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Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 25 Oct 12

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

Last month’s huge 13.1% drop in durable goods orders rebounded with a 9.9% increase for September, and a 2.0% rise ex-transportation. On a year-over-year basis, orders are up 2.5%, but ex-transportation orders are down –1.6%.

Initial jobless claims for last week were down a sharp 23,000 to 369,000, while the 4-week average rose slightly to 368,000. Continuing claims  fell 2,000 to 3.254 million. Obviously, the weekly claims have been very volatile, and the seasonal adjustment factors haven’t been smoothing that out very well.

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index rose to 0 from –0.87 last month, indicating an economy that is neither expanding nor contracting, but balanced in a perfect equilibrium. Which is, of course, a practical impossibility.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to -34.6 from -34.8 the prior week.

The pending home sales index rose a minimal 0.3% in September, following last month’s big –2.6% drop.

~
Dale Franks
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Michael Barone: Slow-motion 1980?

Michael Barone is one of the few poll watchers I respect. I’ve watched him in any number of elections and he’s objectively called it the way he saw it, usually spot on, for whomever the facts indicated was in the lead. No spin, just good analysis.

Well, in this season of polling chaos, Barone is out with his look at some of the key indicators that help him analyze election trends and he seems to think we are seeing a preference cascade begin ala 1980 … just slower:

My other alternative scenario was based on the 1980 election, when vast numbers of voters switched from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan after their single debate one week before the election. In that debate, the challenger showed he had presidential stature and the incumbent president seemed petulant and small-minded.

We saw an even more vivid contrast between challenger and incumbent in the Oct. 3 debate. In the next two debates, Obama was definitely more focused and aggressive. But Romney held his own, and post-Oct. 16 polling showed him improving his standing even though many debate watchers thought Obama won on points.

What we may be seeing, as we drink from the firehose of multiple poll results pouring in, is a slow-motion 1980.

That reinforces my point about the first debate and something we’ve been saying since Oct. 3. That is the debate that mattered. And note also that in debates 2 and 3, Obama pulled a Carter. His stature was diminished by his actions. He, as Barone and many others have observed, came across as “petulant and small-minded”. Add arrogant and condescending, and you’ve captured it.  Oh, and by the way, his record, like Carter’s, is dismal.

Romney, on the other hand, came across exactly as he had to come across – competent, presidential, confident and, believe it or not, likable. He did what Ronald Reagan did – unfiltered by the media, he was able to convince Americans who tuned in that he was Presidential material. That he was a more than acceptable alternative to Obama.

All of that said, Barone isn’t claiming that this is a done deal by any stretch (“don’t get cocky kid”):

The usual caveats are in order. Exogenous events could affect opinion (Libya seems to have hurt Obama). The Obama ground game is formidable. Voters who switched to Romney could switch back again.

And if there is a larger reservoir of potentially changeable voters than in 2004, there was an even larger reservoir back in 1980, when Carter attracted white Southerners who now are firmly in Romney’s column.

Mechanical analogies can be misleading. Just because Romney has gained ground since Oct. 3 does not guarantee that he will gain more.

But also keep in mind that Romney gained not just from style but from fundamentals. Most voters dislike Obama’s domestic policies and are dissatisfied with the sluggish economy. And now they seem to believe have an alternative with presidential stature.

So, while we apparently have a preference cascade beginning, is it enough?  And will it peak at the right time.  Will it be a slow steady climb to election day?  Will it plateau?  Will it stop short of the majority Romney needs?  Obviously we won’t know that until election night (or, perhaps, the next day).  But suffice it to say, the upward trend is obvious.

How it will play out, however, remains to be seen.

~McQ

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Ukraine and the Upcoming Elections

As we quickly approach our own election here in the US, a first of sorts will occur this weekend in Ukraine.  Shaking off the soviet chains has proved difficult, but through fits and starts a truly representative democracy is developing in Eurasia.  The next big step will be the parliamentary elections (to the Verkhovna Rada) held this weekend.  Ukraine has held free elections before, but this time they will occur under the watch of thousands of international and domestic election observers:

On October 22nd the Central Election Committee of Ukraine registered the final batch of 666 international observers for the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, which will take place on October 28th. The total number of foreign monitors reached 3,797 persons – they represent 28 countries and 35 international non-governmental organizations. Moreover, more than 130,000 domestic observers will also work at the elections.

A major impetus for the observers being present is that Ukraine is seeking to possibly join the European Union, a prerequisite for which is to improve the election process.

… the current government has expressed great interest in being integrated into the European Union, going so far as to ink an Association Agreement in March:

The Association Agreement creates a framework for cooperation and stipulates establishing closer economic, cultural, and social ties between the signees. Moreover, Brussels officials expect the document to promote the rule of law, democracy, and human rights in Ukraine.

This first step to entering the EU (which still needs to be ratified) requires a concrete demonstration from Ukraine that it is moving towards “an independent judicial system, free and fair elections and constitutional reform.”

The other potential option is for Ukraine to strengthen its traditional alliance with Moscow by entering Russia’s Customs Union:

… for the past several years, both the EU and Russia have courted Ukraine to form long-lasting trade partnerships. The EU wants to include Ukraine in its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) while Russia is pushing to join its Customs Union. Because of the way these agreements are set up, Ukraine has to choose one or the other, placing the country in a pitched economic battle between East and West.

Ukrainians are apparently quite ambivalent about which partnership to join, although the current leadership and most major parties have expressed greater interest in aligning with Europe:

The Party of Regions, which is the current party in power, is led by President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.  Originally, the party was supported Russian President Vladimir Putin but, to his disappointment, the Party of Regions has turned out to be more pro-Ukraine than pro-Russia.  As previously noted, Yanukovych and Azarov have been working hard to achieve energy independence that is more beneficial to the people of Ukraine.

[…]

The United Opposition party is led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (who is currently in jail for the gas deal she brokered with Russia) and Arseniy Yatsenyuk from the Front for Change party.  Despite the fact that the party can be seen as being largely pro-Russian, they recently joined forces with the more pro-Western Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) in the hopes of increasing their chances of winning against the popular Party of Regions.  UDAR is the newest political party in Ukraine and is led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.

As it turns out, these three parties (Party of Regions, United Opposition and the UDAR) are leading in the polls (which haven’t changed dramatically over the past month) as we head into this weekend’s vote:

The latest opinion polls now show Yanukovych’s Regions Party finishing first with between 23% and 33% of the ballot, which would require the formation of a new coalition to lead parliament.  That could make a kingmaker out of Udar (Punch), a brand-new party started by political novice and heavyweight boxing superstar Vitali Klitschko as an agent for change that has no obvious links to past incidents of corruption.  Udar appears to have caught on with the more opposition-minded voters and has edged ahead of Tymoshenko’s block in some polls with 16%-17% of the vote.  “My methods in politics are the same as in sport: teamwork and confidence in yourself. And they work,” the 41-year-old Klitschko told AFP in an interview.  The election rating for Tymoshenko’s coalition varies from 15% up to 24% — still ahead of the fourth-placed Communist Party (9% to 13%) and the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) group (3% to 6%).

Although we don’t really know what the resulting administration will look like, or what concessions will have to be made in order to form a governing coalition, it at least appears that, whatever the result, a more pro-EU Ukraine will emerge.  And that would be a very good thing:

So why care about the Ukraine?

The simple answer is because Ukrainians have had a taste of freedom, and liked it, and we should encourage that journey towards liberalization to continue. We have an interest in such development – via free and fair elections, open markets and greater legal protections in its reformed court system – because this is how individuals become personally invested in the growth of the nation, and thus how liberty spreads. As President Reagan emphasized in 1981, “only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success — only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free.” The more societies like that in the world, and especially in the Eurasian region, the better. And this is exactly where Ukraine is poised to go.

Hopefully, that journey will continue this Sunday.

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State cronyism takes a hit in Louisiana

At least temporarily.  You may remember when we pointed our the story of the monks in Louisiana who were making coffins and the state was moving to stop them.  Under Louisiana law, a place must be a “licensed funeral establishment” in which only “licensed funeral directors” may sell “funeral merchandise”.

Now everyone knows that around here we equate choice with freedom.  And, what the state of Louisiana had done, at the behest of the The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is place a restriction that set the bar to entry into the “funeral merchandise” business at a place where it essentially barred entry to anyone who wasn’t a licensed member of that guild.  And, of course, the The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors controlled who did or didn’t get licensed.

So when the good brothers at St. Joseph Abbey began making hand crafted wooden coffins and selling them, they were in direct violation of the law the board had helped craft.  More importantly, they were in competition with the carefully crafted state granted monopoly these people enjoyed.

They were told that the only choice they had was to do the following if they wanted to sell their caskets:

[They] must either give up the casket-selling business or become a licensed funeral establishment, which would require a layout parlor for 30 people, a display area for the coffins, the employment of a licensed funeral director and an embalming room.

That’s even though they only desired to make coffins.

When they refused, the board threatened.

[T]he Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors sent the monks a cease-and-desist letter, threatening thousands of dollars in fines and up to 180 days in prison based on a law prohibiting the sale of coffins without a funeral director’s license.

And then sued.

In July of last year, a Federal judge ruled in the Abbey’s favor, as we reported.

The monks won round one in July, when U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled Louisiana’s restrictions unconstitutional, saying “the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry.”

So now the 5th Circuit has ruled and guess what?  The monks have won again.  And the 5th was not at all kind to the State Board or the state of Louisiana in its ruling:

In a sometimes harshly worded ruling, a panel of federal appellate judges Tuesday evening smacked down the Louisiana funeral board’s continued attempts to prevent the St. Joseph Abbey monks from selling their hand-crafted caskets. “The great deference due state economic regulation (does not require) courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth,” wrote Judges Patrick Higginbotham, Catharina Haynes and Stephen A. Higginson of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. “We insist that Louisiana’s rules not be irrational.”

The appellate judges sent the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court, refusing to consider the funeral board’s appeal of a previous court’s ruling that found it unconstitutional for the state to give funeral directors exclusive rights to sell caskets.

“Simply put, there is nothing in the licensing procedures that bestows any benefit to the public in the context of the retail sale of caskets,” U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled in July 2011. “The license has no bearing on the manufacturing and sale of coffins. It appears that the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry,” which he wrote is not “a valid government interest.”

Of course, there’s no telling what the LA Supreme Court will do.  However until then, the monks are free to sell their significantly less costly caskets in Louisiana without having to clear the high bar of entry set by the crony state.

Oh, and here’s the irony and another reason the court found for the monks:

“To be sure, Louisiana does not regulate the use of a casket, container, or other enclosure for the burial remains; has no requirements for the construction or design of caskets; and does not require that caskets be sealed,” according to the court. “Individuals may construct their own caskets for funerals in Louisiana or purchase caskets from out-of-state suppliers via the internet. Indeed, no Louisiana law even requires a person to be buried in a casket.”

As plain and transparent state enforced cronyism as one can find. There are certainly more, as we all know, and they’re practiced by all levels of government. But all of them, each and every one of them, should be identified, challenged and dismantled – root and branch.  Government has no business using its force and power to protect businesses from competition because doing so limits choice and thereby limits its citizen’s freedom.

Cronyism has no place in a free society.

~McQ

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Obama’s Navy: Ignorance or intent?

A little more on the abject ignorance Obama displayed concerning the Navy.  Or was it, instead, the usual attempt to have it both ways?  You know, talk about how everything is under control while in reality it is spinning out of control?  Or, as we’ve warned many times, don’t believe a thing the man says, look at what he does.

In this case:

The Obama administration’s neglect of the Navy can be typified by the early retirement of the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and its plans to decommission other naval assets. In August of this year, I outlined on NRO why the Enterprise should remain in service, but the Big E is only the most prominent asset slated for premature retirement. The administration also plans to decommission and scrap six Ticonderoga-class cruisers, although the vessels have as many as 15 years of service life left (even without further overhauls). Maintaining freedom of the seas requires hulls in the water — and the Navy hasn’t even started building the replacements for these cruisers. At present, all we have is a design study called CGX, which may or may not enter production.

Got that?  6 Ticonderoga-class cruisers being decommissioned, all with at least 15 years service life left.  These are the cruisers, as mentioned yesterday, which protect those things we have called aircraft carriers.

Here’s another report that makes it clear that the administration’s plan is, in fact, leaving the carrier strike groups even more vulnerable than they are now:

As noted at the Navy-oriented Information Dissemination blog, when the proposed cuts were first outlined in late 2011, the decommissioning plan will take out of service cruisers that can be upgraded with the ballistic missile defense (BMD) package – now a core capability for the Navy – while keeping five cruisers that cannot receive the BMD upgrade.

Emphasis mine. That borders on criminal.  After bloviating about technology and capability, his plan is to reduce both.

Meanwhile, here’s the stark reality of the situation the Obama administration has created:

His administration, in an effort to cut costs, proposed the retirement of the USS Enterprise (which his allies in Congress passed in 2009) and the six cruisers. Numerous crises are heating up around the world, as recent events show, but there is no indication that Obama has reconsidered these retirement plans. Certainly, it would not be hard to halt the retirements, and extenuating circumstances clearly warrant a supplemental appropriations bill. None of our carriers or submarines — no matter how high-tech they are — are capable of covering the Persian Gulf and South China Sea at the same time, or the Mediterranean Sea and the Korean Peninsula simultaneously.

Or, said a much simpler way, and despite Obama’s ignorant claims, we don’t have enough ships to cover all the contingencies that his failed foreign policy has helped foment.  Technology still can’t have you in two places at once.

Instead, we have a Commander-in-Chief who apparently thinks those things we call aircraft carriers are like magic unicorns.  You kind of wave one toward a crisis and everything works out.  He has no concept of force protection.  He has no idea how a carrier strike group operates.  He just knows we have these things called aircraft carriers and they’re apparently magic because, you know, we have this “technology” and we’re much more “capable” than when it was all about horses and bayonets.  Or something.

Reality?

Yet in 2010, the Navy could only fulfill 53% of the requirements for presence and missions levied by the combatant commanders (e.g., CENTCOM, PACOM).  Cutting this Navy will reduce further its ability to fill warfighter requirements.

This guy is dangerous, folks.  His ignorance is both appalling and frightening.

He needs to go.

~McQ

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Benghazi emails leaked

Reuters is reporting tonight that, "Officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 that an Islamic militant group had claimed credit for the attack, official emails show."

These emails were sent from the State Department’s Operations Center to the White House, Director of National Intelligence, Pentagon, and FBI, and the first email was sent within 1/2 hour of the start of the attack. Two hours after the attack began, a third email was sent, bearing the subject line, "Update 2: Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack".

The president then nipped off to bed, as he had to fly to an important campaign fundraiser in Las Vegas the next day.

~
Dale Franks
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3rd Debate: Snarky Obama reveals his military ignorance (update)

Obama the arrogant had quite a time last night … being arrogant, that is.

And, as usual, anyone who knew reality had to laugh at his posturing, since it revealed a horrendous level of ignorance.

What am I talking about?  His quip about “horses and bayonets” and his nonsense about the size of the Navy.

We’ve all heard, I’m sure, the line that “amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics”.

Question: Are those “more capable ships” more capable of supply and support than ships of old?  No.  There’s a “tooth to tail” ratio that is required for any fleet to function and function well.  We have 11 carrier strike groups out there.   They have a certain number of ships in each battle group that are designed to do what?  Protect the carrier.  But those ships have to be resupplied.  Having stood on the deck of the USS Kearsarge and watched at sea refueling take place, I can confidently tell you it requires another ship.

Additionally, there’s now concern, given the lethality and accuracy of weaponry out there, that the ships assigned to protect the carriers may not be adequate to the job.  In other words, we many need more (presently they have 2 Ticonderoga class Ageis guided missile cruisers, two to three Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers and to LA class attack submarines plus a carrier air wing).  We’re talking about the possibility of overwhelming missile attacks as they’re presently configured.  Reality.

Then, consider we have a “gator navy” as well, which is also in need of further protection.  Put the new littoral combat ships into the mix and you are again in need of the ability to refuel and resupply.  Pretending the current fleet configuration and number is adequate to the new expanded mission pointed toward the Pacific is about as “horses and bayonets” as one can get.  Pure defensive nonsense and ignorant posturing.

And by the way, we still use bayonets.  The reason we don’t have as many as we once had is because this President had cut the Army and Marine Corps during his tenure.

But to the point, all that bloviating by Obama about how he carefully set out the fleet size with the SecNav etc. is just that, bloviating.  He made unilateral and deep cuts in defense spending all by his lonesome.  $500 billion over 10 years.  That’s his.  No one else’s.  They have nothing to do with sequestration which promises another $500 billion in cuts.

And don’t believe his promise that “sequestration won’t happen”.  While it may not, it won’t have  a thing to do with him.  He’s provided nothing in terms of leadership on the question and no one believes he will.  He’s just “hoping” it won’t happen and prove him right.  But don’t expect him to actually do anything to try to prevent it.

Oh, who won?

Given the spin, pretty much a draw at worst.  Both sides are claiming victory.  A prickly, defensive and condescending Obama, given his abysmal record, didn’t help himself at all.  He just proved how small he really is.

UPDATE: Like minds.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 23 Oct 12

The following US economic statistics were announced today:

The Richmond Fed manufacturing index for September dropped sharply to a very contractionary –7 from 4 in September.

In retail sales, Redbook reports a weak 1.3% year-on-year sales increase, as the trend continues to decline. ICSC-Goldman reports a decrease of –0.7% over last week, and a flat 2.9% over last year.

~
Dale Franks
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Polling, preference cascades, etc.

I wanted to make a quick point here. First this:

Mitt Romney has taken a narrow national lead, tightened the gender gap and expanded his edge over President Barack Obama on who would best grow the economy.

A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll of 1,000 likely voters — taken from Sunday through Thursday of last week — shows Romney ahead of Obama by 2 percentage points, 49 percentage to 47 percent. That represents a 3-point swing in the GOP nominee’s direction from a week ago but is still within the margin of error. Obama led 49 percent to 48 percent the week before.

A lot of discussion on polls this time around. We talked about them extensively in the podcast. The thing to realize is regardless of how the polling concerns have set up their split among self-identified Republicans and Democrats, the one thing that has been fairly consistent in each of them is Romney trending up. So while they may all show different percentages and even an Obama lead, the fact remains that the challenger has continued to gain even while the incumbent was declared the winner of the last debate.

That, my friends, signifies, at least as far as I can tell, a preference cascade beginning to swell.

As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, the most important debate this year was the first debate. In that debate, the challenger had to appear to be an acceptable alternative/replacement for the incumbent. Romney was able to exceed expectations in that department. That’s when the tide began to turn. The second debate, while somewhat important, but only if the challenger really goofed it up, just didn’t carry the weight of the first. And as hard as the left has tried to make the debates about Big Bird, binders of women and an alleged “Libya gaffe” (as I see it, there was no gaffe at all, we saw an incumbent President pretend/allege he said something he didn’t say). They’re not selling except among the partisan base.

We’ll see if this debate this evening adds momentum to the challengers upward trend or whether the incumbent is somehow able to slow or stop it. I’m not sure what the President could say or do that would accomplish that given his dismal foreign policy record (and his previous declaration that his lack of foreign policy experience just wasn’t a show stopper).

Like Dale says, I think, as far as Romney is concerned, we’re in “dead girl or live boy” territory.

~McQ

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