Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: May 2013

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Economic Statistics

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy. And yesterday’s too, since a family emergency kept me from posting them.

1st Quarter GDP was revised downwards to a 2.4% annualized growth rate. The GDP Price index also dropped to a 1.1% annual rate.

Initial jobless claims rose 10,000 to 354,000. The 4-week average rose 6,750 to 347,250. Continuing claims rose 63,000 to 2.986 million.

Corporate profits in the first quarter fell -4.0% to $1.738 trillion annualized.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index held at a near 5-year high at -29.7.

The Pending Home Sales Index rose a worse-than-expected 0.3% to 106.0 due to supply constraints.

The Fed reports the weekly M@ money supply fell -11.9 billion.

Personal income was unchanged in April, while spending fell -0.2%. The PCE price index fell -0.3% while the core rate was unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, income and spending were up 2.8%, while the PCE price index rose 0.7% at the headline level, and 1.1% at the core.

The Chicago Purchasing managers index rose sharply to 58.7 in May.

The Reuters/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index improved to 84.5 in May.

~
Dale Franks
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I get email…

I get a lot of email from that link over on the left side of this site. Interesting conversations, offers to review books, and the like are welcome and worthwhile. 

But spammers are everywhere, so 98%+ of it is an amazing variety of worthless trash. Perhaps even more amazing (and frustrating) is that much of it slips right through even the best spam filters, probably because it’s about politics instead of bobbydangler enlargement.

A warning if you’re ever considering doing political blogging and exposing your email address: the CAN-SPAM act has an exemption for certain political purposes. In particular, if Senator Bigslush ever gets your email address, he is free to send you whatever he likes until the end of time, or until he gets pushed out of office, whichever comes first. He probably won’t include an opt-out link. He has about as much consideration for your time as you would expect a DC politician to have. He probably thinks you get a charge from getting an email headed with "From the Office of Senator Ben Dover Bigslush".

Many political lobbying groups construe themselves to be exempted from CAN-SPAN as well. On top of that they pass email lists around like addicts sharing needles. Like true spammers everywhere, they don’t really give a damn whether you have any interest in their message. So when the crack whore next to them passes on your email address, you’ll start getting "press releases" about "sustainable wind farms" or other science fiction, whether you like it or not.

Media sites also engage in the spamming game. Politico is one of the worst; I’ve blocked them more times than I can count, and noticed a new round from them just this week. It starts “Good Morning! Here are today’s top POLITICO stories. Thanks, Stacy”, with no unsubscribe link of course.

Fortunately, gmail allows various ways to block such messages. For the politicians, I use easily constructed filters. I have 85 of those filters at last count. The science fiction “press releases” get marked as spam.

Then there are the PR flacks. A few are borderline acceptable. I’m not interested in an interview with the Director of Mining Affairs for Outer Framistan, but I could see where others might be.

Moving further into bottom-feeding territory, there are the search engine optimization (SEO) sharks. The people running these companies are some of the most contemptible in the Internet industry.

One of their annoying techniques is to pretend they’re doing me a favor. Their usual form is offering a "guest post", which strikes me as a strange way to say "unpaid advertisement".

Many of their messages are bot-generated, which does open up some humor possibilities. The blog Popehat often takes on these parasites, and recounts some of the nonsensical results. Here’s a small sample:

I would like to inquire re: your interest in blog post submissions. My associates and I have wide range of experience in many areas. I believe we can offer you web traffic driving articles of interest to your readers, on topics such as PONY , _INSURANCE , and FIRST AMENDMENT OPPONENT. Also of interest may be PONY VICTIM COUNSELING , MENTAL HEALTH , CRAZY FUCK!NG LAWYER, and BRONY PSYCHOLOGY .

These clumsy online marketing efforts typically offer slavish, insincere praise on what a great blog we have. Well, yeah, ours really is. But they don’t know us from a blog about knitting mittens for cats, because the only reason anyone connected with them ever visited the site was to harvest our email addresses.

These link whores also have another annoying characteristic. They usually send a helpful follow up spam message a few days later to make sure I saw their first spam message.

In some respects, that makes them worse than spammers for fake embiggening pills. Those guys rarely send messages that read "I wanted to make sure you got my last message about how much you must need a bigger bobbydangler."

Another SEO ploy is offering to purchase ad space – at rates so low that the time spent on paperwork won’t be recovered until sometime in 2025. The real bottom feeding vermin offer link exchanges: "I’m sure you are eager to link your site, which attracts thousands of page views a day, to my site, which gets five views a week, all from deceptive search results on Google." I completely understand and even appreciate such a request from another political blog, but not from people with the morals of a snapping turtle.

I love political blogging and wish I had more time for it. Dealing with various sorts of spammer is a small price to pay, and good email tools handle a lot of the load.

It does bother me, though, to realize that there is an entire range of people out there, from pompous politicians to media sites like Politico to SEO con artists, who have no compunction whatsoever about wasting the time of anyone they can find to annoy.


Suggested title for a book on the current scandals: “We told you so, you f@(%!ng fools!”

In the book In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage, a great story is told about historian Robert Conquest. He wrote a book in the 1980s about the abuses of Stalinism, and got the usual roasting from Soviet apologists in academia. They accused him of cherry-picking data, failing to see Stalin’s supposed good points – the usual blather of Marxist-friendly social science academics.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, opened archives showed that Conquest not only had it right, but was actually a bit conservative is his assertions. His publisher suggested an updated edition of the book incorporating that information, and asked Conquest if he wanted to change the title.

Conquest responded “How about ‘I told you so, you f*cking fools’”? *

I’m feeling that same impulse after reviewing the cascade of scandals over the last few weeks.** Anyone who wasn’t mesmerized by Obama and actually paying attention already knew that:

1. Benghazi was not just a tragedy. It was one of the most massive screw-ups ever perpetrated by the State Department, and there was clearly a cover-up to keep the rest of us from finding out the what, where, when, how, and why.

2. The IRS was targeting and harassing limited government groups.

3. Fast and Furious was a botched effort to engineer evidence in favor of gun control.

4. Fox News was being targeted by the administration from its earliest days.

Various folks on the right could see all this, yet our supposed smart media pundits at major organizations are still expressing surprise at every new revelation. In other words, we told you so, you f*cking fools. And we were ignored, or even ridiculed as paranoid and obsessive.

I learned a valuable lesson in my first job out of graduate school. The software company I worked for was acquired by a giant corporation. The executives from that giant corporation came down for meetings after the acquisition. After listening to them for a day, I concluded that they were incompetent fools.

But I had some doubt. How could they have reached such a position of authority and still be such fools?

Yet, in the ensuing years, under their leadership, the giant corporation lost tens of millions of dollars running that small software company into the ground. They ended up selling it after five years for about five percent of what they paid for it. So yeah, those guys really were the incompetent fools I thought they were.

I now assume that if I have good reasons to believe something, the assertions of powerful or influential people don’t change my mind. I assume they are simply ignorant, willfully blind, or actively deceptive. This round of scandalous outrages by the Obama administration is just another confirmation of that assumption. If media types and establishment politicians didn’t realize these problems existed before last month, then they are f*cking fools, no matter how high they have risen in the political class.

On the other hand, if they knew the problems existed and did nothing, they are despicable villains and not fit to be in the job they hold. Not in their own eyes, of course. As Robert Conquest found out, to those on the left, even Josef Stalin isn’t really a villain.

* I first saw the anecdote about Conquest in a review of the book in Reason Magazine, Fools for Communism. I got the book, which is a concise, good read. If you want examples of willful blindness by lefties, In Denial is a great source.

** Many writers predicted Obama scandals early in his term. I’m pretty sure they feel the same lack of surprise, even if they don’t express it in such a vulgar way.


Economic Statistics for 29 May 13

Here are today’s statistics on the state of the economy:

The MBA reports mortgage applications fell by -8.8%. Purchases rose 3.0%, but re-fis fell -12.0%.

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a slightly better 2.7% year-over-year sales growth rate. ICSC-Goldman’s sales report is bumpy, with a weak -0.9% sales drop for the week, but a better 2.8% annual rate.

~
Dale Franks
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Higher ups in the IRS knew about targeting Tea Parties? You don’t say

I mean really, did you honestly believe that a couple of rogue agents in Cincinnati did this on their own … for over two years?  Yeah, about as much as you believed the YouTube video caused Benghazi, huh?

Additional scrutiny of conservative organizations’ activities by the IRS did not solely originate in the agency’s Cincinnati office, with requests for information coming from other offices and often bearing the signatures of higher-ups at the agency, according to attorneys representing some of the targeted groups. At least one letter requesting information about one of the groups bears the signature of Lois Lerner, the suspended director of the IRS Exempt Organizations department in Washington.

Lois Lerner … the IRS official who “knows nothing” and refuses to talk about any of it?

Huh.

Among the letters were several that bore return IRS addresses other than Cincinnati, including “Department of the Treasury / Internal Revenue Service / Washington, D.C.,” and the signatures of IRS officials higher up the chain. Two letters with “Department of the Treasury / Internal Revenue Service / Washington, D.C.” letterhead were signed by “Tax Law Specialist(s)” from Exempt Organizations Technical Group 1 and Technical Group 2. Lerner’s signature, which appeared to be a stamp rather than an actual signature, appeared on a letter requesting additional information from the Ohio Liberty Council Corp.

Imagine that.  We have an administration full of “Sgt. Shultz’s” (see Hogan’s Heroes if you’re too young to know what that references).  They see nothing.  They know nothing.

But apparently, they’ll sign anything.

~McQ


Economic Statistics for 28 May 13

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

The Dallas Fed Manufacturing Survey was mixed, with Production jumping from -0.5 to 11.2, but the overall index up only 5 to a still-negative -10.5.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index rose 1.1% in March, up 10.9% over last year.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence index rose sharply from 68.1 to 76.2.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index rose 4 points to -2 in May.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index rose 1.2 points to 94.8 in May.

~
Dale Franks
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Obama’s doublespeak droning about drones

Reason magazine notes the following concerning Obama’s “end of terrorism” speech:

What was remarkable about Obama’s speech was its complete disconnect with his own actions in office. In a textbook example of Orwellian doublespeak, he declared that America would be haunted by the civilian casualties produced by drone attacks — without noting that these attacks were the defining feature of his war on terror.

As atonement, he pledged to transfer oversight of the drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon. But the problem with the program is not who runs it but what it does.

For those of us that have watched this guy from the beginning, it’s hardly a “complete disconnect”, it’s business as usual.  We’ve noted from the start that one should never believe what the man says, they should instead monitor his actions.  9 times out of 10, what he does or has done won’t be anywhere near what he said or said he’d do.  He is the master of doublespeak.

Oh, and remember how he told us that the world would love us again now that he was in charge?  Uh, yeah, more doublespeak:

[The Obama Administration] has escalated drone strikes against alleged militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. According to the liberal AlterNet, the Bush administration conducted 52 drone strikes in this region killing 438 people, including 182 civilians. This administration ordered 300 strikes in just its first term, killing 2,152 people, including 260 civilians. The constant buzzing in the sky traumatizes the local population — and violates Pakistani sovereignty — all of which has caused America’s popularity in Pakistan to plummet from 36 percent under Bush to 24 percent under Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Obama.

I wonder if the Nobel committee ever wished they had recall privileges.  More importantly, I wonder if they learned anything from this debacle which might make them tend to wait until the subject of their next peace prize has actually done something to earn it.

~McQ


Hey, Washington Post. I got yer questions, right here.

I notice via Instapundit that a dying, incurious, partisan, biased newspaper is whining that they should be able to “ask questions” without worrying about being exposed to authoritarian thuggery. Well, sure, but why the whining? They’ve been able to ask any questions they liked since Obama came to prominence, but they’ve asked damn few of them. As Insty puts it:

Want to preserve your ability to ask questions? Try asking questions.

In case the problem isn’t obvious, let me list some questions they should have asked over the last five years:

1. Does Obama share views on what America is really like with his “God damn America!” preacher of twenty years, Jeremiah Wright? Did he really spend twenty years at the church and consider Wright a mentor, yet never hear enough to understand his pastor/mentor’s views?

2. What influence did admitted terrorist Bill Ayers have on Obama? And by the way, exactly why is a terrorist who feels zero remorse qualified to participate in political society? Are you not at least mildly curious about that? Have you tried to get Ayers to explain, or at least quoted his own words in interviews he granted before his association with Obama came to light?

3. Who authorized Fast and Furious? How was Brian Terry’s death handled internally at the Department of Justice?

4. Who authorized the raids on Gibson Guitar? Were they politically motivated? Why wasn’t their main competitor, Martin, investigated? Did Martin commit exactly the same acts, yet get off scot free?

5. Is an admitted tax cheat qualified to be Secretary of the Treasury?

6. How did an avowed Marxist, Van Jones, get control over tens of millions of federal money as a high official in the Obama administration? Who vetted him? Who selected him? Was Obama involved with that decision? Does Obama think it’s acceptable for a Marxist to be a high federal official?

7. What does Obama think about his wife spending more on a single vacation than a typical middle class family makes, gross, in their entire lives? Is she entitled to that kind of treatment? By what virtue? What if Laura Bush had taken multiple such vacations? Would the Post have been any more curious about that?

8. Why is a part-term Senator with no executive experience qualified to be president? Is that risky? Is it more risky than having the governor of a small state as a vice-president?

9. Obama stated “We won”, and apparently reached a deal with Boehner which he then recanted, subsequently demanding further concessions. Does that mean he is responsible for the impasse with Republicans over the debt ceiling, sequester, etc.? Should the Republicans negotiate in good faith with someone who has behaved as Obama has behaved? Would that be wise on their part?

10. Does Obama believe there are any natural limits on the power of government? If so, what are they? What does he think government should never be allowed to do?

11. What happened in Benghazi? What decisions were made, and who made them? Was it a back-room deal gone bad? Did the administration mistakenly give anti-aircraft missiles to al Qaeda and then try to get them back? Why were requests for security turned down? Did the administration cover up significant details simply to delay disclosure until after the election? Does the Post think that is acceptable behavior for a president? What would they say if Bush had done something similar in fall 2004?

12. Where did the stimulus money go? Who got it? What are their ties to Obama? Did the stimulus achieve any portion of its promised economic effect? Why is our economy still mired in low growth and high unemployment, even after giving Obama the stimulus he claimed would fix those problems?

13. Speaking of high unemployment, are the official numbers cooked to make the administration look good? Why had the pool of people no longer seeking employment grown so fast? Is it really just baby boomers retiring? If not, who are the others? Should we develop alternative unemployment rates that take into account people who have dropped out of employment seeking simply because of despair over ever finding a job?

14. Was it appropriate for Obama to comment at all on the Trayvon Martin case? Now that all kinds of exculpatory evidence is surfacing in the case for Zimmerman, has Obama changed his opinion of the case? Is there any reasonable evidence that Zimmerman was motivated by racism?

15. Are White House reporters afraid of asking tough questions directly of Obama? If not, why were so few such questions asked during Obama’s first term?

16. Is is appropriate that Obama does so few press conferences? Does he owe more expansive explanations of his policies to the American people?*

17. What is the complete list of people involved in the IRS targeting of Tea Party organizations? How long did it last? Was there a cover-up to keep the information hidden until after the election? Why? Do bureaucrats in the IRS consider it their job to judge the political implications of their work (which would be the case if they hid the information before the election)? If so, is that consistent with the supposed principles of supposedly non-partisan federal service? Do we need to consider alternative taxation systems just to rid the federal government of this sort of abuse?

18. Are individual tax audits random? What are the inputs to the random process? Are the actual statistics on audits consistent with the presumably random process? If not, who did the interventions that caused the people audited to no longer be random? Was it for partisan purposes?

19. Did the targeting and de facto suppression of Tea Party groups have an impact on the 2012 elections? If so, how big?

20. The Tea Party groups were ignored, and even laughed at, when they claimed the IRS was targeting and abusing them. What would the national media have done if, say, an offshoot of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or Planned Parenthood, had made such claims?

21. You now seem upset that a Fox journalist was named as a “co-conspirator”, apparently to facilitate a fishing expedition to find a leaker in the administration. What about the campaign by the White House to discredit and ostracize Fox News back at the beginning of the Obama administration? Was that proper, or an abuse of power? Do other media outlets consider Fox News a legitimate media organization? Is the claim by the Obama administration that Fox News was biased in favor of the other side imply that the media organizations they like are biased in favor of their side?

22. How do you feel about the editors of your cross-town newspaper being requested by the Obama administration to get rid of a troublesome columnist? Did you know that columnist was subjected to an IRS audit with no obvious cause?

23. Why do areas of the country with high gun ownership tend to have lower violent crime rates? Is the Supreme Court decision regarding gun ownership as an individual right being properly considered and observed by political leaders across the nation? If not, why it is OK for them to flout the Constitution?

24. Did the federal government really order 750,000,000 rounds of ammunition? If so, why? Since it’s way more than would ever be needed for their nominal excuse of “training”, what do they expect to use it for? 

25. How much is the cost of healthcare coverage going up because of Obamacare? Is Obama’s promise that “if you like your coverage you can keep it” being kept? Is the law so complex and contrary to its promises and stated intent that it should be repealed wholesale?

26. Why is college so expensive? Why has it increased in price much, much faster than inflation? Are federal loan programs partially at fault, allowing colleges to raise prices in concert with increased loan availability?

27. What’s the outlook for people in their twenties? Why is their unemployment rate so high? Are they held back from pursuing opportunities because of student loans? Were they encouraged by universities to pursue pointless degrees just to take out those loans, even though the universities knew there would no demand for those skills after college?

28. Are college speech codes a violation of the Constitution? Is the recent attempt by the Obama administration to impose a uniform, highly restrictive and ambiguous speech code a violation of free speech? What is the purpose of those speech codes? Do universities foster diversity of thought, as they claim?

29. Why did so many green energy companies take large federal loans and then go bankrupt? What were the political connections of the owners of those companies with anyone in the federal government? Who made the decisions to award those loans, and what criteria were involved in the decisions?

These are just off the top of my head. I could do more with some research. This is enough to show that the Washington Post and the rest of the national media have been failing to ask obvious questions for years.**

No doubt some of these subjects received cursory coverage, but it’s clear that the Post and most of their national media colleagues were not interested in detailed answers to any of these questions. There hasn’t been anywhere near the effort put in that the New York Times, for example, invested in an unfounded smear on John McCain in 2008.*** Only when the Obama administration started clearly abusing the press using the power of the legal system, and they could hypothetically see themselves on the other end of the abuse, do they final develop a shred of curiosity about anything that might reflect badly on Obama or the Democratic left.

Why didn’t they ask all those other questions? Because they were afraid of the answers they would get.

Honest answers to these questions would challenge a host of mistaken assumptions these popinjays in the media carry around with them. They might discover that authoritarianism and leftism go hand in glove. They might start wondering about Obama’s competence. They might find out that their political opponents (and make no mistake, they chose the leftist side in the political battle long ago) are not ignorant racist Southern white males, and have a point about the dangers of big government. They might find out that people like Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama are the main causes of racial tensions rather than those supposedly racist white males.

They might notice that the parts of the country where minorities suffer the worst are all governed by liberal Democrats and have been for decades. They might realize that it’s not accidental that the educational systems in those areas are all miserably bad. They might question whether public sector unions actually have the well-being of the public in mind.

They might discover that leftism isn’t sustainable, that our debt mountain will inevitably collapse, and that the country is headed for a financial meltdown that will likely lead to civil violence.

Finally, they might notice that they had been played for chumps and useful idiots by the Obama administration since the first time he got in front of them.

But they won’t. They will be like the academics that defended the Soviet Union and Marxism right up until 1991, and afterwards never apologized nor admitted that they had it wrong for decades. Some of them are still Marxists, in fact, and will go to their graves convinced that Communism is fine when run by the right people.

Just like the journalists and editors at the Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe, et. al. long ago convinced themselves that their mission was to “make a difference” and “change the world” by promoting the tenets of leftist collectivism, and will go to their graves blaming something else, anything else, for the failure of that philosophy.

* For the record, I don’t think a president, of any party, owes the media anything. A president may go to the press when he thinks it helps him govern, and ignore them when they are an impediment. But I doubt that the preening members of the national press agree with me.

** Some of these areas might very well wind up being no big deal. I find it highly unlikely that all of them would turn out so. We certainly can’t find out without some investigative journalism, and the current crop of stenographers in the media seems unwilling or unable to do it.

*** I don’t even like John McCain, and refused to vote for him, but I can recognize a smear when I see one.


Why won’t they fix it?

About a year and a half ago, I bought a Citizen Skyhawk A-T EcoDrive watch. It’s the really nice one, made of titanium, solar-powered, and calibrated to the Naval Observatory’s atomic clock every day. It pretty much has all the bells and whistles a watch can have.

At least, it used to. The outer bezel fell off less than a year after I purchased it. Now, when you pay for an $850 dollar watch that you sort of hope will be the last watch you’ll ever buy, you don’t expect bits to just…fall off. Then the inner bezel fell off.

Untitled-1

“OK,” I thought. “I’ll take it to a watch shop to have it fixed.” But I can’t. No one is allowed to fix the Skyhawk A-T except the Citizen Service Center in Torrance, CA. “Well,” I thought again, “This is becoming…inconvenient.”

But I really wanted it fixed, so I submitted to the process, which first requires you to go to the Citizen web site and fill out a form to create a work order. Then I packed it all up, took it to the post office, and sent it off to Torrance, insured, via Certified Mail, in December.

Anxiously I awaited. As the dark, cold winter passed, I prepared to greet the warmth of spring with a freshly restored Chronometer. Then, in late March, I received a text message from UPS telling me my watch had been delivered.

Oh, frabjous day!

I raced home from work, ran into the house, and there was the package from Citizen. I opened it to find my watch…in exactly the same poor shape it was in when I sent it. There was an invoice as well, saying that I’d need to buy a new bezel for $60, but they were returning my watch untouched because I’d never responded to their service messages.

Um, what service messages? I hadn’t heard a single thing from them since I’d sent the watch off. No phone calls. No emails. No letters. I was a bit…upset about this.

So, I lovingly re-packed it, but this time, I sent along a $60 money order, along with the repair invoice, and a little note, informing them that I did wish them to fix it, and here was the $60 the had requested.

Two days and $25 in postage later, the watch was off to Torrance again. “This, time,” I thought, “I’ll get my beautiful watch back again, whole!”

Weeks passed. Spring Training came and went. The baseball season started. The Astros worked assiduously to become, once again, the worst team in baseball. I checked the mail regularly, in case Citizen sent me a note about the watch, but, sadly, received nothing. Once again, it was as if I’d sent my watch into a black hole.

Then, today, May 23rd, I received another text message from UPS, telling me my watch was back from its second sojourn to Torrance. I was hopeful, but apprehensive. In what state would my watch be now?

When I got home, there was the package from Citizen. I picked it up and went into the kitchen, where The Lovely Christine was making dinner.

“I love you,” I told her, pulling out my pocketknife in preparation for slitting the packing tape open. “I’m telling you this now, while I’m in a good mood.” I kissed her on the back of the neck, then continued, “Because if I open this package and my watch isn’t fixed, I’m going to be incandescently angry.”

Thirty seconds later, I was incandescently angry.

Once again, my watch was unfixed. Once again, there was a little note saying that I hadn’t responded to their inquiries, which, once again, I had never received. But, my $60 money order had been returned, so I’ve got that going for me.

So, now, instead of wanting to send it back for a third time, I’m wondering how easy it would be to take a hammer and pound a titanium watch perfectly flat.

I honestly don’t know what they want from me. Since they sent my $60 back, it clearly isn’t money. Perhaps I missed some fine print about sacrificing a small animal, or selling my soul to Satan.

I’m at a loss.

UPDATE – 24 May

I got a couple of calls and emails from Citizen today. They say they are sending me a pre-paid UPS packing label, and that they will fix my watch and send it back to me. Free of charge.

So, we’ll see how that works.

UPDATE – 5 Jun

My watch is back from Citizen. Shipped and fixed free of charge. I finally have my Eco-Drive back on my wrist again!

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