract great people into your life, romantic or otherwise, by being attractive to them, by being someone they enjoying being around, working with, playing with or dancing with crazily around the kitchen after a few glasses of wine!  It’s the old lesson of attracting more bees with honey than vinegar.

The U.S. seems to be hell bent on pouring balsamic all over its economy and many of its allies as well.

Rather than bitching, “Why don’t you love me? I won’t let you leave me!” the U.S. ought to be working to make the country an insanely attractive place to do business.  That means an attractive tax code, legal and regulatory system, and STOP BLOODY SPYING on our allies and our own citizens without a damn good reason and a warrant!  Take a look at Ireland, here, here and here.   Now there’s a country that has done a phenomenal job of knowing how to look irresistible when going out on the global stage!

It would be a hell of a lot easier for the U.S. to solve its various problems with a booming economy than with one that is growing at the slowest pace in eons!

Germany and Greece: An Impossible Relationship?

Germany and Greece: An Impossible Relationship?

This morning the markets in Europe rose giddily on the belief that the problems with Greece were resolved, despite the bureaucrats insistence that they were in fact, not at all. By late afternoon in Europe, it had become clear that there was no resolution, but the talks continued. I swear I’ve had breakups that seemed an awful lot like this!

Most people have at some point in their lives been in a relationship, be it romantic or platonic, with another person who has a different view  of “The Way Things Ought to Be.” This can be over something as mundane as how frequently one ought to exercise to how much and how loudly one ought to laugh or perhaps just how much fun is appropriate in one’s life or the really volatile one, just how wild one ought to get into the wee hours!  Having a material discrepancy over “The Way Things Ought to Be” can be highly destructive to the relationship, leaving both parties fuming at each other in an indignant, self-righteous huff.

Germany and Greece: An Impossible Relationship?

A giant banner protesting Greece's austerity measures hangs near the Parthenon on Acropolis hill in Athens early May 4, 2010. A group of demonstrators from Greece's communist party, KKE, staged the protest atop the Acropolis as Athens braced for a 48-hour nationwide strike by civil servants which would also include the shutdown of travel services.    REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol  (GREECE - Tags: EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These two are the sovereign equivalent of that couple that seems rather fascinated by each other, perhaps some seriously passionate sparks on occasion, but are eventually at each other’s throats, utterly baffled as to how the other cannot see just how clearly WRONG they are! Each is convinced that if they just lay down the law and point out precisely what the other ought to be doing instead of what they are doing followed by an ultimatum, the indisputable “rightness” of their position will become clear and they’ll get their way… because that’s so often how human nature works!

Deep in German culture is a profound belief, darn near religious, that inflation can never be used to manage debt.  For Greece, that’s a bit like arguing ouzo is best used as a floor cleaner! The nation has been wracking up debt then discarding it in a variety of ways, often via inflation for over two centuries. Carmen Reinhard and Kenneth Rogoff, in their book “This Time Is Different,” determined that between 1800 and 2008, Greece spent 50.6% of the time in default or restructuring!

Germany on the other hand derives great joy and satisfaction from strictly following the rules – tell that to a nation so tied up in bureaucratic red tape that trying to resolve the proper way to handle something there goes a bit like this.

A Greek entrepreneur goes to a public agency and asks, “What do I need to be able to do this thing X?” 
Answer: “A, b, c, d, maybe e, probably f, not sure though about g.”

Hmmm, OK… so our entrepreneur goes to another agency and asks the same question.
Answer: “E, f, not sure about a, definitely not c but definitely g and we’ve never heard of b.”

Exasperated our entrepreneur seeks the advice of a prominent attorney, thinking they’ll be able to properly chart the course, only to discover that they’ve got no idea either.  There are so many laws sitting on top of contradictory laws and regulation upon regulation that there is no clear answer.  Ta da!  Welcome to graft.  If there is no one clear answer on the books, you just have to buy a temporary one from whomever is in charge that day.

In the end our entrepreneur gives up, forgets trying to build a business and gets a job as a public employee!

So here’s the  problem now.  Germany thinks that if it strong arms Greece out of the eurozone, the rest of the eurozone trouble-makers will get scared straight, fall back in line and Germany can relax that everyone will from now on start playing by the rules. So far what Germany is pushing will not allow Greece’s economy the room it needs, culturally and financially, to change – “Dear Eurozone: I love you but you are just no good for me.”

What if Greece gets the boot, defaults, starts all over again and after a while its economy is more robust than Italy’s or Spain’s?  That’d be a bit like having one’s ex show up to a friend’s party with their gorgeous and very successful new significant other; more than just a little bit awkward.

Can’t you just see the love?

Shove It! A Greek Tragedy?

Shove It! A Greek Tragedy?

The headlines are once again dominated by the living Greek economic tragedy, vacillating between dire predictions of a Greek collapse and ensuing global financial calamity to ebullient, (and frankly rather ludicrous) stock market jumps of joy on hopes of a pseudo happily-ever-after. Conventional wisdom has been to lambast the Greeks with the usual damning triumvirate of a nation whose citizens are either lazy, stupid or evil… or all three. The nation is currently in a technical default, having failed to make payments already due on loans to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but has claimed that it will make a single lump sum payment later in the month for all monies due in June. The size of the Greek debt relative to GDP is second only to Japan, which given its ability to control its own currency is a very different animal.

Debt2GDP

 

To put the level of Greek debt in context, at a total of $352.7 billion, it is about half of the $700 billion that was approved by Congress for the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008.   So in the context of global debt, it isn’t that big of a deal, what is a big deal however is the precedent the situation will set for the Eurozone, the second largest economy in the world. I can’t imagine just how much coffee and antacids have been consumed this week in Luxembourg, as all sides find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, with no clear common ground.

As for that excruciating austerity we keep hearing about, meaning the cuts governments were wailing about having been forced to endure. Errrr, hmmmmm, not so sure where that is coming from when we look at data from the IMF on the next chart….

EuroDebtByYear

Spending cuts? Where? All three countries have increased their debt to GDP ratios since the crisis began. So here’s the real scoop.

 

Greece has a massive government full of rules and regulations on darn near everything that makes it very difficult to start or run a business and a tax code that makes War and Peace look like a summer beach read. Now all these rules, regulations and taxes were put in place for ostensibly good reasons, like most bureaucratic shenanigans, “We need to protect hotel employees, cab drivers, restaurants, nurses, fishing boats, gardeners etc. etc. etc.” The problem is that when you add up all this “protection” for existing businesses, employees, consumers, tradespeople… it becomes increasingly tough to run a business.

 

To make up for just how tough it is, the government has made it a practice to promise people lots of safety in the form of pension systems, welfare aid, etc. The math here isn’t too tough to figure out. If on the one hand you make it really hard on people to get things done and on the other hand you provide ample support for a decent living for those who aren’t working for whatever reason, well you’ll have less people working their tails off, which means less money available to tax and spread around to those who aren’t working. But that’s ok, because hey, we are part of the Eurozone and can get debt cheap, so we’ll just borrow whatever we can’t get through taxation and spend that. No worries.

 

That worked for a while… until the market started looking at the math a bit more in depth and realized that Greece had reached the point where it really cannot sustain its debt any longer.

Greece is like the family with a single income earner holding down two jobs that pay slightly over minimum wage who needs to support a spouse, some kids, manage a $525,000 adjustable rate mortgage whose rate keeps rising, has two cars in the driveway in desperate need of rather costly repairs, a cousin who just moved in and has some serious health problems and found out today that the roof has a major leak. Now the bank keeps calling and telling you that you need to work harder and cut back on the spouse’s spending habit as your mortgage rate continues to rise and you are already late on a few months’ worth of payments and your credit cards are maxed out. Your boss is telling you that your skills are seriously lacking and your cousin says she can’t possibly live in that room you gave her unless she gets to redecorate it on your dime. At some point, you throw your hands up in the air and tell everyone to shove it!

 

Earlier this week, according to a report by the Financial Times, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras argued that,

 

“The pensions of the elderly are often the last refuge for entire families that have only one or no member working in a country with 25 per cent unemployment in the general population, and 50 per cent among young people.” That’s Greek for shove it.

 

How does a politician manage this type of pressure from back home? Ms. Merkel and Mario Draghi just aren’t that scary or persuasive!

 

So that’s where we are. The majority of Greeks have decided to go the “shove it” route and sent Yanis Varoufakis to deliver the message, in a rather debonair manner we might add, (that’s Yanis on the left in the picture below.) This has left Germany’s Angela Merkel, the European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi and France’s François Hollande in a tizzy as they try to figure out how to work with a Greek envoy that appears to be quite confident their game theory skills will eventually get them whatever they want. Italy’s Renzi, by the way, is mostly back home dealing with his nation’s struggling economy and the seemingly eternal roll of sitting between the U.S. and Russia – poor man has enough on his plate!

Greeks

 

So here we stand with Greece still wanting to be part of the Eurozone club, having never, even upon admission to the club, been able to satisfy the requirements for membership. To be fair, many nations who were let into the Eurozone club never have been able to meet them either.

 

Bottom Line: What does a Grexit mean for the rest of the world? First, it likely means a stronger dollar relative to the euro, at least in the near-term, as there will be a flurry of uncertainty given that (1) the Maastricht Treaty didn’t provide any way for a nation to exit the Eurozone and (2) there will be fears that other member nations may try to find wiggle room around their heavy sovereign debt loads, which will give some cause for concern about the future of the Eurozone. Eventually, all that flurry will likely pass as frankly a Eurozone without Greece is stronger than one with it. Holders of Greek debt will be hit hard, which means a lot of European banks, (primary holders of all that debt) are getting even more complicated. However, the Eurozone economy is still struggling, thus the ECB will continue on with its euro-style quantitative easing, which means that over the longer run, the U.S. dollar is likely to continue it bull run.

Liberty Cannot Be Delivered at the Point of a Gun

Liberty Cannot Be Delivered at the Point of a Gun

Iraq has again descended into anarchic terror as the government  and tenuous order left in place by the US crumbles without the power of the US military behind it.  Now the US finds itself once again forced to engage in a situation that will cost dearly both in terms of actual dollars and in lives lost or at least severely damaged.  We made a mess of it and understandably the world looks to us to clean up after ourselves, regardless of the futility of the exercise.

The American Solider is to me one of the most awe inspiring images.  He/She is the defender of those who cannot defend themselves, the strong hand that reaches out and provides food, shelter, and breathtaking levels of aid during times of crisis.  He/She is the fearless defender of freedom.  Whenever I see servicemen and women I thank them for their sacrifice, for taking on risks and enduring hardships that I cannot comprehend, affording me the luxury of enjoying a life in which I only have to sweat the small stuff.  The respect they deserve demands that our military not be used so readily and with so little thought as the the endgame.

Time and time again we send our precious men and women into a nation that is suffering under a horrid despot.  We march on in fancying ourselves to be the great liberators, freeing those terrorized under barbaric rule.   It is a noble image and one that has seduced repeatedly.

The reality is something entirely different.  Democracy cannot be spread at the point of a gun.  A nation cannot be handed democracy by an occupying military force.  Liberty cannot be delivered at the point of a gun.  The love of freedom, the deep belief in the sanctity of individual rights cannot be forced upon a people, no matter how noble the intent.  It is something that must be generated from within.  It is something that must be fought for by those suffering under despotic rule and if history is any guide, it must be earned by those who seek it in bloodshed and tears.

The US seems to repeatedly stumble into foreign military messes the way Justin Bieber tweets, frequently and without much thought.

The US accounts for roughly half of the world’s military spending, yet we still don’t feel safe.  In 2013 the US accounted for about 73% of NATO’s defense spending, despite the other 27 members having collectively a larger economy than the US.

MilitarySpending

It was not the use of American military force that instilled in Soviet era Russians the desire to smoke Marlboros or wear Levis, icons of American cowboy-style independence.  The world and the United States would be better served if, rather than engaging in military conflicts that only ended up trading one set of terrorizing leaders for another, we focus on being an example of what is possible when individual rights, innovation and success are revered.  We could do much more good in the world by serving as a safe haven for those who seek to escape terror abroad, welcoming with open arms and with high expectations that those who come here, push themselves to achieve to the best of their abilities, rather than treating them and much of our existing population, like incompetent children who require a paternalistic government to manage their lives.

Foreign Account Compliance Tax Act

Foreign Account Compliance Tax Act

I spoke at FreedomFest in Las Vegas… in July… yes, know my pain.  On my way out from my talk my dear friend Richard Rahn, (the infamous one-eyed economist) grabbed me and introduced me to the lovely Emerald Robinson so that we could talk about the recently enacted Foreign Account Compliance Tax Act aka FATCA and its impact on expats as I split my time between the U.S. and Europe.

Ukraine – Why and What’s Next

Ukraine – Why and What’s Next

As if things in Europe aren’t complicated enough, the situation in Ukraine is getting more troubling by the day. The turmoil there is having vast geopolitical impacts that are keeping the investing world as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Here’s the quick, errrrhhh, fair enough, as quick as a verbose Irish lass can get, version of how we got to today.

 

In late 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was expected to sign some agreements that could eventually integrate Ukraine with the European Union economically. Ultimately, he refused to sign the agreements, a decision thousands of his countrymen immediately protested. Demonstrations eventually broke out with protesters calling for political change. When Yanukovich resisted their calls, they demanded new elections. Eventually the protestors won, Yanukovich was forced to flee the country and now we have a nation in flux.

 

So why does anyone outside of Ukraine, population 44.6m and with 233k square miles, care? Ukraine is central to Russian defenses, sharing a long border with the former Soviet Union and more importantly, Moscow sits all of 300 flat and easily traversed miles from Ukraine. Therefore, from a Russian perspective a tighter Ukrainian-EU integration represents a threat to Russian national security. Putin appears to be disinterested in actually governing Ukraine, but rather his goal seems to be to effectively have negative control, the ability to prevent Ukraine from doing anything Russia dislikes. With that in mind, it appears that even the very idea of further EU integration was provocation enough for Putin. The European Union’s and the Germans’ public support for opponents of Yanukovich crossed his red line.

 

From a European perspective, Ukraine isn’t quite as interesting. Economically the Eurozone wasn’t enamored with having the nation join the EU, it just liked the possibility of such. Adding a country as weak and disheveled as Ukraine to an already strained union didn’t make much sense, but the idea of the possibility someday is attractive. The talk about joining was really more about inviting Ukraine to make a cultural shift towards Europeanism, with a constitutional democracy and a more liberalized economy. Germany found itself between the proverbial rock and a hard place as it continues to work with Russia on its mutual energy and investment interests while trying to manage coalitions within the European Union, particularly attempting to appease the Baltic States and Poland who would like to see Ukraine closer to them and further from the Russian camp, giving them an additional buffer.

 

The U.S. strongly supported the Orange (anti-Yanukovich) Revolution, siding with the Germans and the Eurozone, which was no doubt going to get under Putin’s skin; but then the U.S. owed him one after the Snowden situation. Throughout history, many of the global conflicts, and for that matter noteworthy familial brawls, have been catalyzed by the little things.

 

The situation has evolved into a tense standoff between the G7 nations and Russia. On March 12th, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it would draw down from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve in what it claimed was a “test sale to check the operational capabilities of system infrastructure.” In reality, this was a warning shot fired at Putin. Later that same day Bloomberg reported that the U.S. has escalated the situation even further, with General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claiming that “in the case of an escalation of unrest in Crimea, the U.S. Army is ready to back up Ukraine and its allies in Europe with military action.” The G7 has threatened sanctions against Russia if it continues, with the U.S. Congress passing a resolution on March 11th to work with European allies and others to “impose visa, financial, trade and other sanctions” against key Russian officials, banks, businesses and state agencies. In a quick tit-for-tat, Russia responded on March 13th that it is prepared to retaliate with sanctions of its own against the west. Germany responded to this by announced that Angela Merkel is prepared to cancel a summit with Russia if Moscow does not help to defuse the situation.

 

To add a little extra flame to the fire, Iranian Oil Minister  arrived in Moscow late March 13th to meet with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, IRNA reported. Namdar-Zanganeh will discuss ways to deepen economic cooperation between the countries, because there weren’t nearly enough strained relationships!

 

Militarily things are also nail-biter as around midnight on March 5th the Russian navy used tugboats to maneuver a 9,000-ton hulk of a mothballed anti-submarine cruiser into the inlet to Crimea’s Donuzlav Lake, effectively blocking access to the sea from Ukraine’s primary naval installation on the peninsula. Reportedly seven of the Ukrainian’s twenty five ships are trapped, picture at left.

 

According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, on Saturday March 15th, Ukrainian forces repelled an attempt by Russian troops to land in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson Oblast. The landing reportedly occurred on Arbatskaya Strelka, a long spit of land running parallel to the east of Crimea. Earlier, it was reported that four Russian military helicopters deployed around 60 Russian troops near the town of Strilkove, forcing around 20 Ukrainian border guards and servicemen to retreat from their positions. Later in the day Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries announced a truce in Crimea until March 21st. Anyone else feel like renting Red Dawn (the original of course)?

On Sunday March 16th, the people in the Crimean region reportedly voted to have Russia annex Crimea by an overwhelming majority of some 95%+. On Monday the EU announced that it would impose travel bans and asset freezes on 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials that are considered central to Crimea’s move to separate from the Ukraine. The U.S. issued sanctions as well, via an executive order signed by the President, to freeze the assets of and ban visas for seven Russian officials and four Ukrainians.

 

Tuesday the Kremlin announced that it had officially annexed Crimea, which could be the most dangerous geopolitical event of the post-Cold World era. The two most likely outcomes are:

  1. Russia will quickly prevail, gaining the power to redraw its borders and set the precedent for exercising veto powers over the governments of its neighbors or,
  2. Western-backed Ukrainian government will push back and the second-largest country by area in Europe will descend into a Yugoslav-style civil war that will likely pull into its turmoil, Poland, NATO and eventually the U.S.

 

An alternative outcome is unlikely as Putin cannot at this point give up Crimea. It would mean a publicly shaming on a global level that could destroy his presidency.

 

Bottom Line: This situation has the potential to rock the markets, which are for now keeping a wary eye. Europe desperately needs Russian fuel. London and much of Europe is greatly beholden to the nouveau riche Russians for their highly demonstrative consumption of luxury goods and services, which only adds more pressure. There’s even a reality TV show called “Meet the Russians” which follows the lives of some ultra-bling Russians who are buying up Britain and “setting a new benchmark for extravagant living.” Europe can’t afford to push too hard back against Russia, but they also cannot ignore a precedent for unfettered Russian aggression. It is impossible to predict exactly how this will play out, but close attention is warranted.

America’s Foreign Foibles – rethinking foreign policy

America’s Foreign Foibles – rethinking foreign policy

The United States suffers from a significant mismatch between expectations and reality, which has up until recently been address by bureaucratic denial and protestations/assurances that if only more money/power are handed over, the dream can yet be realized.

This mismatch is possibly the greatest in the area of foreign policy. Most Americans are aware that they are incredibly fortunate to live in the United States, under the protection of the Constitution, a document which I find breathtakingly beautiful in its simplicity and respect for both the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. That awareness morphs into a desire to share our good fortune with others, to spread the ideals of democracy, liberty and respect for individual rights.

Unfortunately those beautiful and arguably noble sentiments are perverted into foreign wars and “engagements” that evolve into an attempt to spread respect for individual rights and freedoms through the barrel of a gun, a logical inconsistency that only government can tirelessly support.

A good deal of this perversion arises because anytime a politician has sufficient funds to allocate, someone will find a way to “wine and dine” them, thus foreign policy primarily serves special interests and is in practice often a far cry from the original noble intentions.

I am not advocating isolationism, but rather that American needs to appreciate the difference between being engaged in the world and being responsible for it. The former is consistent with our Constitution, respecting the rights and sovereignty of other nations and individuals. The later, while on the surface may sound admirable, is in reality closer to the bossy and invasive neighbor that chops down your favorite tree under the guise of helping you with your gardening.

America and the rest of the world would be better served if instead the nation focused internally, making itself an example of the joys and benefits of a free society. Showing the world the continually rising standards of living, the endless innovation and happiness enjoyed in a free society is our most powerful tool for global influence.

Forget Snowden and Focus on the NSA

Forget Snowden and Focus on the NSA

The NSA works for us.  The power to govern lies with We the People and flows from us to the government, not the other way around.  The NSA does not dictate to us what the appropriate constraints on its activities ought to be.  It may suggest, but We the People decide what controls we want on our government.  When the governing violate the constraints imposed by We the People, without our knowledge, someone like Snowden needs to take the risk to let us know.

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

2013-07-04 WhistleblowerListening to the pundits finger-wag and vilify whistle-blower Edward Snowden for the past few weeks has me in a serious lather.  I’ll admit that the recent heatwave in Genova, Italy (my part-time home along with San Diego, CA) and my upcoming trip from here to Las Vegas for FreedomFest probably has me even more fired up than normal.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had to drive in Italy in the heat.  I swear it makes an already anarchic driving society even more lunatic, but I digress.  I’m usually one to pshaw conspiracy theorists, but the vehemence of the vile attacks on Snowden’s character by those who have scant information to go on has even my eyebrows raised.  He may be an angel.  He may be a demon.  But why the hell is that even the focus?  That’s like finding the lost city of Atlantis in a tropical sea and obsessing over the clarity of your goggle lenses!

Snowden has been referred to as a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood” in the Washington Post, a grandiose narcissist in the New Yorker, and Fox New analyst Ralph Peters and Donald Trump want to bring back the death penalty for Snowden.  Seriously people?  Talk about going off half-cocked and gunning for bear.

Where is the focus on the Constitutionality of the NSA’s spying?  Oh but not to fear, Jed Babbin of the American Spectator assures us that the NSA is “a whole lot more trustworthy than most of the rest of our government,” and isn’t like the IRS.  Oh that’s comforting, given the NSA’s track record.  For the love of Pete, in 1978 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was created specifically to limit the powers of the NSA after project SHAMROCK came to light, a project that Senator Frank Church claimed was, “probably the largest government interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.”  That is until now of course.

Let’s not forget that the NSA is responsible for  the Gulf of Tonkin incident, reporting falsely that an attack had occurred on the USS Maddox, which ultimately led to the Vietnam war.  Ooops on that one too?

Now we’ve got National Intelligence Director James Clapper admitting in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee that his statement before Congress that the NSA did not have a policy of gathering data on millions of Americas had been “clearly erroneous”.  Right, you lied to the people you serve, but we’ll trust your judgment anyways.

A month after the Guardian broke this story, Snowden’s worst fears may be coming to pass, namely that nothing changes.  We have no Frank Church to lead the charge as he did in the 1970s, instead we have the likes of Cheney defending the NSA and calling Snowden a traitor.

The power of government must at all times be vigorously constrained because power will always end up being abused.  Perhaps we get lucky and have angels running the show for a while and we grant them all kinds of powers under the theory that they are there to protect us.  History has shown that angelic bureaucrats are a quickly fleeting dream.  Hell, if the NSA is so good at making sure this data doesn’t get into the wrong hands, how did Snowden get it?  Doesn’t look like he is exactly their poster child!

Liberty comes at a price.  Living in a society in which individuals are free to live their lives as they see fit, rather than living in a one-size-fits-all world comes at a price.  The more protection we ask for, the less freedom we have.  Keep this in mind.

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.” ~ James Madison