Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The bad, the worse and the ugly

A couple of economic notes and an environmental question.

On the econ side, unemployment.  The Mercatus Center explains our current unemployment situation and why the “official number” is a feel-good fantasy:

Alt-unempl-resize-websiteIn case you missed it, the real unemployment rate is in the 11% range.  Also note that before the recession, we were at around 9%.  We’re certainly doing better but why they continue to publish misleading numbers on the unemployment front is a mystery … oh, politics.  Never mind.

It’s better to be lied to and feel good about it than to know the truth.

Also, as a followup, the $15 minimum wage in SF and Seattle continues to take victims.  While neither has fully implemented the wage at present, its enough to push business owners into making decisions which are unlikely the intended consequence of the wage raise. We told you about Borderland Books in SF.   Here’s an example from Seattle:

Cascade Designs, an outdoor recreational gear manufacturing company based in Seattle, announced it is moving 100 jobs (20% of the workforce) later this year to a new plant it is leasing near Reno, Nevada. The company has offered some employees positions in Reno, but others must reapply.

Founder John Burroughs and Vice Chair David Burroughs blamed Seattle’s new $15 minimum wage, indicating it “nudged them into action.” According to the owners, Seattle’s new minimum wage would “eventually add up to a few million dollars a year.”

Once established in Reno, you may see further moves.  And:

The San Francisco Eater, a local publication following the city’s restaurant scene, predicts that the impact of the $15 minimum will likely lead many restaurants to close their doors this year. Abbot’s Cellar and Luna Park, popular locally owned restaurants, already made the decision to shut down. The owners both blamed the $15 minimum wage.

What’s $15 times zero?

Finally on the enviro front, where’s the outrage?  From CATO:

Nicaragua’s plan to build an Interoceanic Canal that would rival the Panama Canal could be a major environmental disaster if it goes forward. That’s the assessment of Axel Meyer and Jorge Huete-Pérez, two scientists familiar with the project, in a recent article in Nature. Disturbingly, the authors point out,

“No economic or environmental feasibility studies have yet been revealed to the public. Nicaragua has not solicited its own environmental impact assessment and will rely instead on a study commissioned by the HKND [The Hong Kong-based company that has the concession to build the canal]. The company has no obligation to reveal the results to the Nicaraguan public.”

In recent weeks we have seen similar opinions aired in the Washington Post, Wired, The Economist, and other media. In their article, Meyer and Huete-Pérez explain how the $50-billion project (more than four times Nicaragua’s GDP), would require “The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, [and] will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.” So far, the Nicaraguan government has remained mum about the environmental impact of the project. Daniel Ortega, the country’s president, only said last year that “some trees have to be removed.”

Some trees?!  Where are the enviros whackos on this?

Crickets:

Interestingly, despite this potential massive threat to one of the most pristine environmental reservoirs in the Americas, none of the leading international environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or the Sierra Club, has issued a single statement about the Nicaragua Canal.

We know for a fact that this is not out of lack of interest in Central America. After all, some of these organizations were pretty vocal in their opposition to CAFTA. Why isn’t the Nicaragua Canal proposal commanding the attention of these international environmental groups?

Why?  Because as Insty points out, “commies get a pass” on this sort of thing.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 24 Feb 15

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales slowed to 2.8% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 3.2%.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 0.9% in December, with prices up 4.5%, year-over-year.

A strong rebound in new work helped boost to Markit’s PMI Services Flash for February 3 points to a 4-month high of 57.0. 

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell -7.4 points to 96.4 in February.

The Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index shows no change in manufacturing activity in the Mid-Atlantic District, with the index at 0 for February.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index fell -1.5 points in January to 105.2, with weakness centered in Europe as uncertainty about Greece continues.


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The head “scientist” of the UN’s IPCC has resigned

He’s been called a “scientist” for years, but his training is in industrial engineering.  He’s about as much a climate scientist as I am.  However, we’ve been constantly told that he and the IPCC speak for “science” when it comes to “climate change”.

Well, today he stepped down, submitting his resignation amid allegations of sexual harrassment.

I’m talking about Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, of course.  Head of the IPCC that has published scare warnings for years, few if any of which have come true.

So why is an industrial engineer seen as some sort of an authority on climate?

Well it’s not because of his academic credentials, that’s for sure.  Instead, its for his leftist credentials:

‘For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma.’ 

In other words, his “science” is faith based.

And, the left says we should take him seriously … because, you know, “the science is settled”.

Michael Crichton:

‘One of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists.’ 

Submit!

Anyone – do you really believe an actual climate scientist will be recruited to fill the job?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 23 Feb 15

The Dallas Fed Manufacturing Survey stayed in negative territory in February, falling for the second straight month, down -6.8 points to -11.2.

The Chicago Fed National Activity Index was positive in January, coming in at 0.13, vice -0.05 in December.

Sales of existing homes in January fell a sharp -4.9% to an annual rate of 4.82 million. That’s the lowest rate since April, 2014. 


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Because … the Sun

It appears as the climate alarmists and our political betters pursue global warming (with the “big meeting” in December of this year), some scientists are much more concerned about global cooling.

Why?  Uh, the Sun?

“The main driver of all weather and climate, the entity which occupies 99.86% of all of the mass in our solar system, the great ball of fire in the sky – has gone quiet again during what is likely to be the weakest sunspot cycle in more than a century,” echoes vencoreweather.com. “Not since cycle 14 peaked in February 1906 has there been a solar cycle with fewer sunspots. We are currently more than six years into Solar Cycle 24 and today the sun is virtually spotless despite the fact that we are still in what is considered to be its solar maximum phase.”
See, I really like that first sentence – “The main driver of all weather and climate, the entity which occupies 99.86% of all of the mass in our solar system, the great ball of fire in the sky…”.  But you know, we’re “warming” and the “climate is changing” because of a trace gas in our atmosphere per models which have been roundly trashed as, well, trash and temperatures that have been horribly fudged.

Science!

Meanwhile, in the realm known as “reality”:

“There have been two notable historical periods with decades-long episodes of low solar activity,” continues vencoreweather.com. “The first period is known as the “Maunder Minimum”, named after the solar astronomer Edward Maunder, and it lasted from around 1645 to 1715. The second one is referred to as the “Dalton Minimum”, named for the English meteorologist John Dalton, and it lasted from about 1790 to 1830.

“Both of these historical periods coincided with below-normal global temperatures in an era now referred to by many as the “Little Ice Age”.

“If this trend continues for the next couple of cycles, then there would likely be more talk of another “grand minimum” for the sun.”

This, of course, will be roundly ignored in December when the “world” meets to decide on how to address … global warming climate change.  Because the conclusion has been determined before the meeting.  The meeting is about how much to charge you for fixing this nonexistent problem and how to divide up the loot.

~McQ

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Resurrecting the past

Back in the 90s, I worked for a now-defunct radio station, KMNY AM 1600, in Pomona, which went by the name “Money Radio”, and was the main business and financial news radio station in Los Angeles. From 9am-1pm every weekday, I did a program called “The Business Day”.  Recently, I found several cassette tapes of various interviews and special reports I did at Money Radio from 1994 to 1996. Some of the material is the broadcast version, some of it is the raw interviews.

I’ve decided to digitize them, since they are all 20 year-old cassette tapes, and are really at the end of their useful lives. In fact, one of them broke simply by rewinding it, forcing me to repair it, something I haven’t had to do for years.

A couple of things leap out at me as I re-listen to the cassettes while recording them to MP3 format:

1. I’m not sure why my voice was so high. I think it’s a tape speed issue. Some of these sound like a frickin’ Mickey special on Radio Disney.

2. I’m surprised at how many of the issues are still relevant, and are almost unchanged from 20 years ago.

3. I don’t remember cassette sound quality sucking so bad at the time. Digital fidelity has made cassette sound quality appear awful. I think it’s because a) the cassettes are so old and b) the station used really crappy cassettes for air checks, so the sound probably wasn’t that great in 1995.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested in a taste of the stuff, So here’s some links to the digitized files. Most of these are 42-ish minutes long, as they are mainly 1-hour programs without commercials. There are some pauses between each segment of the hour.

1. An interview I did with then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich. This is the raw interview I did in the production studio, but it was broadcast exactly as recorded, with only a broadcast intro and outdo added to the interview when aired on 4/19/95. Link

2. Reform in Congress, broadcast on 6/17/94. Link

3. A collection of weekly interviews from 1995-1996 with Roger W. Robinson, President of RWR, Inc., and former Chief Economist for the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan. He was always a fascinating guy to talk to. The collection starts with an interview done on about 10/25/95. Link

4. Smoking and the tobacco industry, broadcast on 6/17/94. Link

5. The economy with Dr.  J.S. Butler, aired on 9/4/95. Link

6. Inflation, aired on Thanksgiving Day, 1994. Link

7. Foreign affairs with Roger W. Robinson, aired on 2/19/96. Link

8. Tort reform, aired on 12/2/94. Link

9. International trade, with Dr. Henry Nau, aired sometime in 1995. Link

NON-MONEY RADIO BONUS TRACK

I also have some even older stuff. Now this one is short, and has nothing at all to do with politics or economics. It’s what you heard if you were listening to me on the Canadian Forces Network in Brunssum, the Netherlands, at 8 o’clock on the morning of Saturday, 27 April, 1991. It’s the oldest air check I can find, so far. I edited out the music breaks, so it’s mainly my interstitials. I notice the sound quality on my CFNB air checks is way better than my KMNY ones. Probably because I didn’t use shitty cassettes when I made them. This is Memorex, baby. Link


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Dietary Guidelines

Dietary guidelines – the Washington Free Beacon got a triple Drudge link yesterday pointing to an article on the new USDA guidelines for making sure we’re being good little tax payers and can continue to be good little tax payers (until we get to be 75, at which point we should just die so as to prevent being a burden on society and our families).

Obviously someone in the Drudge organization wanted to get attention on this yesterday, but not as a red-letter item.   However, it has or had, three links to it, which I always view as meaning they understand people click for reasons of personal interest, and they provided three reasons, all of which to me boiled down to ‘hey, you kinda concerned about government intrusion into your personal life????’.

What all three links jumped to is a high level review of the new Dietary Guidelines recommendations that the USDA is unleashing on us.

I’m (actually) going to review the PDF from the USDA in detail but the highlights of the article show some scary possibilities for connections at a high and obvious level.

Considering right off the top of my head,  the beautiful union of  what I call the Affordable Insurance Scam (ACA/Obamacare), and Net Neutrality rules:

the government thinks it can monitor pretty much anything you do to your body on the theory that they’re now helping to pay for your healthcare.  So they recommend ‘trained interventionists’ will help out at work sites, food sites, businesses, schools, the community….to help you manage your weight problem.

and…tax increases, of course, because it’s essential we keep Moloch’s fires burning ya know….so they’re recommending sin taxes on desserts (yeah, seriously) and I’m sure soda, and chips, and yeah….

And finally the USDA thinks it’s a good idea to monitor our ‘screen time’ to see if we’re spending too much time sitting in front of a TV or, I’ll wager, a computer, kindle, cell phone.

Sure, I could be reaching, but I’m fairly sure it will eventually tie to the recent drive they have in saving our Internet with Net Neutrality regulations.   I say I could be reaching, but they said that when we observed the nanny state would soon outlaw transfats too.   Open the gate, they’ll see a need to come on in.

If you’re still using dead tree products to read of course you’ll be okay.  They probably think it more healthy to remain sedentary reading a book for 5 hours than it is remaining sedentary viewing information from a screen for 5 hours.   Probably because they figure Americans just don’t DO that.

Which is part of the reason we’re where we are today really.  We’re proving we really are morons.

So, here’s the USDA recommendations.

And those recommendations even on the surface scare the crap out of me because unlike the good old days when the government could ‘recommend’ things, now they don’t recommend, they use their power over the national purse, over business regulations, over utility regulations, and the power of tax enforcement to ‘recommend’ things by way of financially punishing us to help correct our erroneous (not in agreement with what they want) ways of thinking and acting in our private lives.

We’re not quite there, yet, but data gathering is a tool, a resource, and a creepy way of watching everything you’re doing if you’re not using cash for your purchases.   Your WalMart purchase doesn’t just show dollar amounts to the world.

“I see you bought 3 pounds of cane sugar, 2 lbs of butter, 2 dozen eggs, 2 gallons of fat milk, and 10 lbs of refined white flour…..why?”

Not there yet, but the capability is there, and all that has to happen is someone like the Obama administration decides they can regulate to the businesses that they need that information for health care purposes.

Oh, and don’t reflect on over 40 years of being told, by this same government, that refined grains were great for you, or that dietary cholesterol was really bad for you.

All in all, it’s working out to be pretty twisted but not really that surprising given our betters view on who’s in charge here and who works for who.

I’m pretty sure Khrushchev and Brezhnev and the rest of the Homburg hat wearing politburo weren’t necessarily worried about your diet as long as you kept your head down, kept quiet, and did your part like a good little soviet comrade.

Excuse me, is that tiramisu you’re eating there Winston?

 

 

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How not to fight the problem of ISIS

If, in fact, you believe that Marie Harf was winging it and stating her own opinion about Islamic extremists (oh, wait, “frustrated job seekers”) needing jobs, etc., get a load of Sec. of State John Kerry:

“Why do people make what to many of us would seem to be an utterly wrongheaded choice and become the kind of terrorists that we’re seeing?” he asked. “It’s a question that we need to approach with humility, but also with determination, because you cannot defeat what you don’t understand.”

“Certainly, there is no single answer,” Kerry continued. “In our era, poisonous ideas can come from almost anywhere – from parents, teachers, friends, preachers, politicians – from the pretty woman on a radical website who lures people or the man in the next cell who proselytizes while in prison.

“They might grow from pictures seen on the nightly news or from acts of discrimination or repression that you don’t think much about on the day of occurrence, but which come back to haunt. It could come from the desire to avenge the death of a loved one,” he said.

“In some cases, they may come from a lost job or from the contrast between one family’s empty dinner plate and a fancy restaurant’s lavish menu. The poison might even come from within, in the form of rebellion against anonymity, the desire to belong to a group, people who want a moment of visibility and identity, or the hunger for black-and-white answers to problems that are very complex in a remarkably more complicated world.”

In general, he has a point. Depending on the problem, people are motivated by all sorts of things to become part of that problem.  And it makes sense to remove that motivation.  Figuring that out is how you put a strategy to defeat the problem.

Specifically, however, it isn’t at all hard to figure out what motivates ISIS and THAT is the problem we face today.

The motivator? Islam.  The “holy texts”.  The desire for the Caliphate set up under precise rules set out by Islam’s founder.  That is why they fight.  That’s why they do what they do.

Sometimes you just have to apply Occam’s razor for heaven sake.

So, to recap: what motivates those who proclaim ISIS and the Caliphate is their religion.  That’s it.  How they were “radicalized” is less important than the fact that they were and are now a threat.  And understanding what motivates that threat is how you put together a strategy to defeat them.

Instead we get this institutional load of liberal angst that, for the most part, is nonsense.  Why can’t they bring themselves to face and name the problem? They don’t have any problem in identifying “right-wing domestic terrorists”  Why not religious terrorists?

As I said, it certainly makes sense to remove the “underlying cause” of the problem … if that’s possible.  But if we think we can somehow be a credible force in doing that, we’re wrong.  We – the US, Europe, the West – aren’t in any position to do that since we are identified as the enemy of everything they hold dear.  More importantly, it has nothing to do with jobs or dinner plates.  It is a religious movement.

So when you finally realize that attacking the “underlying causes” of something like ISIS is a fool’s errand, what should you do?

Well, this will be unpalatable to some out there who have been raised in the “precious princess” society we’ve enabled, but you have to “go medieval” on them.  You have to obliterate them.  You have to make it not worth pursuing their fantasy and something that those who might choose it decide to reject.

Jobs won’t do that.  Dropping packages of money on them won’t do that.  They have the job they want and they’re the richest terror organization going.

What we have to do is systematically and completely destroy them – root and branch – by using everything reasonable at our disposal.  Now, I understand that’s sort of difficult with a religious death cult, but I’d bet, once the reversals started and the ISIS death toll rose, the marginal jihadis would think twice about joining up.  Right now, there’s little downside.

Bottom line? If you want to stop the “pretty woman on the radical website” from having an impact,  destroy her story so thoroughly that she can’t spin her web of lies credibly anymore – and then take down her freakin’ website.

But as long as we try to avoid naming the problem and take half-measures while wringing our hands like a bunch of old women, the problem will both persist and get worse.

And trying to lay the load of “nuanced” crap Kerry pushed out there on the problem of ISIS avoids naming the problem and thus identifying a workable strategy which certainly guarantees it will persist.

Anyone who is surprised by that simply hasn’t been paying attention.  After all, look who is in charge.

~McQ

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