Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 10-11 Sep 14

Sorry about missing the econ stats yesterday. I’ll make it up today. What happened yesterday was that one of my laptops went TU, so I had to go to the store and replace it. In doing so, I switched from Win8 to a new Macbook Air 11”. So, for the first time in 15 years, I’m doing stuff on a Mac. Including this, my very first blog post from a Mac, ever. I’m also planning on getting an iPhone 6 and a jaunty beret.

Ha! Just kidding. I already have a couple of berets. Anyway, Economic statistics:

Weekly jobless claims rose 11,000 to 315,000. The 4-week average rose 1,250 to 304,000. Continuing claims rose 9,000 to 2.487 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -1.2 points to 36.5, a five-week low.

Information technology revenue rose 0.8% in the 2nd Quarter of 2014, and is up 5.7% on a year-over-year basis.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -7.2% last week, with purchases down 3.0% and refis down -11.0%.

Wholesale inventories rose 0.1% in July, but a 0.7% increase in sales dropped the stock-to-sales ratio to 1.16.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $5.8 billion, with total assets of 4.421 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $4.2 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $10.3 billion in the latest week.


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Obama speech? The usual. “A performative act”

Found on Facebook (Clare Spark), I think this nicely describes Obama’s speech last night:

I am not the first to point out that Obama is a postmodern president. Tonight he proved that label by his “not-so-fast” speech on foreign policy vis a vis ISIS. It was what the pomos call ” a performative act”–the last word in magical thinking.

Indeed.  Platitudes, chest thumping, equivocation – and absolutely nothing new. He’s given a speech … the act is complete. The “ususal”.  Talk equals action.

As we’ve become familiar with the “non-apology apology” in today’s life, we have now been introduced to the “non-strategy strategy”.  What he talked about wasn’t a strategy, it was pure justification for doing … not much (even though he made it clear he doesn’t need Congress’s approval to do … not much).  Apparently he thinks that a few airstrikes and few advisors will stimulate “allies” to do much more than that and take the bit and run with it.  Yeah, that’s always worked so well in the past.  Leading from behind again.

Also unknown is how one is going to take an obviously dispirited and seemingly unwilling (incompetent) Iraqi army and turn it around any time soon, but if there is a plan in there, that seems to be it, sort of.  Oh, that and a “National Guard” (new name for the “awakening’s” militias)?  Say what? But what I mostly got from it was he, like many other mistaken arm-chair generals, believes that he can accomplish “degrading” ISIS by air.  First, any significant degradation would require a sustained air campaign on the level of our Gulf War “shock and awe” campaign.  Not going to happen.  Secondly, finding and killing ISIS C4 nodes, like we did with Saddam, is an extraordinarily difficult task in comparison.  While we may randomly accomplish knocking out some of those nodes, it will be mostly luck without good hard timely intelligence (and acted upon immediately) about an enemy which remains mostly mobile.

And how about him deciding ISIS isn’t “Islam” or “Islamic”?  Since when does he get to decide?  Certainly some parts of greater Islam are against ISIS, but then Sunnis have no use for Shiites either do they?  Does that make one or the other not “Islam”.  Who gets to decide? Such declarations do Obama’s poor credibility even more damage and feeds the conspiracy theorists.  But, that said, one has to wonder why it was so important for him to include that in a national policy speech.   It is a total non-sequitur in my opinion.  But for whatever reason, he chose to include it.

I think James Joyner has a good take on the speech.  His first reaction:

The first thing I’d note is how much it sounded like any number of foreign policy speeches given by his predecessor.  He declared again and again that, “As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people” and proudly enumerated all the ways that “we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country.”

Our Peace Prize president sounding like Bush … got to love the irony.  Of course what Obama didn’t expound upon is how his withdrawal of troops from Iraq helped enable the ISIS expansion.  Reality (i.e. an objective military assessment of the status of the Iraqi army and its actual abilities) rarely, if every, conforms to an arbitrary political deadlines.  I think it is clear to everyone the pullout at that time was a very bad idea.  It takes time to build an effective fighting force.  What is now left in Iraq is a shattered and dispirited force.  Because of that, we’re put in the position to again try to salvage a situation there.  With greater forethought and less ideology, we would have kept US forces still there to ensure the Iraqi military was actually ready to confront a threat like ISIS instead of pretending it was so to keep a political promise.

Joyner’s second thought:

The second observation is that it’s still not clear exactly what Obama’s strategy is. His stated political objective is to  “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” but he offered no plan that could plausibly do more than the former.

Well, except for, you know, “air strikes”.  Hand wave, promise, done.  Polls suck?  Hitting ISIS popular?  Wag the dog.  It’s all about politics and elections, folks.  Not the security of the United States.  If someone had told him that his poll numbers would rise by not playing golf … well, there are limits you know.  If it was truly about the security of the United States, this administration would be working to secure our borders, not ignoring the immigration laws.

Joyner concludes:

Frankly, this is simply the logical continuation of Obama’s existing ISIL non-strategy and, indeed, his general counter-terrorism strategy of blowing up the bad guys and hoping they get tired of it eventually.  We could call it the Global War on Terror but, alas, that name’s been taken. That’s rather unsatisfying but it’s not at all obvious what more the United States can or should do to degrade ISIL. The threat to the homeland is too tangential at present to warrant the proverbial boots on the ground.  So, it’s Whack-a-Mole with no end in sight.

And the moles will continue to be whacked as we hear glowing progress reports from the Eastasian front.

Because? Well, that’s how we roll now.  Back to the future.

~McQ

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History begins to repeat itself

In a piece that hits some pretty important points, Victor Davis Hanson concludes:

In truth, the world has dropped its vigilance since 9/11; Western populations are exhausted by economic hard times and acrimony over the wars in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. The charge of Islamaphobia means that Western societies have trouble confronting radical Islamists in their midst, like Major Hasan, the Tsarnaev Boston Marathon bombers, and throngs of virulently anti-Semitic Muslim immigrants in Europe. The United Nations is about as useful as was the League of Nations during the rise of fascism. As in the case of the rise of the Nazis, we naively write off the savagery of ISIS as having no place in our century, as if brutality is always premodern rather than enhanced by postmodern technology. Neo-isolationism and appeasement have swept the West and have eroded the national will to confront radical Islam in the manner of the last 1930s—with all the familiar scapegoating of the Jews and “war-mongers.”

Make sure to read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, right here at QandO we’ve had to suffer through the brainless rantings of those who claim that such brutality has no place in this century. Of course and as usual, reality bitch slaps that nonsense to death. Quite simply, brutality and inhumanity have never confined themselves to man-made centuries and any thinking person would know that.  Actually any person with the IQ of a persimmon knows that.

However, we’re caught in a postmodern web of our own making – spun by such concepts as “multi-culturalism” and its hand-maidens, “political correctness” and the grievance industry. The left has done a fine job in helping us handcuff ourselves at a crucial time in our history. We’re now afraid to confront that which is a threat to our existence for fear of … what? Offending the gods of multi-culturalism who dictate that all cultures are of value and equal? Of being politically incorrect when we correctly identify the threat as an extremist form of a religious death cult? My goodness, we might be called “Islamaphobes”. Of not being “tolerant”. Well I’m not tolerant of ignorant religious zealots who have declared their intention to kill me and my kind. Live with it.

Nor am I tolerant of those who would cosset them, excuse them or otherwise play down who and what they are. Instead they need to be exterminated, just like any infestation of vermin you might discover that threatens your life.

Minor rant aside, Hanson’s point is important. The threat is new in name only and the West is acting just as it did when its own home-grown version in Germany began its horrific rise. However there’s a huge difference, at least as I see it. The Nazis didn’t infiltrate other cultures before they attempted their conquest. This insidious enemy has. As Hanson points out Europe has allowed “throngs of virulently anti-Semitic Muslim immigrants” and has, in many places, all but lost control.

So what does that portend, and how does the West address it … if it will address it? Meanwhile, in the US, we have no idea of who or what what the throngs of illegal immigrants bring to this country. Our government refuses to enforce our immigration laws or secure our borders. Because? Because borders, apparently, have no place in the 21st century … or something.

The threat is real as is the seeming choice of the West to repeat the mistakes of the 20th century. All in the name of a failed ideology and an unwillingness to deal with reality in a way which ensures both the safety and survival of its citizens.

The West’s actions might “offend” somebody, and we know that is the worst offense known to man in this day and age, isn’t it?

~McQ

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What, if anything, do we do about ISIS/ISIL?

In 1917, the United States found a casus belli to enter World War I in the Zimmerman Telegram. Prior to this, President Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of the war.”. A year later we were belligerent in that war.

What we know now is that the European nations had bled each other white since August, 1914. There were already discussions in all the belligerent capitals about a negotiated end to the war that would have ended the war with the status quo ante intact.. America’s entry changed all that, and eventually forced the surrender of Germany. That victory led directly to an unwisely humiliating peace imposed on Germany, which caused the resentments that led directly to the rise of nationalist radicalism. Which nationalism led, in turn, to the Nazis gaining control of the country. Nazi government in Germany led directly to WWII, a war the Nazis planned beginning in 1933. Whatever suffering WWI caused, WWII was substantially worse. An argument can be made that American intervention is the ultimate cause of WWII in Europe.

Similarly, in 1991, America led a coalition to intervene in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Since then, American forces have been a more or less constant presence in the region of Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  By Osama bin Laden’s account, the presence of infidel Christians in Muslim lands was the reason for his dispute with Saudi Arabia and the United States, and the genesis of his animus against the United States. That animus led to 9/11, from which followed the last 13 years of…unpleasantness. One could, if one wished, make a parallel between American intervention in WWI and in the Gulf War.

Intervention has ripples, like pebbles tossed into a still pond, that reverberate long after the event. It can be argued that ISIS/ISIL is the latest ripple in the US’ Gulf War intervention.

So, nasty video images aside, what is it about ISIS that requires a US intervention in the Mideast again? Saddam Hussein ran a particularly nasty terror state, with rape rooms where suspect’s wives and daughters were brutally gang-raped in front of them as they were forced to watch. Dissidents were routinely dissolved alive in acid. Mothers were forced to watch as their children were shot, and their infants had their heads dashed against cement walls. Uday Hussein famously fed people who displeased him feet first into wood chippers. There is no way in which Saddam Hussein’s government was, in any way, objectively more humane or less brutal than ISIS.

ISIS seems to actively want a US intervention in the region, based on their publicly released media and statements. If they desire this, why should we be so keen to do what they wish, without at least seriously examining why they wish us to do it? In fact, I have several questions about a possible intervention against ISIS.

1. In what way is ISIS a greater threat, or indeed as much of a threat, as Saddam Hussein was from 1991 to 2003?

2. Why are both Republicans and Democrats willing to cede the President the authority to intervene in the Mideast again, without explicit Congressional approval?

3. What do we accomplish by intervening in Iraq, and not in Saudi Arabia, from whence ISIS receives funding? Indeed, what do we accomplish at all without cutting of Saudi money to fundamentalists? How do we cut that money off?

4. How likely is it that intervention against ISIS in Iraq will require intervention in Syria to defeat ISIS?

5. How likely is it to defeat ISIS without a substantial ground presence of American combat troops?

6. If ISIS is such a threat, why isn’t Israel doing anything about them?

7. How much of ISIS’ existence is part of a proxy war between Sunni states against Iran, especially as the end result of US intervention was increased Iranian influence in largely Shi’a Iraq?

8. What is the desired end state of US intervention against ISIS? Mustn’t it not simply be ISIS’ defeat, but also foreclose the rise of future ISI-like groups, lest we gain nothing but a little time?

9. Does “fighting them over there” actually make us safer from ISIS over here, or does it simply exacerbate Arab resentment, increasing the chance of terror attacks against the US?

10. How much blood and treasure are we willing to spend, and for what length of time, are we willing to commit to this intervention?

11. Would spending that blood and treasure in increasing border and port security have a greater effect on ensuring our security than military intervention?

12. Has the region become more or less stable since America began intervening in the Mideast in 1991?

13. Has the threat from the region increased or decreased since 1991?

14. Is the current situation the result of the current president’s inaction, or rather, the result of entirely too much action over the past few decades?

Frankly, the result of American intervention in the Mideast seems to have accomplished little. Yes, Kuwait was liberated, and Saddam Hussein hung but at what cost? So far, it’s been 23 years of more or less constant presence in the Mideast, during which the region has become less stable, not more. It seems that the answer to dealing with the results of our intervention in the Mideast has become more intervention.

It’s all beginning to remind me of the War on Drugs. “If only we increase prison sentences, we’ll reduce drug use.” “If only we seize assets, we’ll cripple the drug lords.” “If only we make it hard to deposit more than $10,000 in cash, we’ll shut down money laundering.” Meanwhile, we’re going through more cocaine than Hunter Thompson in Vegas, cops are using SWAT teams to serve no-knock warrants, and people’s legal cash is being seized.

Sure, I’d love to stomp ISIS flat, with a big ol’ American boot on their neck, as they gasp their last breath, while watching us kill their pet goat. I’m not really sure that’s the best answer, anymore, though.


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You can’t fake leadership

Oh you can try … but it never works.  And with Obama, it has never worked for those of us who’ve actually been leaders and understand what leadership entails.  This man has never had it and he’s not going to suddenly develop it.  Even his sycophants, at least the semi-honest ones, realize this.  Result – his leadership numbers continue to dive:

Barack Obama’s rating for strong leadership has dropped to a new low in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, hammered by criticism of his work on international crises and a stalled domestic agenda alike. With the midterm elections looming, Americans by a 10-point margin, 52-42 percent, see his presidency more as a failure than a success.

Just 38 percent now approve of Obama’s handling of international affairs, down 8 percentage points since July to a career low; 56 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time.

Please note the source for those apologists out there.  This isn’t a Fox News poll.  By 10 points, he is rated a failure as a President.  A failure by a majority of those polled.  And he’s certainly seen as a failure by international leaders.

Domestically?  Failure:

At home, with Obama holding off his promised executive action on immigration reform, a new low of just 31 percent approve of his handling of immigration. Fifty-nine percent disapprove, up by a broad 18 points from spring 2013, when progress on the issue seemed imminent.

Dems are likely glad he’s decided to hold off until after the election, but I’m sure most Americans will figure out he’s only doing that because he plans to do something that the vast majority of Americans will disagree with.  That’s not “leadership”, by the way.  Unconstitutional unilateral action to fulfill an ideological agenda item outside the system isn’t anything but authoritarianism.  A king instead of a president.

And the great healer?  Yeah, not so much:

In general assessments, moreover, Americans by a 17-point margin say Obama has done more to divide than to unite the country, a rating worse than George W. Bush’s early in his poorly rated second term – and one that’s deteriorated among Obama’s supporters as well as among his critics.

You see, uniting the country would take  … leadership.  It would take a president who was committed to actually walking the walk, not just talking the talk.  And as we’ve all learned, this man thinks him saying something is enough.

His performance in office has been pitiful.  And that’s being kind.

History, on the other hand, will not be kind to this President.  But it won’t be kind to the electorate that put him in office and then re-elected him either.  They were the enablers of this drastic decline we’ve suffered for the past 6 years.

If we manage to survive his term in office, it is going to take a long time to again gain the respect of the world, not to mention put this country back on the track envisioned by the founders.  We pointed out early on that he would be tested by our enemies.  He has been, constantly.  And he’s been found to be wanting in every single case.  He’s weak, indecisive and reticent to take action when action is warranted.  He’s as bad as we’ve ever had in the modern era.  Jimmy Carter is smiling.

~McQ

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Climate models are NOT “settled science”

At best they’re educated guesses.  And, as the actual climate continues to demonstrate when compared to the outcomes the models predict (and that’s all they do is come up with a prediction based on how the huge numbers of variables have been set up in the algorithm they use), they’re woefully wrong about climate change.  This comes under the category of “a picture is worth a thousand words” or in this case, a graph:

Screen-Shot-2014-09-07-at-9.22.08-PM.png,qresize=574,P2C451.pagespeed.ce._lwmHSxF3r

 

Not even close.

Now, who is the “denier”?

~McQ

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NHS continues to give us a reason to reject government run health care … if we’re smart

The VA system has given us a hint of what we can expect from a government run health care system in the US.  But the UK has been doing it since 1948.  And, it appears, most of those who want a single payer, government system purposely turn a blind eye to the UK’s experience:

Death rates in NHS hospitals are among the highest in the western world, shock figures revealed yesterday.

British patients were found to be almost 50 per cent more likely to die from poor care than those in America.

They have five times the chance of dying from pneumonia and twice the chance of being killed by blood poisoning.

Experts say that, despite recent improvements, NHS death rates still outstrip those in many other European countries.

Note the second sentence.  That’s as of today.  To date, our government hasn’t the level of intrusion or time to turn the health care system in the US into an NHS.

If you think its bad now, just imagine the entire country run like the VA.  Or NHS.

~McQ

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Hash Tag Game

Tonight there was a hashtag game on Twitter called “Explain a Film Plot Badly”. I thought I would play the game for a while, but I think I got a bit carried away. Here are my entries to the game. How many of these movies do you recognize?

Hollywood SignAn ex-Marine officer returns home and takes over the family business started by his Italian immigrant father.

A private eye is confused by an attractive woman and her sister/daughter.

A young farm boy learns about religion, kisses his sister, joins an insurgent group, and blows up a military base.

A bar owner in Morocco befriends a local policeman.

A Kansas firm girl dreams about a magical land after being injured in inclement weather.

A rich media mogul remembers his favorite sled.

A stranded alien becomes addicted to candy.

A prize fighter suspects his brother may have slept with his wife.

A British and Turkish officer have a brief sexual encounter in WWI.

An inmate has fun causing hijinks at an asylum.

A former Nazi scientist figures out a plan to legalize polygamy.

Astronauts find a black box left by aliens long ago. Hilarity ensues.

An ex-nun sings about everything.

Military doctors drink and perform surgery in tents.

A big fish ruins everyone’s summer.

A UCLA archaeologist ignores international treaties about antiquities.

A murderous lunatic enjoys cannibalism and legumes.

A black Philadelphia police detective solves crime and racism in Mississippi.

Wyatt and Billy sell cocaine, ride motorcycles, and irritate rednecks.

A poor Irishman meets a nice girl, but dies in a boating accident.

Bruce Willis dies, then counsels a troubled youth.

An NYPD detective learns that Frenchmen have the best smack.

A bible-quoting gangster retrieves an important briefcase, then interrupts a robbery in a diner.

A concentration camp prisoner discovers which child she loves the best.

A Jewish chariot racer takes baths with hunky Roman men.

Private Ryan is sent home after a family tragedy.

A murderer practices accountancy in prison.

A rich vigilante dresses up like an animal and drives a cool car.

Twelve disgruntled jurors talk things out.

A man and his imaginary friend form a club they never talk about.

Little people travel with a piece of jewelry, have adventures.

A man goes into people’s dreams and learns stuff, and thinks about his hot ex-wife. Or maybe it’s just a dream.

A half-Irish, half-Italian man becomes involved with organized crime, then tells cops how fun it was.

A police detective looks into a box and makes an unfortunate find.

A man wishes he had never been born. His wish is granted, and his little town becomes way more fun.

Lunatic hotelier has unhealthily fond memories of his mother.

A federal agent investigates a baseball-loving bootlegger.

A magical black man heals a wounded rodent, but is electrocuted.

A starship crew encounters an alien who kills all the unattractive crew members.

A milk-loving British thug receives therapy.

The English make a Scottish rebel pay for his violent hijinks.

A mentally disabled man befriends the daughter of an idealistic, widowed, southern lawyer.

Con men rob a gangster and then get shot. But not really.

A Cuban immigrant snorts cocaine then introduces rivals to his small acquaintance.

Adolf Hitler yells and dies in German.

A British officer is held prisoner by the Japanese, and builds the best bridge ever.

A LA policeman kills robots, then has sex with one.

A hippie bowler has sex with a rich woman, meets a pornographer, and has his carpet soiled by nihilists.

Ratty-looking Formula 1 driver has a bad crash, but races again.

An African hotelier in Kigali, Rwanda, is disturbed by local events.

A math professor becomes paranoid, but gains an imaginary friend.

Antarctic researchers find an alien with a talent for mimicry.

Unattractive Persians kill hunky Spartans in a disturbingly homoerotic war.

A man is reacquainted with his childhood sweetheart, while his Hispanic friend investigates his father’s murder.

Unscrupulous petroleum magnate drinks other people’s milkshakes.

An Irish hit man travels to Belgium, is unimpressed by Bruges.

Jason Bourne loses his memory, then falls for a quirky German girl.

A girl learns how to box, then dies.

An Indian leader preaches pacifism, but, ironically, is shot.

A young man volunteers to serve in Vietnam, which is more unpleasant than he expected.

A hotel caretaker spends the winter writing an extremely repetitious book, and using cutlery.

Undercover cop gets shot while participating in a robbery. He’s told he’s “gonna be okay” but isn’t.

A mob-connected gambler runs a casino in Vegas, while hosting a bad TV show, then has serious car trouble.


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Image Credit: The Hollywood sign image was originally posted to Flickr by Sörn at http://flickr.com/photos/34065722@N00/1151601662, licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0. Post originally posted at DaleFranks.Com.

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