Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Clint Eastwood nailed it when he portrayed Obama as an empty chair

I’ve said for 6+ years that the man in the White House was not a leader.  He’s never been a leader.  And this weekend he again demonstrated to the world that leadership is not something of which he has even an inkling of understanding.  This weekend, at a gathering of 3 million in the French capital, 40 leaders of various countries stood with those people and symbolically said “no” to terrorism, intimidation and murder and “yes” to free speech.  They demonstrated leadership.   They demonstrated political courage.  They did what leaders do.

And where was our President?  Or Vice President?  At home with nothing on their schedules … that’s where.  Showing up in Europe and doing what leadership demands was apparently something they couldn’t figure out.

Leadership takes, no, requires courage.  This weekend we saw a display of diplomatic and political cowardice (and I don’t buy the “threat was too great” – apparently it was acceptable to the Israeli PM).

Oh, we’ll see them scramble now to try to turn this around and to their advantage, but it is clear to those of us who’ve actually been leaders that we lack one in the White House.  It’s a pitiful but representative example of why this man should never have been elected to the Illinois Senate much less to the presidency of the United States.

He voted “present” as a state senator and this weekend he voted “present” as the President of the United States.

Shameful.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 9 Jan 15

The economy added 252,000 net new jobs in December, while the unemployment rate dipped to 5.6%. Average hourly earnings fell -0.2% while the average workweek was unchanged at 34.6 hours. The fall in the unemployment rate can mainly be attributed to the fact that 273,000 people left the labor force, brining the labor force participation rate down to 62.7%. That’s the second time in the last four months the participation rate has been that low, a level not previously seen since February, 1978.

Wholesale inventories rose 0.8% in November, while a -0.3% decline in sales pushed the stock-to-sales ratio up to a porky 1.21.


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So we’re not all Charlie Hebdo …

David Brooks opines today concerning the murders in Paris (quit calling them “executions” and giving them some sort of legal patina):

Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.

So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.

The first thing to say, I suppose, is that whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in. 

We might have started out that way. When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to “épater la bourgeoisie,” to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.

But after a while that seems puerile. Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others. (Ridicule becomes less fun as you become more aware of your own frequent ridiculousness.) Most of us do try to show a modicum of respect for people of different creeds and faiths. We do try to open conversations with listening rather than insult.

Yet, at the same time, most of us know that provocateurs and other outlandish figures serve useful public roles. Satirists and ridiculers expose our weakness and vanity when we are feeling proud. They puncture the self-puffery of the successful. They level social inequality by bringing the mighty low. When they are effective they help us address our foibles communally, since laughter is one of the ultimate bonding experiences.

A lot of people are panning Brooks today, but on the large point, I think he’s right.  What was done was, in many people’s opinion, “puerile” and “offensive”.  But as he further points out, even those who are puerile and offensive in that regard do indeed serve a “useful public role.”  They point to things that need pointed at and they do it in a way that is difficult to ignore.  That doesn’t mean I have to like their methods or even their message, but I do want them to have the freedom to express it.

For myself, I usually avoid that sort of offense.  I personally think most points can be made within reasonable bounds of propriety.  But those are limits I put on myself.  It’s a personal belief that I am able to sway more people with reasonable arguments and bits of sarcasm that I am from being puerile and offensive.  I believe that those who engage in that sort of behavior turn off more minds than they turn on.  But that’s my belief.  However, for those that believe otherwise, they have the full right to engage in such behavior as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of others.   And no, you have absolutely no right to not be offended.

So in that regard, Brooks is right.  I’m not in the mold of Charlie Hebdo … but I defend their right to be offensive, profane, blasphemous and puerile via their speech with everything I have.  That doesn’t at all mean I like it, am not offended by it or think it is right.  And whatever they do, their right to free speech also opens them up to the consequences of exercising that right.

Murder is not one of them.  Violence of any sort is not one of them.  We hear a lot about proportionality.  What is a proportional response to being offended?  Off the top of my head I can think of any number of “proportional” responses – depending on what you find offensive, there are several ways to make that point – condemnation, boycott, peaceful activism, ignoring them, dismissing them, etc.  But their right to say what they want is as fundamental a freedom as the consequences that come with it.  And that’s how it should be.

Modern Christians, for instance, have seen many examples of profanity and what they’d consider to be blasphemy writ large – in supposed “art” for instance.  However, they’ve responded proportionally to the offense.

So Brooks is right in the large sense.  I’m not Charlie Hebdo – but I’ll support Charlie Hebdo’s right to do what they did to the death.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 8 Jan 15

Chain stores reporting sales today are generally showing mostly higher rates of year-on-year sales growth in December.

Challenger’s count of layoff announcements for December totals 32,640 vs 35,940 in November and 30,623 in December 2013.

Gallup’s US Payroll to Population rate for December was 44.3%, virtually unchanged from November’s 44.2%.

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 4,000 to 294,000. The 4-week average fell 250 to 290,500. Continuing claims rose 101,000 to 2.452 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 0.9 points to 43.6 in the latest week, the highest level in seven years.

Consumer credit rose $14.1 billion in November, but revolving credit fell $-0.9 billion, the second contraction in the last four months.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $1.9 billion last week, with total assets of $4.5 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-0.6 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $12 billion in the latest week.


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Meanwhile in Congress

The new Senate is only a few days old and they’re at it already.  Of course, roles have been reversed:

Democrats launched the first filibuster of the new Congress on Thursday, objecting to the GOP’s effort to try to bring the Keystone XL pipeline bill to the floor early next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to schedule action early next week on the bill, and promised an open process, including allowing both sides to offer amendments to the bill — an attempt to break with the previous few years, when Democrats controlled the floor and kept a tight lid on amendments.

Now that was mostly the status quo of the last Senate with two exceptions.

-Democrats are in the minority and determined to obstruct the Repblican majority

-Democrats are filibustering just to filibuster.  Republicans filibustered because former Senate Majority Leader Reid refused to allow any amendments to bills he brought to the senate floor.  McConnell has said the GOP will welcome amendments, a process which allows open and bi-partisan participation.

Yet that’s not good enough for Democrats – which sort of foretells what this session of the Senatorial side of Congress will likely look like from here on.   It seems less likely that this is all about Keystone, since the pipeline has bi-partisan support.  Instead, this is just petty and spiteful Democrats refusing any sort of appeasement/olive branch from the GOP.

Which should tell the GOP something, if they’re smart enough to pay attention.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 7 Jan 15

The US Trade deficit narrowed to $-39.0 billion in November from October’s $-43.4 billion, largely on falling oil prices.

The minutes of the December 16–17 meeting indicate moderate economic growth, with restrained inflation and still-weak job market. Discussions about the timing of coming interest rate hikes, with indications that interest rate increases could come even with inflation below 2%, indicate rate increases are possible this year.

ADP estimates that private payrolls grew by 241,000 in December, versus November’s 208,000, but recent ADP figures have overstated those in the government’s official Employment Situation report.

Gallup’s Job Creation Index fell -1 point to 27 in December, in contrast to ADP.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -9.1% last week, with purchases down -5.0% and refis down -12.0%.


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The end of “tolerance?”

Probably not, but you’ll notice “tolerance” in quotes.  Tolerance, today, seems to mean that no one has a right to “judge” another culture or religion or ethnic group based on their actions or by their “prejudices” – you know, “white privilege” and all that.   That we should all understand that each of these are “equally good”, just “different”.

Thus what happened in France today is just a “different” way of reacting to certain “stimulus”.   We must “understand” what motivates these sorts of actions and …

Well, you can fill in the blank.  Isn’t that the natural end to that sort of “tolerance?”  Putting up with it?

The question is, have we seen enough of this sort of slaughter that we can bring ourselves, as civilizations, to say “that’s bad and NOT to be tolerated” and that all those who are a part of this should be exterminated from the face of the earth?  Hmmm?

Well, you’d think so – or at least you’d think there’d be some sort of an attitude change in general.  I’ll be interested to see how the French react.  The same country that let “youths” burn 10,000 cars a few years ago over the same sort of nonsense.  Props to the French for this time calling it what it is – terrorism.  Islamist terrorism.  At least they’re not trying to put the “workplace violence” tag that the political cowards here in the US draped on the Ft. Hood massacre by an Islamic extremist.

Meanwhile, even with the scope of the tragedy, there are those who would excuse the killers.

Via Hot Air, here is the Financial Times take on the situation:

Two years ago it published a 65-page strip cartoon book portraying the Prophet’s life. And this week it gave special coverage to Soumission (“Submission”), a new novel by Michel Houellebecq, the idiosyncratic author, which depicts France in the grip of an Islamic regime led by a Muslim president.

In other words, Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims. If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo.

This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.

The other day I pointed out how feminists use the same tactics as the KKK.  This, on the other hand, hits me as the same thing as those who excuse rape by saying, “you know, if you hadn’t have worn that, you probably wouldn’t have been raped”.

Always entertaining to catch this type of a critic in the usual pretzel logic that, in another form, they’re sure to condemn.

Freedom ain’t free – and it is messy and dangerous.  More importantly, you have to fight for it.  And the first step in doing so is being intolerant of anyone who would limit it or take it away – and that includes the murderer’s fellow travelers as well.

~McQ

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