Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The incredible shrinking presidency

Yes I know Peggy Noonan was one of “those” on the right to who thought Barack Obama would “deliver” (deliver what I’m not sure but she thought he’d be a welcome change to Bush).  And, in a weird and fascinating way it has been fun watching her discover how unbelievably wrong she was (not that it shouldn’t have been obvious from the beginning).  Frankly, it makes you a little skeptical concerning just about anything she might say that isn’t based in observable fact.

However, I think her opinion today is just about right:

Because when I imagine Barack Obama’s State of the Union, I see a handsome, dignified man standing at the podium and behind him Joe Biden, sleeping. And next to him John Boehner, snoring. And arrayed before the president the members, napping.

No one’s really listening to the president now. He has been for five years a nonstop wind-up talk machine. Most of it has been facile, bland, the same rounded words and rounded sentiments, the same soft accusations and excuses. I see him enjoying the sound of his voice as the network newsman leans forward eagerly, intently, nodding at the pearls, enacting interest, for this is the president and he is the anchorman and surely something important is being said with two such important men engaged.

But nothing interesting was being said! Looking back on this presidency, it has from the beginning been a 17,000 word New Yorker piece in which, calmly, sonorously, with his lovely intelligent voice, the president says nothing, or little that is helpful, insightful or believable. “I’m not a particularly ideological person.” “It’s hard to anticipate events over the next three years.” “I don’t really even need George Kennan right now.” “I am comfortable with complexity.” “Our capacity to do some good . . . is unsurpassed, even if nobody is paying attention.”

Nobody is!

Yeah, she hasn’t quite lost the “fan girl” crush she had on Obama, but the stark reality of what this man is … or perhaps isn’t … has finally begun to set in. Reality is a bitch and she doesn’t let you play pretend for long before she begins slapping you around the head and shoulders with what “is”. And what “is” with this presidency is “over”.

No one trusts this man. He’s been an incompetent buffoon. And the pity is, it was entirely predictable. In fact, we did predict it. We talked about the presidency not being an OJT position. That you needed experience having run a major organization before (you know, executive experience?). Or someone that had actually done something other than write his own autobigraphy at 40.  If not, you’re likely to be well above your competency level and it will show.

But some sort of ability to suspend disbelief infected the chattering classes and they began coughing, sneezing and throwing up a myth about this empty suit. At the end of the 2008 campaign he had somehow become magic.

In reality he was the Wizard and the Noonan’s of the world, 5 years late and trillions of dollars short have finally … FINALLY … begun to peek behind the curtain where the rest of us have been sending SOS’s for years. And they’re discovering he doesn’t even know what the levers are or do, much less how to pull them.

And this discovery has led to more discovery … such as that above. He’s mostly irrelevant and ignored. Someone we must suffer through to get back to business. And so when he speaks … well, no one listens. Oh, they may show up, and they may even feign paying attention, but when you’ve heard the same speech and all it’s variations for 5 years and nothing has happened that was promised (and a lot has happened that wasn’t promised and isn’t good), you tend to not pay attention any more.

For a speechifier who thinks words equal action, I can’t imagine a worse fate.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 23 Jan 14

Initial jobless claims were unchanged at 326,000. The 4-week average fell 3,500 to 331,500. Continuing claims rose 34,000 to 3.056 million.

Sales of existing homes rose 1.0% in December to a lower-than-expected 4.87 million annual rate.

The Markit PMI manufacturing index flash reading for January dropped –0.7 points to 53.7.

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index fell to 0.16 in December from a revised 0.69.

The FHFA House Price Index rose 0.1% in November, a 7.6% increase from a year ago.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index was unchanged at -31 in the latest week.

The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators rose 0.1% in December, after a strong 1.0% increase in November.

The Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index rose from -3 to 5 in January.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $26.4 billion last week, with total assets of $4.098 trillion. Reserve Bank credit increased $37.7 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $26.0 billion in the latest week.


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Economic Statistics for 22 Jan 14

Today gives us the first statistics of a very sparse week in the economic calendar.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 4.7% last week, with purchases down -4.0% but refinancings up 10.0%.

In weekly retail sales, Redbook reports a 3.1% increase from the previous year. ICSC-Goldman reports a weekly sales drop of -1.9%, and only a 0.9% increase on a year-over-year basis.


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ObamaCare: the myth and the reality

Perhaps I should say the building myth and the reality.

What is the building myth?  That the worst is behind it.  Megan McArdle fills you in:

Many of the commentators I’ve read seem to think that the worst is over, as far as unpopular surprises.

But she then takes a chain saw to that particular notion:

In fact, the worst is yet to come.

· 2014: Small-business policy cancellations. This year, the small-business market is going to get hit with the policy cancellations that roiled the individual market last year. Some firms will get better deals, but others will find that their coverage is being canceled in favor of more expensive policies that don’t cover as many of the doctors or procedures that they want. This is going to be a rolling problem throughout the year.

· Summer 2014: Insurers get a sizable chunk of money from the government to cover any excess losses. When the costs are published, this is going to be wildly unpopular: The administration has spent three years saying that Obamacare was the antidote to abuses by Big, Bad Insurance Companies, and suddenly it’s a mechanism to funnel taxpayer money to them?

· Fall 2014: New premiums are announced.

· 2014 and onward: Medicare reimbursement cuts eat into hospital margins, triggering a lot of lobbying and sad ads about how Beloved Local Hospital may have to close.

· Spring 2015: The Internal Revenue Service starts collecting individual mandate penalties: 1 percent of income in the first year. That’s going to be a nasty shock to folks who thought the penalty was just $95. I, like many other analysts, expect the administration to announce a temporary delay sometime after April 1, 2014.

· Spring 2015: The IRS demands that people whose income was higher than they projected pay back their excess subsidies. This could be thousands of dollars.

· Spring 2015: Cuts to Medicare Advantage, which the administration punted on in 2013, are scheduled to go into effect. This will reduce benefits currently enjoyed by millions of seniors, which is why they didn’t let them go into effect this year.

· Fall 2015: This is when expert Bob Laszewski says insurers will begin exiting the market if the exchange policies aren’t profitable.

· Fall 2017: Companies and unions start learning whether their plans will get hit by the “Cadillac tax,” a stiff excise tax on expensive policies that will hit plans with generous benefits or an older and sicker employee base. Expect a lot of companies and unions to radically decrease benefits and increase cost-sharing as a result.

· January 2018: The temporary risk-adjustment plans, which the administration is relying on to keep insurers in the marketplaces even if their customer pool is older and sicker than projected, run out. Now if insurers take losses, they just lose the money.

· Fall 2018: Buyers find out that subsidy growth is capped for next year’s premiums; instead of simply being pegged to the price of the second-cheapest silver plan, whatever that cost is, their growth is fixed. This will show up in higher premiums for families — and, potentially, in an adverse-selection death spiral.

In fact, she is exactly right.  Note how many of these surprises happen before 2016.  And, as they come true, perhaps … just perhaps … when voters are told that the rest of this nonsense is likely to come true too (it is the law, you see), they might believe it.

Perhaps.  The “Cadillac tax” was inartfully delayed until after the election.  However, the snowball will already be rolling down hill by then and you’d think the public would be open to believing that the rest of this abomination, that which was delayed, will indeed happen.  And you’d also believe they’d want to do something about that (that, of course assumes Obama doesn’t wave the magic executive pen and waive all of this until after the election).

But then, doing something would depend on what?  Well, getting elected officials that want to actually get rid of most of this monstrosity and are willing to say that and then do it.  Uh, that won’t be Democrats (well except perhaps blue dog Democrats, if they’re not extinct by then).

What it all boils down too is that voters will have to depend on Republicans to do the heavy lifting.  The question is will they do that if elected?  In other words, will Republicans be up to the job?

If I had to base it on the current crop – yeah, not so much.

~McQ

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Manufacturing a problem for government to solve

It is something government is quite good at doing, even though the solution usually ends up being worse than the problem.

And then there are “problems” that aren’t really problems, but government sees an opportunity to step in and “solve” it via, well, more government and less freedom, of course.

For instance:

Two out of three Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are currently distributed in the U.S. This includes three-fourths of Democrats and 54% of Republicans.

On it’s face, you might not think much about this, since very few people are satisfied with their condition, regardless of how good it really is.  Everyone thinks they should be doing better.  And, for the most part, many like to blame others for their inability to realize whatever goals and dreams they’ve set out for themselves.  It’s certainly not their fault they aren’t the CEO of a Fortune 100 company … it has to be the “elite” or the “rich” or the “old boy network” that’s kept them from their dream.  And they certainly think they should be making more than they do.  They’re worth it, just ask them.

They’re also fertile ground for the biggest con artist in the world to use their dissatisfaction to promise them their dream at the expense of others.  Instead of saying, “Don’t like your situation?  Work harder and smarter then”, this bunch of grifters promise to use their power to help the dissatisfied get “their due”.  And so:

President Barack Obama spoke about income disparities in a Dec. 4, 2013, speech, saying he wanted to prioritize lowering income disparity and increasing opportunities, particularly for the poor, during the rest of his second term. He most likely will return to that topic in his State of the Union speech at the end of the month. Gallup’s Jan. 5-8 Mood of the Nation survey included a question asking Americans how satisfied they are with income and wealth distribution in the U.S. Few, 7%, report that they are “very satisfied” with the distribution, while 39% of Americans say they are “very dissatisfied.”

Who says a failing economy can’t be used to increase political and governmental power?  Just hide and watch.  Of course, it is no coincidence that the “dissatisfaction” with the “distribution” of “income and wealth” took a nose dive with the economy, is it?

But you know the old Rahm Emanuel saying – “never let a crisis go to waste”, even if it is a manufactured crisis.  If it is an opportunity to expand government (especially if that expansion accrues more power to government and less to the people) then it’s all good.

They’ll have to move fast though:

Obama will almost certainly touch on inequality in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28. This will certainly resonate in a general sense with the majority of Americans who are dissatisfied with income and wealth distribution in the U.S. today. Members of the president’s party agree most strongly with the president that this is an issue, but majorities of Republicans and independents are at least somewhat dissatisfied as well.

Although Americans are more likely to be satisfied with the opportunity for people to get ahead through hard work, their satisfaction is well below where it was before the economic downturn. Accordingly, improvement in the U.S. economy could bring Americans’ views back to pre-recession levels.

Heaven forbid the economy get better before more useless programs can be “funded” and more plans executed to relieve the “rich” and “wealthy” of their money for the usual vote buying schemes.

But with this crew in charge, an economic turnaround isn’t very likely anytime soon … so I’m sure they feel pretty darn safe at the moment and believe that they have plenty of time.

~McQ

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I don’t know what I’m doing here

I’ll level with you: I’m in a pretty negative mood about…well…everything. I’m not talking about big-picture stuff like the direction of the Republic, or the future of the economy. I’m talking about my life. I’ve gotten to the point that literally everything that happens outside the door to my house is a hateful burden. I just don’t seem to have a sense of purpose anymore.

I was looking back at the old QandO archives, and I noticed that, I used to write and post four or five different posts every day. Now, I post my little economic statistics posts, and I’m done. I just get no sense of joy or usefulness in blogging any more. It seems like it just takes up time, but offers no reward. No money, no recognition, nothing that makes blogging about politics worth my time. Sometimes, something especially interesting comes up, so once every other month or so, I write about it here, but that’s because by far the exception, rather than the rule. Blogging about politics just seems like a burden.

It’s all so pointless. We will never convince the majority of people to embrace liberty, instead of looking to government to be Mommy. At least not until government fails so badly that its incompetence is made clearly manifest. And even if that happens, I suspect that the majority of the electorate will look for a man on a white horse, rather than freedom, and the responsibility for their own lives. There’ll always be a cohort that thinks government could do everything for everyone if only the right people were running it. And, it seems, quite a lot of people will listen to them.

Arguing with progressives is pointless, too. It’s like arguing with people in a movie theater who won’t stop texting. It’s a waste of time to say anything to them, because if they had a shred of civility or decency, they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you’re a Progressive, I just assume at this point that you’re too abysmally stupid to waste time with on reason or debate.

We talked about that in the podcast tonight. A podcast that maybe 200 people or so will listen to, despite the fact that it’s one of the oldest political podcasts in existence. I enjoy talking to Bruce and Michael, but, really, it just seems like a vanity exercise. Hardly anyone will listen to it. Is it worth interrupting my Sunday afternoon for 1.5 hours to record and post a podcast that no one cares about? I don’t know.

But really, it all goes much deeper than that. I suspect the root cause of my problem is that my professional life is hateful to me.

I work full-time as a software developer for a defense contractor. I hate it. I hate programming. I never wanted to do it for a living.  I got out of the air force in August, 1993 solely to get into radio. By December, I was the main daytime line producer for a 24-hour business and financial news station in Los Angeles. By April of 1994, I was the on-air anchor for four hours a day. The station management was a bunch of money-losing incompetents, however, and when they sold off 12 hours at night to a company that ran ethnic Chinese programming, I saw the handwriting on the wall. I bailed, and took a job running the training department of a software training and consulting company in Orange County. A year later, I was running the programming department. From there, a series of decisions that made sense at the time led me to the job I have today. I’m a highly-paid senior software developer who hates developing software. I have to think of an excuse every workday to go to work instead of calling in sick.

A few months ago, things seemed to be looking up. We did a bit of a re-org, and someone in each section got promoted to be the lead contractor and liaison with our DoD customer. I was appointed the lead contractor for my department. I was just starting to get into a couple of more interesting things, when, last month, my company hired an outside guy to lead my section, and sent me back to the prgramming ghetto, while all the other guys similarly promoted internally kept their jobs. I was told my technical skills were to valuable to lose to become a manager. So, once again, I’m just a code monkey, with no prospect of moving upwards.

I also have an LLC that does web development, and has kept Chris employed full-time since 2002. We just got a $20,000 contract with a major business to develop a web site. I know exactly what has to be done to do it successfully. I’m going to do it. And I’m going to hate every minute of it.

If I never wrote another line of code again, I wouldn’t miss it. At all. I’d feel nothing but relief.

I enjoy teaching, so the job I have that I really love is being an adjunct professor at a local college. But, of course, there are no full-time academic jobs available—and even if there was, I couldn’t afford to take the massive pay cut that teaching full-time would entail. So, I’m stuck at a job I loathe because I can’t afford to leave it. I still like writing, too, if not about politics. Writing about cars and motorcycles is something that I love doing. I enjoy spending a day or two with a new car or motorcycle and playing with it, and writing it up. But, of course, there’s no money in that either, even for people who do it full-time. Auto journalism is a low-paying career. I do—and have for years, done—photography and videography. I still love that. Occasionally, I get a job to do a photo or video shoot, or video editing job, but not enough to make it pay as a full-time career. I’d love to do radio again, but broadcasting doesn’t really pay the bills, either. It’s not nearly as high-paying a career as people think it is, unless you’re at the top of the profession. And with corporate consolidation, there’s no room for doing anything original anymore. Terrestrial radio is pretty much unlistenable as a result.

In short, everything I love is more or less professionally worthless to me, and the thing I hate—absolutely hate—is what pays the bills. This wasn’t the life a planned, and it’s certainly not the life I wanted. I think the disappointment of that is coloring everything else. I’m trapped in a career I despise, working for people I dislike, and I don’t see any way out. I still have a mortgage, and a family to feed, so I can’t just go off and start over in a new career from scratch.

Chris says most people hate their jobs. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I’m just hitting my mid-life crisis. I just know that I feel trapped and unhappy in my professional life, and I just can’t seem to work up any enthusiasm for a lot of things I used to love doing. I just feel so drained and dissatisfied at the end of the work day, I just want to go home, and watch TV or read, staying up as late as I possibly can, because I know that sleeping will just bring the next workday that much closer.

What I really want to do is sell my house in California, and move back to Texas.  With what we would make on our current house, I could buy a house outright there, and pay off the rest of our debt, besides. That would take a huge amount of financial pressure off me, and maybe give me some space to do more things that I would enjoy as a profession. But, for a variety of reasons I can’t go into right now, that doesn’t appear to be an option.

So I feel trapped in a career that I absolutely loathe, but that I can’t escape. Every workday, I wake up, and the first thought of every single day is that all I want to do is spend the day with Chris, my dogs, my reading, and my writing, and tell the rest of the world to go to hell. Every morning, I know that literally nothing I do at work today will provide me with any positive feeling at all.  I’ll just endure it, as I always do. And if everything goes as well as it possibly can, I’ll just get another chance to endure it tomorrow.

This may not be an entirely healthy attitude.


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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 19 Dec 14

This week, Michael and Dale just talk about stuff.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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Style Evolves

I dunno, I just thought I’d dial it back a notch on the text size. Swap over to a san-serif text font. Go with a more responsive web design for tablets and whatnot. Generally just monkey around with it a bit. Still keep it really simple and text-based, though.


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