The only thing worse than this being a lie is if it’s the truth

From the Associated Press, via msn.com:

CIA stops spying on friendly nations in W. Europe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stung by the backlash over a German caught selling secrets to the U.S. and the revelations of surveillance by the National Security Agency, the CIA has stopped spying on friendly governments in Western Europe, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The pause in decades of espionage was designed to give CIA officers time to examine whether they were being careful enough and to evaluate whether spying on allies is worth running the risk of discovery, said a U.S. official who has been briefed on the situation.

Under the stand-down order, case officers in Europe largely have been forbidden from undertaking “unilateral operations” such as meeting with sources they have recruited within allied governments. Such clandestine meetings are the bedrock of spying.

CIA officers are still allowed to meet with their counterparts in the host country’s intelligence service and conduct joint operations with host country services. Recently, unilateral operations targeting third country nationals — Russians in France, for example — were restarted. But meetings with independent sources in the host country remain on hold, as do new recruitments.

The CIA declined to comment.

OK, let’s be honest here: of course we were spying on our allies, and, thanks to a couple of traitors, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, we got caught at it. But it’s also true that our allies are spying on us: we know it, and they know it, and we all know that we all know it. It’s simply that our allies haven’t gotten caught at it very ofter, with Jonathan Pollard being the most obvious exception. If we did not spy on each other, we’d be being sloppy.

So, saying that we aren’t going to spy on our allies anymore is either an obvious lie, which our allies won’t believe anyway, though they’ll mouth platitudes about it, or, even worse, it’s the truth, in which case we are going to be derelict in our duty to our own citizens and interests.

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and the policies of the President who appointed her

From msn.com:

Yellen says US families need to boost savings
By Martin Crutsinger of Associated Press

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks during a news conference at the Federal Reserve in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Great Recession showed that a large number of American families are “extraordinarily vulnerable” to financial setbacks because they have few assets to fall back on, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Thursday.Yellen said a Fed survey found that an unexpected expense of just $400 would force the majority of American families to borrow money, sell something or simply not pay.

“The financial crisis and the Great Recession demonstrated, in a dramatic and unmistakable manner, how extraordinarily vulnerable are the large share of American families with few assets to fall back on,” Yellen said in a Washington speech.

She said the bottom fifth of households by income — about 25 million households — had median net worth in 2013 of just $6,400, and many of these families had nothing saved or negative net worth, meaning their debts were greater than their assets.

Yellen said that the Fed’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances, an in-depth analysis of family wealth, found that the next one-fifth of households had a net worth of only $27,900 in 2013 and that both of the bottom two-fifths of households had seen declines in net worth since the Fed’s last survey in 2010. She said one reason for this decline was that incomes for these families had continued to decline.

More at the link.

One wonders: is it possible that, as Dr Yellen stated, that family income had declined due to the policies of the President who appointed her?

Our President speaks about income inequality, but the disparity has gotten far greater under his policies, not lesser:

Income inequality is worse under Obama
The president is getting dangerously close to leaving a legacy of soaring corporate profits and slumping wages.
By The Week Jan 24, 2014 2:33PM

Americans today are very worried about income inequality.

A Gallup poll this month found that 67 percent of Americans are unhappy with the distribution of income and wealth in the U.S. The disappointment goes across party lines — 54 percent of Republicans are dissatisfied, as well as 70 percent of Independents and 75 percent of Democrats.
And a growing number of people are worried that they can no longer get ahead simply by working hard, suggesting that inequality is becoming more entrenched.

As Paul Krugman argues, this gives Obama a pretty strong mandate to focus on reducing inequality.

But of course, income inequality has actually gotten much worse under Obama’s watch. In Obama’s 2013 inaugural address, he argued that “our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” But during his presidency, this is precisely what has occurred.

U.S. median household income in June 2013 was 4.4 percent below where it was in June 2009, when the recovery began.

Meanwhile, the top one percent of Americans — those earning above $366,623 a year — have taken 81 percent of the fruits of the recovery. And the top 0.01 percent — earning about $8 million a year — took an astonishing 39 percent of the growth.

Indeed, Obama is getting dangerously close to leaving a legacy of soaring corporate profits and slumping wages; climbing stock prices and high unemployment; and a recovery for the ultra-rich, and not much else for everyone else.

More at the link.

Now, your Editor does not believe that it is the appropriate job of the government to try to change income distribution, but if the government has had any influence on income distribution, it is the business-unfriendly climate produced by the Obama Administration, which puts more and more burdensome economic regulations in place, regulations which inhibit the creation and growth of small businesses. If the median income has decreased, it is, in part, due to the increased number of people who are not earning any income, the increased number of people who do not have jobs. The official unemployment number does not reflect this very well, because it counts only those people who are either working or actively seeking employment as being part of the work force, and ignores the decreased percentage of the working aged population who have simply gotten discouraged and dropped out of the work force entirely.

However, going back to Dr Yellen’s advice that people need to save more, we would point out that that is very wise advice to individuals, but exactly what the government does not want to see happen, because saving more, in a time of stagnant incomes, means spending less, and our economy is driven by consumer spending. In theory, saving more simply means that the banks have more money to lend out to businesses and job creators, but there is no shortage of money to lend right now; there is a shortage of businesses and people who wish to borrow money to create jobs! And part of that is right back on the Democratic policies which discourage small business creation.

So, why does Alison Lundergan Grimes want to be in the Senate?

Just because I now own a house in Kentucky doesn’t mean that I can (legitimately) vote there, which is too bad!

Pathetic Democrat Campaign Ad: ‘I Am Not Barack Obama’
By Brian Anderson | September 15, 2014

With Obama’s approval rating in the toilet, vulnerable democrats and those running in red states are trying desperately to distance themselves from the President and his unpopular policies. Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, has taken this Obama shunning to new heights. In her new campaign ad she wants voters to know she is definitely not Obama.

As if the fact that she’s clearly a white woman wasn’t a dead give away, Grimes desperately wants Kentucky voters to know, “I Am Not Barack Obama.” How pathetic is it when the central theme for a Senate campaign is how unlike the President a candidate can be? It says a lot about Grimes, but even more to the utter terribleness of Obama.

During the ad, Grimes also proclaims, “I disagree with [the president] on guns, coal and the EPA.”

More at the link.

But, for me, the obvious question is: why does Mrs Grimes want to be in the United States Senate, if she disagrees with the President, and with the national Democratic Party, on so many things? Remember, the most important vote a Senator casts is the first vote of the session, the one which determines which party controls the Senate, which party sets the agenda, and which party has the majority on every committee. If Mrs Grimes were to be elected — and she’s currently trailing in the polls, but it’s still a long way until election day — she might disagree with the national Democrats’ positions on coal, on the right to keep and bear arms, and on environmental regulations, but she would be voting to give greater power to the people who do hold those positions.

Kentucky is a poor state, and the Democrats control both the state House of Representatives and the gubernatorial mansion; only the state Senate is controlled by the GOP. But I grew up in Kentucky, and I know the people there: they are conservative, rural Democrats, and the only Democrats who carry their votes in presidential elections are those who have run as conservative Southern Democrats: since 1956, Kentucky has been carried by the Democratic candidate in only 1964 (the landslide defeat of Barry Goldwater), 1976 (supposedly conservative Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter) and Bill Clinton’s two wins in 1992 and 1996.

Mrs Grimes, the current Kentucky Secretary of State, has promised to work for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and states that our country’s energy policies should be dependent upon coal, oil and natural gas, pretty good national Republican policies, but, as a Democrat, who would vote to retain the Democratic majority in the Senate, she would empower precisely those people who oppose a balance budget amendment, and who want to restrict the very energy sources she says she supports, and which contribute to Kentucky’s economy. She says that “We must target burdensome federal regulation of Kentucky’s energy sector, allowing our state to create new middle-class jobs across the state,” but, as a Democrat, she would be casting her votes in support of the President she claims she isn’t, who has authorized so many of the burdensome federal regulations she says she opposes.

I’ve seen, on Facebook, the postings of some of the people I know in Kentucky, who are liberals and strong supporters of President Obama, telling us how great Mrs Grimes is, and why Kentuckians should support her. But Mrs Grimes is busy telling them that no, she’s no great supporter of the President, and that no, she’s no national Democratic liberal. Now, either my (few) liberal Kentucky friends are just totally misguided in their support for Mrs Grimes, or they think, deep down, that their candidate is lying about her supposedly conservative views.

Housing prices

Today is the day that we are closing1 on our retirement house in Kentucky. We won’t be retiring for another five years, but a pretty much fantastic deal just fell into our laps: eight acres, with a sort-of fixer-upper — but nevertheless perfectly livable — house, and 500 feet of frontage on the Kentucky River, for a whopping $75,000.

Our retirement house, photo taken from the back of the property. The house is on the far end of the property, and the hill in the background, which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, is not part of our land. Click to enlarge.

Our retirement house, photo taken from the back of the property. The house is on the far end of the property, and the hill in the background, which is part of the Daniel Boone National Forest, is not part of our land. Click to enlarge.

Now, we hadn’t really been considering a retirement home until last Thanksgiving. My sister Stacey2 and her husband bought their retirement home in Powell County, Kentucky, and they got pretty much of a fantastic deal themselves, on a mid 1990s three bedroom house, with an attached two car garage converted into a “man cave,” plus a detached four car garage, plus a small barn, on five board-fenced acres. Mrs Pico and I visited them for the holidays, and were both impressed with what they got, for how little it cost them,3 and just being back home again, back among family. My wife brought up the idea that we ought to look for a good retirement home back in Kentucky a few months ago.

Now our plan was to take our vacation week in August and look for some land on which to build in five years. We figure that housing and land prices are low there now, and if we bought the land now, we’d have more time to make plans on what and how to build. Our parameters were that we wanted at least a couple of acres, with room for not only a nice house but also a good workshop and garage for me. We also wanted property with water on it, a creek or stream. Looking at land and construction prices, we thought we could do this all in five years, without the need for a mortgage. So, back in July, I was searching through the real estate site Zillow for land, when the property we are buying showed up. It was listed for $89,900, but, after some inquiries, I found out that the sellers’ bottom line was $75,000,4 which we could do, all cash.5

Our New Kentucky Home

Looking from the front of the property, across the soybean field (a neighboring farmer leases part of the land) toward the Kentucky River. The tree line marks the river. Click to enlarge.

It helped a lot that the house itself does not show well. It’s solid and sound,6 and clean, but it has an unattractive interior paint and carpet scheme, and the exterior vinyl siding should have been power washed before the house was put on the market.7

Now, why do I mention all of this? The channel we watch most often at the Pico household is HGTV, and an episode of the Property Brothers happened to be on Sunday. The format of the Property Brothers’ show is that a couple comes to them, wanting to buy a new home, and with a wish list which greatly exceeds their money. The brothers show them a turnkey property, with everything they want, but well beyond their price range. They then tell the prospective buyers that they can have everything they want, but it will have to be a renovated fixer-upper. They buyers then tour some not so great looking houses, some of which are absolute dumps, but with potential, and then the renovation proceeds and makes decent television. The first two seasons of the show were filmed in Toronto, Canada, and for the third season, half of the episodes were filmed in Austin, Texas and the other half back in Canada. But what always strikes us is the prices for these homes: even the dumps are over a quarter of a million dollars, some over half a million, before the renovations.8 When we bought our current home in Jim Thorpe, we paid less than $100,000 for it, and it would have cost close to $300,000 had it been in Conshohocken.

Looking across the Kentucky River, from the river bank on our property.  I'll have to do some clearing along the river bank, and build a floating dock, when we move down there; right now, it's heavily overgrown.  Click to enlarge.

Looking across the Kentucky River, from the river bank on our property. I’ll have to do some clearing along the river bank, and build a floating dock, when we move down there; right now, it’s heavily overgrown. My guesstimate is that the river is about 180 yards wide at this point. Click to enlarge.

Loath as I am to ever agree with Paul Krugman, he has noted that the Canadian housing market has continued the housing price rise that was so dramatically torpedoed in the United States. Yet, while the statistics say that US housing prices have come far closer to normal, and home building is rising again, I’m still seeing price differences in urban areas that seem unjustifiably elevated. This row house in Philadelphia lists for the same $89,900 at which our retirement home was listed, and is just 1,080 ft² on a 1,306 ft² lot. This rehabbed duplex, which is smaller than ours, and isn’t in a great neighborhood — it’s near Temple University, and the picture shows security bars on the windows — is listed for $189,999, while this 1,250 ft² single family detached house in Northeast Philadelphia, which looks to be very well kept up, lists for $195,000. Only the very low interest rates9 make such a home anywhere close to affordable,10 and any spike in interest rates will spell trouble for the housing market in urban areas.

And some analysts believe that the Federal Reserve Board is on track to start increasing interest rates in the spring of next year. The Fed doesn’t really control interest rates, other than the Federal Funds and Discount rates, but tries to influence private interest rates through open market operations.

Once the Fed begins to raise interest rates I believe that they are likely to use the 2004-2006 timeframe as a blueprint for its tightening program this time around. During this previous time period, the Federal Funds Rate was gradually raised on 17 different occasions over a three year time period–specifically from July 2004–June 2006, in equal increments of 25 basis points (i.e. 0.25%) each time.

That, of course, is the writer’s speculation, but I don’t find it unwarranted. I have long believed that the federal government sees only one real way out of our national debt11 is to inflate our way out of it. Our debt is denominated in dollars, and if the government triggers greater inflation, the real value of the debt will decrease. That’s good news for the government, and good news for people who owe debts, but bad news for those people who hold US government debt instruments, as well as people who are owed money . . . including mortgage lenders. In other words, if you are going to buy a house, do it sooner rather than later, because both prices and interest rates will (probably) be rising.

  1. We are supposed to close at 9:00 AM, but a small hitch, on the seller’s side, might push it back a day. My darling bride (of 35 years, 3 months and 28 days) is in the Bluegrass State, to take care of business there, but I’m still at work in Pennsylvania.
  2. This is why I refer to Robert Stacey Stacy McCain; the man doesn’t know how to spell his own name!
  3. It wouldn’t be appropriate to disclose someone else’s housing costs, so I won’t. It was more than we are paying, but the house is significantly better, needing no work at all.
  4. I made an interesting proposal: $65,000, all cash, and the sellers could live there for another five years for $1 a year. That way, we’d get the house when we retired, the house would remain occupied, and the sellers would have pretty much of the value of their sale price, figuring a rent of $500 a month, and could stay in a house that the real estate ad said they loved. They couldn’t do that, though; they were selling due to health problems which made it impossible for them to maintain the property. It was then that I found out their bottom line number. With that knowledge, we went down to look at the property, with everyone aware that we’d make a no negotiation offer of $75,000, and it was simply a yes we’d buy or no we wouldn’t, based on the inspection.
  5. And it took a heck of a lot of financial maneuvering to do it.
  6. I did the inspection myself; the sellers were informed that I would be crawling under the house during the showing, something that is pretty unusual for a potential buyer, but I was looking for a couple of specific things, primary among them being to see whether flood waters had ever reached the house, which they have not. I could see from a piece of framing on the original crawl space door, which went all the way to the bottom of the original foundation, that there was no staining indicating flood waters, nor any sign of mold.
  7. It would also have helped if the real estate company had put up better photos on the web sites. You can see the ones we took, on August 10th, in the summertime, and right after a rain; the ones in the ad had been taken in November or December, with the leaves off the trees, the crops already harvested and the ground looking dead, and the area looking as dreary as the tail end of autumn can look.
  8. Canada is still facing unjustifiably high housing prices, and the state capital of Austin is the priciest area in Texas. The show Fixer Upper, based around Waco, Texas, shows much more reasonable housing prices.
  9. A 30-year fixed mortgage in Philadelphia is currently averaging 4.25%, if you have excellent credit.
  10. Zillow’s estimated mortgage payment of $766 per month assumes a 20% down payment, and does not include the estimated $198 per month for taxes and insurance.
  11. $17,742,108,970,073.37 on, fittingly enough, September 11, 2014, almost a trillion dollars greater than the country’s gross domestic product for 2013, $18.8 trillion, and greater than what our gross domestic product for the current year will be.

Socialism in action!

The very fortunately late President Hugo Chavez was going to show all of us greedy capitalists just how superior socialism was!

Venezuela’s Newest Shortage: Breast Implants
Caracas, Venezuela — September 15, 2014, 8:45 AM ET — By Hannah Dreier, Associated Press

In this Sept, 4, 2014 photo, a patient is prepped for her breast augmentation at the metropolitan outpatient surgery center in Caracas, Venezuela.

Venezuela’s chronic shortages have begun to encroach on a cultural cornerstone: the boob job.

Beauty-obsessed Venezuelans face a scarcity of brand-name breast implants, and women are so desperate that they and their doctors are turning to devices that are the wrong size or made in China, with less rigorous quality standards.

Venezuelans once had easy access to implants approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But doctors say they are now all-but impossible to find because restrictive currency controls have deprived local businesses of the cash to import foreign goods. It may not be the gravest shortfall facing the socialist South American country, but surgeons say the issue cuts to the psyche of the image-conscious Venezuelan woman.

“The women are complaining,” said Ramon Zapata, president of the Society of Plastic Surgeons. “Venezuelan women are very concerned with their self-esteem.”

Venezuela is thought to have one of the world’s highest plastic surgery rates, and the breast implant is the seminal procedure. Doctors performed 85,000 implants here last year, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Only the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Germany — all with significantly larger populations — saw more procedures.

More at the link. But this is clearly, clearly! worse than the critical shortage of toilet paper! President Nicolas Maduro firmly addressed that problem, but, alas! it only got worse.

Why, it’s almost as though a command economy doesn’t actually work. :)

Treaty of Ghent – End of a World War – Battle of New Orleans

Consider that between 1776 and 1815 there was our Revolutionary War – Two Wars with the Barbary Pirates (Radical Islam) – Nepolianic Wars involving Russia and Britian -and at least the War of 1812. And a probably a few others. So, lets hear from Johnny Horton

Treaty of Ghent
The Treaty of Ghent, signed on December 24, 1814 in the Flemish city of Ghent, was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The treaty restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum — that is, it restored the borders of the two countries to the line before the commencement of hostilities.[note 1] The Treaty was ratified by Parliament on December 30, 1814 and signed into law by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV). Because of the era’s lack of telecommunications, it took weeks for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States. American forces under Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. The Treaty of Ghent was not in effect until it was ratified by the U.S. Senate unanimously on February 18, 1815.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Ghent

Bringing wasp spray to a gun fight

Eventually, there will be no more liberals, as they continue to do things to remove themselves from the gene pool.

NBC: Forget The Gun, Keep Wasp Spray By Your Bed For Home Defense
By William Teach September 14, 2014 – 8:11 am

And your car keys

(The Blaze) According to FBI crime statistics quoted by NBC’s TODAY Show, home invasions in America are happening at the alarming rate of 135 per day.

That frightening fact combined with some recent, high profile invasions at the homes of Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock and NBA star Ray Allen prompted reporter Jeff Rossen to produce a segment titled, “How to protect your family from home invasion.”

For a large part of the four-minute story, Rossen spoke with Wallace Zeins, a retired NYPD detective and former hostage negotiator. The law enforcement veteran shared his tips for thwarting home invasions. However, many Blaze readers will notice something missing from the segment. This would also be something they consider the first and best option for dealing with intruders — firearms.

Guns are never mentioned. They didn’t even bother with Crazy Joe Biden’s advise to “buy a shotgun” which can be fired through the door. Of course, firing a double barrel shotgun through your door when the intruders are already inside means you’re shotgun is empty and now you have to replace your door.

More at the link. But it raises the obvious question: would it be smarter of burglars to target the homes of people with Obama stickers on their vehicles? After all, we know that they are:

  • less likely to be armed,
  • less likely to know how to use a firearm if they actually have one,
  • less likely to be willing, or able, to fight back if attacked, and
  • just plain less likely to be men, even if they are technically male.

The much better-looking Dana noted that there are many on the left who just cannot comprehend that there is something like evil in the world, people who apparently believe that if you just talk nice to the bad guys, their hostility will abate, and they will decide to leave you alone. Throw in a healthy dash of blaming themselves for being wealthy oppressors, and there you have it, liberalism in a nutshell, with the emphasis on the syllable nut.

You know, liberals believe that they are just so much smarter than we wicked conservatives. After all, they can see all of the various nuances behind the act of being threatened by a burglar with a gun, while we stoopid conservatives just think about shooting the bad gus before they shoot us.

Why Baltimore Was Attacked in 1814

200px-Clipper_Built_Privateer_Schooner

This is what is known as a “Baltimore Clipper” This one is named “Pride of Baltimore II” (POB 1 sunk in a storm in the Caribbean). The British during the War of 1812 had a blockade of Ports on the East Coast and New Orleans. The Baltimore Clippers were extremely fast and could outrun any blockade Frigate. I don’t think the Brits captured anyone of them. As Blockade runners they could get need trade supplies and conduct trade. The British were seething at this. It was said the Brits were going to attack Baltimore and its Shipyards to “Clean out this nest of Vipers.” It didn’t happen.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_of_Baltimore

What happens when you have a pacifist as Commander-in-Chief?

From Donald Douglas:

President Obama Would Release the Hostages and Pin Notes on Their Chests

Folks couldn’t believe it, but indeed, Obama imagined he was an “adviser” to ISIS and that “he would not have killed the hostages but released them and pinned notes on their chests…”

At the New York Times, “Paths to War, Then and Now, Haunt Obama.”

And at Twitchy, “You seriously will not believe Obama’s plan were he an ‘adviser to ISIS’ (it’s beyond parody) [photo],” and “It started with Obama advising ISIS to ‘pin notes on [hostages] chests.’ It ended with this brutal mockery.”

And from The New York Times:

Mr. Obama had what guests on Wednesday afternoon described as a bereft look as he discussed the murders of Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff, particularly because two other Americans are still being held. Days later, ISIS would report beheading a British hostage with another video posted online Saturday.

But the president said he had already been headed toward a military response before the men’s deaths. He added that ISIS had made a major strategic error by killing them because the anger it generated resulted in the American public’s quickly backing military action.

If he had been “an adviser to ISIS,” Mr. Obama added, he would not have killed the hostages but released them and pinned notes on their chests saying, “Stay out of here; this is none of your business.” Such a move, he speculated, might have undercut support for military intervention.

There could be no clearer statement from the man the American people twice elected to be Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of America: the man in command of the greatest military force on the planet does not understand the uses of force. He thinks, apparently Harvard coffeehouse bovine defecating style, that his opponents, that our opponents really do think the way that Westerners do, when ISIS has rather dramatically proved that their logic is completely different from ours. ISIS wasn’t terribly worried about whether we’d use military force or not; the measure of President Obama’s weaknesses had been taken long ago. They knew, all along, that the United States wouldn’t once again put troops in harm’s way to stop the Islamists, and they have shown their real target audiences, the Muslim populations still ahead of their advances, that they are willing to kill, without hesitation or mercy or pity, anyone they believe is a problem, or even an annoyance, for them. They have spit in Barack Hussein Obama’s face, and laughed while the did it, because they know, full well, that he won’t really do what is actually necessary to defeat them or stop them.

On This Date 200 years ago.

American soldiers at 9:00am hoisted a 30 x 42 foot flag above Ft. Mc Henry to note they were not beaten to the British and the people of Baltimore. The British it is said lobbed 1600 shells, mortars and rockets at the Fort. It was FS Key’s Opening line “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light”

http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmah/starflag.htm

After that the British sailed away and left. I have seen this flag on display at the Smithsonian many times.