Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

This and that

There’s a lot to talk about as we begin this week.

First and foremost, I wanted to note that Word Press found something I wrote in my EPA post to be unpublishable.  Try it with the first sentence, nothing.  Take out the first sentence and it published.  But that was discovered after a long session of trying to figure out if it was a computer problems, internet problem … etc.  Here’s hoping this publishes.

Saw an article that said Hillary was looking for a slogan for her run for the presidency.  I have a great one: “No more Clintons”.  I’d apply the same slogan to the Bush campaign: “No more Bushes”.    And Romney … etc.  I’m becoming convinced we could leave the office vacant and probably do better.  Especially when you consider those who want the job.

If you’re wondering what I thought of the John Kerry/James Taylor attempt at diplomacy last week, I thought is was pathetic and embarrassing.  It was like the diplomatic equivalent of the ObamaCare website rollout.

I am thoroughly enjoying the left’s melt-down over the success of Clint Eastwood’s film “American Sniper”.  Here’s a typical bit:

But Academy members seem to be paying attention to the criticism that Eastwood and star/producer Bradley Cooper shouldn’t be celebrating a man who wrote that killing hundreds of Iraqis was “fun.”

“He seems like he may be a sociopath,” one Academy member told TheWrap, adding he had not yet seen the film but had read the article, which is being passed around.

“He seems to be a sociopath, uh, but I haven’t seen the film yet …I did read an article however”.

And that made it into the critique of the film because it used a word that apparently found favor with the author – “sociopath”.  Because this academy member knows all about sniper operations and how they’re used in warfare and somehow soundly concludes that the guy must be a sociopath.  Gee, I wonder what he thinks about, oh, I don’t know, regular infantry guys in the Army and Marine Corps?  Would it be too much of a stretch to think he might hold the same thoughts about them?

And the Yahoo who ate Detroit, Michael Moore, felt it necessary to “weigh” in:

Michael Moore, an Oscar voter and former Academy governor from the Documentary Branch, tweeted an anti-sniper comment on Sunday — “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards … Snipers aren’t heroes … ” — but said it wasn’t about “American Sniper.”

Of course its not about “American Sniper” … just a gratuitous out-of-the-blue cowardly shot.  What pisses Moore and the other off is you people out in flyover land are making “American Sniper” a box-office success.

And by the way, Michael … why are all the Oscar nominees white?

Yeah, that’s right … that’s the latest Hollywood scandal to rock Tinsel-town these days.  Apparently it’s not the perfection of your craft that’s important but the mix of skin color.  I wonder if anyone would have said anything if there were no whites nominated?  My guess is, “no”.

Finally to Jane Fonda – sorry what you did wasn’t a “huge, huge mistake” anymore than what John Kerry did was a mistake.  It was a carefully thought out and pursued strategy that has made you wildly unpopular and despised by a very respected community – veterans.  So trying to rewrite history isn’t going to work:

“It hurts me and it will to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers. … This famous person goes and does something that looks like I’m against the troops, which wasn’t true, but it looked that way, and I’m a convenient target. So I understand.”

No, you don’t understand … you apparently don’t understand at all.  You were against the troops and made it known by your actions.  But like much of the left, after a despicable and reprehensible act you think all you have to do is give some sort of apology and all is right with the world.  Uh, no.

Happy Monday.

~McQ

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Like cheap gas? The EPA doesn’t

The oil shale boom has helped create a surplus of oil that has entered the market and driven prices down to under $2 a gallon. It is an economic boon to hard pressed families and businesses who use a lot of fuel. It is also a testament to how well markets work. And that’s why government is about to intrude in that market and jack the prices back up. This time under the guise of your out-of-control EPA

In spite of dramatically lower methane emissions from fracking, according to the EPA’s own data, the agency wants to impose draconian regulations on the oil and gas industry similar to those on coal.
The new rules that the White House announced on Wednesday aim to cut oil emissions of methane, a target of environmental groups, by 45% below 2012 levels, despite the fact that the emissions already show a sharp decline even as shale oil and gas production has skyrocketed.
This war-on-shale action mirrors the administration’s war on coal, with EPA rules impossible to meet economically and sometimes requiring technology that doesn’t even exist.

This is all based on the extremely shaky theory that the earth is warming due to greenhouse gasses produced by man, despite 18 years with no evidence of warming. It is also being done despite the fact that the EPA has no real reason, according to its own findings, to go after this industry:

“Reported methane emissions from (the) petroleum and natural gas systems sector have decreased by 12% since 2011, with the largest reductions coming from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells, which have decreased by 73% during that period,” according to the EPA itself.

Oil from shale has created jobs, lowered fuel prices and generally been the one bright spot in an otherwise lackluster economy. And it has been done without Federal help. Now the government is going to step in and impose onerous requirements on that will both slow production and raise production costs (then when prices go back up it will blame greedy oil companies).
You’d almost think the guy in the White House had once promised that energy prices would rise to very high levels under his administration.

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Economic Statistics for 16 Jan 15

Net foreign demand for long-term US securities rose $33.5 billion in November, versus $-1.4 billion in October.

The December Consumer Price Index fell -0.4%, mainly on declines in energy prices, with prices less food and energy unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, the CPI is up 0.7% overall, and 1.6% at the core.

The Fed reports that December industrial production fell by -0.1%, while capacity utilization in the nation’s factories fell from 80.1% to 79.7%.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index rose 4.6 points to 98.2, the highest level since January 2004.


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Economic Statistics for 15 Jan 15

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 19,000 to 316,000. The 4-week average rose 6,750 to 298,000. Continuing claims fell 51,000 to 2.424 million.

Producer Prices for Final Demand fell -0.3% in December. Prices less food and energy rose 0.3%, while prices less food, energy, and trade services rose 0.1%. Prices for goods declined -1.2% while prices for services rose 0.2%. On a year-over-year basis, PPI-FD is up 1.1% overall, while prices less food and energy rose 2.1%, and prices less food, energy, and trade services rose 1.4%. Prices for goods fell 1.2% from last year, while prices for services rose 2.2%.

The Empire State manufacturing index rose from December’s contractionary reading of -3.58 to an expansionary 9.95 in January.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 1.8 points to 45.4 in the latest week, the highest reading since mid-2007.

The general business conditions index of the Philadelphia Fed’s Business Outlook Survey fell sharply in January, from 24.5 to 6.3.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $16.6 billion last week, with total assets of 4.516 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $3.2 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $39.9 billion in the latest week.


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Military: Obama and political parties not very popular with soldiers

The Military Times has a long article out today in which come to the startling conclusion that a deeply conservative institution like the military may find a Commander-in-Chief like Obama to be very unpopular among most of its members.

That should really come as no surprise. And the reasons are pretty well known.

However, I found this to be more revealing than what I assumed was a given.

The loss of faith in lawmakers comes at a time when troops are less likely to identify with either major political party.

In the last nine years of the Military Times Poll, the percentage of respondents who consider themselves Republican has slowly dropped, from nearly half of those surveyed in the late 2000s to just 32 percent this year. Increasingly, readers are more likely to describe themselves as libertarian (9 percent) or independent (28 percent).

Likewise, readers who described themselves as “very conservative” have remained steady over the years, but “conservative” respondents have dwindled as well — down to 29 percent from a high of 41 percent in 2011.

Democrats and liberal readers make up about 8 percent of the poll respondents.

The fact is they’re less and less enthralled with the political class and political parties in general, not just the President (although I think a special sort of unpopularity that transcends party is his). And for the most part they reflect a growing trend in America. It’s ironic that one of Obama’s goals was to make government popular and cool again when he took office. Instead, what is happening in the military is a good snapshot of what is also going on within the country.  People have lost faith in government and see it as a problem for the most part, not a solution.

Obviously Democrats and liberals are underrepresented in the Military Times poll and that again is no surprise. It is, however, a good indicator of why the Democrats and liberals don’t “get” the military. They, for the most part, don’t serve or know many that do. It is one among many reasons why Obama suffers his unpopularity.

But the shift from “Republican” to libertarian or independent should have the GOP worried. This is mirrored among many on the right who call themselves conservative but are just as likely not to claim to be a Republican. While the GOP may not like that and are certainly resisting it, the “mushy middle” is losing out and the conservatives are demanding change if Republicans want their vote (they are just as likely, btw, not to want to see a Bush or Romney on the next ticket either).

Certainly the military is a special institution in and of itself. Much of the dissatisfaction with political leaders has to do with sequestration cuts, which apparently only the military had to suffer. That on top of the unilateral 10% cut imposed on the military by Obama while in the middle of two wars helps explain some of the President’s unpopularity. Social engineering of a force whose whole sole purpose is to fight wars and protect the country is another.

But there’s plenty to worry about for the political parties contained in that poll as well.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 14 Jan 15

The MBA reports that falling rates led to an explosion of mortgage applications, up 49.1% last week, with purchases up 24.0% and refis 66.0%.

Retail sales fell a disappointing -0.9% in December. Sales less autos fell -1.0%, while sales less autos and gas fell -0.3%.

Declining oil prices sent export prices down -1.2% in December, while import prices plunged -3.2%. On a year-over-year basis, Export prices are down -2.5% while import prices are down -5.5%.

The Atlanta Fed’s Business Inflation Expectations survey shows inflation expectations of 1.7% in January, down from December’s 1.9%.

Business inventories rose 0.2% in November, while a -0.2% drop in sales left the stock-to-sales ratio at a moderate 1.31.

The Fed’s latest Beige Book says that economic activity continues to expand at a “modest” or “moderate” rate.


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Economic Statistics for 13 Jan 15

Redbook reports that retail sales continue to slow, rising 3.8% on a year-ago basis, from last week’s 4.3%.

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rose from 98.1 to 100.4 in December, the highest level since October 2006.

The Labor Department’s JOLTS report shows 4.972 million job openings on the last business day of November.

The U.S. Treasury monthly budget report for December shows a $1.9 billion surplus for the month, as receipts rose 11%.


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Elitism driving “free” college proposal by Obama?

The short answer is “yes”. Megan McArdle makes the point :

Higher education is becoming the ginseng of the policy world: a sort of all-purpose snake oil for solving any problem you’d care to name, as long as we consume enough of it. Education is a very good thing, but it is not the only good thing. An indiscriminate focus on pushing more people into the system is no cure for society’s ills–and indeed, often functions as a substitute for helping the people who are struggling in the current system.

In fact (beside the fact we can’t afford “ObamaCare for colleges”):

What if people in the policy elite stopped assuming that the ideal was to make everyone more like them, and started thinking about making society more hospitable to those who aren’t? My grandfather graduated into a world where a man with a high-school diploma could reasonably hope to own his own business, or become someone else’s highly valued employee, a successful pillar of a supportive community. His grandchildren graduated into a world where a college diploma was almost the bare necessity to get any kind of a decent job. Why aren’t we at least asking ourselves if there’s something we can do to create more opportunity for people without diplomas, instead of asking how many more years we can keep everyone in school? Why do all of our proposed solutions essentially ratify the structure that excludes so many people, instead of questioning it?

Indeed. For too long our policies have been driven by an elite. And for the most part, the elite have made an awful mess of things. Now they want to take on “community colleges”.

Anyone? How long before they start looking at 4 year colleges?

McArdle suggests the following probable effects of any program like Obama has proposed:

1. Offer a subsidy to middle-class kids who don’t really need the money?

2. Encourage middle-class families to transfer their kids to community college for the first two years of school, and thus help to moderate college costs?

3. Encourage financially constrained students who might not have gone to college to enter the system en route to a degree?

4. Encourage marginal students with a low chance of completing a career-enhancing degree to attend school, mostly wasting government money and their own time?

As she points out 2 and 3 are actually not bad policy goals in and of themselves.  However, the much more likely effect will be 1 and 4.  Another government sponsored and taxpayer funded boondoggle that will essentially give community colleges a subsidy (it’ll be all about headcount – no one will really care if the student’s succeed) and create bureaucratic jobs while doing little or nothing in terms of “education advancement”.

Oh, yeah, did I mention we can’t afford it?

I thought I did.

~McQ

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