Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Stray Voltage

As Venezuela slowly starves and the economy has all but shut down, guess who the richest person in the country might be?

The daughter of Hugo Chavez, the former president who once declared ‘being rich is bad,’ may be the wealthiest woman in Venezuela, according to evidence reportedly in the hands of Venezuelan media outlets.

Maria Gabriela Chavez, 35, the late president’s second-oldest daughter, holds assets in American and Andorran banks totaling almost $4.2billion, Diario las Americas reports.

The figure would make Gabriela Chavez wealthier than media mogul Gustavo Cisneros, whom Forbes named the wealthiest Venezuelan earlier this year with $3.6billion in assets.

I know … purely a coincidence.  But it does prove, if true, that socialism does pay … those in charge (I’m sure this wasn’t something he saved up from his army pay).  The rest?  They get stores with nothing on the shelves and hyper-inflation.  Brilliant.

Jazz Shaw is thinking Hillary may shrug off email flap (he’s speaking purely in a political sense, not if someone grows a pair and actually arrests and indicts her):

The bottom line is that there are a significant number of Americans out there – mostly Democrats, but not all – who seem to be telling us, yes, you’ve made your point. Hillary is all those things you said she was. But what the heck. I’ll vote for her. And one of the major reasons for this is that this email server story simply isn’t resonating with people.

Well, to be fair, it’s not resonating with those people.  The reason it isn’t resonating with other people is they really haven’t heard much about it thanks to the media.  But for those that have, they want the allegations investigated.  Look, yellow dog Democrats are going to vote for their particular yellow dog – regardless of the cur’s pedigree, problems or evidence against it.  In this case I think Clinton will find a minion to take the fall, and, in effect, will shrug it off.  But that doesn’t change Shaw’s point … even if she’s in prison orange, those people will vote for her.

Megan McArdle talks about the nonsense that is going on at colleges everywhere.  That is the cosseting of the student body who have become so fearful of ideas that they don’t like that they invoke “safety” as their concern.

Students demanding that campus life be bowdlerized to preserve their peace of mind seem to believe that the best way to deal with trauma is to avoid any mention of it. But Lukianoff and Haidt argue that this is exactly backward; chronic avoidance breeds terror. The current climate on campus is a recipe for producing fearful adults who are going to have difficulty coping in an adult world. It’s as if we were trying to prepare the next generation of American citizens by keeping them in kindergarten until the age of 23.

I’m not sure that anyone should be surprised.  These are the kids who come from the era of everyone gets a trophy and we don’t keep score so the other team won’t feel bad.  Why in the world would any one expect anything else from them.  When they finally gain the halls of ivy, they’re conditioned to eschew competition.  So the idea of competing ideas, especially ideas they’re not comfortable with, is terrifying.

They’ll do great in the real world, won’t they?

Meanwhile, on another planet:

If Vice President Joe Biden makes the leap into the Democratic presidential race, he could promise that he would serve just one term in the White House, journalist and author Carl Bernstein said Friday.

“And one thing that I keep hearing about Biden is that if he were to declare and say, because age is such a problem for him if he does, I want to be a one-term president. I want to serve for four years, unite Washington. I’ve dealt with the Republicans in Congress all my public life,” Bernstein told CNN’s “New Day.”

“I think there’s a conversation going on to that effect among his aides and friends,” he said. “It could light fire to the current political environment.”

It would be a back-fire, if anything.  Anyway, the circus could use one more clown.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 13 Aug 15

Retail sales rose 0.6% in July, with sales less autos and sales less autos and gas both up 0.4%. May and June sales were revised upwards as well.

July export prices fell -0.2%, while import prices fell -0.9%. Year over year, export prices are down -6.1% and import prices are down -10.4%.

Business inventories rose 0.8% in June, well ahead of a 0.2% rise in sales. The mismatch lifts the inventory-to-sales ratio to 1.37 from 1.36.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 4,000 to 274,000. The 4-week average fell 1,750 to 266,250. Continuing claims rose 15,000 to 2.273 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.4 points to 40.7 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $2.9 billion last week, with total assets of $4.489 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $2.5 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $1.8 billion in the latest week.


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Hey Fidel, we don’t owe you a single centavo

Got to love how all this stuff blows up in Obama’s face.  Arrogance and naivety will do it every time.

Fidel Castro marked his 89th birthday Thursday by insisting the United States owes Cuba “many millions of dollars” because of the half-century-old American trade embargo.

Of course, given how poorly they negotiated the deal with Iran and understanding how willing they are to bow down to every enemy the nation has had, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is the reaction from a totalitarian – it’s your fault US that we’re an economic basket case and it is your duty to fix the problem.

And, my guess is he’ll find a sympathetic ear somewhere, even though the “embargo” was the loosest and most ineffective embargo in the history of embargoes. But in the era of blame shifting, what else would you expect from a failed dictator?

Castro wrote: “Cuba is owed compensation equivalent to damages, which total many millions of dollars, as our country has stated with irrefutable arguments and data in all of its speeches at the United Nations.”

Naturally no word on “compensation” for seized property when Castro took over Cuba.

As for timing – certainly it shows a lack of respect:

Castro spoke out in an essay published in local media a day before US Secretary of State John Kerry makes a historic visit to Cuba to reopen the US embassy as part of the countries’ restoration of diplomatic relations.

Not that this administration has done anything that has gained the respect of friend or foe alike.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 12 Aug 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 0.1% last week, with purchases down -4.0% and refis up 3.0%.

The Atlanta Fed Business Inflation Expectations Index fell -0.2%, with businesses now expecting annual inflation of 1.8%.

The Labor Department’s JOLTS report shows that job openings fell to 5.249 million in June from 5.357 million in May. 

The Treasury reports that July’s budget deficit totaled $149.2 billion. The Fiscal Year to date deficit stands at $428.0 billion vs $460.5 billion a year ago.


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How will Hillary wiggle out of this one?

You know you’re asking yourself that question:

The inspector general for the Intelligence Community notified senior members of Congress that two of four classified emails discovered on the server Clinton maintained at her New York home contained material deemed to be in one of the highest security classifications—more sensitive than previously known.

You may or may not remember this, but in March of this year, she stated flatly, “there is no classified material” on the server.  How she expected anyone to believe she could conduct her job as Secretary of State with that being true is left to you to imagine.  And, it seems, no one did:

The untruth revealed, [Mrs.] Clinton changed her story in July to claim that no email was specifically marked as classified. Not that it matters. Clinton wants Americans to ignore the fact that federal rules put the onus on government officials like the secretary of State to protect classified material, even when it’s not marked as such.

You know, “accountability”?

So now, she’s agreed to “voluntarily” turn over the server and the emails.  James Taranto gives us a little insight into that:

In fairness to Mrs. Clinton, it appears her decision to turn over the server and the thumb drive was “voluntary” in the formal—dare one say Clintonian—sense that she yielded to the investigators’ request rather than wait for an order.

Because, you know, for a Presidential candidate, such an order would have been politically damaging.  So the “voluntary” aspect gives the campaign and the Clintons at least a little “good spin” on a very bad event.  You can almost hear the klaxons sounding and the announcement of “battle stations, battle stations” within the campaign.

But back to that accountability thing:

Fournier notes further that “government officials have been convicted of mishandling unmarked classified material.”

Yes.  Yes they have.  But that’s not how the Princess of the Ozarks figures this should go.  So who does she need?

Mr. Obama, of course:

And at least one critic is now speculating that the possibility that she is in legal jeopardy is influencing Mrs. Clinton’s policy pronouncements.

On Monday, as the Los Angeles Times reports from Manchester, N.H., Mrs. Clinton “made her most forceful defense yet of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran on Monday, saying that ‘all bets are off’ if Congress were to reject the deal and warning of the potential impact to America’s standing in the world”:

“The Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, they’re going to say, ‘We stuck with the Americans. We agreed with the Americans. We hammered out this agreement. I guess their president can’t make foreign policy,’ ” Clinton said at a campaign stop in Manchester. “That’s a very bad signal to send in a quickly moving and oftentimes dangerous world.” . . .

“I’ve gone into this detail because you’re going to hear a lot about it in the weeks ahead,” she told an audience of more than 500 at the foot of a ski slope in New Hampshire’s largest city. “So please, educate yourself. . . . We have to pursue diplomacy if we expect to be able to solve difficult problems with the rest of the world supporting us.”That’s odd. Earlier, as we noted last month, Mrs. Clinton refused to take a position on the Trans Pacific Partnership—of which she was a forceful advocate as secretary—because, as she said, “I thought it was important for the Congress to have a full debate without thrusting presidential politics and candidates into it.” She now gives precisely the opposite reason for taking a clear position, if not a particularly well-argued one, on the Iran deal.

Ah, what a surprise.  It is pleasing to be politically malleable, isn’t it?  Principles … well, she left those at the Watergate hearings.  It is raw politics and “I’ll do what ever it takes” to gain power for her.

One has to wonder how ever the cult of true believers can stomach her paranoia and willful disregard for the law.  This is who they want to be President of the US?

Anyway, is Obama the key to how she wiggles free?  Will her attempt to provide him his much desired legacy find this all to be “much ado about nothing?”  Will she actually ever be held accountable for what others have been jailed for?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 11 Aug 15

The Labor Market Conditions Index for July came in slightly below expectations at 1.1 vs a revised 1.4 in June. 

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index for July rose 1.3 points to a better-than-expected 95.4.

Productivity rose 1.3% in the 2nd Quarter, while growth in Unit Labor Costs was held down to 0.5%.

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales growth rose to a still-soft 1.9% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 1.7%.

Wholesale inventories rose a surprising 0.9% in June, while a weak 0.1% rise in sales left the stock-to-sales ratio at a hefty 1.30.


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Government creates a problem and then offers a solution

In a formula as old as government itself, we see a government created problem (it takes over student loans, college costs inflate, college debt burden increases) and now Hillary Clinton, in the guise of future government, offers a solution.  Let’s make college affordable again (or, in other words, shift $350 billion of the cost to taxpayers).

Hillary Rodham Clinton will announce a $350 billion plan Monday to make college affordable and relieve the burden of student debt for millions of Americans, drawing on popular tenets of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. …

At the heart of the plan, dubbed the New College Compact, is an incentive program that would provide money to states that guarantee “no-loan” tuition at four-year public universities and community colleges. States that enroll a high number of low- and middle-income students would receive more money, as would those that work with schools to reduce living expenses. Because Pell grants, a form of federal aid for students from families making less than $60,000, are not included in the no-debt calculation, Clinton anticipates lower income students could use that money to cover books, as well as room and board.

This is like Obamacare … just a step toward “free” college.  Obviously, an estimate of $350 billion is likely to be woefully short of the real cost (they always are).  And when the program crashes and burns, well, the next logical step (at least to “progressives” who have no clue about economics)  will be to make college “free”, like many other “progressive” countries.  Because, you know, wish it to be so and it will be so!

C. Ronald Kimberling analyzes the initiative:

Hillary’s plan for higher education violates so many principles of the Constitution, federal law, and economic common sense that it takes the breath away. In a nutshell, she would spend $350 billion a year to support public (i.e., governmental) colleges and universities with the proviso that a two-year associate’s degree would be “free” to students and a four-year degree would cause no one to have to incur student loan costs. In exchange for direct federal subsidies to the public colleges, states would be required to appropriate more funds for such colleges, Pell Grants could be used only for student living expenses, interest rates on existing student loans would be reduced to eliminate federal “profits” on such loans, and for-profit colleges would be subjected to even stronger regulations than at present.

Her plan is significantly more expensive than the ideas put forward by self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. Constitutionally, this violates the 10th Amendment, and it also violates the Department of Education Organization Act. It also runs counter to fifty years of bipartisan tradition, stemming from the Higher Education Act of 1965, which settled a 1950s-60s debate about whether federal aid to higher education should focus on direct subsidies of higher education institutions or on portable, voucher-like assistance to students in favor of the latter alternative. It places unfunded mandates on the states, and it enhances a public higher education monopoly of government-run colleges over private non-profits and for-profits, both of which are completely excluded from this federal largesse. All this takes place at a time when technology and disruptive innovation are creating more alternatives to traditional post-secondary education than we ever had before. In short, she takes President Obama’s regulatory approach toward enhancing a public sector monopoly and puts it in warp drive. Even I am flabbergasted by the audacity and scope of this proposal.

Again, looking at Obamacare, we know Constitutional or legal limits are hardly an obstacle.  She might have a bit of difficulty getting through a Republican Congress but that assumes a Republican Congress.  Given their performance these last 2 years, you have to wonder.  And you certainly have to wonder about the Supreme Court, if it ever got to that stage.  They’d likely find a “right” to higher education somewhere in some mythical document (certainly not the Constitution) with John Roberts being the 5th vote for.

Sanders, of course, plans on taxing “Wall Street transactions” to pay for his plan.  Clinton just plans to “close loopholes” – the catch all phrase for tax hikes.  Most likely, they’d end up borrowing it.

Ed Morrissey notes:

One might wonder why, when we borrow 40% of the money the federal government spends, that we’re discussing a $350 billion plan at all for anything except defense. But if the government wants to spend money on education, perhaps a better target would be primary education, and a better plan would be school choice to better prepare students for higher education down the road. Perhaps we can teach them the real definition of affordable somewhere along the way, too.

Oh … and perhaps we can get the government out of the loan business and make it a competitive sphere again?

Yeah, that’s going to happen.

~McQ

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Barack Obama: Antisemite and bigot

I’m sure the title doesn’t particularly surprise anyone who has watched the creep in the White House operate over the past few years.  But while the GOP clown car steals all the headlines (because naturally that’s where the mainstream media would prefer to focus), we have this little side show going on where Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has dared to oppose his Royal Emptiness’s desire concerning the awful Iran deal.  That has helped even some Democrats realize that this particular Emperor really is naked, his clothes having been a figment of the media and true believers.  He’s now reduced to going after his own, in the sense that Democrats are about all that still have any belief in this man’s abilities.

This has led a few on the far left to label Schumer an “Israeli Jew traitor” for his opposition to the deal.

Tablet Magazine isn’t amused at all with the utterings of Mr. Obama, and they tell you why:

Accusing Senator Schumer of loyalty to a foreign government is bigotry, pure and simple. Accusing Senators and Congressmen whose misgivings about the Iran deal are shared by a majority of the U.S. electorate of being agents of a foreign power, or of selling their votes to shadowy lobbyists, or of acting contrary to the best interests of the United States, is the kind of naked appeal to bigotry and prejudice that would be familiar in the politics of the pre-Civil Rights Era South.

This use of anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool is a sickening new development in American political discourse, and we have heard too much of it lately—some coming, ominously, from our own White House and its representatives. Let’s not mince words: Murmuring about “money” and “lobbying” and “foreign interests” who seek to drag America into war is a direct attempt to play the dual-loyalty card. It’s the kind of dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally, not from the President of the United States—and it’s gotten so blatant that even many of us who are generally sympathetic to the administration, and even this deal, have been shaken by it.

And shaken they should be.  The mask if finally down.  Finally.  All the pretending in the world won’t change what Obama has said and implied.  That’s what he believes.  It is extremist and, frankly, extraordinarily biased, but it isn’t anything new for Democrats or the left. Just ask Condi Rice or Justice Thomas.  It is identity politics at its finest.  And, ironically, it is an attempt to destroy someone who was, once, an ally.

What in the world ever happened to the adults in politics?  The statesmen?  How have we allowed these creatures to take over our system?

Questions to ponder as, for the most part, the media focuses on Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 7 Aug 15

The Labor Department reports that a mediocre 215,000 net new jobs were created in June, with the unemployment rate unchanged at 5.3%. Also unchanged was the labor force participation rate, at 62.6%. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2%, while the average workweek increased by one tick to 34.6 hours.

Consumer credit rose a strong $20.7 billion in June, including a strong gain of $5.5 billion for revolving credit.


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