Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: March 2012


Economic Statistics

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

Initial claims for unemployment fell by 5,000, to a lower than expected level of 348,000 for the week. The four-week average fell 1,250 to 355,000.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell slightly to -34.9. But, more people said the economy was improving than at any time in eight years.

Some previous data indicated home prices were improving. That would be good news, if it were true. But, it isn’t. The FHFA reports house prices in January were unchanged.

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose 0.7%, led by improvement in the labor market.

~
Dale Franks
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If you’re going to have to apologize, don’t say it. But if you do say it, man up and live with it and the consequences

There are going to be very few times Bill Maher and I essentially agree.  Today would be one of those days. Apparently he doesn’t like the world Media Matters has created.  He begins his NYT piece defending Robert De Nero’s recent nonsense. 

THIS week, Robert De Niro made a joke about first ladies, and Newt Gingrich said it was “inexcusable and the president should apologize for him.” Of course, if something is “inexcusable,” an apology doesn’t make any difference, but then again, neither does Newt Gingrich.

Mr. De Niro was speaking at a fund-raiser with the first lady, Michelle Obama. Here’s the joke: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”

The first lady’s press secretary declared the joke “inappropriate,” and Mr. De Niro said his remarks were “not meant to offend.” So, as these things go, even if the terrible damage can never be undone, at least the healing can begin. And we can move on to the next time we choose sides and pretend to be outraged about nothing.

This is an example of the left’s propensity toward faux outrage at every utterance from the right backing up on them.  And, since Mr. Maher has been the target of that, he’s all for settling this once and for all.

In essence, Maher wants to be able to say anything he wants and not have to apologize for it.

I agree.

Please, do so.  And don’t apologize.  That is fine with me.

But … and you knew there had to be one … that doesn’t mean what you say is consequence free.  You still get to pay the price for what you say.

That’s really what Maher wants to see go by the boards, make no mistake about it.  No-penalty “free speech”. 

Sorry, no such thing.  Never has been, never will be. 

However, the faux apologies to address the faux outrage (and hypocrisy), yeah, I can do without those.  They’re only trotted out when the consequences of stupid, degrading or demeaning speech put the speaker in an untenable situation.

Here’s an idea – think before you speak?  Exercise a little self-discipline?

Nah … way to restrictive, huh?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Meanwhile, in the Arab world, spring has sprung

Michael J. Totten brings us up to date on Tunisia which is credited with starting “Arab Spring”.  Guess who the new enemy of freedom is there?

“People here think the United States is cooperating with Ennahda,” said local journalist Ashraf Ayadi, referring to the Islamists who won 42 percent of the vote in the election last October. Even though a majority of Tunisians voted against them, they still got more votes than any of the other various parties, so they got to choose the prime minister.

“People here are against the United States helping Ennahda,” Ayadi continued. “All Americans who come here are against the Islamists, but the American government is supporting them. I wish we had a good, modern, respectful Islamic party. I’m a Muslim and I’m proud of it, but I’m not proud of this party.”

Now this may be no fault of the US – elections, winner, etc.  However, it is perceived that the US is supporting an Islamist party by establishing diplomatic relations with them.  Meh, you say?  They’re wrong, that’s what governments do. 

Well, okay, but you have to ask why the US (and Qatar for some reason) is being singled out as a supporter of an Islamist government? Doesn’t matter … perception is reality and the majority of Tunisia believe the US is enabling an Islamist regime.  And, by the way, those complaining are the “liberal” and “secular” portions of the population.  Ironic.

Meanwhile in Libya, a mess continues to grow messier. Western intervention has left a country in chaos:

Libya is now effectively ruled by the militias that ousted Gadhafi, and some militias run parts of the country as their own fiefdoms independent of any national authority. The most powerful militias in the western cities of Zintan and Misrata have refused the government’s calls to disarm. These militias believe that remaining armed allows them to retain political influence in the new order that they fought to create.

Amnesty International has documented numerous cases of abuse and torture of detainees by local militias, and there have been many reports of reprisals against civilians living in perceived pro-Gadhafi areas. Militia rule is made possible by the weakness of the NTC, which never had real control over armed rebel forces during the war, and still does not. Plus, the council’s opacity and corruption have been rapidly de-legitimizing it in the eyes of Libyans.

So much for “saving the civilians”.  And, as it turns out, the overthrow of the Gadhafi government has had a negative spillover effect in the area:

But the Libyan war’s worst impact may have occurred outside of Libya. The neighboring country of Mali, which also happens to support U.S. counter-terrorist efforts in western Africa, has been roiled by a new Tuareg insurgency fueled by the influx of men and weapons after Gadhafi’s defeat, providing the Tuareg rebels with much more sophisticated weaponry than they had before. This new upheaval benefits al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), and the Tuareg uprising threatens the territorial integrity of Mali. The rebellion has also displaced nearly 200,000 civilians in a region that is already at risk of famine, and refugees from Mali are beginning to strain local resources in Niger, where most of them have fled. "Success" in Libya is creating a political and humanitarian disaster in Mali and Niger.

Brilliant.  I’m sure that was all thought through and considered before the first attack sortie was approved.

Finally, and hopefully, it has shown the doctrine of R2P to be a sham:

Paradoxically, the Libyan war and its aftermath have had the unintended consequence of undermining the doctrine of "responsibility to protect" (R2P) that was originally used to justify the intervention. Many advocates of intervention believed Western involvement would strengthen the norm that sovereignty may be limited to protect a civilian population from large-scale loss of life. Instead, the Libyan intervention helped discredit that idea.

A key requirement of the "responsibility to protect" is that intervening governments assume the "responsibility to rebuild" in the wake of military action, but this was a responsibility that the intervening governments never wanted and haven’t accepted. All of this has proven to skeptical governments, including emerging democratic powers such as Brazil and India, that the doctrine can and will be abused to legitimize military intervention while ignoring its other requirements. The Libyan experience has soured many major governments around the world on R2P, and without their support in the future, it will become little more than a façade for the preferred policies of Western governments.

And that’s exactly what the intervention in Libya has provided.  But hey, it’s “Arab Spring”.  It’s all good.

Right? 

Hello out there …

Is this thing on?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


More green energy “winning”

It just gets better and better:

President Obama will tout investments in “renewable” energy Wednesday at the local Copper Mountain Solar 1 plant, although the plant has only five full-time employees.

The plant, owned by San Diego-based energy company Sempra, was built in late 2010 at a cost of $141 million. Funding included $42 million in federal-government tax credits and $12 million in tax-rebate commitments from the state of Nevada.

Construction of the plant involved over 300 part-time jobs, but currently only five full-time employees operate the plant, a Sempra spokeswoman confirmed. That comes out to $10.8 million in tax-dollar subsidies per employee.

Result?

Nationally, solar energy is unlikely to help the president achieve his goal of lower energy costs. Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, the free-market think tank that publishes Nevada Journal, noted in his Solutions 2013 report that, even according to the U.S. Department of Energy, solar-PV energy will cost three and a half times more than energy from traditional sources such as coal.

“President Obama’s visit to the Solar 1 Facility in Boulder City is the perfect illustration of why the president’s economic policies are such a failure," said Andy Matthews, president of NPRI. “The government has spent over $50 million to ‘create’ five permanent jobs and build a plant producing a product — expensive solar energy — that no one would purchase without a government mandate.

“That’s not a path to a vibrant economy; it’s the road to serfdom. This mindset — of government attempting to pick winners and losers in the economy through subsidies and regulation — is a major reason why the national unemployment rate is at 8.3 percent, Nevada’s unemployment rate is 12.7 percent and the national debt is over $15.5 trillion.”

But hey, here we are “winning” the Charlie Sheen way.

Again, does anyone wonder anymore why, despite their rhetoric, Obama and Secretary Chu are just fine with gas prices going up?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Economic Statistics for 21 Mar 12

The following statistics were released today on the state of the US economy:

A 13 basis-point rise in interest rates in the past week drove mortgage applications down -7.4%, the Mortgage Bankers Association reports. The purchase index fell -1.0%, the refinance index dropped -9.3%.

Existing home sales for February fell -0.9% to a 4.59 million annual rate. Sales are up 8.8% from a year ago.

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Dale Franks
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Why the Ryan budget is doomed

Over at Zero Hedge there’s a long discussion of the Welfare State. 

We have long argued that at its core, modern society, at least on a mathematical basis – the one which ultimately trumps hopium every single time - is fatally flawed due to the existence, and implementation, of the concept of modern "welfare"…

Love the term “hopium”.  It describes well the addictive drug that underpins the Welfare State.  And we have “long argued” exactly the same thing Zero Hedge has and we’ve even produced the math – many times.

But has that changed anything?  Even those who embrace and tout the Welfare State admit that mathematically it leads to huge deficits and eventual insolvency yet they resist any attempt to change it to prevent those outcomes.  See their reaction yesterday and today to the Ryan budget (which, by the way, at least takes a meaningful swipe at “entitlements”). 

Zero Hedge then quotes “The Privateer”, a subscription letter that bills itself as “the private market letter for the individual capitalist”.  To anyone on the left, the words “individual” and “capitalist” make what I’m about to quote immediately suspect.

For those who’ve spent years studying this problem, nothing that I quote from The Privateer is going to be a surprise.  But I did like the way it was done.  A little different twist on the discussion than you’ll usually see:

The Great Delusion – “Welfare”

For the best part of the last two decades, it has been accepted as an indisputable fact even by the mainstream media that the two great pillars of the welfare state – medicare and social security – will break the government which offers them. Today, every nation in the world makes at least some pretense of providing “welfare” to its citizens. Since the “developed” (or “rich”) nations are those where these systems are most “developed”, these are the nations most at risk of crumbling under their burdens.

Welfare has many antonyms, but “hardship” is particularly apt in this context. Wikipedia’s entry on “welfare” ends like this: “… this term replaces “charity” as it was known for thousands of years, being the act of providing for those who temporarily or permanently could not provide for themselves.” As usual, the defining characteristic is missed. Charity is voluntary. “Welfare” as practised by government is compulsory. This makes the two terms opposites. It also brings about the opposite results. Charity is a voluntary act made by those who have a surplus to assist those who do not. “Welfare” is a system guaranteed to end up in hardship for everyone but particularly for those who are forced to be “charitable”.

The insoluble dilemma of a “welfare state” is twofold. First, it results in a situation in which the majority of people who vote are partially or wholly dependent on the state for their sustenance. In every “advanced” nation today, those who vote for a living outnumber those who work for one. It is true that not everybody, or even a majority of those eligible in many cases, bothers to vote at all. It is equally true that the “wards of the state” have much more incentive to vote than do those who are to provide for them.

The second dilemma is the issue of the unfunded liabilities. The US government divides its budget into discretionary and NON discretionary items. The bulwarks of the welfare state, social security and medicare, fall into the second category. They are considered untouchable. There are only two problems here. First, the unfunded liabilities of these two programs are somewhere in the order of $US 80 – 120 TRILLION. Second, any talk of sharply lower annual deficits (let alone talk of a return to a budget balance) are puerile without MAJOR surgery being performed on medicare and social security. They are gigantic millstones around the neck of the US economy as they are on the economies of all other nations.

In the hands of government – “welfare” becomes its antithesis – “hardship”. Today, this is being illustrated in real time in Greece. But no nation can afford a welfare state in the long run.

I noticed yesterday that one of the first complaints about the Ryan budget is that it leaves defense alone for the most part, but goes after both Social Security and Medicare with plans to reform them in such a way that they are no longer the unfunded liabilities they now are.

Defense spending isn’t our problem.  It is a budget item.  It has to be funded every year.  Don’t have the money?  Cut the budget (and they’ve done that to the tune of $487 billion over the next 10 years – and that’s before sequestration).

But that’s not the case with “non discretionary” spending is it?  That isn’t a budget item in the sense defense is.  It can’t be cut under current law, can it?  Those are important points often left out of the discussion about “what to do”, especially when the distraction of defense spending is introduced into such a conversation.

That, however, is not why I wanted to discuss this today.  I could emphasize almost every line from the quoted piece.  It has that much substance.  The are a number of points I want to amplify.

One … welfare, as The Privateer notes, is not charity.   In fact, welfare is the opposite of charity as piece says.  And when the state becomes a welfare state, it usually pushes much of charity out of the way.  The major point, of course, is charity is a voluntary act by people who have a “surplus” they’re willing to part with in order to help those who need help.  There is nothing voluntary about welfare.   And the involvement of the state leads to outcomes like this:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s food police have struck again!

Outlawed are food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content, reports CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Glenn Richter arrived at a West Side synagogue on Monday to collect surplus bagels — fresh nutritious bagels — to donate to the poor. However, under a new edict from Bloomberg’s food police he can no longer donate the food to city homeless shelters.

It’s the “no bagels for you” edict.

“I can’t give you something that’s a supplement to the food you already have? Sorry that’s wrong,” Richter said.

Of course it is wrong.  That’s just the latest example.  There are, as everyone knows, untold numbers of similar nanny-state rules that have been enacted over the years simply because of the Welfare State mentality that pervades much of government.  In NYC, in this example, a kind of years long charity has essentially been outlawed by the Mayor because he has decided that the state should be the decision maker as to what citizens of the city’s welfare regime put in their mouths, not charitable givers.  Result – you get to pay more for “welfare”.

But you need to move back a couple of clicks and take a broader look at what the Privateer calls the “insoluble dilemma” of the welfare state – any Western welfare state.  By design:

[I]t results in a situation in which the majority of people who vote are partially or wholly dependent on the state for their sustenance.

And that then leads to insoluble dilemma one:

In every “advanced” nation today, those who vote for a living outnumber those who work for one. It is true that not everybody, or even a majority of those eligible in many cases, bothers to vote at all. It is equally true that the “wards of the state” have much more incentive to vote than do those who are to provide for them.

That, in a nutshell, is the dynamic that both feeds and dooms the welfare state.  The creation of a class of people incentivized to perpetuate the Welfare State because the Welfare State has made them dependent.

It naturally leads to insoluble dilemma two, which, of course, is the creation of untouchable but also huge and unfunded future liabilities that no politician – who panders for votes for a living — is willing to address for fear of losing those “who vote for a living”.

That describes precisely what we’re seeing today in this country as well as the countries of Europe.  The end is inevitable.  The will to do anything about it doesn’t exist.

If you don’t believe me, watch the critiques of the Ryan budget over the next few days.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Obama administration set to “fast track” southern Keystone pipeline project

How do you know when a president’s energy message is falling flat?

When you see him trying to involve himself in something that doesn’t need him or his permission to proceed.

President Barack Obama plans to announce in Cushing, Oklahoma, on Thursday that his administration will expedite the permit for the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, a source familiar with the president’s announcement told CNN.

In January, the Obama administration denied a permit for the 1,700-mile-long Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would stretch from Canada’s tar sands development to the U.S. Gulf Coast. That decision was met by persistent Republican criticism that the president has not been doing everything possible to create jobs and combat high gas prices.

Late last month, TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL Pipeline, announced it would move forward with the process to build the southern half of the pipeline, which would begin in Cushing – the president’s third stop on his two-day energy tour. The White House praised the move.

Senior administration officials would not confirm the president’s plan to unveil the effort to cut red tape for the project, though one senior administration official acknowledged the need to deal with the glut of oil in Cushing, where oil from the Midwest hits a bottleneck as it is transported to the Gulf of Mexico.

This is much like his attempt to take credit for increased oil production when he had no hand in that increase, and, in fact, saw production increase despite his administration’s efforts to slow it on Federal lands.

This part of the Keystone pipeline is approved and ready to go.  It has been.  The company was merely waiting on the final go ahead for the portion that crosses the border from Canada.   And while the portion being built from Cushing will be helpful, still missing is the portion that could be delivering up to 800,000 barrels a day from the oil sands of Canada.  This, as usual, is a diversion.

Oh, and does anyone understand what “red-tape” the administration is talking about cutting?  Why all the red tape this administration has strung all over the process since it has taken power, of course.

An amazing performance.  Net gain – not much if anything in terms of total oil produced.  The oil will get to market somewhat faster and certainly in a more environmentally safe way, but it still does nothing to increase the supply of safe oil that would actually lessen our dependence on oil from unfriendly countries.

Pure politics.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Why Is The President Pushing Pond Scum?

Well the Washington Free Beacon has an idea:

President Obama’s most recent green energy fixation—algae—may suffer from the accusations of cronyism that have plagued his broader effort to promote non-fossil fuel energy sources through massive federal subsidies.

May suffer?  Read on:

Solazyme, a San Francisco-based firm that specializes in the plant matter, has received more than $25 million in federal grants and contracts as part of Obama administration’s controversial stimulus package, and is poised to receive millions more as part of the president’s recent efforts to promote green biofuels such as algae.

The firm employs a former member of the Obama-Biden transition team who, according to one online bio, “played a key role in developing the energy provisions in the economic stimulus bill.”

That’s right, the usual – crony capitalism.  And in this case, you get a twofer.  San Fran Nan’s district benefits.

Be nice if the guy who claimed he was going to change “politics as we know it” wouldn’t revert to “politics as usual” at every opportunity to pad his re-election campaign and help out his cronies, huh?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO