Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People


Time to put the IRS back in its place

This should be interesting:

A federal judge has ordered the IRS to explain “under oath” how the agency lost a trove of emails from the official at the heart of the Tea Party targeting scandal.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan gave the tax agency 30 days to file a declaration by an “appropriate official” to address the computer issues with ex-official Lois Lerner.

The decision came Thursday as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which along with GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill has questioned how the IRS lost the emails and, in some cases, had no apparent way to retrieve them.

The IRS first acknowledged it lost the emails in a letter to senators last month.

“In our view, there has been a cover-up that has been going on,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said. “The Department of Justice, the IRS, had an obligation, an absolute obligation … to alert the court and alert Judicial Watch as soon as they knew when these records were supposedly lost.”

This isn’t Congress we’re talking about here.  Dissembling “under oath” in a Federal Court has (or at least used to have) severe consequences.  That ass that is the director of the IRS won’t be able to play his arrogant games this time.  And, his agency will actually have to have a plausible explanation and proof instead of hand-waves and fake outrage at the questions asked and answers demanded.

As polls have demonstrated, almost no one in the country believes the IRS’s convenient explanations – convenient for them.  And, as others have pointed out, they were in violation of the law when they didn’t archive all correspondence pending lawsuits they were involved in.  This wasn’t just some “slip up”.  The IRS knows what its legal responsibilities are and have exercised them in the past.  Their legal department knew that they were required, under the law, to ensure all internal correspondence was available.

This isn’t about a couple of “rogue agents in Cincinnati”.  This is about a rogue agency … period.  Time to bring it under control again and for once, figuratively speaking, seeing some bureaucratic heads roll.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 10 Jul 14

Chain stores reporting June sales today note generally modest rates of sales growth, with no changes to earnings guidance.

Initial jobless claims fell 11,000 last week to 304,000. The 4-week moving average fell 3,500 to 311,500. Continuing claims rose 10,000 to 2.584 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 1.2 points to 37.6.

Wholesale inventories rose 0.5% in May, against a 0.7% sales increase, leaving the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at a lean 1.18.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $6.4 billion last week, with total assets of $4.383 trillion. Reserve Bank credit increased $6.0 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 Money Supply fell by $-3.9 billion last week.


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Economic Statistics for 9 Jul 14

Gallup’s self-reported Consumer Spending measure for June fell $-7 to $91.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index fell -2.0 points to 95.0 in June.

In weekly retail sales, ICSC-Goldman reports a 1.7% increase from last week, but down 1.3% to a year-on-year rate of 3.3%. Redbook, however, reports a big 6.0% year-over-year sales increase.

Consumer credit rose $19.6 billion in May, with revolving credit up $1.8 billion. Strong credit card use is a big plus for retailers.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 1.9% last week, with purchases up 4.0% and refinancings up 0.4%.


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Obama’s “blame game” attempt on immigration crisis is weak broth

As usual our “Blamer-in-Chief” is trying to lay off the blame for the crisis at the border on others.  Adriana Cohen of the Boston Herald points out why that dog won’t hunt:

The massive crisis of tens of thousands of illegal children and hundreds of thousands of illegal adults flooding over our borders is, no surprise, not President Obama’s fault. It may have been entirely preventable, and certainly was highly predictable. But as usual, six years after he took office, the blame belongs elsewhere.

It’s the Republicans, blocking immigration reform, the Obama administration wants you to believe. They’re even trying to hang it on Obama’s favorite blame target, George W. Bush, saying deportations are being slowed by a bipartisan 2008 law aimed at human trafficking — a claim none other than Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein says doesn’t hold water, while other critics note it’s a little thin, blaming a crisis now on a law that’s been around for six years.

As Mitt Romney noted in 2012, “For two years, this president had huge majorities in the House and Senate — he was free to pursue any policy he pleased. But he did nothing to advance a permanent fix for our broken immigration system.

The crisis is in fact wholly owned by the Democrats.

Democrats — here and elsewhere — have been pushing for years to let people without Social Security numbers have driver’s licenses and welfare benefits. They’ve pushed for in-state university tuition for people who don’t belong here. Obama himself acted to dramatically reduce deportations — specifically of children — and has broadly signaled he wants to legalize the estimated 12 million illegals.

Who can blame the hundreds of thousands flooding across our borders for thinking they are welcome? The Democrats told them so. Never mind that 92 million Americans are unemployed or no longer looking for jobs.

And now he’s out fundraising while refusing yet again to take a leadership role in solving the crisis.  While in Texas, one of the states effected by this crisis, he refused the governor’s invitation to visit the border, preferring again, to talk about it instead (another of his endless and useless roundtables that solve zip).

Can the President really come to Texas to fundraise and avoid going to the border? Now two Southwest Democrat congressmen have spoken out, saying it’s an important issue and he should schedule a visit. Henry Cuellar said exactly that while making the comment that this issue could be Obama’s Katrina Moment, and then Raul Grijalva, representing Arizona’s 3rd district, chimed in,urging the President to go.

The answer to the question is “yes”.  And not only that he can then go to Colorado, swill beer, play pool and pretend all is well.  Beer and pool – the modern version of Nero’s fiddle.

I see the left hyperventilating over all this impeachment talk, but if ever a guy was working hard to give good cause to be removed, it is this clown.

~McQ

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The downside of central planning – minimum wage version

Nothing new here, but let’s repeat it for the umpteenth time so perhaps somewhere some lefty will actually figure out why minimum wages are a bad idea:

One of the results of the state and local minimum wage increases across the country is more young people out of work, according to Puzder. The more entry-level jobs pay, the more willing experienced, qualified workers will be to take them, thereby bumping the young and inexperienced out of the work force. Puzder says that is causing a real problem for the young people of America.

“The real problem with youth is: You have to have these entry-level jobs to get the experience you need to move forward in your life. If they don’t have those jobs, they’re sitting at home – I don’t know – looking at the posters from the last election or waiting for mom to make dinner, as opposed to being out there actually working and getting the experience that they need to go forward in life,” argues Puzder. “The experience is the important part and we’ve got a whole generation of kids ages 16 to 29 who are missing out on that.”

So how does the economy regulate the price of labor?

“When there’s a demand for labor, the cost of labor goes up. When there’s no demand for labor, it goes down and you can’t solve that problem by having the government artificially mandate a wage increase when there’s no economic growth to support that,” says Puzder. “What businesses do is they increase their prices and they move to automation so you have less jobs.”

Yes, as usual, central planning will fail and have negative consequences.  I know, you’re shocked.

Oh, and this:

“When politicians tell people, ‘We’re going to increase the minimum wage and your check will be bigger,’ what they don’t say and [what] the next sentence should be [is]: ‘However, it’s not going to be worth as much as the increase, because everybody’s going to increase their prices so you’re not going to be able to buy as much as you could have if we’d just had economic growth that justified that increase.”

So what does Andy Puzder propose instead of artificially inflated minimum wages? “Government needs to get out of the way. If government gets out of the way, businesses will create jobs,” he says. “Wages will go up and the country will go back to a state of prosperity instead of what we’re in now.”

So you get the usual self-serving half-truth from pols when they claim they’re doing something to help the “little people”. By the way, Andy Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants.  He and I disagree on one thing:

Puzder says he believes states and municipalities have the right to raise the minimum wage, but he believes people need to understand the consequences, including higher prices and increased automation, which his company is undertaking using iPads to take orders at some restaurants instead of people.

Uh, no, Mr. Puzder … states have the power to raise the minimum wage, but unless you believe some entity other than yourself has a “right” to mandate how you spend your labor dollar, they have no “right”.

Anyway, prepare for some lefty to come by and assure us that the laws of economics aren’t really iron-clad at all, that supply and demand regulated by the market is old thinking and that central planning has a much better chance of assuring a “living wage” … if, given their skills, anyone can find a job at that price.

~McQ

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US government data shows no warming in US for last decade

So, when you hear Obama and the alarmist bleating incessantly about the crisis of “global warming” or “climate change” or whatever phrase they choose to characterize the hoax they’re trying to perpetrate on the people of the country, ensure you point out that not even their own data supports their claim:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s most accurate, up-to-date temperature data confirm the United States has been cooling for at least the past decade. The NOAA temperature data are driving a stake through the heart of alarmists claiming accelerating global warming.

Responding to widespread criticism that its temperature station readings were corrupted by poor siting issues and suspect adjustments, NOAA established a network of 114 pristinely sited temperature stations spread out fairly uniformly throughout the United States. Because the network, known as the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN), is so uniformly and pristinely situated, the temperature data require no adjustments to provide an accurate nationwide temperature record. USCRN began compiling temperature data in January 2005. Now, nearly a decade later, NOAA has finally made the USCRN temperature readings available.

According to the USCRN temperature readings, U.S. temperatures are not rising at all – at least not since the network became operational 10 years ago. Instead, the United States has cooled by approximately 0.4 degrees Celsius, which is more than half of the claimed global warming of the twentieth century.

But, but, that’s only the US … yup, and that supports the observation that globally there has been no warming for the past 17 years.  The models are wrong.  Just flat wrong and it’s time we started saying that.  There is no credence to be found in their predictions and certainly nothing to support the alarmist’s claims.

Carly Fiorino, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and a senate candidate remarked this weekend on the cobbled up “war on women”.  On CNN, she pulled out a fortune she’d gotten from a fortune cookie and said:

“‘Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause,’” Fiorina read. “And that’s exactly right. The War On Women is shameless, baseless propaganda. There’s no fact to it. But it’s worked because it’s scared women to death. Enough.”

Substitute the alarmist’s “climate change” for “war on women” and it describes precisely what is going on with them.  They have no case, only propaganda, and their only “argument” is to call the other side names and call for violent action against them.

Meanwhile, the case against the alarmist cause just keeps on getting stronger and stronger, not that it will slow them down or cause them to decrease the volume of screaming.  It’s not about science, it’s abotu power and money … and they want both.  More power over the way you live and more money to use against you to enforce their edicts.

~McQ

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 06 Jul 14

This week, Michael, and Dale talk about the week’s events.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

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Economic Statistics for 3 Jul 14

A net 288,000 new jobs were created in June, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.1%. Average weekly earnings rose 0.2%, but weekly hours were unchanged at 34.5 hours. Underlying fundamentals aren’t great, however. In June, 2013, 89.7 million people were out of the labor force. In June, 2014, it was 92.1 million.  In the same time period, the civilian non-institutional population rose from 245.6 million to 247.8 million, or 2.2 million. So, 2.2 million were added to the working age population, while 2.4 million fewer were in the labor force. In other words, Job growth is still less than population growth, hence the 62.8% labor forces participation rate Since October, 2013, labor force participation has hovered at levels not seen since 1978, as the unemployment rate has “declined”. 

The trade deficit in May shrank to a better-than-expected $-44.4 billion, down from $-47.0 billion in April.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.7 points to 36.4 in the latest week.

The ISM Non-Manufacturing Index fell -0.3 points to 56.0.

The US Services Purchasing Managers’ Index rose 1.9 points to 61.0 in June.

JP Morgan reports the global Composite PMI rose 1.1 points to 55.4, while the Services PMI rose 1.2 points to 55.8.

Weekly initial jobless claims rose 3,000 to 315,000. The 4-week average rose 750 to 315,000. Continuing claims rose 10,000 to 2.579 million.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $8.7 billion last week, with total assets of $4.377 trillion. Total reserve bank credit fell by $-1.6 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose $43.5 billion in the latest week.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report estimates there were 31,434 layoffs in June, down from 52,961 in May.


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How centralized bureaucracies work

In another indicator of how low a priority veterans have with this administration, a whistleblower in Atlanta has revealed that VA employees were switched from processing VA applications to those of the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare.

Scott Davis told the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

“We don’t discuss veterans. We do not work for veterans. That is something that I learned after working there. Our customer is the VA central office, the White House and the Congress. The veterans are not our priority. So whatever the initiatives are or the big ticket items, that is what we focus on.”

He later appeared on the Neil Cavuto show and claimed that 17,000 applications for VA Healthcare were destroyed.  He also said  they’re “also looking into a backlog of over 600,000 pending applications for VA Healthcare.” Davis said the applications were purged as a way to deal with pressure from Washington D.C.

Davis: What I think happened, Neil, is that there was pressure by people in Washington for us to hit our numbers. You’ve heard a lot about the 14-day turn around time for the hospitals. But what most people don’t know is that there’s a five-day turn around time for health applications. And if we don’t hit that five-day turn around time, it affects performance goals for people in senior leadership positions.

Cavuto: So if you don’t have that, and you’re not paying that out, it looks like you’re meeting your numbers and then some, right?

Davis: Absolutely. But what also happens, Neil, is that we’re currently neglecting not only the right thing to do, which is to process applications, not delete them. We have a huge system integrity issue at VA. For example, the VA right now can’t even tell the investigators what happened to those applications, because they can’t verify where they are, what happened to them, if they were deleted, why were they deleted, and why there was no paperwork showing the justifications for those deletions.

Cavuto: We’ve asked for a statement out of the VA on this and we have yet to get one, Scott. I’m trying then to give them the benefit of the doubt here. It seems like a crazy situation. Did you or any of your co-workers ever get so overwhelmed — not you specifically — but they just say the heck with it, more files, more applications, just dump them in the trash, we’re overwhelmed. Do you think that has gone on?

Davis: I know that there was rumors that suspect those activities before I started work thing in 2011. What I can tell you is that there’s so much pressure on the employees to get stuff done so management can meet goals, it’s easy to make mistakes, it’s easy to have mishaps. What happens is, instead of the VA focusing on doing what’s right for our nation’s veterans — meaning taking time, processing each application diligently and appropriately — pressure is placed on front line employees to overwork themselves, rush through the application process, to hit goals for members of management.

Cavuto: When you say to hit goals, is the goal a dollar goal or is it get the applications complete? Sometimes keep on top of this so there are no delays, or is it keep on top of it and get rid of something that could hurt our numbers?

Davis: Well, for what I’ve witnessed, it’s based on a performance goal.

Cavuto: How is that performance measured?

Davis: That performance is measured based on our ability to turn around an application from beginning to end within a five-day turn around. There’s an acceptable percentage that we have to have, which is in excess of 80% for all applications that comes into that office. What you find is that there’s extensive pressure on the staff to process applications, to focus our attention to applications based on specific campaigns. For example, I shared with your producer that we actually put incoming applications aside so we could focus on the ACA related applications that came in over last summer. That’s wrong. We should treat each veteran equally and focus on applications, as they come in, not because of special campaigns coming out of D.C.

His statement is precisely how veteran’s applications should be treated.  But they weren’t because of partisan politics and the heavy hand of the administration.   Naturally the VA  bureaucracy cooperated.  When your “customer” is Washington DC and not the veteran then that’s unsurprising.

This is outrageous, but my guess is, as they dig deeper into the VA, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

This is the face of government run health care.  It is fair warning.  Just as Soviet bureaucracies fudged whatever numbers necessary to “meet” the government’s “5 year plans”, the government bureaucracies here are not above doing the same.  The bonus system along with identification of Washington as their “customer” was all the incentive the bureaucrats needed to let veterans down … again.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 1-2 Jul 14

Motor vehicle sales rose 1.2% in June to a 17.0 million annual rate. That’s the strongest rate since July 2006.

ICSC-Goldman reports retail sales rose 1.0%, while the rear-over-year rate rose to 4.6% in the latest week. Conversely, Redbook says year-over-year retail sales growth fell to 3.1% in the latest week.

The Markit PMI manufacturing index rose 0.3 points to 57.3 in June.

The ISM Manufacturing index fell 0.1 point to 55.3 in June.

Construction Spending rose a less-than-expected 0.1% in May. Spending rose 6.6% on a year-ago basis.

The J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI rose 0.5 points to 52.7 in June.

The Gallup Economic Confidence Index fell -1 point to -15 in June.

The MBA reports that mortgage application fell 0.2% in the latest week, with purchases down -1.0%, but re-fis up 0.1%.

The ADP national employment report estimates that a strong increase of 281,000 private payroll jobs were created in June.

Gallup’s Job Creation Index is unchanged at 27 in June.

Gallup’s Payroll to Population employment rate rose 0.5% to 45.0% in June.

Factory orders fell 0.5% in May, but nondefense orders rose 0.2%. A 0.7% rise in nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft is a positive.


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