Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Guess what TIME blames for what it sees as America’s decline?

My guess is most of us would agree that America seems to be in decline, but not for the reasons TIME magazine does.  Much of the decline is centered in the politics and policies of the governing party.

But TIME is pretty sure that, given the study that they cite, the reason is … capitalism.  Here’s the “it was great, but” reason:

“We looked at very broad measures, and at individual measures, too,” said co-author Hershey H. Friedman, a business professor at Brooklyn College – City University of New York. The most dangerous sign they saw: rising income and wealth inequality, which slow growth and can spark instability, the authors say.

“Capitalism has been amazingly successful,” write Friedman and co-author Sarah Hertz of Empire State College. But it has grown so unfettered, predatory, so exclusionary, it’s become, in effect, crony capitalism. Now places like Qatar and Romania, “countries you wouldn’t expect to be, are doing better than us,” said Friedman.

I wish those who opine about this sort of thing would begin to delink capitalism and “crony capitalism”.  Because as soon “crony” is added, “capitalism” is no longer evident.  Instead you have powerful corporate/social/political constituents helping write laws that raise bars to entry in a markets to impossible heights.  You have the same entities suggesting regulations which have the same effect.  Capitalism, in its barest essence, is a voluntary transaction between two free people which ends profitably for both.  That’s it.  When government begins intruding with regulations and laws designed to limit and protect certain constituencies, from corporations to unions, that’s not capitalism, whether you stick “crony” in front of it or not.

It is certainly cronyism.  The government attacks, for instance, on Uber are rampant cronyism.  They’re designed by government to protect an existing constituency that doesn’t like the competition (and has had a government granted monopoly for decades).  Of course, in the end, it is the consumer – i.e. the citizen – who is hurt by this sort of cronyism.

And it appears that cronyism has gotten worse and worse over the past few years.  So while America may be in decline, it isn’t because of capitalism.

It’s because of cronyism, government favoritism, or whatever catch word or phrase you wish to tag the phenomenon with.  But leave capitalism out of it.


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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.


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Economic Statistics for 16-17 Jul 15

I missed posting yesterday, so this post will be a bit longer than most.

The Philadelphia Fed Surveys’s big jump in June was a one-time blip, as the July index fell to 5.7 from 15.2.

The housing market index was unchanged at 60 in July, but it is still the strongest reading since November 2005.

The Treasury reports that Net Foreign Demand for Long-Term US Securities jumped $93.0 billion in May on strong foreign interest in both US Treasuries and corporate bonds.

Consumer inflation rose 0.3% in June, with the core rate—less food and energy—up 0.2%. On a year-over-year basis, inflation is up just 0.1% overall, but up 1.8% at the core.

Strong demand for apartment units drove housing starts up 9.8% in June at a 1.174 million annual rate. Building permits, an indicator of future activity, jumped 7.4% overall to a 1.343 million rate. 

The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index fell to 93.3 in July, from June’s reading of 96.1.

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 15,000 to 281,000. The 4-week average rose 3,250 to 282,500. Continuing claims fell 112,000 to 2.215 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.3 points to 43.2 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $12.3 billion last week, with total assets of $4.494 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $7.0 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $12.6 billion in the latest week.

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“Who would have imagined we would be giving up the conventional arms and ballistic missile embargoes on Iran? In nuclear negotiations?”

That’s the question Charles Krauthammer asked today.

Anyone care to make a guess?

When asked Wednesday at his news conference why there is nothing in the deal about the American hostages being held by Iran, President Obama explained that this is a separate issue, not part of nuclear talks.

Are conventional weapons not a separate issue? After all, conventional, by definition, means non-nuclear. Why are we giving up the embargoes?

Because Iran, joined by Russia — our “reset” partner — sprung the demand at the last minute, calculating that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were so desperate for a deal that they would cave. They did. And have convinced themselves that they scored a victory by delaying the lifting by five to eight years. (Ostensibly. The language is murky. The interval could be considerably shorter.)

There is the second pregnant question – if the hostages are a separate issue, so are conventional weapons, aren’t they?

But then, you find out that both Obama and Kerry fell victim to a negotiating trick that only a rookie would cave too.  The tactic is well known and has been associated with Cold War USSR negotiations for decades. They teach it in Negotiating 101.  This is what they always do and you have to know your opponent well enough to expect it and have a strategy to counteract it.  As usual, Obama and Kerry were unprepared.

What Obama said about the hostages, if he really believes it, was the perfect answer to the Iranians when they sprang this on them.

But desperation is what the Iranians and Russians were counting on.  Anything to make the deal. They knew how desperate these two were.  So they held one of the most outrageous demands until the seeming end of the negotiations.  When the end was tantalizingly in sight and time was running out.  The Iranians gauged well the desperate desire for an agreement that the Obama/Kerry cabal had.

And so they used it against them to make a mockery of the deal.

Stunning.  The incompetence and ineptness aren’t what stun anyone – that’s been demonstrated so many times in the past 6 years it’s the new normal for this administration.  What’s stunning is what they gave away when they didn’t have too.

But then, this is the Obama administration and the Secretary of State is John Kerry.

‘Nuff said.


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“Legacy” … that’s what Iran was about

Abe Greenwald explains:

As far as legacy, what politician doesn’t want one? For Obama, a nominal nuclear deal may make him feel as if he’s earned the Nobel Prize once furnished him as election swag. John Kerry’s own efforts to earn a Nobel by brokering Middle East peace became another footnote in the story of Palestinian obstinacy. He too had something to prove.

From the administration’s standpoint, the deal was a grand slam. If it left Iran as an official nuclear power on the perpetual verge of a breakout, well, that was always the bargaining chip to get everything else. And with the United States having shown extraordinary cooperation and forgiveness, the thinking goes, even a nuclear Iran will become a less bellicose and more collegial member of the community of nations. What good the deal has already done, the administration believes, will continue to pay dividends. As is his wont, Obama is now declaring as much. But by the time his vision is upended by facts, he’ll be out of office, and we won’t have the luxury of fighting reality with abstractions.

Obama is desperate for a positive legacy.  Obamacare is the White Elephant in the room.  It will, one day, be declared the disaster it really is (but that will require the time for it to really demonstrate how horrendous a piece of legislation it truly was … it’s getting there).  The man who wanted to make “government cool” has managed to make it not only cool but the butt of jokes.  Ratings for all branches of government have plunged on his watch. Race relations and corruption are worse on his watch.  And his foreign policy has been clueless.  It has also be reactive and rudderless.  Just as respect for government has plunged, so has respect for the US (even Jimmy Carter admits this).

So yeah, two guys who have accomplished little or nothing in their lives are wanting to leave a mark.

Too bad it will more likely resemble a skid mark in a pair underwear, when all is said and done, than any mark of accomplishment.  But then, we’ve always known the left was more into style than substance.   And Obama and Kerry have built in some blame shifting room in the Iran agreement.  If, 8 or 10 years out, Iran has the bomb, it will be the fault of whoever is in the White House (and GW Bush, if they can swing it), not them.

Just watch.


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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%

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Economic Statistics for 14 Jul 15

The NFIB’s index of mall business optimism fell very sharply in June, down -4.2 points to 94.1 with 8 of 10 components falling.

Retail sales showed broad weakness in June, with sales falling -0.3% overall, -0.1 less autos, and -0.2% less autos and gas.

June export prices fell -0.2% while import prices fell -0.1%. On a year-over-year basis, prices fell -5.7% for exports, and -10.0% for imports.

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales fell to 1.4% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 2.0%. Today’s official retail sales numbers highlight the ongoing weakness in consumer spending, raising doubts about the strength of 2nd Quarter GDP growth.

Business inventories, rose 0.3% in May, while a sales increase of 0.4% kept the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.36. 

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Mini ice-age? Impossible, per the consensus!

Iran, agreement, blah, blah, blah … we’ll talk about it when all of the details come out rather than the preferred ones.

In the meantime, did you know?

The earth is 15 years from a “mini ice-age” that will cause bitterly cold winters during which rivers such as the Thames freeze over, scientists have predicted.

Solar researchers at the University of Northumbria have created a new model of the sun’s activity which they claim produces “unprecedentedly accurate predictions”.

They said fluid movements within the sun, which are thought to create 11-year cycles in the weather, will converge in such a way that temperatures will fall dramatically in the 2030s.

Solar activity will fall by 60 per cent as two waves of fluid “effectively cancel each other out”, according to Prof Valentina Zharkova.

The article goes on to tell you why, given these two waves and their position at the time, these scientists are “97%” sure their prediction is accurate.

Yes, it’s that big, hot yellow thing that hangs in the sky each day that seems to be driving our climate and not some trace gas as some scientists would have us believe.

Speaking of those “scientists”, I found this the other day and, well, had a little chortle:

Every year brings a new batch of data regarding the progression and likely effects of climate change, and the results are almost always worse than previous models had predicted. In fact, they’re frankly terrifying: rapid and accelerating deterioration of the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets that will yield massive sea-level rise and submerge coastal cities; paralyzing drought on continental interiors that will lead to Dust Bowl–style famine; and incredibly powerful floods and storms that happen more frequently — five times as often now, in fact, as in the 1970s.

Most of the worst predicted outcomes will occur down the road. In the meantime, though, the people making these predictions — climate scientists — are dealing with a heavy psychological toll, as a piece in Esquire by John H. Richardson points out. They are living, as Richardson puts it, a “surreal existence.”

One psychologist who works with climate scientists told Richardson they suffer from “pre-traumatic stress,” the overwhelming sense of anger, panic, and “obsessive-intrusive thoughts” that results when your work every day is to chart a planetary future that looks increasingly apocalyptic. Some climatologists merely report depression and feelings of hopelessness. Others, resigned to our shared fate, have written what amount to survival guides for a sort of Mad Max dystopian future where civilization has broken down under the pressures of resource scarcity and habitat erosion.

The alarmists are dealing with psychological problems.

You have to wonder if it because the “big lie” they’ve been pushing for so many years is collapsing like a wet cardboard box?  Or it’s just the wages of “true belief”, regardless of what other scientists are saying (with “97%” accuracy).


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