Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 17 Sep 14

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 7.9% last week, with purchases up 5.0% and refis up 10.0%.

Consumer prices fell -0.2% at the overall rate in August, while the core CPI, which excludes food and energy, was unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, both the headline and core CPI are up 1.7%.

The nation’s current account deficit narrowed to $-98.5 billion in the 2nd Quarter, down from the 1st Quarter’s revised $-102.1 billion.

The NAHB housing market index for August rose 4 points to 59 in September.

The Fed’s newest forecast for GDP growth:2014: 2.0 to 2.2 %; 2015: 2.6 to 3.0 %; 2016: 2.6 to 2.9 %; 2017: 2.3 to 2.5 %; longer run: 2.0 to 2.2 %. In other words, sub-par economic growth for as long as they can foresee. As a reminder, the trend rate of growth for mature economies should be in the 3.0-3.5% range.

The Federal Open Markets Committee announced that interest rates will remain unchanged, with a Fed Funds Rate target of 0-0.5%.


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Only in Liberalland

It is in that benighted land that irony, reason and hypocrisy are unknown concepts:

In California, Ventura High School Principal Val Wyatt barred the football booster club from selling meals donated by Chick-fil-A at back-to-school night to raise money. Wyatt cited company President Dan Cathy’s opposition to gay marriage as the reason for the ban. Superintendent Trudy Tuttle Arriaga backed up Wyatt. “We value inclusivity and diversity on our campus and all of our events and activities are going to adhere to our mission,” she said.

What could be more “inclusive” than allowing opinion that doesn’t agree with you to “coexist” without forcing everyone to suffer your biases because you have the power?   I mean if you’re really, honestly and truly interested in “inclusiveness”.  Oh, and what happened to tolerance, Arriaga and Wyatt?  What could be more diverse than a community that welcomes all opinions as long as they don’t advocate violence or other forms of coercion?   Is there something wrong with having a differing opinion about a subject based on principles that may be different than yours but are certainly shared by much of the mainstream (such as students at this school)?  Apparently.  Conformity with the opinion in power is the rule there it seems.  The irony?  This sort of action is blatantly exclusive and it makes a laughing stock of the word “diversity”.  It says diverse opinion certainly isn’t welcome if it doesn’t conform with the people in power’s opinion.

Mouthing of platitudes doesn’t change that.  Their “mission” has nothing to do with “inclusivity and diversity”.  It has to do with ideology.   A particular ideology.  One that abuses the english language daily as well as our freedoms.

~McQ

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A formula for failure

Or, the “strategy” to “manage” ISIS, if you prefer.  The Washington Post today, calls whatever the administration is trying to put together to confront ISIS “underpowered”.  I think they’re being kind about it because they still want access to their administration sources.  If what they report is true, it’s a failure before it is even attempted.

For instance:

In Paris on Monday, two dozen governments pledged to help fight the extremists “by any means necessary, including military assistance.” But only a handful — not yet including Britain — have so far agreed to participate in air combat missions in Iraq, and none has yet signed on to support prospective U.S. air strikes in Syria. Nor is any sending combat troops.

The attenuated support reflects in part the complicated politics of the fight against the Islamic State, which controls a New England-size swath of territory across Iraq and Syria and commands tens of thousands of militants. Neighbors such as Turkey and Jordan are reluctant to openly join the fight, for fear of becoming targets of the terrorists. Sunni rulers are loath to fight on the same side as the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad or Iran — which, for its part, loudly declared Monday that it had rejected a U.S. cooperation proposal.

Note the emerging strategy – air combat missions.  War from 20,000 feet.  Pin-pricks whose effectiveness depends on good intel and timely intervention.  And this administration is going to coordinate that?  The administration that couldn’t even build a website?  Note also that the missions are only agreed too for Iraq.  None of these erstwhile allies has agreed to any in Syria.  Result?  ISIS has a safehaven.  Yeah, we’ve never, ever seen that before have we?

So why are they reluctant?  Lack of leadership by the US, plain and simple:

In large part, however, the restraint has been fostered by President Obama himself. As The Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported, Mr. Obama rejected the recommendation of his top military commanders that U.S. Special Operations forces be deployed to assist Iraqi army units in fighting the rebels, and Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the administration has turned aside troop offers by other nations. “There are some who have offered to do so, but we are not looking for that, at this moment anyway,”he told CBS News’s Bob Schieffer.

ISIS has to only guard against airstrikes?  A group who butchers people on a daily basis would never consider human shields or setting up in schools or hospitals would they?  And in Syria … they don’t even have to worry about it, do they?  ISIS has cowed the Iraqi armed forces, the Kurds are playing defense, they’re free to roam Syria and we don’t need any troops on the ground at all?  Yeah, because, you know, all we need are airstrikes.

But this is what most amazed me about the “strategy”:

Mr. Kerry said Monday that defeating the Islamic State will depend in part on non-combat initiatives such as discrediting its ideology, stopping the flow of jihadist volunteers and providing political and material support to the new Iraq government.

Non-combat initiatives like discrediting their ideology?  Really?  Again, we’ve been so successful doing that in the past 20 years, haven’t we?  That’s why they’re such a small and declining group (wait, we were told that Al Qaida was kaput a while back weren’t we?).  Oh, and the rich part?  An administration that can’t even control its own southern border is going to stop the flow of jihadist volunteers … in the Middle East?  What a freakin’ laugh riot that talking point is.  Meanwhile, in a country that is under armed attack by a vicious army of murderers, Obama and the guys are going to provide “political and material support” to the new Iraqi government … but none that really helps stem the tide of the threatening jihadists controlling a large portion of their country … except of pinprick airstrikes to which ISIS will adapt (mark my words on that one).

This is going to end up being another of those half-assed attempts driven by polls (aka wag the dog) which, on its face, is simply a failure waiting to happen.  This administration has no idea of what is required to face down and destroy ISIS (or any enemy for that matter).  And it isn’t really going to attempt it. If anything it is going to attempt to talk ISIS to death.  But as a real-time strategy, if what above is any indication of the administration’s intent, it’s a bust.

But then, what would one expect from an administration that is going to send 3,000 troops to Africa to “battle ebola”, but won’t send any to battle a real, honest-to-goodness enemy in Iraq?

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 16 Sep 14

ICSC-Goldman reports weekly retail sales fell -2.6%, and rose 3.0% on a year-over-year basis. Redbook reports retail sales rose 3.6% on a year-ago basis.

Producer Prices for Final Demand were unchanged in August, and were up 0.1% less food and energy. On a year-over-year basis the PPI-FD is up 1.8% overall, and up 1.6% less food and energy. Other relevant numbers from this release:

PPI-FD less food, energy & trade services – M/M change: 0.2%
PPI-FD Goods – M/M change: -0.3%
PPI-FD Goods – Y/Y change:  1.7%
PPI-FD Services – M/M change: 0.3%
PPI-FD Services – Y/Y change: 1.9%

Foreign demand for long-term US securities fell $-18.6 billion in July.


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It may be time to become violent and intolerant

Large quote from Andy McCarthy.  This is an important point that so many in the West simply refuse to acknowledge:

This point has been made so many times it should hardly be necessary to point out that Obama and Kerry, like Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton, and like many Bush-administration officials before them (including President Bush), are dead wrong when they deny the nexus between Islamic doctrine –– the literal scriptures –- and terrorism, decapitations, totalitarian government, repression of women, rabid anti-Semitism, the murder of homosexuals, and so on. Still, it would be a serious error merely to observe that they are wrong, snicker at their fecklessness, and move on.

There is a reason they are taking a position diametrically opposed to reality.

Obama and Kerry, like transnational progressives in both of our major political parties, believe there are “moderate Islamists” who are the key to stability in the Middle East. Now, the term “moderate Islamist” is contradictory: an Islamist wants government by sharia, Islam’s totalitarian societal framework and legal code. There is nothing moderate about sharia. Those who want it implemented are not “moderates” even if they don’t commit mass-murder to get their way. Sharia is also anti-liberty, anti-equality, and anti-Western. Therefore, we should oppose Islamism just as we oppose other freedom-killing ideologies. That doesn’t mean we need to go to war with all Islamists, but we should work to diminish their influence and we should never regard them as a solution to anything.

Notwithstanding their abhorrence of the West, “moderate Islamists” are regarded by Obama and Kerry as potential allies: people, groups, and, in the case of Turkey, for example, countries that we can work with to solve the problems plaguing the Middle East and overcome our own security challenges. It is thus critically important to Obama and Kerry for the public to believe that (a) all Islamists are not basically the same and (b) there is a sharp difference — a day-and-night difference — between “moderate Islamists” and terrorist organizations like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. If, instead, the public becomes convinced that all Islamists, violent or non-violent, adhere to essentially the same ideology, the administration’s goal of working with Islamic supremacists becomes politically untenable.

It is impossible to convince people that non-violent (or, at least, purportedly non-violent) Islamists are not representative of Islam. The administration tried that with its “largely secular” Muslim Brotherhood flyer . . . and has been embarrassed ever since by the howls of laughter. Most significant Islamist groups are rooted in or affiliated with the Brotherhood. Not only do these groups claim the mantle of Islam’s representative; our government concedes that status to them.

Because they refuse to acknowledge this they simply hold out a “solution” that doesn’t exist.  So-called “moderate Islam” is only a ratcheted down version of the extremists.  Perhaps “moderate Islam” doesn’t want to take part in killing you, but they’re not particularly upset that the extremist version is doing it for them.   They may differ in the methods, but they’re not indifferent to the result – i.e. the world converting to Islam and the establishment of Sharia law.  That is the ultimate goal of Islam.  Weasel wording it doesn’t change that fact.

So how does one go about convincing “moderate Islam” to back off?  Well one way to to recognize the threat, and the threat isn’t just limited to “extremists”.  However, such recognition is antithetical to the tenets of the left’s multi-culturalism.  Every culture is “worthwhile” and has “value”.  Even those which justify the murder of non-believers and homosexuals, enslave and mutilate women, and essentially redefine misogyny.  The very people who support this sort of “tolerance” would likely be its first victims.

Back to the question – how do we back off “moderate Islam?”  Well this is going to sound exceedingly violent, but it is meant to be.  You have to ruthlessly and completely wipe out the extremists.  But instead, we seem to be contemplating a strategy of  “managing” the threat.  As Michael Totten notes:

The reason we must reject the tempting tendency to close our eyes and hope this problem goes away is that Allah doesn’t always sort things out according to American interests.

Life is filled with things we don’t want to do but have to do anyway. No one wants radiation or chemotherapy, but if you get cancer, you’re going to have to take it despite the fact that it might not work and that it will certainly feel like it’s killing you.

Let’s not kid ourselves. ISIS — or ISIL as the President calls it — is cancerous. And it is not a benign tumor. It is metastasizing and will not stop growing stronger and deadlier until it is dealt with aggressively and, at the absolute minimum, contained.

And only that sort of treatment will impress “moderate Islam” – period.  Of course, that’s only step 1.  Step 2 will be even more painful for the Western left.  It is all about intolerance.  That’s right, it’s about being intolerant of ideas, principles and cultural norms that attack and would eventually destroy Western culture as we know it.  Islam is as intolerant of our Western culture is we should be of it’s culture.  Just because some group of elitists on the left decided one day that all cultures are equal and valuable has now been shown to be simplistic pap.  And unless Western civ is in the mood to commit suicide, it is going to have to make some very hard and intolerant decisions in the near future.

So if the West is to survive, it’s time to take a real “step 1″, not some half-measure that I am pretty sure is being contemplated as we speak.

Many violent jihadists who go on to join al-Qaeda and, now, the Islamic State (an offshoot of al-Qaeda) got their start in the Muslim Brotherhood. They seamlessly graduate from Brotherhood teaching to insatiable jihad because Brotherhood teaching lauds jihad. In fact, the transition happens because many of those who receive Brotherhood instruction become frustrated by the contradiction between the Brotherhood’s aim of a worldwide caliphate and endorsement of jihad to achieve it, on the one hand, and its counsel of patience in pursuing it, on the other.

It is precisely because Islamists share an ideology rooted in Islam, and what they see as a divinely mandated mission of conquest, that a Muslim can so predictably evolve from student to sharia adherent to “moderate Islamist” to not-so-moderate Islamist to terrorist. It happens frequently. And the common ideology rooted in Islam also explains why so many “moderate Islamists” financially and morally support violent jihadist organizations even if they don’t take up arms themselves.

Why?  Because, as I said, the “moderates” are not at all indifferent to the outcome brought about by the extremists.  And until we wrap our heads around that and do what is necessary to actually and finally address the real threat we face, it’s not going to get any better and could easily get much worse.  It isn’t about extremists and moderates, it’s about a toxic culture/religion that was recognized as such by the West centuries ago as a threat.   As for the present, there’s very little difference between “moderate” and “extremists” with regard to the final outcome they seek:

The Islamic State has presumed to declare a caliphate. Al-Qaeda franchises think that is hasty — especially since someone else is running the caliphate — and would proceed more gradually, setting up emirates and hoping for more consensus among Islamists. Both organizations want to confront the West only violently; the Muslim Brotherhood, on the contrary, teaches that, while violent jihad has its place (see Hamas), it is valid to negotiate with the West, to infiltrate the West’s institutions, and to achieve whatever conquest can be achieved without violence.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 12 Sep 14

Business inventories rose 0.4% in July, while a 0.8% rise in business sales that Kept the stock-to-sales ratio unchanged at 1.29.

August retail sales rose 0.6%, while sales less autos rose 0.3% and sales less autos and gas rose 0.5% 

August export prices fell -0.5%, while import prices fell -0.9%. On a year-over year bases, export prices rose 0.4% while import prices fell -0.4%. 

The Reuters/University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index rose 2.1 points to 84.6 in August.


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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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