Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 30 Sep 14

ICSC-Goldman reports weekly retail sales fell -0.2%, and rose 3.6% on a year-over-year basis. Redbook reports retail sales rose 4.3% on a year-ago basis.

The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index fell a sharp 0.5% in July, the steepest drop since November 2011. This is the third straight monthly decline. Once again, the numbers from the housing sector show a lot of weakness.  On a year-over-year basis, the index is up 6.7%.

The Chicago Purchasing Manager’s Index fell 3.8 points in September to 60.5.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index in fell sharply from 92.4 to 86.0 in September.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index rose 1.1 points to 123.9 in September, on rising confidence among European institutional investors.


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Economic growth and national security? Or taxes?

The Financial Times [subscription] is reporting that the US is poised to become the world’s largest producer of liquid petroleum (oil and natural gas liquids):

US production of oil and related liquids such as ethane and propane was neck-and-neck with Saudi Arabia in June and again in August at about 11.5m barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency, the watchdog backed by rich countries.

With US production continuing to boom, its output is set to exceed Saudi Arabia’s this month or next for the first time since 1991. […]

Rising oil and gas production has caused the US trade deficit in energy to shrink, and prompted a wave of investment in petrochemicals and other related industries. […] It is also having an impact on global security. Imports are expected to provide just 21 per cent of US liquid fuel consumption next year, down from 60 per cent in 2005.

The reason?  Fracking.  As Walter Russell Mead points out:

With productivity continuing to rise, the United States has a chance to become the single biggest producer of crude oil sometime in the near future. If you had said that a decade ago, you would’ve been laughed at and called a fool. What a difference fracking makes.

Indeed.  The “peak oil” pundits were sure we were on the precipice of running out of oil.  Now, it seems, the sky is indeed the limit.  Which is why it makes little sense, given the state of climate science, that our President is busily engaged via the UN and other domestic agencies, in throttling back one of the most economically viable growth engines the American economy has at the moment (and for the foreseeable future).

Instead of working on a policy to limit future use of hydrocarbons, this White House should be pushing a policy that helps us safely and sustainably exploit these assets for all.  Additionally, while petroleum is indeed a global commodity, this level of production would go a long way toward the promise of energy independence in time of crisis.  It helps remove oil as a weapon of choice by various less than friendly states and allies of convenience.

Two winners for the US: economic growth and national security.

Instead we get an attempt to establish an new tax based on specious science.

Sort of par for the course, no pun intended.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 29 Sep 14

Personal income rose 0.3% in August, while personal spending rose 0.5%. The PCE Price index was unchanged overall, but up 0.1% at the core level. On a year over year basis, personal income rose 4.3%, spending rose 4.1%, and the PCE Price index rose 1.5% at both the headline and core rate.

The pending home sales index for August fell 1.0% to 104.7, as the housing sector remains stubbornly flat.

The Dallas Fed general business activity index for September rose 3.7 points to 10.8, while the production index rocketed from 6.8 to 17.6.


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Wake up dummies – you ARE better off than you were 6 years ago – Obama decrees it!

Apparently we “underestimated” ebola and ISIS, but when it comes to the economy and our well being, our man in the White House did us proud, but we’re just not apt enough to realize that.   From Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview:

Steve Kroft: You’ve got midterm elections coming up. Are you going to get shellacked?

President Obama: Well…

Steve Kroft: Or do you think that, I mean, are you optimistic? What are the issues and what are you going to tell the American people?

President Obama: Here’s what I’m going to tell the American people. When I came into office, our economy was in crisis. We had unemployment up at 10 percent. It’s now down to 6.1. We’ve had the longest run of uninterrupted private sector job growth in our history. We have seen deficits cut by more than half. Corporate balance sheets are probably the best they’ve been in the last several decades. We are producing more energy than we had before. We are producing more clean energy than we ever had before. I can put my record against any leader around the world in terms of digging ourselves out of a terrible, almost unprecedented financial crisis. Ronald Reagan used to ask the question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” In this case, are you better off than you were in six? And the answer is, the country is definitely better off than we were when I came into office, but now we have to make…

Steve Kroft: Do you think people will feel that?

President Obama: They don’t feel it. And the reason they don’t feel it is because incomes and wages are not going up. There are solutions to that. If we raise the minimum wage, if we make sure women are getting paid the same as men for doing the same work, if we are rebuilding our infrastructure, if we’re doing more to invest in job training so people are able to get the jobs that are out there right now, because manufacturing is coming back to this country. Not just the auto industry that we’ve saved, but you’re starting to see reinvestment here in the United States. Businesses around the world are saying for the first time in a long time, “The place to invest isn’t in China. It’s the United States.”

So there you go.  When you ask the salient question (are you better off now than you were 6 years ago), you dumbasses always give the wrong answer.  You ARE better off because our King says so.  Screw the fact that “income and wages” are not going up, or the labor participation rates is at historic lows or real unemployment is considerably higher than the manipulated number!  You’re better off, dammit!   And government can fix the wage problem – you know, just raise the minimum wage for heaven sake.

*Sigh*

Given that level of cluelessness, are you at all surprised this administration underestimated ISIS and ebola?

~McQ

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The government’s right to paw through your stuff

Let me start out with the conclusion – the government does not have a right to have easy access to your possessions on the premise that at some point in the future you might turn out to be a criminal.

There’s a lot of hoopla going on about child molesting pedophiliac serial murdering terorists(non islamic of course) who are just waiting for the release of the newer Apple IPhones so they can encrypt and hide the evidence of their crimes. This reckless disregard for government’s need to easily poke through your posessions, i.e. read the stuff on your IPhone,  will allow these yet to be criminals to get off scott free because the government will be unable to easily decrypt the data.

Well, that at least seems to be the argument I keep hearing.   I probably could have thrown in some other things these criminals are going to encrypt, but pedophiles and terrorists seem to be the hot button crimes  the government thinks are the be all end all arguments for why they should be able to get at the data without a great deal of hassel on their part.

As a counter weight to that set of players, let’s imagine a journalist, with secret “Deep-Throat” level informers inside government who has data encrypted on his phone that pertains to government malfeasence with names, and dates, including the name or names of the informers (and copies of 8×10 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a parapgraph on the back explaining what each one is to be used as evidence against them).  And for crazy but obvious reasons the reporter really doesn’t want to share that with the government and he encrypts it on his IPhone.

Let’s presume for a moment a corrupt Department of Justice or other government agency.  Crazy talk, right?  Gee, that could never happen  (cough cough…. DOJ FIFA foot dragging, contempt of Congress Fast and Furious, IRS investigations, lost emails, crashing hard drives, NSA reading everything written by everybody that traverses the internet)   Let’s presume that the encrypted data that would bring down the government perps in these corrupt agencies is on the reporter’s IPhone, and the corrupt agency creates reason to confiscate said phone, and would like to know what’s on it, again, for crazy but obvious reasons.  Suppose the criminals ARE the government.  Nah, that could never happen.

So, do you believe you’re obligated to make your possessions easy for the government to search?   Do you believe your house should be an open book to government warrant, because, hey, you might be a criminal in the future.  People don’t think of their data as a posession, but just because the old way of storing data was ‘papers’ doesn’t mean that ‘bits’ aren’t really the same thing.   All we did was change how it’s stored.   Should you be obligated to tell the government about any and every secret hiding place you have on your property when they show up looking for those Cuban cigars you knew were illegal to bring back from your Carribean cruise?   Should you be obligated to make it EASY for them?

It has been correctly pointed out that this action by Apple is in direct response to the NSA snooping, and we joke about it, but be honest, we all pretty much think they’re looking at EVERYTHING, don’t we?   And despite their protestations of innocence, we think they’re doing it here, and abroad, for practically everyone, on any electronic transmission they can get access to.    It all has to go through routers somewhere, sometime, it’s all being recorded and relayed at some point.   All of it.   This ain’t magic ya know.  And now they’re outraged!  outraged!  that people might be trying to make it hard on them to peek and poke and prod.

And I’m supposed to believe being able to crack the data on an IPhone is going to stop, oh, another Boston Marathon bombing?  When they lost track of a guy because they didn’t spell his name right?   How are they going to get his phone to decrypt his data?

Nah, sorry, there’s a whole lot of government house cleaning that needs to go on at the IRS, the DOJ,  and the many flavors of DHS before I get excercised about them not being able to easily decrypt data on an IPhone.    I’m more afraid of the listed agencies than I am of Achmed and Mohammed or the guy who dresses up as Barney and keeps encrypted pictures of nude kids on his phone.  I’m against all of those things okay?  And my way of dealing with such people would probably be much more at home on the frontier west of the 1800’s than 21st century America.

But we have people flowing across our southern border from who knows where, thinking who knows what, carrying who knows what diseases or posessions and agencies getting bent out of shape over not being able to decrypt future criminal eveidence are doing exactly jack-all to stop THAT even though they know it’s occurring RIGHT NOW.   Keep Achmed and Mohammed out of the country, and we won’t have to worry what they’ve encrypted on their IPhones.  And we caught pedo’s before they had IPhones to encrypt data on.

Federal law enforcment can spare me their attempts at  moral outrage because from what I see they’re not outraged much by the abuses they can do something about directly right now that have nothing to do with easily decrypting future data on a future criminal’s phone.   And I am flat not convinced that the 4th Amendment was written to make it easier for the government to poke through my stuff.

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Tales from the Nanny State

The first comes from our “hoist on their own petard” department:

A study from three sociologists based out of North Carolina State University charges that First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign topromote healthy eating and decrease childhood obesity rates is classist and sexist in its implementation. This is because the model Obama advocates tends to put the onus of preparing healthy meals specifically on women, and also expects a level of disposable income, transportation options, and free time, which low-income families may lack.

The researchers interviewed 150 mothers and spent 250 hours observing 12 working-class and poor families as they shopped for food, cooked, and ate. They note:

In the fight to combat rising obesity rates, modern-day food gurus advocate a return to the kitchen. […] First lady Michelle Obama has also been influential in popularizing public health messages that emphasize the role that mothers play when it comes to helping children make healthy choices. The message that good parents — and in particular, good mothers — cook for their families dovetails with increasingly intensive and unrealistic standards of “good” mothering. [Sage Journals]

The study concludes that, “this emerging standard is a tasty illusion, one that is moralistic, and rather elitist, instead of a realistic vision of cooking today.”

Yes that’s right, the Interferer in Chief’s campaign has been declared classist and sexist.  Of course if this were a right winger we were talking about all the lefty blogs would be blaring this in the headlines with a healthy dose of “I told you so” and “they just can’t seem to help it, can they” thrown in.

Irony.  You have to love it.  Its things like this that make my day go somewhat easier.

The second comes to us from Seattle, WA and is an example of what happens when people lose control of their government and that government decides to micro-manage every aspect of their lives with the intent of making sure they live it the way their betters decide they should live it:

The City of Seattle just passed a new trash ordinance that would fine residents and businesses for throwing away too much food.

The new rules would allow garbage collectors to inspect trash cans and ticket offending parties if food and compostable material makes up 10 percent or more of the trash.

The fines will begin at $1 for residents and $50 for businesses and apartment buildings, according to the Seattle Times.

So who will be the biggest offenders?  Well, most likely schools which use the Michelle Obama program – okay, I had to tie them together somehow.  No word, however, on how restaurants will fare under the law.

But think of it in a larger sense.  You buy the food.  It’s yours, your property.  You can prepare it however you like (within reason) and eat it if you care too or  … not.  What you throw away or decide not to keep is entirely up to you  — it’s YOUR property. It is none of anyone’s business.

On the other hand, you pay a fee or taxes to have your trash hauled away.  That’s their job.  Nothing more.  Haul your trash away. In steps government and arbitrarily decides that you’re throwing too much food away (goodness knows where that perception comes from) and the “there ought to be a law” folks step up.  They give those who pick up your trash the power to ticket you if they find you’ve thrown away too much food. Yeah, that’s right – the garbage police!

Most of the time these yahoos can’t even pick up the trash on time, and, of course they’re all math majors, so figuring out what percentage of your weekly trash pick up is over 10% should be a snap.  They have plenty of time, right?  I mean, good lord.

And if, in fact, people take this seriously, what do you suppose might happen? They’ll dump elsewhere.  If they’re smart they’ll find dumpsters outside the Seattle city hall and dump their food excess there.  Then the city can fine itself.

But it is another example of an unworkable law which will be arbitrarily imposed (if at all) and will see people attempting to circumvent it by means that I would guess will be less than sanitary and good for the city’s overall health.

Nannys.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 25 Sep 14

Durable goods orders fell a sharp -18.2% in August, but ex-transportation orders rose a healthy 0.7%. On a year-over-year basis, new orders rose 8.9% overall, while ex-transportation orders rose 7.3%.

The Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index rose 3 points to 6 in September.

The PMI Services Flash for September was unchanged at 58.5.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 12,000 to 293,000. The 4-week average fell 1,000 to 298,500. Continuing claims rose 7,000 to 2.439 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -1.8 points to 35.5 in the latest week, which is a 4-month low.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $9.5 billion last week, with total assets of $4.459 trillion. Reserve bank credit rose $10.1 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $7.4 billion in the latest week.


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