Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Observations: The QandO Podcast for 08 Aug 14

This week, Michael performs psychoanalysis, and Dale quotes his grandmother.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Stitcher. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here.

What ever happened to critical thinking

Dr. Thomas Sowell thinks he knows:

In an age when scientists are creating artificial intelligence, too many of our educational institutions seem to be creating artificial stupidity.

Critical thinking seems, in many cases, to be a thing of the past.  Ideology seems to be replacing it.

For instance:

Many people in Europe and the Western Hemisphere are staging angry protests against Israel’s military action in Gaza. One of the talking points against Israel is that far more Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli military attacks than the number of Israeli civilians killed by the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel that started this latest military conflict.

Are these protesters aware that vastly more German civilians were killed by American bombers attacking Nazi Germany during World War II than American civilians killed in the United States by Hitler’s forces?

Not only that, are they aware that the intent of the Hamas terrorists is to kill as many Israeli civilians as they can?  They’re just not very good at it.  And, Israel has taken steps to safeguard its civilians while Hamas repeatedly and purposely puts their civilians at risk by launching rockets from populated areas near schools etc.

This isn’t something that’s hard to figure out … unless you’ve turned thinking off and ideology (which only allows one to accept “facts” that fit the narrative”) on.

Another example involving Jerry Rivers:

Geraldo Rivera has denounced the Drudge Report for carrying news stories that show some of the negative consequences and dangers from allowing vast numbers of youngsters to enter the country illegally and be spread across the country by the Obama administration.

Some of these youngsters are already known to be carrying lice and suffering from disease. Since there have been no thorough medical examinations of most of them, we have no way of knowing whether they, or how many, are carrying deadly diseases that will spread to American children when these unexamined young immigrants enter schools across the country.

The attack against Matt Drudge has been in the classic tradition of demagogues. It turns questions of fact into questions of motive. Geraldo accuses Drudge of trying to start a “civil war.”

However, history reminds us:

Back when masses of immigrants from Europe were entering this country, those with dangerous diseases were turned back from Ellis Island. Nobody thought they had a legal or a moral “right” to be in America or that it was mean or racist not to want our children to catch their diseases.

Perfectly acceptable precautions.  Perfectly sound reasoning.  Something we understood well even back then.  But that doesn’t fit the ideological narrative today. The fact that the illegals are “children”  is what the ideologues want to emphasize in order to shut others up and have them enter freely and be placed within our system.  They appeal to emotion, not reason.  Reason tells you that you take prudent precautions instead of openly exposing your children to the communicable diseases, etc. that are being brought in by illegals, children or not.  Who do we have a greater responsibility toward and why should we risk their lives and health in order to satisfy an ideology?  A thinking person would conclude we have a greater responsibility to our own children.

Finally:

Although liberals are usually gung ho for increasing the minimum wage, there was a sympathetic front-page story in the July 29 San Francisco Chronicle about the plight of a local non-profit organization that will not be able to serve as many low-income minority youths if it has to pay a higher minimum wage. They are seeking some kind of exemption.

Does it not occur to these people that the very same thing happens when a minimum-wage increase applies to profit-based employers? They, too, tend to hire fewer inexperienced young people when there is a minimum-wage law.

No it doesn’t “occur” to them because they don’t think it through.  They simply parrot the emotional buzz-words and phrases their ideology teaches them.  The consequences are far less important than getting their way and feeling good about it.  But critical thought never enters the picture.

If it did, we’d not be hearing the nonsense these examples present, would we?

~McQ

Economic Statistics for 7 Aug 14

Weekly initial jobless claims fell 14,000 to 289,000. The 4-week average fell 3,750 to 293,500. Continuing claims fell 24,000 to 2.518 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.1 points to 36.2.

Consumer credit rose $17.3 billion in June mainly driven by the nonrevolving component, which rose $16.3 billion.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose  $3.5 billion with total assets of $4.410 trillion. Reserve Bank credit rose $1.9 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 Money supply rose $29.2 billion in the latest week.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Climate Change: About that big yellow thing that hangs in the sky each day …

If the findings of a new study are correct, it appears the sun is indeed the primary reason for global temps being higher for a few years.  I know, you’re shocked aren’t you?  Who would have thought the big heater in the sky could have a role in temperature increases?  Well not the alarmists.

As illustrated in the figure below, the authors report there is “remarkable agreement” among the overlapping years of their reconstruction (solid black line) and the number of sunspots recorded from direct observations since 1610 (red line). Their reconstruction of solar activity also displays several “distinct features,” including several “well-defined Grand minima of solar activity, ca. 770 BC, 350 BC, 680 AD, 1050 AD, 1310 AD, 1470 AD, and 1680 AD,” as well as “the modern Grand maximum (which occurred during solar cycles 19-23, i.e., 1950-2009),” which they describe as “a rare or even unique event, in both magnitude and duration, in the past three millennia.”


Figure 1. Reconstructed decadal average of sunspot numbers for the period 1150 BC-1950 AD (black line). The 95% confidence interval is shown by the gray shading and directly measured sunspot numbers are shown in red. The horizontal dashed lines demark the bounds of the three suggested modes (Grand Minimum, Regular, and Grand Maximum) as defined by Usoskin et al.

A “rare or even unique event” which had zip to do with man or CO2, but certainly coincided with the panic about man-made global warming, huh?  And the alarmists gave what sort of influence to the sun in their models?

Usoskin et al. (2014) write their results “provide important constraints for both dynamo models of Sun-like stars and investigations of possible solar influence on Earth’s climate.” They also illustrate the importance of improving the quality of such reconstructions, in light of the fact that previous reconstructions of this nature “did not reveal any clear signature of distinct modes” in solar activity.

Unfortunately, it was beyond the scope of this paper to address the potential impact of solar activity on climate. Yet the reconstruction leaves a very big question unanswered — What effect did the Grand maximum of solar activity that occurred between 1950 and 2009 have on Earth’s climate? As a “unique” and “rare” event in terms of both magnitude and duration, one would think a lot more time and effort would be spent by the IPCC and others in answering that question. Instead, IPCC scientists have conducted relatively few studies of the Sun’s influence on modern warming, assuming that the temperature influence of this rare and unique Grand maximum of solar activity, which has occurred only once in the past 3,000 years, is far inferior to the radiative power provided by the rising CO2 concentration of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Not that any of these facts will at all derail the Alarmist’s rush to provide an expensive solution to a non-existent problem.  Doug Hoffman summarizes what we who are totally skeptical of the “science” of man-made global warming face:

One of the sad side effects of the global warming climate scam is the way otherwise fairly intelligent people have been snookered into believing the dumbest things. There is no shortage of “experts” who gleefully back up claims of climate induced catastrophe—some with scholarly gravitas, others with fanatical shrillness. And the list of false and debunked claims goes on and on. Part of the blame for all these faux catastrophes rests squarely on the news media. Operating under the old adage, “if it bleeds it leads,” the mindless vultures of the world’s news agencies flock to report any calamity, more than happy to attributed the event to climate change. Instead of registering guns, governments should register cameras and microphones—they are truly dangerous weapons in the hands of the breathtakingly ignorant members of the fourth estate.

Indeed.  One of the things we’ve discussed here before is how the rise of advocacy “journalism” harms us all.  This “scam”, as Hoffman characterizes it, points out in spades how poorly we’re served by our media today.

Don’t expect this study to get much attention.  It is counter to the conventional wisdom, counter to the desire to further empower government and certainly counter to the desire by those in power to cash in on this faux crisis.

~McQ

Economic Statistics for 6 Aug 14

The US trade deficit narrowed for the second straight month, down $-44.1 billion, the May drop of $-44.7 billion. Imports declined -1.2%.

Gallup’s U.S. Job Creation Index for July rose 1 point to 28, the highest level in more than six years.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 1.6% last week. Purchases were down -1.0% but re-fis rose 4.0%.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

NBC – America’s “fed up”. News flash – so am I

Yup, NBC is figuring out that things aren’t so great, especially in Obamaville:

To words sum up the mood of the nation: Fed up.

Six in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, more than 70 percent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly 80 percent are down on the country’s political system, according to the latest NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll.

The frustration carries over to the nation’s political leaders, with President Barack Obama’s overall approval rating hitting a new low at 40 percent, and a mere 14 percent of the public giving Congress a thumbs up.

So there is no question that a majority of Americans (60/40) disapprove of the job the President is doing.  About time.  What is a question is what will be done about it.

My guess?  Not much.  I’m not talking about impeachment, I’m not talking about censure – neither are options for the American people as a whole.  I’m talking about the next presidential election – will it be another emotional beauty contest, or will the people actually take it seriously?  Given the last presidential election, which returned an incompetent and disconnected president to office, I have no real hope they will.

Looking at the Congressional numbers, I only say “what’s new”?  Their low numbers have persisted through a number of presidencies and yet the same people pretty much run the place.  And apparently it is heresy to actually want candidates who see the Constitution as the law of the land and essentially mandating a much smaller government with much less intrusion into the daily lives of Americans.

But, will the people of the US actually choose the heretics?  It appears they’d much rather stick with the status quo and bitch about it.  I expect nothing much to change in Congress except a few names and party affiliations and perhaps the majority in the Senate.  But work toward smaller, less intrusive and less costly government?  Address spending and the deficit?  You need to provide me with some of the drugs you’re taking if you think that will happen.

Nope … just as I believe the West hasn’t the backbone to do what is necessary to confront and eradicate radical Islam, I have no confidence that the American people want to do anything more about the current situation than bitch about it.

We’ve had a succession of wave elections that have put an exclamation point to the findings above. At each election, they’re pretty much the same as those above.  And what have they brought us?  More of the same.  I can’t imagine this will be any different.  Just a different branch of the same establishment group getting the blame.

So who will win in November?

Who cares?  If Mitch McConnell is Majority Leader, Harry Reid is Minority Leader and Barack Obama is President, what will really change?

~McQ

Economic Statistics for 5 Aug 14

June factory orders rose a generally strong 1.1%, led by a big 3.3 percent jump for nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft.

The non-manufacturing ISM index rose 2.7 points in July to 58.7.

The JP Morgan Global composite PMI for July rose a slight 0.1 points to 55.5. The Global Services PMI rose 0.2 points to 56.0.

US Services Purchasing Managers’ Index fell -0.2 points to 60.8 in July.

The Gallup Economic Confidence Index fell -2 points to -17 in July.

ICSC-Goldman reports weekly retail sales rose 0.2%, and were up a strong 4.5% on a year-over-year basis. Redbook also reports a strong 4.6% rise in retail sales over last year.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Trying to change the argument

The New Republic publishes an article saying, in essence, “see, the ObamaCare increases are nothing to really get excited about“.  And to emphasize the point, they issue this Price-Waterhouse map (the reason they use it is as an appeal to authority):

If you look at it, you’d likely conclude that they were mostly right … where’s the problem?  Only Indiana seems to have a real problem and its increases are only around 15%.

And, you know, if Price-Waterhouse says it, it must be true.

Researching it beyond that, well, that would be journalism:

INDIANA: 2015 premiums increases ‘as high as … 46-percent’ “Initial 2015 premiums filed for the Obamacare exchanges in Indiana ranged from as high as a 46-percent hike to as low as a 9-percent cut.” (Indianapolis Business Journal, 5/19/14)

MARYLAND: 2015 premiums could increase up to 30% “Maryland’s dominant insurance company, CareFirst, is proposing hefty premium increases of 23 to 30 percent for consumers buying individual plans next year under the federal health-care law, according to filings released Friday.” (The Washington Post, 6/6/14)

WASHINGTON: 2015 premiums could increase ‘up to 26%’ “If approved, rate increases for 2015 individual health plans proposed by 12 insurance companies may affect most policyholders… [up] to an increase of 26 percent…” (The Seattle Times, 5/13/14)

ARIZONA: 2015 premium increases up to 25.5 percent “New filings trickling into the Arizona Department of Insurance show at least two health insurers plan to increase rates more than 10 percent. Cigna Wants To Increase Rates An Average Of 14.4 Percent And Humana, 25.5 Percent.” (The Arizona Republic, 6/2/14)

LOUISIANA: ‘Double-digit increases’ up to 24% possible “Some Louisiana private health insurers filed for double-digit percentage increases in 2015 for policies sold under the Affordable Care Act’s health exchange, according to filings this week with the Louisiana Department of Insurance.” (New Orleans Times Picayune, 7/15/14)

·         “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, the state’s largest provider, is proposing rate increases of between 18.3 percent and 19.7 percent for policyholders in its Blue Saver, Blue Max and its Multi-State individual health plans. The plans cover 52,638 people. … The 4,947 people who signed up with Human Louisiana facea hike of 15.7 percent, while the 966 insured residents with Time Insurance Company face a hike of 24 percent, according to the filings made public this week.”(New Orleans Times Picayune, 7/15/14)

TENNESSEE: 2015 Premiums Could Increase up to 21.7% “BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee — the state’s dominant health insurance provider — is asking to raise rates by an average of 19 percent for its exchange plans in 2015, according to documents filed with the state of Tennessee. …the consumer will experience a rate increase between 6.1 percent and 21.7 percent, depending on the product he or she has bought.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, 7/17/14)

·         “Meanwhile, Cigna is requesting an average rate increase of 7.5 percent in 2015, while Kentucky-based Humana would like to boost marketplace rates by an average of 14.4 percent.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, 7/17/14)

NEW YORK: 2015 premiums could increase up to 19.7% “Insurance firms participating in New York’s ObamaCare health exchange are seeking double-digit hikes for patient medical premiums in 2015, new figures reviewed by The Post reveal. The average hike sought by insurers for individual plans is 12 percent—but a number of firms serving large numbers of patients want to boost individual premiums by nearly 20 percent. Leading the charge is Excellus Health Plan, which is seeking to sock more than 24,000 customers with a 19.7 percent hike.” (New York Post, 7/3/14)

VERMONT: 2015 premiums could increase up to 18.3% “The two companies that sell policies on the state’s online health insurance marketplace — Vermont Health Connect — have filed requests with state regulators for big rate increases for 2015. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont has asked for an average increase for its plans of 9.8 percent. … the increases would have averaged 3.3 percent if not for federal and state mandates. … MVP Health Care proposed an even bigger rate increase — an average 15.4 percent, with a range starting at 10.7 percent and rising to 18.3 percent.” (Burlington Free Press, 6/3/14)

MICHIGAN: 2015 premium increases up to 18 percent “Most people buying their own health insurance in Michigan could see near double-digit premium increases next year. State insurance regulators said Wednesday that dominant insurers Blue Care Network and Blue Cross Blue Shield want to raise rates by an average of 9.3 percent or 9.7 percent in 2015. … Humana is the insurer with the third most customers in Michigan’s individual market and seeks an average 18 percent rate increase affecting 16,600 customers.” (The Associated Press, 6/26/14)

VIRGINIA: 2015 premiums could increase up to 14.9% “…the Anthem HealthKeepers Inc. plan offered by a unit of WellPoint Inc. said it would raise premiums by an average of 8.5% across its individual plans in Virginia, which cover about 110,000 people and are sold on the online insurance exchange set up by the health law, as well as directly to consumers. … The Virginia filings show other health plans proposing rate increases ranging from 3.3% for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., with around 10,000 members in the state, to 14.9% for CareFirst BlueChoice Inc., which said it had about 32,000 members.” (The Wall Street Journal, 5/11/14)

IOWA: 2015 premium increases up to 14.5 percent “About a quarter of a million Iowans would see their insurance rates rise next year should the state approve a request from Iowa’s dominant health insurer. Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced Friday that it is seeking to raise premium rates for 253,000 policyholders in Iowa. Those rate increases would affect individual policyholders and small businesses. Most — 92 percent — of the proposed rate increases would be less than 5.9 percent, according to numbers provided by Wellmark. … For the remaining 7.5 percent of policyholders — those who have post-Affordable Care Act plans for individuals under 65 — Wellmark is asking for a rate increase between 11.9 percent and 14.5 percent.” (Des Moines Register, 6/20/14)

OHIO: “Premiums would increase 13 percent next year for Ohioans who buy health coverage through the federally run insurance exchange, the Ohio Department of Insurance said yesterday.” (The Columbus Dispatch, 5/30/14)

OREGON: 2015 premiums could increase up to 12.5% “Moda Health captured more than 40 percent of the state’s exchange enrollees this year, with about 95,000 people covered under its plans. The company is proposing to increase prices by an average of 12.5 percent. Only one other carrier proposed a double-digit price increase.” (The Hill, 6/11/14)

RHODE ISLAND: 2015 premium increases ‘averaging 12 percent’ Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island is proposing 2015 premium increases averaging 12 percent for individuals and families, and 8 percent for small groups.” (Providence Journal, 5/19/14)

DELAWARE: 2015 premiums could increase 5% “Delawareans could face higher insurance costs under the Affordable Care Act next year under new rate requests from insurers. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is seeking average premium increases of 5 percent for individuals who bought insurance through Delaware’s exchange.”(The Associated Press, 7/15/14)

And Florida?

Premiums would rise an average 13.2 percent for Floridians, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. But actual increases would vary greatly on families’ size, financial circumstances, county of residence and the types of plans they select.

All that said, that’s not the argument is it?  Wasn’t the promise that ObamaCare would save families an average of $2,500 a  year?

That’s what I remember.

But, you know, it’s a great success.

~McQ

17 trillion in debt and no relief in sight

As the world collapses around us, our borders are overrun, our leaders dither and procrastinate and the world in general thumbs their collective noses at “American power”, this sort of stuff could get lost in the shuffle:

When President Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, the total federal debt was $10,626,877,048,913.08. As of the close of business on July 30, 2014, it had risen to $17,618,599,653,160.19–up $6,991,722,604,247.11 from Obama’s first inauguration day.

By the close of business on July 31, 2014, it had risen to $17,687,136,723,410.59—up $7,060,259,674,497.51 since Obama first inauguration day.

Now the easy thing to do would be to go on a “it’s Obama’s fault” tirade, but that would only be partially true.  He certainly holds some responsibility for doing nothing to stem the red ink, and, in most cases, actually encouraging it.  He’s certainly exerted no leadership in trying to get the two parties together on a budget either.

But it is Congress that appropriates and spends.  Not the executive branch, now matter how bad it is.  For the first two years of Obama’s first term, it was all Democrats all the time.  And they set in motion horrendous spending programs like ObamaCare.  And there were a number more.

The fact of the matter is Congress also holds major share of the blame for this – no budget has been passed by the Senate during Obama’s entire tenure – and again, the majority of the Senate has been Democrat for these 6 years.

So what had been a horrific 10 plus trillion debt that was piled up over 40 years, became an even more horrific 17 trillion dollar debt in 6 short years – with no end in sight.

Yet most of the idiots who’ve put us in this fiscal hole will be running for re-election in the midterms and most of them will be re-elected.

Once more, the definition of insanity seems to loom large, doesn’t it?

~McQ

Economic Statistics for 1 Aug 14

In July, 209,000 net new jobs were created as the unemployment rate rose 0.1% to 6.2%.  Weekly earnings were unchanged, as were weekly hours at 34.5. The labor force participation rate increased 0.1% to 62.9%. The real rate of unemployment, assuming a historical average labor force participation rate of 66.2%, is 10.86%, down more than -2% since the 12.03% rate of October 2013.

Both personal income and spending rose 0.4% in June, while the PCE price index rose 0.2%. The core PCE price index rose 0.1%. On a year-over-year basis, the PCE price index is up 1.6% at the headline level and 1.5% at the core.

The Markit PMI manufacturing flash index for July slowed by -1.5 points to 55.8.

The July global manufacturing PMI edged down to a reading of 52.5 from the revised June reading of 52.6.

The July ISM Manufacturing Index rose 1.8 points to 57.1.

The Reuter’s/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index for July rose 0.5 points to 81.8.

Construction spending unexpectedly fell  -1.8% in June. On a year-over-year basis, spending is up 5.5%.


Dale’s social media profiles:
Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Buy Dale’s Book!