Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Economic Statistics for 5 Jan 12

Today’s economic statistical releases:

Auto Sales were mixed last month, coming in at a 13.6 million annual rate, the same as November. Light vehicle sales rose 2.8%, however, the best since the "Cash for Clunkers" program expired in August 2009.

Chain stores are reporting sales throughout the day today. So far, about 1/2 of the reporting stores show improved year-on-year sales from last month. Additionally, some chains are raising their investor guidance following the sales results, confirming improved profitability and sales.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report shows that layoff announcements totaled 41,785 in December. That’s right on trend for the last 3 months.

The ADP Employment Report indicates a big increase in private payroll growth, to 325,000 new jobs for December. While I suspect the overall December Employment Situation, which the BLS will release tomorrow, will be at least mildly positive, 325,000 new jobs seems like a stretch for the month. December’s always a tricky month anyway, due to seasonal employment, and the adjustment factors that try to account for it. A BLS increase of 160,000+ new jobs wouldn’t surprise me tomorrow, though, nor would a tick down in the Unemployment rate.

Initial jobless claims fell 15,000 last week to 372,000 from the prior week’s revised 387,000 (an upward revision of 6,000).

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to -44.8 in the period ended January 1 from -47.5 the prior week.

The ISM’s Non-Manufacturing Index rose slightly to 52.6, below expectations for 53.4, and only 0.6 higher than last month.

Dale Franks
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California: High speed rail boondoggle could make the “Big Dig” seem like a day at the park

Good old California, probably the most debt ridden state in the union, and it still can’t manage to break its big spending ways.  It certainly seems intent on wasting buckets of money it can ill afford on a poorly conceived public project.

Ed Morrissey:

When the California legislature undertook the most expensive public-works project in American history, they also created an independent review board to ensure that the LA-to-San Francisco high-speed rail project would have solid financial footing.  Perhaps they intended this panel to be a public-relations rubber stamp, but if so, it just proves that their miscalculations weren’t limited to cost projections.  Yesterday, the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group sent a “scathing” letter to the political leadership in Sacramento, calling the project’s finances and costs “fundamentally flaw[ed]”.

What did the letter say?

In a report Tuesday, a panel of experts created by state law to help safeguard the public’s interest raised serious doubts about almost every aspect of the project and concluded that the current plan “is not financially feasible.” As a result, the panel said, it “cannot at this time recommend that the Legislature approve the appropriation of bond proceeds for this project.”

The project’s newest “official cost” is $98.5 billion, three times the original “official estimate” of $33 billion.  Of course the Rail Authority thinks the panel is full of beans.  And Governor Jerry Brown?

Brown spokesman Gil Duran said in an e-mail that the Peer Review Group’s report “does not appear to add any arguments that are new or compelling enough to suggest a change in course.”

Of course he doesn’t.  Because Moonbeam, elected to get the California financial house in order, sees nothing wrong with another hundred or so billion in debt for  a debt strapped state.

The intent is obviously to go forward with this boondoggle regardless of its feasibility.  Morrissey points out, the board was intended to be a device to appease critics and to rubber stamp the project.  The fact that it hasn’t worked out that way is inconvenient, but is not going to stop something that they really want.   The fact that the voters voted to do a project with a $33 billion dollar price tag in 2008 and has now seen that estimate triple should provide more than enough of an argument whether “new” or not, to stop the California equivalent of the “Big Dig”.


Sounds like California’s political class has learned nothing from their financial travails of the last several years.

What sounded “feasible” in 2008 is obviously anything but feasible, financially, in 2012, especially when the projected cost has tripled since its voter approval.  That alone makes it infeasible.  It completely changes the game.  It is a classic “bait and switch” – a lowball estimate to gain approval and a commission which no one obviously planned on listening too empaneled to give the project of veneer of accountability.

But as usual, politicians have again decided to ignore reality and go ahead with an unnecessary and hugely expensive boondoggle despite mounting evidence, and cost, that it should be abandoned.

You just read about things like this and shake your head.  What in the world is wrong with those people?  What part of “we can’t afford this sort of nonsense anymore” do you suppose they don’t understand?  Or is it they just don’t care?  Politics and an agenda, coupled with crony capitalism, overrule common sense once again.


Twitter: @McQandO

Obama’s recess appointments

Its been something that all recent modern presidents have had to go through – nominees for office have been held up or blocked by the legislative branch in their “advise and consent” role for various reasons.   Frankly, I’ve been of the opinion that leaders should be able, within reason obviously, to appoint who they wish to political positions their election entitles them to fill. Elections have consequences.

However that’s not the reality of the situation, is it?  Both sides play this game.  And believe it or not there are “rules” or precedence which guides even this process. 

One of the things that has become crystal clear is that despite all the previous rhetoric from then candidate Obama about the “executive president” and how George W Bush was abusing his power, Obama the president has no qualms about doing what Bush did and more.

Signing statements, something Obama condemned on the way to the White House, are now routine for the Obama administration. 

As for these most recent recess appointment?  Well, it’s a matter of timing, and again this administration has decided it will simply do what it wishes, regardless of the law:

Obama infuriated Republicans Wednesday by announcing the recess appointment of Richard Cordray to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Senate Republicans had blocked Cordray’s nomination for months, so the president bypassed them with a recess appointment during the holiday break.

He followed that up later in the day with recess appointments for three members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), heading off another likely GOP filibuster.

The recess appointments broke with legal precedent, as they while the Senate is holding regular pro forma sessions. Republicans insist the Senate has not been in recess thanks to the seconds-long sessions held every few days, but White House attorneys determined the procedural move is a gimmick that can be ignored by the president.

These are the same White House attorneys who also previously said just the opposite.  Jim Treacher brings us up to date:

But the appointments may have been illegal, according to past administration statements. Obama’s own lawyers publicly stated in a 2010 exchange with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts that the president doesn’t consider a congressional recess official — meaning he can’t legally exercise his recess appointment power — until Congress has been gone for three full days. ‘The recess appointment power can work in — in a recess,’ Obama’s Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal said. ‘I think our office has opined the recess has to be longer than three days [to make an appointment].’ The Senate entered a recess on Tuesday, after having held a pro forma session to keep Obama from making any recess appointments. Another was planned for Friday. By making the appointments just one day after the Senate went into a recess, Obama appears to breaking his own administration’s rules and, as scores of Republicans are quick to point out, decades of executive precedent."

And, of course, the usual hypocrisy is afoot:

According to The Hill, Obama’s move breaks from 20 years of precedent while violating a policy established under fellow Democrat and former President Bill Clinton’s administration.

During the Bush administration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denounced recess appointments and conducted the same pro forma Senate sessions. It’s unclear what, if anything, Reid will say or do about Obama exhibiting a disregard for his advice.

In an update, Treacher reports:

Reid has backed Obama’s decision to make the recess appoints, contradicting his previous arguments about how recess appointments are “mischievous.” A spokesperson for Reid didn’t immediately return The Daily Caller’s request for comment on whether Reid has a new, enlightened argument or is just playing partisan politics to help Obama.

I’m sure Majority Leader Reid has a splendid explanation for now saying precisely the opposite of what he was saying under a GOP administration while he held the same position.

Nothing like the rule of men instead of the rule of law, no?

It makes life so … interesting, doesn’t it?  

As for the Constitution, it is now available in the White House shop in convenient toilet paper rolls.


Twitter: @McQandO

Busting the “myth” of "no voter fraud"

One of the primary requirements for any democracy is to safeguard the integrity of its voting system.  If the people believe that it is subject to compromised in any way, shape or form, they’re likely to lose confidence in the system.  And that will eventually erode the legitimacy of any government that is formed under such a system.

One way to help insure that integrity is to make voters identify themselves before they can cast their ballot with a form of identification that everyone agrees upon and does the job of validating their identity.  Most agree that a picture ID issued by the state or federal government fulfills that role.  That’s because the such IDs usually aren’t issued until the entity issuing it can certify that the individual it is issuing it too is both a citizen and legal resident of the area.

Critics of such attempts at ensuring the integrity of the system have always claimed that A) voter fraud was a myth and B) such voter ID requirement place an undue burden on minorities.  Interestingly, the critics usually come from the party to which minority votes mean the most.

The Heritage Foundation today produced a nice little fact filled primer on why “A” above is not a myth and why “B” is, in fact, the real myth.

First “A”:

The fraud denialists also must have missed the recent news coverage of the double voters in North Carolina and the fraudster in Tunica County, Miss. — a member of the NAACP’s local executive committee — who was sentenced in April to five years in prison for voting in the names of ten voters, including four who were deceased.

And the story of the former deputy chief of staff for Washington mayor Vincent Gray, who was forced to resign after news broke that she had voted illegally in the District of Columbia even though she was a Maryland resident. Perhaps they would like a copy of an order from a federal immigration court in Florida on a Cuban immigrant who came to the U.S. in April 2004 and promptly registered and voted in the November election.

There is no question that voter fraud has and does exist.  None.  And the Mississippi example is exactly what can happen when no requirement for identification is demanded at the poll.  You simply go from polling place to polling place with a new name and request a ballot under that name (voter lists are pretty easy to come by, figuring out who is still on the list but dead doesn’t require a rocket scientist, etc.).  Even the Supreme Court members point to it not as a myth but as a fact:

Stevens wrote in a 6-3 majority opinion upholding an Indiana voter ID law: "That flagrant examples of [voter] fraud…have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists…demonstrate[s] that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election."

John Paul Stevens would hardly be described as a conservative justice, yet he knew that voter fraud is and always has been a problem and voter IDs are a reasonable solution.  So that “myth” seems to be adequately put to death.

How about “B”?  Does such a requirement place an “undue burden” on minorities?  Does it place an undue burden on anyone?

Not really:

[T]he number of people who don’t already have a photo ID is incredibly small. An American University survey in Maryland, Indiana, and Mississippi found that less than one-half of 1 percent of registered voters lacked a government-issued ID, and a 2006 survey of more than 36,000 voters found that only "23 people in the entire sample–less than one-tenth of one percent of reported voters" were unable to vote because of an ID requirement. What about those who don’t have photo IDs? Von Spakovsky notes that "every state that has passed a voter ID law has also ensured that the very small percentage of individuals who do not have a photo ID can easily obtain one for free if they cannot afford one."

If 99.5% of the voting population already has, in its possession, the required from of identification, then the “undue burden” has no foundation in fact. None. 

A recent Rasmussen poll found that 70% of likely US voters favored such measures to ensure the integrity of the voting system.  Given the facts and figures above, their desire seems reasonable measure to accomplish that goal.  The the two myths of the critics, on the other hand, have no validity or credence.   One can only surmise, given these facts, that anyone who clings to those myths has an ulterior motive that has nothing to do with the system’s integrity.  See DoJ for an example.


Twitter: @McQandO

Economic Statistics for 4 Jan 12

Today’s economic statistical releases:

Factory orders rose 1.8% in November, mainly on aircraft orders. Ex-transportation, orders rose 0.3%.

A short week and seasonal adjustments aside, the MBA reports that mortgage activity declined, as mortgage applications fell by -3.7%. Purchase applications fell  a steep -9.7%, while re-finance apps dropped by -1.9%.

In weekly retail sales, ICSC-Goldman Store Sales rose a strong 1.2% over the last week, and 5.3% over last year. Likewise, Redbook reports a year-over-year same-store sales increase of 4.9%.

Dale Franks
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China buys stake in US shale gas field

While we dither and delay about fracking and permits and put a critical bit of energy infrastructure on hold (Keystone XL pipeline), China is aggressively pursuing energy assets … even in the US.  The WSJ carries the story (subscription):

China continued its push into the U.S. oil patch, with a state-owned energy company striking a deal to help develop several shale fields in Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere.

China Petrochemical Corp.’s $2.5 billion deal with Devon Energy Corp., announced Tuesday morning, marks the third billion-dollar-plus joint venture that foreign energy firms have signed with U.S. explorers in as many weeks.

Known as Sinopec, China Petrochemical is making its first foray into the U.S. by buying a one-third stake in Devon’s acreage in five emerging fields—four shale plays and one limestone field.

Seems it will be up to the Chinese government to fund jobs in those areas while ours erects barriers in other areas.

While we continue to suffer from high unemployment, there are jobs all over the Midwest and the Gulf coast that could be created (and, yes, saved) by aggressive investment in oil and gas development.  Most of that investment would be private.  But it would require the government to get out of the way.  And that is something this very ideological administration can’t seem to make itself do.

Instead we have the usual war against “Big Oil” going on (ideological fights usually are against some “Big” enemy) to the point that an industry which could be pulling us out of this recession and helping drop unemployment numbers is mostly reduced to sitting on the sidelines while ideologues argue, vent and frustrate any effort to do so.

Of course the point is someone somewhere is going to try to develop and take those energy assets.  China is going to make a relatively small investment to see what it can take out of here.  And if we don’t want what the Keystone XL pipeline would bring  – besides a whole bunch of jobs I mean – China is prepared to take that as well.

Maybe its just me but for some reason I just find the worlds “myopic” and “stupid” poor descriptors for the policy this administration is following concerning oil and gas exploitation.  They’re just too mild. 

We have an economy hurting for jobs.  We have a nation that needs cheap energy.  We have an industry ready, willing and able to provide both.  And we have roadblock after roadblock placed in front of them by government.

This, in my not so humble opinion, should be one of the major talking points for the GOP.  We need energy.  We need jobs.  What we don’t need is an administration that places its ideology over the best interests of the nation and its people.


Twitter: @McQandO

Romney wins Iowa … or something

Ok, just being flip, but I’ve never really thought that much of the caucus process and still don’t.  All this excitement, work and rhetoric over approximately 225,000 votes.  Yes I understand the possibility of winnowing the field (think Newt will finally take the hint?).

So Romney won – by 8 votes out of about 225,000 total.  That’s not as surprising to me, frankly, than who came in second.  Very disappointing to the Paulbots, I’m sure.  But Rick Santorum?  Seriously?

And will Huntsman, Bachman, and Perry drop out or hang on through New Hampshire?  After all it’s not that long till NH and again, Iowa is a caucus state.   I don’t see any of the three doing significantly better there than Iowa, but still they may give it a shot.

Cain was beaten by “no preference”.  The only “candidate” missing, as far as I’m concerned, was “none of the above”.  My guess is NOTA had a shot at at least 2nd or 3rd, and who knows, with that field, might of pulled out a win.


Twitter: @McQandO

Economic Statistics for 3 Jan 12

Today’s economic statistical releases:

The ISM Manufacturing Index rose to 53.9 from last month’s 52.7, as manufacturing growth accelerated. This confirms the reports released last week from the various Fed regions, most of which showed manufacturing growth.

Construction spending has been volatile, but the latest month shows a monthly increase of 1.8%, and a year-over-year increase of 0.5%.

Dale Franks
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Mad at Federal Government? Burn up other people’s property

The suspect in the LA arson fires is Harry Burkhart.  Burkhart lives in Hollywood.  What else do you need to know?

According to law enforcement sources, Burkhart has been involved in a dispute with federal immigration officials.

Burkhart appears to have been battling the U.S. government over the immigration status of his mother.

His solution?  Burning up other people’s property.

A string of 53 fires mostly destroyed the property of people he didn’t know and who had nothing to do with his dispute with the government.

The Los Angeles Times reports that it appears a U.S. State Department source pointed to Burkhart after he unleashed an anti-American tirade in U.S. immigration court recently, apparently in reaction to his mother’s reported deportation: A government official recognized him as resembling the man in the Hollywood+Highland surveillance video and alerted local authorities.

Oh, and his mom?

One woman told the [radio] station that the mother had indicated to her that her son wasn’t all right in the head.

Ya think?


Twitter: @McQandO

Iran–something to watch

While the hype and nonsense that usually accompanies primaries continues here, something to keep an eye on is happening a half a world away:

Iran will take action if a U.S. aircraft carrier which left the area because of Iranian naval exercises returns to the Gulf, the state news agency quoted army chief Ataollah Salehi as saying on Tuesday.

"Iran will not repeat its warning … the enemy’s carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasise to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," Salehi told IRNA.

"I advise, recommend and warn them (the Americans) over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Salehi as saying.

Salehi did not name the aircraft carrier or give details of the action Iran might take if it returned.

Iran completed 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf on Monday, and said during the drills that if foreign powers imposed sanctions on its crude exports it could shut the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is shipped.

Iran is feeling froggy and is issuing a very thinly veiled threat.  In every way, shape and form, any attempt to attack a returning carrier (or close the Straits of Hormuz, something they deny they intend) will be considered an act of war.

And they’re not really being particularly nebulous or coy about this either. 

In the world of international power politics, this calls for a response by the threatened side. 

This is akin to that 3am call for Obama.

Fold or call their bluff ?

Which will it be?


Twitter: @McQandO

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