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Economic Statistics for 27 Jan 15

Durable goods orders continue to fall, down -3.4% overall in December following November’s -2.1%. Excluding transportation, orders fell -0.8%. On a year-over-year basis, orders are up only 0.3%, though non-transportation orders are up 3.8%.

Redbook reports retail sales continue to weaken, rising just 3.2% on a year-ago basis, the weakest reading since July.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index rose 0.7% in November, and is up 4.3% on  year-over-year basis.

The Markit PMI services flash for January is up 0.4points to 54.0.

New home sales surged by a better-than-expected 11.6% in December to a 481,000 annual rate, while the median price rose 2.2%  to $298,100.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index for January rose a sharp 10.3 points to 102.9.

The Richmond Fed manufacturing index slipped -1 point in January to 6.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index fell from 112.1 to 106.7 in January, almost entirely on confidence slipping back in Europe. That said, the European index still remains quite high at 113.9.


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The sad state of the union

Richard Epstein analyzes the performance of Barack Obama as President of the United States, and unsurprisingly, finds it wanting.

In working with matters overseas, the President must lead.  The most that one can expect of Congress is to authorize or ratify the actions that the President must implement. Presidential leadership, announced in a single and decisive voice, is essential, for no one can expect a deliberative body to take the lead in foreign statecraft. On domestic affairs, the opposite stance is appropriate. It is wise in general to look to the Congress to take some leadership in setting basic social and economic policies. But the President gets this division of labor exactly backwards. He is far too passive on foreign affairs and far too meddlesome on domestic ones, which is why his policies in both domains have failed.

A very succinct statement of Obama’s failure.  That leadership thing again … he isn’t one.  And he has no idea how to deal within the political reality of a 3 branch government … even though he was, allegedly, a legislator and Constitutional scholar.  He’s spineless when it comes to the part of the governmental pie that is his pretty exclusively (i.e. foreign policy) and a petulant child in matters concerning domestic affairs using his “pen and phone” to accomplish his goals (goals that are likely to be dismantled at the first opportunity a new president has) rather than working in the prescribed system.

Epstein goes on:

Starting on the foreign policy side, Obama’s policies are driven by the flawed proposition that “smarter” leadership lies in building coalitions that “combine military power with strong diplomacy.” This position, he said in his State of the Union, pays concrete dividends: “In Iraq and Syria, American leadership—including our military power—is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.” 

It is all wishful thinking. Militarily, it is never enough to stop an advance if it allows the enemy to use the breathing space to entrench itself further in the places that are under occupation. Obama’s word choice of “ultimately” allows for endless equivocation and delay. The odds of putting together an effective coalition without demonstrable leadership are slim to none, for the President’s only firm commitment—not to use ground troops ever against ISIL—signals to our allies that they too can discharge their obligations by flying the occasional sortie against ISIL positions.

The President may think that it has been an accomplishment to reduce over the past six years the number of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from close to 180,000 to under 15,000. But to everyone else, the civil disorder attributable to American disengagement signals that America is not an ally to be trusted.

The President therefore grossly miscalculates when he concludes that “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.” Unfortunately, the facts on the ground show the opposite. Right now the President is bogged down in negotiations with the Iranians over their deployment of nuclear weapons. Little visible progress has been made to date.

And there’s very little incentive for the Iranians to actually cooperate.  It’s all about stalling and buying time.  Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have signed a military pact.  Any guess who has already lost to Iran and just doesn’t know it yet?  It appears at least Congress does and is trying to do something about it (and yes, it’s supposedly outside the scope of their charter, however, Mr. Pen and Phone has declared how he plans to operate … why not Congress.  As someone said, ‘it’s like there are no rules anymore’).

Originally, the President supported at most a six-month moratorium on sanctions in order to lead the Iranians to the bargaining table. Yet when faced with their stalling tactics, he has pleaded for additional time, thus backing away from his explicit promise to keep a firm deadline for making a deal and vowing to veto any legislation that tries to firm up the initial position. Congress may well intervene to keep him to his original word. Generally, this kind of interference is most unwise, but the bipartisan unhappiness on the Iran problem reveals a complete and bipartisan breakdown in trust between Congress and the President.

That’s probably as interesting as anything – even Democrats in Congress have had their fill of Obama’s foreign policy incompetence.  Bottom line?

The President, through his foreign policy, has lost the confidence of his allies across the globe and has emboldened the aggressive behavior of our enemies. Lacking confidence in the United States, our allies will have to fend for themselves, which helps explain the hopeless impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and the recent coup in Yemen, to which a few drone attacks are no response. There is also the strong likelihood that Afghanistan will lapse into further violence. It boggles the mind that the President can gloss over such massive failures with empty platitudes.

Indeed. But then “empty platitudes” are one of his few “strengths”.  Naturally, he’s full of them.

Domestically:

The situation on the domestic front is different. On these issues, the President knows that none of his short-term proposals are likely to get through a Republican Congress that is set against further tax increases and government transfer payments. But he nonetheless charges forward in an effort to build a populist political base that will perhaps in time enact most of his program.

But politics aside, the President wholly fails to understand the importance of economic growth in his relentless attack on economic inequality. The difference between these two programs is striking. A growth-program seeks to expand the size of the overall pie, trusting that the able and hardworking people whom the President lauds will be able to garner their share of the pie. The key point here is that gains from growth are sustainable because no firm has any incentive to back away from employment contracts that work to its own advantage. The hands-off policy thus improves economic incentives and reduces administrative overhead at the same time.

None of this makes the slightest impression on the President, who has concluded that his own brand of “middle-class economics works.” At one level, he is surely correct to insist that everyone “gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” But it hardly follows that the way to make “working class families feel more secure” is to ply them with a set of educational, housing, and health care subsidies, all of which have to be paid for by someone else, whose life is made less secure by the constant threat of ad hoc government intervention.

This is the cognitive dissonance we often note with leftists in power.  They may be quite bright intellectually, but economically, most are illiterate.  Nothing is “free” … someone pays for it.  And 90% of the time those paying for it are in the middle class.

Then there are the big lies they push in an effort to make themselves look better in the eyes of the public, even though fact don’t support their claims.  Not that it stops them from continuing to claim success.  For instance:

He speaks about the 11 million jobs created since the depths of the last recession. But his claim is full of holes. Right now, the total number of employed individuals in the United States is about what it was six years ago, notwithstanding a population gain of over 15 million people. Worse still, virtually all the gain in employment has come from part-time employment, which is encouraged in part by the Obamacare mandate that stipulates that employers must provide health care insurance for those who work 30-hours a week or more—a topic on which the President was mysteriously silent in his State of the Union address.

So what happens when you begin to believe your own lies?  You make stupid decisions or you back stupid policies:

Unfortunately, the President has already proposed an increase in the capital gains tax to 28 percent for people who earn more than $500,000 in order to fund a variety of educational programs, chiefly by offering a free ride to students who attend community colleges and maintain a 2.5 average, which he hopes would hone skills needed for middle class jobs, but which is more likely to lead to grade inflation. But the argument is wrong on both sides. Proprietary schools are more likely to train people for jobs than community colleges, because they face market responses when they don’t perform. The President’s program thus increases government subsidies without any promise or expectation of improved performance.

Yet the increase in the capital gains tax creates a double whammy. The first point is that the reduction in capital investment that this tax promises will make it more difficult for wages to rise. The simple proposition here is that capital and labor are complementary goods, so that higher wages depend on the better facilities and equipment that makes labor more productive. The second point is that the increase in capital gains rates is likely to translate into a reduction of taxable income. Unlike income from earnings, the capital gains tax is only triggered by a sale or other disposition of property. The high tax results in a reduction of the number of sales. That in turn not only decreases tax revenues, but also the efficiency of the capital markets, because it is more costly for people to switch their investments from inefficient to efficient firms.

And that’s why this man should be no where near the White House.

But we told you all that before he ever ran.

~McQ

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So typical

Who is the “servant” here?

With an increase in electric and hybrid vehicles along with better fuel-efficient vehicles, changing Bay Area drivers habit are posing a serious problem for state coffers.

As motorists use less and less gas, gas tax revenues to pay for state highways, roads and bridges shrink. Meanwhile, as gas prices fall, so does the sales tax generated by fuel sales. In California, among the taxes collected on fuel is a 2.25% sales tax on gasoline and a 9.67 percent tax on diesel.

Some state lawmakers feel a mileage tax is the best solution.

Solution for what?

The serious problems posed for “state coffers”.

Hey here’s an idea … when state revenue goes down, how about cutting spending?

Note as well that no one is saying a thing about doing away with the fuel tax.

Nope … it’s all about the “state” and its needs.  And all that needs to be done to deprive Californians of even more of their hard earned dollars is a vote of the legislature and a signature of the governor.  Bingo, instant revenue (and likely a large new bureaucracy to “manage” it).

And the federal government is no different.

When a government is desperate for cash, it goes after the middle class, because that’s where the money is….

Though millions of Americans have been putting money into “tax free” 529 plans to save for their children’s increasingly expensive college educations, President Obama would change the law so that withdrawals from the plans to fund college would be taxed as ordinary income. So while you used to be able to get a nice tax benefit by saving for college, now you’ll be shelling out to Uncle Sam every time you withdraw to pay for Junior’s dorm fees.

This doesn’t hurt the very rich — who just pay for college out of pocket — or the poor, who get financial aid, but it’s pretty rough on the middle– and upper–middle class. In a double-whammy, those withdrawals will show up as income on parents’ income tax forms, which are used to calculate financial aid, making them look richer, and hence reducing grants.

Likewise, Obama proposes to tax the appreciation on inherited homes.

Because, you know, save the middle class … or something.

Pay up, suckers.

~McQ

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Yes, it’s official – he’s a national embarrssment

I mean, come on:

embarrassment

 

Below the dignity of the office?  You think?

One CNN correspondent asked White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest during a daily biefing: ‘I’m just curious – was “Charlie Bit My Finger” or “David After Dentist” not available?’

Add in the John Kerry/James Taylor “You’ve Got A Friend” and, well, “pitiful” is an inadequate way of describing this mess.

Next up?  Joe Biden attends the funeral of the Saudi King and offers Ray Stevens and “Ahab the Arab” in tribute?  Would anyone be surprised?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 22 Jan 15

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 10,000 to 307,000. The 4-week average rose 6,500 to 306,500. Continuing claims rose 15,000 to 2.443 million.

The FHFA House Price Index rose 0.8% in November, following October’s 0.6% increase.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -0.7 points to 44.7 in the latest week.

The Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index fell -5 points to 3 in January.

The Fed’s balance sheet fell $-3.141 billion last week, with total assets of 4.513 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $5.4 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $67.5 billion in the latest week.


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SOTU: infomercial for low info voters

Facts – hard to beat.  Easy, though, to put nonsense out there (especially when you have an hour of prime time TV to yourself) and have it believed by enough people that will never see the corrections.  Even AP couldn’t quite stomach the baloney Obama put out:

Among the claims the AP finds less than truthful in the piece, entitled “FACT CHECK: Obama claims credit for an incomplete recovery“:

  • “At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.”

Actually, the AP notes, “By many measures, the economy is still recovering from the deep scars left by the Great Recession.” Unemployment has been steadily decreasing, but that’s driven primarily by a growth in low paying jobs and people leaving the labor market. There are still 1.7 million fewer workers with full-time jobs than in December 2007 when the recession began.

  • “I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero.”

The cost of community college isn’t being lowered to zero, the costs will simply be shifted elsewhere. The AP estimates it would cost “an estimated $60 billion over 10 years to the treasury.” Furthermore, the plan would require states to contribute a quarter of tuition, and not all students would qualify.

  • “Wages are finally starting to rise again. We know that more small-business owners plan to raise their employees’ pay than at any time since 2007.”

While business owners are indeed reporting that they “plan” to increase wages, “there is scant evidence that it is happening yet.”

And that’s just a very small part of the propaganda Obama put out there.

Frankly I think Emily Zanotti (I’m a big fan of hers) summed it up best:

The State of the Union is an infomercial for low-information voters and an excuse for DC staffers to get blindingly drunk on a weeknight.

Pretty much.  I’d only amend it to say that it is the party of the President who gets to present the infomercial (because few if any watch the other party’s rebuttal).  But yeah, it’s a whole bunch of preening and lying laid out for those who will look no further.  It’s also an exercise in bias confirmation for others.

Modern politics.  What’s not to love?

 ~McQ

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Even more this and that

Not sure how you stick with one topic a day when so much is going on, thus the appeal of commenting on lots of topics.

For instance, we find out that President Obama is the reason gas prices are down … if his SOTU is to be believed (yeah, it’s not).  The fact that you happened to be hanging out in Washington DC and your title is “President of the United States” doesn’t mean you did anything to make that happen.   As I pointed out earlier, his EPA will soon take care of that anyway.

There were a lot of other bits of fun and fantasy as well – free community college.  Because, you know, its free.  And not to worry, it’s those greedy rich folks that will pay for it.  Mr. Obama wants $320 billion in new taxes.  Capital gains tax – up.  Death tax – up.  Bank tax – up.  And  your 529 savings plan for your kids college?  Yeah, no longer tax free.

That, dear friends, is how you get “free” college.  Isn’t free stuff wonderful?

 

Rob-Peter-NRD-600-w-logo

On to your retirement savings:

There would be a new cap in the amount one could accumulate in the aggregate in all IRA and 401(k) type accounts of $3.4 million. After that, you can’t save any more new dollars. The idea is that this is enough to secure a $210,000 annual distribution in retirement, which the government apparently deems “enough” for a retiree.

Because, of course, nanny knows best.

Finally, if  you’re an employer:

In addition, all employers with more than 10 workers and who do not have a 401(k) type plan would be mandated to set up payroll deduction Traditional IRAs for their employees. Also, part-time workers would have to be covered under retirement plans if they have been working someplace long enough. These two things are a new kind of employer mandate from Obama.

Nice plan, no?  No.  As usual, that means precisely what the cartoon shows.  Someone has to pay for all of this and it isn’t just going to be the employer.

Of course the concept that someone must actually “pay” for these things is always left out of the discussion.  It’s “free” after all.

For a completely different subject, and in case you were wondering, yes, liberals in Hollywood (almost redundant, isn’t it) are still wringing their hands about the all white Oscars.  Or at least doing a good imitation of it.  My favorite theory?  “Racial fatigue”.

The unknowable question is whether the same voters who supported “12 Years a Slave” had racial fatigue after supporting a black film last year.

Because, you know, there’s only so much support those white Hollywood liberals can dole out a year, or something. They gave their all last year.  And you black folks just need to understand that!  By the way, I believe “racial fatigue” does indeed play a part.   People are tired of everything being made to be about race.

Speaking of culture, I found article to be very entertaining.  Is there a civil war brewing on the “progressive” left (one dearly hopes so)?  Why the question?  Dilemmas such as this:

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens were once known as the “Four Horsemen” of New Atheism. For a long while, there was nothing more amusing to a young liberal than watching one of them debate against a creationist, or someone who objected to abortion or gay marriage on religious grounds. Dawkins, for a while, was the darling of the British media.

Then things started to sour. Christopher Hitchens, in his full-throated defences of the second Iraq war, was the first to lose left-wing support. Notoriously, Feminist Frequency producer Jonathan McIntosh celebrated Hitchens’ death, saying he was a “despicable, warmongering, hateful human being. Good riddance.” (To put that in perspective, McIntosh had just a few months earlier refused to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden.)

Dawkins, who recently discovered the joys of deliberately offending people on Twitter, has become an even greater figure of hate for progressives. This is probably due to his indiscriminate rationalism: he is just as willing to poke holes in theories of post-modern feminism as he is to attack religion. And when he does attack religion, he insists that Islam is probably the worst one out there. He has become persona non grata in progressive circles as a result.

2014 saw atheists and progressives embroiled in what looked like an all-out war. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a female genital mutilation survivor and one of the fiercest critics of Islam in the atheist movement, was disinvited from a planned speaking engagement at Brandeis University for her criticism of Islam, and was stripped of her honorary degree. Salon.com immediately applauded the decision.

Students at UC Berkeley attempted to do the same to Bill Maher over his alleged islamophobia, but were stopped by the college administration. Sam Harris, another of the “four horsemen”, felt compelled to engage in a three-hour debate with progressive commentator Cenk Uygur after enduring a wave of hatchet-jobs from media progressives for his own comments on Islam.

Progressives may be overwhelmingly atheist, but there is only so much heresy they can stand. One of their core beliefs is that you do not “punch down”–that is, attack vulnerable or marginalised communities. Islam, despite being the dominant religion of dozens of nation-states, is said by progressives to fall into this category.

We’ve watched this sort of cognitive dissonance have its way with the left before.  That’s because they aren’t really about principles as much as they are about biases.  Oh, and limiting your freedom:

A YouGov poll taken just last fall found that equal amounts of Americans support and oppose “hate speech laws,” defined as laws that would “make it a crime for people to make comments that advocate genocide or hatred against an identifiable group based on such things as their race, gender, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.” Thirty-six percent said sure and 38 percent said no way. That’s disturbing enough on its own, but here’s something even more unsettling: Fully 51 percent of self-identified Democrats supported hate-speech laws.

Somehow I’m not at all surprised, given the examples above … are you?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 21 Jan 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose% last week, with purchases down -3.0%, but refis up 22.0%.

Housing starts rose by 4.4% in December to an annual rate of 1.089 million, but building permits fell -1.9% to 1.032 million annualized.

Redbook reports retail sales rose 3.0% on a year-ago basis, down from last week’s 3.8%, as sales continue to decline in January.


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