Free Markets, Free People


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Why the US has lost its presence in the Middle East

As if it wasn’t obvious, Gary Kasparov summarizes it very well in today’s WSJ:

Mr. Obama has already decided to continue his policy of disengagement from the Middle East, and his platitudes about cooperation and the rule of law rang hollow in the U.N.’s General Assembly hall. Of the conflict in Syria, he said, “we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the prewar status quo.” But every listener was aware that Mr. Obama had no intention of backing his words with action.

Mr. Putin, speaking about an hour later in the same room, included his usual NATO-bashing and obvious lies. “We think it is an enormous mistake,” Mr. Putin said, “to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces, who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face.” He spoke of national sovereignty—which is very important to Mr. Putin, unless it’s the sovereignty of Georgia, Ukraine or another place where he wishes to meddle.

In other words, Mr. Obama’s speech was routine because he knows he will not act. Mr. Putin’s speech was routine because he knows he will act anyway.

And that final sentence is the best capsule of the two opposing foreign policies you’re likely to see.  Mr. Obama has always been long on words – that is “talking the talk”.  But he’s almost never bothered to “walk the walk”.  In international politics that’s interpreted as a huge weakness.  Consequently, his lack of action (i.e. backing up his words) has been constantly tested for reaction.  And the reaction has always been … more words (or more “red lines”).

One of the major reasons for the rise of ISIS is the poorly thought out American withdrawal from Iraq after the Obama administration took over.  With the withdrawal came the abandonment of the Sunni minority there that had been key to the Anbar Awakening that had helped make the surge a success and stabilize Iraq.  ISIS was a direct result of that abandonment.  One of the key questions asked by Sunni leaders to American commanders before they committed to the Awakening was, “are you going to stay”.  Obama’s policy put “lie” to their promises.  Now, after failing to act when ISIS first rose and trying to blame others for the rise, the administration wants a part in the defeat of ISIS (which, by the way, will have to be much more of an effort that an occasional air strike, if it is to succeed).

But there’s this “words over action” problem that Obama suffers from that certainly erodes any confidence in the viability of any US involvement.  In international politics, action speaks louder than words and Mr. Putin is and has taken action.  Whether or not you agree with his action or want to see Russia involved in the Middle East isn’t the point.  The point we should all understand is the weak and indecisive Middle Eastern policy that this administration has pursued has handed over it’s predominant role in the region with barely a whimper.  Putin hasn’t forced his way through the door there.  The US has willingly opened it and all but welcomed him in.

Kasparov has a brutal conclusion which I find hard to fault:

Mr. Putin didn’t say anything new at the U.N., because he didn’t need to. He knows that he has concrete assets that are more effective than mere words. He has tanks in Ukraine, jet fighters in Syria, and Barack Obama in the White House.



Economic Statistics for 27 Aug 15

GDP for the 2nd Quarter of 2015 was revised sharply upwards to an annualized 3.7%, with the GDP Price Index up 2.1%.

Corporate profits in the second quarter came in at $1.824 trillion, up a year-on-year 7.3%.

The Pending Home Sales Index rose 0.5% in July to 110.9.

The Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index declined by -2 points to -9 as the district’s manufacturing contraction deepened.

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 6,000 to 271,000. The 4-week average rose 1,000 to 272,500. Continuing claims rose 13,000 to 2.269 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.9 points to 42.0 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet fell $-12.1 billion last week, with total assets of $4.475 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $70.8 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply increased by $33.4 billion in the latest week.

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ObamaCare: fewer doctors, higher premiums and deductibles – oh, boy!

A new report by Avalere Health points out what an “improvement” ObamaCare has been:

[E]nrollees in ObamaCare plans have access to 34% fewer providers than those who buy a commercial plan outside the exchange. On average, it found, ObamaCare enrollees had 32% fewer primary care doctors and 24% fewer hospitals from which to choose.

Worse, ObamaCare plans covered 42% fewer oncologists and cardiologists than non-ObamaCare plans.

Yes indeed, what a deal.  Couple that with sky-high deductibles (according to Health Pocket, average deductibles for the lowest cost Bronze Plan in ObamaCare are 42% higher than before the law was passed) and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.  By the way, the average Bronze Plan costs around $3,500 a year and has a whopping $5,181 deductible to be paid.

Oh, and here’s the good news:  “insurers are pushing double-digit premium hikes for 2016, some as high as 50%.”

So again, let’s ask, what good is insurance if you can’t find a doctor or it doesn’t pay a penny until you’ve paid your huge deductible (not to mention the premium) out of pocket?  As should be obvious, for the most part it isn’t any good.  Especially if you have a young, relatively healthy family.  In that case, be prepared to pay for everything out of pocket.

Sounds like a pretty bad deal, doesn’t it?  However, remember, if you don’t have insurance, well, the IRS will make sure to make life miserable for you.

Another example of the Democrats looking out for the middle/working class in this country.


Economic Statistics for 15 Jul 15

Producer Prices for Final Demand rose 0.4% in June, with the core rising 0.3%. On a year-over-year basis, PPI-FD is down -0.7%, but up 0.8% less food and energy. Overall PPI-FD results:

PPI-FD – M/M: 0.4%
PPI-FD less food & energy – M/M: 0.3%
PPI-FD less food, energy & trade services – M/M: 0.3%
PPI-FD Goods – M/M: 0.7%
PPI-FD Services – M/M: 0.3%PPI-FD – Y/Y: -0.7%

PPI-FD – Y/Y: -0.7%
PPI-FD less food & energy – Y/Y: 0.8% 
PPI-FD less food, energy & trade services – Y/Y: 0.7%
PPI-FD Goods – Y/Y: -3.7%
PPI-FD Services – Y/Y: 0.8%

The Fed reports that June industrial production rose 0.3%, as did capacity utilization in the nations factories, rising to 78.4%.

Today’s Beige Book from the Fed reports that 10 of 12 Fed districts are reporting only moderate to modest growth.

The Atlanta Fed Business Inflation Expectations survey shows inflation expectations rose 0.1% in July to 2.0%.

The Empire State Manufacturing index rose from -1.98 to 3.86 in July, but the new orders component is still dragging at -3.50.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -1.9% last week, with purchases down -8.0%, but refis up 4.0%.

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PPI-FD Goods – Y/Y: -3.7%

Almost half of all Federal criminal charges are made in 5 southern border districts, but we don’t have a border security or illegal immigration problem

41.7% of all Federal criminal charges come from 5 districts that are on the US southern border.  In one district, West Texas, the US attorney filed 5,832 cases.  That’s more than all the cases filed for the entire length of the US norther border (5,257).  The southern district of Texas ranked 2nd, followed by Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California.

And that’s not all:

“In addition to criminal cases brought before United States district judges, the United States Attorneys also handle a considerable criminal caseload before United States magistrate judges,” explained the U.S. attorneys’ statistical report for fiscal 2013. “The utilization of magistrate judges varies from district to district in response to local conditions and changing caseloads.”

“Magistrate judges are authorized by statute to perform a variety of duties as assigned by the United States district judges, including presiding over misdemeanor trials, conducting preliminary hearings, and entering rulings or recommended dispositions on pretrial motions,” said the report.

In fiscal 2014, according to the Table 2B, 67,401 criminal defendants were determined to be guilty in magistrate proceedings. Of those, 63,253 — or 93.8 percent — were in the five districts along the U.S.-Mexico border.

And yet this administration has, for its entire tenure, ignored the crisis on the border and even encouraged illegal immigrants to enter the country. While some may buy into the argument that the fault lies with Congress (and, more specifically the GOP) for not passing immigration reform legislation, the problem at the border is a law enforcement problem.

Law enforcement is not a Congressional duty, but instead, the job of the Executive branch.  However, despite their being laws on the books concerning illegal immigration, this administration refuses to enforce them and has, in fact, has defied them.  Compound that with blue cities offering sanctuary to illegals (again, in defiance of existing law) and you have a situation out of control.

While it is certainly true that some form of immigration reform needs to be legislated, that doesn’t excuse the lax or non-existent enforcement of existing laws by the administration.  It is clear to most that this crime wave that has engulfed the southern border is squarely the responsibility of the Obama administration, and no amount of attempted blame shifting will change that.


Economic Statistics for 11 Jun 15

Retail Sales for May rose 1.2% overall, 1.0% less autos, and 0.7% less autos and gas. This looks like a rebound from the soft 1st Quarter.

Export prices rose 0.6% in May, while import prices rose 1.3%, after a year of declines. On a year-over-year basis, export prices are down -5.9% and import prices are down -9.6%.

Business inventories rose 0.4% in April, while a strong 0.6% increase in business sales left the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.36.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 3,000 to 279,000. The 4-week average rose 3,750 to 278,750. Continuing claims rose 61,000 to 2.265 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.4 points to 40.1 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $2.7 billion last week, with total assets of $4.468 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $7.1 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply fell by $-15.0 billion in the latest week.

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You have a right to discriminate

Here’s what the Social Justice Warriors don’t understand.  Discrimination is a part of individual freedom.  And with that freedom to discriminate come consequences.  It is like the right to free speech – you get to say what you want (other than incitement) and you get to pay the social and cultural consequences for doing so.  What others don’t get to do, however, is force you to adopt their values and therefore coerce you to conform.  That’s totalitarianism, not freedom.

John Stossel explains:

Why force someone who disapproves of your actions to bake you a cake? Lots of other bakers would love the business. This debate has moved from inclusion to demanding that everyone adopt your values.

In a free country, bigots should have the right to be bigots. Americans should also have freedom of association.

American lawyers talk about special protection for religious freedom, and in the Hobby Lobby case the Supreme Court said you could escape onerous parts of Obamacare by paying lawyers a fortune and convincing judges that you are a closely-held corporation with religious objections. But why must you be religious to practice what you believe? This should be about  individual freedom.

Of course, government must not discriminate. The worst of American racism and homophobia—slavery, segregation enforced by Jim Crow laws, bans on interracial marriage, anti-sodomy laws, etc.—was government-enforced discrimination. That was wrong, and it was right for the federal government to intervene.

But private actions are different. If I start a business with my own money, I ought to be allowed to serve only libertarians, people who wear blue shirts, whatever. It’s my business!

My customers have choices. If I am racist or anti-gay, the free market will punish me. Enough people would boycott my business that I would probably lose money quickly.

Many important points.

“In a free country, bigots have the right to be bigots.” And they’ll pay the consequences of being bigots.  How?  See Stossel’s last paragraph.  If an owner of a business is stupid enough to exclude a portion of his customer base out of plain bigotry (“no Irish allowed”) there are likely going to be enough of his “acceptable” customers offended by him that they’ll take their business elsewhere.  The consequences of his bigotry will be a loss of business, loss of profit and likely a loss of social prestige.  That’s how it works in a free country.

Also in a free country, what everyone should demand is “government must not discriminate …“.  The onus of non-discrimination shouldn’t be on the individual forced by government, but on government as forced by the citizens of the land.

How these got flipped is a testament to the perseverance of those who would control your life (under the false guise of freedom) and the neglect of those who thought individual freedom would last forever.  Just as free speech can sometimes be ugly, so can discrimination.  Social and cultural change usually take care of those who are “ugly” by making them suffer the consequences of their ugliness.  We’ve seen that proven any number of times.

What we’re now seeing is a back lash against the SJWs who would use the force of government to make the unwilling comply with their values.

We simply don’t need that if we’re willing to be patient:

Even in the difficult days of Reconstruction, after the Civil War, business began to bring together whites and blacks who might not always have liked each other but who wanted the best deals. It took several years for racists to get Jim Crow passed so they could put a stop to that erosion of the old racist ways. Government helped keep racism going for several more decades.

That last sentence is the key.  Jim Crow laws were a product of government!  What the civil rights laws did was essentially repeal government mandated discrimination.  What we don’t need is a new series of laws that mandate behavior as they did then, even if the new laws are formed with teh best of intentions, they still require the force of government to enforce.  And they’ll not be enforced fairly and, as they usually do, will be used to to absurd things to people.

Elizabeth Taylor married nine times. Had she married again, should the EEOC have ordered her to marry someone from an ethnic minority?

A homophobic baker shouldn’t stop a same-sex couple from getting married. Likewise, a gay couple shouldn’t force a baker to make them a wedding cake. No one should ever force anyone to bake them a cake.

Exactly. Here’s the bottom line:

Individuals should be allowed to discriminate. I discriminate all the time. I favor people over others when I choose my friends, jobs, hobbies, clubs, religion, etc. So do you.

Correct. And in a free country that is your inherent right, consequences included.


Narrative Journalism, ideology and serving the “greater good”

I don’t know about you but I’ve been fascinated by the UVA/Rolling Stone “rape” debacle.  And while it is clear that Rolling Stone, in general, and the author of the RS article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely specifically, broke every journalistic rule out there, there’s a deeper story here (I’ll get to RS and Erdely later).

It’s about why the story even had a chance of being published.  It’s about the combination of “narrative journalism” and an ideological agenda.  It was about one supporting the other without any real evidence that what had been claimed (a gang rape by fraternity members) was true or had even happened.

The story was out there before Erdely had ever inquired about it.  And you have to understand that that story had largely been accepted as “the truth” by people who wanted to believe it to be so.  These weren’t just students and a couple of teachers, by the way.  These were very well connected people who knew exactly where to go to push their agenda.  Here’s that backstory:

As the Rolling Stone article fell apart, Catherine Lhamon’s involvement has gone virtually unmentioned. But a deeper look reveals her ties to Emily Renda, a University of Virginia employee and activist who put Erdely in touch with Jackie, the student whose claim that she was brutally gang-raped by seven members of a fraternity on Sept. 28, 2012, served as the linchpin for the 9,000-word Rolling Stone article.

President Obama nominated Lhamon to become the Education Department’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in July 2013. The Senate approved her unanimously the following month.

She has served as the Education Department’s designee to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault which Obama created on Jan. 22, 2014. Renda served on the same task force.

Besides that link, both spoke at a February 2014 University of Virginia event entitled “Sexual Misconduct Among College Students.”

Lhamon has been invited to the White House nearly 60 times, according to visitor’s logs. Renda has been invited six times. Both were invited to the same White House meeting on three occasions. One, held on Feb. 21, 2014, was conducted by Lynn Rosenthal, then the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. Twenty-one people, mostly activists, were invited to that meeting. Lhamon and Renda were invited to two other larger gatherings — one on April 29 and the other on Sept. 19.

It is unclear if both attended the three meetings. Renda did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Renda and Lhamon also testified at a June 26, 2014, Senate hearing on campus sexual assault. It was at that hearing that Renda cited Jackie’s story that she was brutally gang-raped by five fraternity members — a statement that was inconsistent with Jackie’s claim to Erdely that she was raped by seven men. According to the Columbia report, Renda first told Erdely about Jackie’s allegation on July 8, nearly two weeks after her Senate testimony.

During her testimony, Lhamon claimed that “The best available research suggests that 20% of college women, and roughly 6% of college men, are victims of attempted or completed sexual assault.” That “one-in-five” claim about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus has been heavily disputed.

So when Erdely showed up wanting to do the rape story, she had Renda to encourage her to do this one, because both had the same agenda:

The reporter used Jackie’s story about a gang-rape to introduce readers to what she asserted was a systemic failure on the part of universities, police, and society to prevent and investigate sexual assault.

Rape culture.  Rape crisis.  How else does one advance such a story except finding the perfect “rape” to feature all of those things?  Bingo.  The prefect story. And who was more than willing to offer it?  Renda.

Now some may ask, “why do you contend that advancing such a narrative was Erdely’s motive?”  For one thing, she’d done it before on another “rape” story – this one in the military (another institution that is “misogynist”).  And it followed a very similar pattern.  The case involved a female Navy Petty Officer who claimed to have been sexually assaulted.  Leon Wolf, doing some great research, finds that Erdley did for that case exactly what she did for the UVA case – and so did the Rolling Stone editors:

The point of this story is this: the evidence is clear all over the face of this story that Erdely – as enabled by her editors at Rolling Stone – has a serial habit of reporting rapes without conducting any more fact checking than she did of the UVA story. It is facially obvious that she did not talk to the accused rapist because there wasn’t one. There is no evidence that she talked with anyone who was present at any of the bars where Ms. Blumer drank on the night before her DUI to attempt to verify even her story about meeting the three guys. And, again: the sources who spoke to RedState were clear that Ms. Erdely made no effort to contact any member of the Naval command who was involved with the investigation to get their side of the story with respect to what manner of investigation was conducted into Ms. Blumer’s allegations or what that investigation revealed.

After an exhaustive investigation that spanned a year and a half (which Erdely and Rolling Stone ignored and/or did no research into whatsoever), no one was able to produce any evidence that a sexual assault had occurred, physical or otherwise. The alleged victim herself had no recollection of it happening, did not report it to the police who arrested her, and had a ready motive for latching on to the narrative, which is that it would have stopped or possibly prevented punishment at the hands of her military superiors and possibly prevented her from permanently losing the top secret clearance necessary to keep her job.

Sound familiar?

This was an important story for the “rape culture” agenda.  It was to be the cherry on the top of the narrative that says, “college men are misogynists and serial abusers who need to be punished for their actions”.   That’s why the fictitious “20%” number was invented.  That’s why the DoE’s civil rights division is involved.  As noted, this story shows the connection all the way to the top and the narrative that was being pushed.  Erdley and Rolling Stone were heaven sent to these people and they used her just as she used them.  The result was shoddy journalism of the worst stripe that apparently is standard operating procedure for Rolling Stone (I have another example of precisely the same problem with another author that I highlighted February of 2011.)

Of course, as we’ve seen, the narrative, as presented by Erdley, failed spectacularly.  It not only couldn’t withstand even the slightest scrutiny, it had holes in it wide enough to drive a tank through.  Yet, that was precisely the narrative that had survived up until that time.  Why hadn’t the school investigated it more thoroughly before accepting the story?

Well, here’s why:

In December, as Erdely’s article began to collapse, Julia Horowitz, a student journalist at UVA, tried to explain why the campus newspaper had been caught flat-footed by the falsity of Jackie’s tale. She conceded that “factual inconsistencies” and “discrepancies” might exist in Erdely’s tale, but, she cautioned, “To let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.” Horowitz, exponent of this horrifying view of journalism, went on to become editor-in-chief of UVA’s student newspaper. Much of the media has been quick to pillory Rolling Stone, but Horowitz’s fear of allowing facts to overwhelm the narrative would be at home in vast swaths of our media — and government and higher education, too.

Facts shouldn’t define the narrative – got that? Now you understand why an administration, a magazine reporter and editors and a student “journalist” would let a tale like the UVA rape story exist and flourish – it fit the narrative like a glove if you didn’t look to closely.  And no one did – including Rolling Stone.

As to the reputations ruined and lives tarnished by all of this?  Well, that’s just collateral damage in a world where the narrative is much more important that the individual.  It serves the “greater good”, you see.



Economic Statistics for 10 Mar 15

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales dipped to 2.6% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 2.7%, as weaker sales continued.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index edged 1 tenth higher to 98.0 in February.

Wholesale inventories rose 0.3% in January, while a -3.1% plunge in sales drove the stock-to-sales ratio up to 1.27, the worst since July, 2009.

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