Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 1 Mar 16

Motor Vehicle Sales were strong in February,  at a 17.5 million annualized pace overall, and 14.1 million for NorthAmerican models. 

Construction spending rose a strong 1.5% in January, with a year-on-year increase of 10.4%.

The ISM Manufacturing Index rose 1.3 points to a still-slightly-contractionary 49.5 in February. Meanwhile, the PMI Manufacturing Index held steady at 51.3.

Gallup’s economic confidence index averaged -13 in February. This is significantly below the reading of +1 recorded in February, 2015.

Retail sales weakness continues, as Rebook reports that last week’s retail sales fell to 0.6% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 1.2%.


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The useless and predatory UN

Useless you say?  How is it “useless”?

Well there are a myriad of things one could point too, but perhaps the latest from the UN’s “elections”:

UN Watch instead is calling on Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, and the EU’s UN ambassadors to condemn the world body’s “absurd and morally obscene” election just of Syria and Venezuela to senior posts on a decolonization committee that is charged with upholding fundamental human rights in opposing the “subjugation, domination and exploitation” of peoples — a propaganda victory that—like before—is already being trumpeted by the Assad regime.

Yet the UN wants to be taken seriously as some sort of world governing body that looks out for the interests of the oppressed and the subjugated by putting members of two of the most oppressive regimes on this committee.

Uh huh.

By the way, the 17 territories still held as “colonies” are as follows:

The 17 territories still listed as colonies by the committee are American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falklands, French Polynesia, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos, St. Helena, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Western Sahara.

Most of those on the list want nothing to do with disassociation with their “colonist”. In reality, this is just another in a long line of committees the UN uses for lavish boondoggles:

The committee is notorious for its habit of holding regional seminars in tropical islands—”alternately in the Caribbean and the Pacific”—at considerable expense. Madeleine K. Albright, as U.S. representative at the United Nations in the late 1990s, called these expenditures ”frivolous and unneeded.”

At the time, activities of the committee were investigated by the United Nations inspector general, Karl T. Paschke, who concluded that money was being squandered.

And, as usual, you (among many others) pay for it.

In other UN news, much more serious than the above:

“A horrible thing,” says an elfin 14-year-old girl, who describes how a Burundian soldier dragged her into his barracks and raped her, leaving her pregnant with the baby boy she now cradles uncomfortably.

The allegations come amid one of the biggest scandals to plague the United Nations in years. Since the U.N. peacekeeping mission here began in 2014, its employees have been formally accused of sexually abusing or exploiting 42 local civilians, most of them underage girls.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called sexual abuse by peacekeepers “a cancer in our system.” In August, the top U.N. official here was fired for failing to take enough action on abuse cases. Nearly 1,000 troops whose units have been tied to abuses have been expelled, or will be soon. Among them is the entire contingent from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Yes, it is a “cancer” in the UN’s “system, but the UN does nothing about it.  It certainly isn’t a new problem:

In Bosnia in the 1990s, peacekeepers were accused of soliciting sex from women who had been trafficked and virtually enslaved in local brothels. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the early 2000s, more than 150 allegations of abuse and exploitation were registered against peacekeepers, and U.N. investigators found that many of the alleged victims were orphans. U.N. missions in Kosovo, Haiti, Liberia and other places also have been tarnished by such allegations.

The UN was supposedly a noble idea whose time had come when it was first begun.  Now it has devolved into a third world debating and boondoggle club with a little rape on the side for “peacekeepers”.

If I was in one of the countries the UN has attempted to “help” and I saw a blue helmet, I’d get as far away from the person wearing it as I could.

They’re useless in a real sense, but certainly predatory if you have any females in the area … no matter how young.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 26 Feb 16

An upward revision to inventories moved the 1st revision of Q4 GDP to 1.0% annualized, while the GDP price index rose a tick to 0.9%.

January’s international trade in goods came in at a deficit of $-62.2 billion, as exports fell -2.9% and imports fell -1.5%.

Both personal income and spending rose 0.5% in January. The PCE Price Index rose 0.1% overall, and 0.3% at the core. On a year-over-year basis, the PC Price index is up 1.3% at the headline level, and 1.7% ex-food and -energy.

The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index rose 1.7 points to 91.7 in February.


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Stray Voltage

Professor Melissa Click, recently the face of the ugly left during the recent University of Missouri protests, has been notified by the Board of Curators that they’re terminating her employment there.  Click, you may remember, was charged with assault when she confronted a student reporter and grabbed his camera while calling for “some muscle” to help her force him to leave.  Interestingly, the Board of Curators also cited her actions at the Homecoming Parade a month before as grounds for dismissal as well.  You can read the whole investigation here.  So much for her tenure hearing … ain’t gonna happen.  You can read the whole investigation and the letter for the Board here.  I did last night.  Very interesting.  I can’t say she didn’t deserve what she got, and, frankly, it’s good to see bad actions ending up having consequences.  Apparently she thought and admission and apology were sufficient.  The Board did not.

Speaking of the SJWs, those at Brown University simply can’t get over the fact that they’re being required by professors to turn in class assignments on time after their activism has totally exhausted and drained them emotionally:

Liliana Sampedro, one of the students who compiled the diversity ultimatum, argued that refusal to grant such accommodations “has systemic effects on students of color,” who she said may sometimes feel obligated to prioritize their activist work over their studies.

“I remember emailing the professor and begging her to put things off another week … I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t slept. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally,” Sampedro recalled. The professor nonetheless insisted that she submit a previously-assigned research presentation on time, which she claims forced her to stay up late to finish the project after having already spent hours working on the list of demands.

Because that’s why they went to Brown – to “prioritize their activism work over their studies”.  I know a bunch of folks at my college who “prioritized their partying over their studies” and they got no break from professors.  All kidding aside – this is our special snowflakes getting just a inkling of what is in store for them when they finally leave the protection and “safe space” that is Brown.

Some leftists/SJWs are figuring it out:

Speaking of Fascism, there is also a disturbing trend on the left nowadays that involves rejecting free speech/freedom of expression as a core value, because that speech could possibly be hurtful to someone, somewhere. This is not only dangerous but it also works against us, because as leftists we are often labelled as threats by the state and at the very least, we are unpopular by society in general. Does this not mean that freedom of thought and expression are crucial to our struggles?

Of course, at this point, not enough of them are doing so and there’s no indication that this is really a trend, however, it’s hopeful.  Read the whole thing.

Camile Paglia is a Bernie supporter, for one reason, because he is offering “free” college.  But she is not a Hillary supporter in the least.  And before she heads off on a riff about “free” college, she blasts the “establishment” Democrats in general and Hillary Clinton specifically (also taking a shot at the establishment media):

Democrats face a stark choice this year.  A vote for the scandal-plagued Hillary is a resounding ratification of business as usual–the corrupt marriage of big money and machine politics, practiced by the Clintons with the zest of Boss Tweed, the gluttonous czar of New York’s ruthless Tammany Hall in the 1870s.  What you also get with Hillary is a confused hawkish interventionism that has already dangerously destabilized North Africa and the Mideast.  This is someone who declared her candidacy on April 12, 2015 via an email and slick video and then dragged her feet on making a formal statement of her presidential policies and goals until her pollsters had slapped together a crib list of what would push the right buttons.  This isn’t leadership; it’s pandering.

Thanks to several years of the Democratic party establishment strong-arming younger candidates off the field for Hillary, the only agent for fundamental change remains Bernie Sanders, an honest and vanity-free man who has been faithful to his core progressive principles for his entire career.  It is absolutely phenomenal that Sanders has made such progress nationally against his near total blackout over the past year by the major media, including the New York Times.  That he has inspired the hope and enthusiasm of an immense number of millennial women is very encouraging.  Feminists who support Hillary for provincial gender reasons are guilty of a reactionary, reflex sexism, betraying that larger vision required for the ballot so hard-won by the suffrage movement.

While I usually don’t agree on a lot of what she says, I love the way she says it.  In this case, I’m with her about Clinton.

Speaking of “free college”,  in case you missed it, Louisiana tried that.  And, guess what?  It worked about as well as “free health care”:

A person receiving “free” tuition may not see it (or even care), but subsides actually raise the total cost of an education. The core problem is that they remove the paying customer—in this case the student—from the equation.

Without the subsidy, the paying customer receives the direct benefit for the service and bears the direct cost. If that person doesn’t think the cost is worth it, they don’t pay.

Louisiana’s program replaces this paying customer with groups of government officials. These officials neither receive the direct benefit nor endure the direct cost of obtaining an education. These groups do, however, benefit a great deal from obtaining more of your tax dollars.

And they rarely bear any direct cost from either increasing your taxes or delivering a substandard education product. (The incumbency rate is fairly high for politicians.)

Works great for government (bigger, more government jobs, more taxes) but not so hot for the taxpayer – as usual.

Socialism?  Heck yeah.  Why look at how well Venezuela is doing:

And now, the announcement of the “nutritional emergency” makes it official. Venezuela is out of food, and it’s only a matter of time before Venezuelans are quite literally starving due to a long series of terrible decisions by their leaders.

That’s right, it’s no longer about not having diapers and toilet paper.  Nope, the socialist government has run the country out of food as well.  Feel the Bern!

Peggy Noonan approaches the popularity of Trump, and for that matter, Sanders in the presidential race with a little different take.  Instead of talking about the elite, I think she makes a differentiation that better explains why those two have any political viability at all:

There are the protected and the unprotected. The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.

The protected are the accomplished, the secure, the successful—those who have power or access to it. They are protected from much of the roughness of the world. More to the point, they are protected from the world they have created. Again, they make public policy and have for some time.

I want to call them the elite to load the rhetorical dice, but let’s stick with the protected.

They are figures in government, politics and media. They live in nice neighborhoods, safe ones. Their families function, their kids go to good schools, they’ve got some money. All of these things tend to isolate them, or provide buffers. Some of them—in Washington it is important officials in the executive branch or on the Hill; in Brussels, significant figures in the European Union—literally have their own security details.

Because they are protected they feel they can do pretty much anything, impose any reality. They’re insulated from many of the effects of their own decisions.

One issue obviously roiling the U.S. and western Europe is immigration. It is THE issue of the moment, a real and concrete one but also a symbolic one: It stands for all the distance between governments and their citizens.

I think it gets us closer to the discontent felt by much of the country.  It has become clear that the “protected” are feathering their nests at the expense of the unprotected and, as Noonan says, will never suffer the effects of their policies because they’ve protected themselves from such an occurrence – or at least tried to.  Yes, it’s a bit oversimplified.  There’s much more going on, but it helps explain what no one has satisfactorily explained to this point.

On the other hand, I can’t help feeling I’m living in Weimar Germany.

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Hope everyone has a great weekend!

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 25 Feb 16

Durable goods orders jumped 4.9% in January, while non-transportation orders rose 1.8%. Core capital goods rose 3.9%. On a year-over-year basis, orders are up 1.8% overall, but ex-transportation orders are down -0.6%, and core capital goods down -2.8%.

The FHFA House Price Index rose 0.4% in December, up 5.7% on a year-ago basis.

The Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index slipped deeper into negative territory, coming in at -12 for February.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 10,000 to 272,000. The 4-week average is also at 272,00. Continuing claims fell 19,000 to 2.253 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index held steady at 44.2 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $6.2 billion last week, with total assets of $4.490 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-11.4 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $48.8 billion in the latest week.


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Watching Twitter’s self destruction

And enjoying it (frankly, I’ve never been a fan of Twitter).

First and foremost I want to make it clear that Twitter’s decision to shadow ban and outright ban certain users has absolutely nothing to do with the right to free speech.  It’s a private company and they can ban and shadow ban anyone they want too.  Of course, being a private company and depending on “customers” they can screw the pooch anytime they want to as well, and that’s what they are in the middle of doing.

I say, “more power too them”.  They have to compete in a market with alternatives, unlike government, and they have to suffer the consequences of their decisions … also, for the most part, unlike government.

So, yeah, they’re not allowing certain conservative users to post on Twitter anymore.

Cool.  It’s not like Twitter didn’t have enough problems before this decision to monitor and ban users for arbitrary and biased reasons.  They were already under pressure to find a way to stop the declining numbers of users.

And their reaction?  Well, let’s put a “Trust and Safety Council” together to monitor what users say.  Oh, and let’s put a harpy from the extreme left wing of the political spectrum in charge and let her decide who can and can’t say “controversial things”.

How Orwellian can one get?  Well, the degree is still up for debate, but the hypocrisy isn’t.  Here’s Biz Stone, a Twitter co-founder in 2011:

[F]reedom of expression is essential. Some Tweets may facilitate positive change in a repressed country, some make us laugh, some make us think, some downright anger a vast majority of users. We don’t always agree with the things people choose to tweet, but we keep the information flowing irrespective of any view we may have about the content.

Except for now, when Twitter has decided that its “view” (or at least that of the “Truth and Safety Council”) is more important than the content.

Well done, Twitter.  You deserve everything you are now suffering.  It was all brought about by your policies and the decision that your customers weren’t the most important thing to your company.

That’s the beauty of markets.  They will speak.  And Twitter is presently being spoken too … harshly.

~McQ

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Foreign affairs – How bad is it?

This bad:

Secretary of State Kerry worked for three months to get the warring parties to a negotiating table under the auspices of the United Nations — moderate rebels, representatives of the regime, Iranians, Saudi Arabians and Russians. But Moscow then turned around and launched its offensive right as the talks began. Within 48 hours, the Russian air force carried out 320 airstrikes in northern Syria alone. It was no coincidence that the storm on Aleppo began at that exact moment. The aim was that of destroying any possibility that the opposition would have a say in Syria’s future.

Yes, that’s right, the Russians had no intention of working within the process and were simply setting up an opportunity to embarrass the United States.

I know, you’re shocked, aren’t you?

Secretary of State John Kerry conceded that his much-touted ceasefire in Syria, set to take effect Saturday, “may be” little more than what a Democratic senator called a “rope-a-dope deal.”

With Washington as the dope.

“I’m not going to vouch for this,” said Kerry. With good reason: It doesn’t cover ISIS, the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other terrorist groups — nor anyone who cares to fire at them. For months, Russia’s been bombing anyone it wants to while claiming to be targeting ISIS.

One off?  Hardly:

In a move likely to further increase already volatile tensions in the region, China has deployed fighter jets to a contested island in the South China Sea, the same island where China deployed surface-to-air missiles last week, two U.S. officials tell Fox News.

The dramatic escalation came as Secretary of State John Kerry hosted his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, at the State Department.

It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so dangerous.  The disrespect toward Kerry is much deserved, but it is primarily being shown to Obama. Kerry is just the proxy.  These two states, among many others, simply have no respect or fear of Obama.  None.  And while they’ll play the diplomatic game, they’re two realpolitik states.  When the former leader of the West shows weakness, they exploit it.  Kerry just is the guy they choose to embarrass directly.

Oh, and speaking of ISIS, have you been monitoring its growth in Libya?  You know Libya, the other foreign policy triumph of the Obama administration.  Different Secretary of State, same disastrous result.  And what is Obama doing?  Well he’s considering a solution much like his Syrian solution.  No boots on the ground and train some “good guys” to oppose ISIS.

So what does that tell adversaries?  A) He hasn’t a clue.  He’s in the middle of doubling down on failure.  B) He will not commit to the effective use of American force.  Yeah he may throw a few cruise missiles and air strikes at the place, but he really doesn’t plan to do much.  And C) he’s the lamest of lame ducks and will likely do what he’s done for 7 years if either China or Russia act aggressively – talk big and carry no stick.

Where does that leave this situation?

The Russians made clear that they were also coming in to help deal with the threat of the so-called Islamic State in Syria. It soon became apparent, however, that the Russian targeting strategy was less concerned with ISIS than tilting the balance of the civil war in favor of Assad and that Russian forces are now using tanks to target rebel strongholds in and around Aleppo.

Saudi Arabia has now moved fighter jets to Turkey with the aim of carrying out strikes inside Syria and has agreed to deploy special forces coming into Syria via Turkey.

Turkey is making it clearer by the day that it may feel it necessary to move from shelling mainly Kurdish positions inside Syria to moving troops and tanks into Syria. Meanwhile, concerns are being raised about Turkey invoking Article 5 of the NATO treaty, if Turkish forces were to be attacked by Russia or Syria.

NATO has every right to advise caution on Turkey, its fellow NATO member. But in these circumstances, following the Russian intervention — now that its full nature is revealed — it is very hard to argue that that it is not unreasonable for both Saudi Arabia and Turkey to contemplate such action.

NATO needs to establish two clear positions:

  1. That it will not become embroiled as an alliance in fighting on the ground in Syria.

  2. It will, however, respond to any attack that threatens the territorial integrity of Turkey.

Most people who know anything know that as the US goes, so goes NATO.

Anyone – do you really believe the so-called “commander-in-chief” would heed Turkey’s invocation of Article 5 and confront the Russians?

Two days before Christmas, as American policymakers were settling into the holidays, Russia quietly signed a sweeping air defense agreement with Armenia, accelerating a growing Russian military buildup that has unfolded largely under the radar. It was the most tangible sign yet that Putin is creating a new satellite state on NATO’s border and threatening an indispensable U.S. ally.

The buildup in Armenia has been glossed over in Washington, despite being a key piece of Vladimir Putin’s plan to dominate the region — along with its proxy Syria and growing military ties with Iran. Most importantly, Armenia shares an approximately 165 mile border with Turkey, a NATO member and the alliance’s southern flank. 

And now Russia has 8,500 military personnel, 600 artillery pieces, 200 warplanes and 50 warships in the area.

Does that smell like “fear” to anyone?

If so, it’s probably emanating from DC.

~McQ

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