Monday, April 14, 2014

Wishing all my blog followers 
of the Jewish faith 
a very Happy Passover.

If you wanted one word to describe the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2014, the word 'tractionless' comes immediately to mind.

The latest real evidence for that assessment comes not from the latest jobs report, which many found disappointing but instead from the U.S. stock market, where once again, the number of publicly-traded U.S. companies who announced they would be cutting their dividends during the month of March remained at elevated levels. Levels that are consistent with recessionary forces at work in the U.S. economy:

Monthly Number of Public U.S. Companies Announcing Dividend Cuts, January 2004 through March 2014
Unlike the unemployment rate, which is usually a lagging indicator of the health of the economy, the number of companies announcing dividend cuts each month is a coincident indicator - something that tells us about the state of the economy today, in real time.

And what the elevated number of companies acting to cut their dividends in March 2014 tells us is that at least some parts of the U.S. economy are contracting rather than expanding.

Just for fun, we turned to the Institute of Supply Management's reports for March 2014 to see which sectors of the economy are producing the least traction. Here's the quick summary for both manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries. First, for manufacturing industries, where the reports were generally positive:
The four industries reporting contraction in March are: Apparel, Leather & Allied Products; Wood Products; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; and Miscellaneous Manufacturing.
And now for non-manufacturing industries, which is where most of the drag on the U.S. economy would appear to be originating, and which one respondent's comments points the finger at a major reason why:
The five industries reporting contraction in March are: Mining; Educational Services; Health Care & Social Assistance; Real Estate, Rental & Leasing; and Other Services.
Let's run through the non-manufacturing industries where we have some insights briefly:

Mining: The sluggishness in the U.S. mining industry can likely be traced directly back to the Chinese government's decision last year to slow down the growth of the nation's economy. With that nation growing much more slowly, it requires far fewer resources produced through mining to sustain it.

Educational Services: There is a major slow down underway for education services, particularly for for-profit universities, which are reporting declining enrollment levels.

Health Care & Social Assistance: We cannot do any better than to quote what one respondent to the ISM's survey said about what's hurting that particular industry:
"Healthcare reform continues to adversely impact hospital projected/actual revenue." (Health Care & Social Assistance)
Real Estate, Renting & Leasing: The major story here is the decline of demand for real estate in the U.S., where the rapid rise in prices driven by large investment firms who were buying up large quantities of distressed residential properties from 2012 to 2013 ultimately led them to stop buying so much property as their potential returns on their investments declined. Combined with the Fed's decision to taper its quantitative easing programs, which made buying real estate more expensive because of the corresponding hike in mortgage interest rates, the amount of economic activity in the real estate sector has been falling as a result.

And there you have it. While likely not enough to pull the entire U.S. economy down into recession, we at least now have some idea of which parts of the economy are experiencing recessionary conditions at the present time.
The announced departure of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius marks the end of a chapter of American history. Sibelius, aside from President Obama, has been the most prominent public face on the signature initiative of the Obama administration – the Affordable Health Care Act.

The question before Americans today is whether we are concluding the first chapter of a dream come true or whether this may be the beginning of the end of a nightmare.

I’m hoping Americans will wake up and see Obamacare for the nightmare it is.

Victory dances are taking place in the “dream come true” camp that over seven million have now signed up for Obamacare plans through federal and state insurance exchanges.

A lot of analysis is pouring forth about what this seven million actually means and to what extent this has anything to do with the claims of what Obamacare was supposed to do – deliver more affordable quality health care to more Americans.

But sometimes too much data and analysis gets you lost in in the forest.

The headline that should be flashing in front of us is that today, well into the sixth year of the Obama presidency, the American economy, once a dynamic engine of growth, is still is a wheezing, struggling, underperforming clunker of an economy.

We should be making a direct connection between this and the imposition of the Affordable Care Act on the American public.

Amid the celebration of the seven million plus have who have signed up, let’s not forget the Congressional Budget Office report in February projecting that Obamacare will shrink the American economy by 2.5 million jobs.

The specific factors CBO points to that will cause this shrinkage of jobs are the exchange subsidies, expansion of Medicaid, penalties on employers, and new taxes on labor.

We don’t have to sit and wonder about the reasonableness of CBO’s estimates. We’re already seeing these factors at work today.

Again, well into the sixth year of the Obama administration, unemployment is still at 6.7 percent, well above what has been historically considered the unemployment rate of a “full employment” economy – 5 percent.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the percentage of working age Americans who are working or actively seeking employment stands at 63.2 percent - “the lowest in three and half decades.”

According to Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellin, “While there has been steady progress, there is no doubt that the economy and the job market are not back to normal health.”

Now, certainly, the American economy is not all bad news.

But just look at where the incredible things are happening. They are happening in areas where individuals are left free to innovate. Where government is not controlling what businesses and individuals do.

The world is changing in front of us due to technological innovations that no one – certainly no government bureaucrat - could have dreamed of.

Technology is leading America to energy independence, something no one would have dreamed even 10 years ago.

When individuals are free to innovate and create, and when there are rewards to be gained commensurate with risks taken, miracles happen.

The same thing could be happening in health care.

But it’s not and won’t because government has taken it by the neck and is making this critical sector of our economy more like the US Postal Service than like Apple or Google or

Making innovation and creativity impossible, penalizing business, taxing work in one fifth of the American economy is no formula for a great American future. Bureaucratization of health care is dragging down our whole economy.

Better, cheaper, more innovative health care won’t be delivered by government and politicians. It will be delivered by the American people if politicians will get out of the way and let them do it.

Let’s face it. Obamacare was a huge mistake. We should repeal and replace it.

Iran: US denial of visa to envoy linked to hostage crisis “unacceptable”

/ Jihad Watch
Aboutalebi“Unacceptable.” Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “The government of the United States is well aware that this kind of behavior is by no means acceptable for us.” That is the language of a master speaking to a servant. The Iranians know who’s boss. Barack Obama showed them by capitulating to their nuclear program. And they’re going to run with it as far as they can.

“US denial of visa to Iran UN envoy ‘unacceptable’: Tehran,” AFP, April 10 (thanks to Lookmann):
TEHRAN: Iran described as “unacceptable” on Wednesday a decision by the United States to deny a visa to Tehran’s newly appointed UN ambassador over his alleged links to the 1979 US hostage crisis.
The clash over the nomination threatens to complicate a key moment in the easing of relations between Washington and Tehran as both sides strive to conclude a deal on the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.
On Tuesday, a day after the US Senate passed a resolution that would deny a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, White House spokesman Jay Carney said his selection was “not viable.”
Iran had already defended Aboutalebi’s appointment, brushing aside US concerns, and did so again on Wednesday.
Speaking to Iranian media in Vienna, where the latest round of nuclear talks is underway, foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said “we announced to the Americans one of our most rational and experienced diplomats as our United Nations envoy.”
“The government of the United States is well aware that this kind of behavior is by no means acceptable for us,” added Zarif, himself a former UN envoy.
Seen as close to the reformists and an ally of President Hassan Rouhani, Aboutalebi is currently the director general of political affairs bureau of the president’s office.
He has previously served as ambassador to the European Union, Belgium, Italy and Australia.
Aboutalebi has insisted he was not part of the hostage-taking in November 1979, when students seized the US embassy after the overthrow of the pro-Western shah.
He has said he worked as a translator when the students, soon after the hostage-taking, released 13 women and African Americans to highlight what they said was Islamic respect for women and poor US treatment of minorities.
The remaining 52 diplomats spent a total of 444 days in captivity, enraging the United States.
As the host government, the United States generally is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at UN headquarters.
But state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday that there were “limited exceptions.”
They included “security, terrorism and foreign policy concerns. So there are a broad range of broadly speaking reasons that a visa could be deemed ineligible,” Psaki told reporters.
She refused to discuss the specifics of Aboutalebi’s case however, and whether he had submitted a visa request or not, citing privacy concerns.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and vociferous critic of Iran, introduced the Senate resolution backed by fellow lawmakers that blocks US visas for “known terrorists” to represent their countries at the United Nations.
In his remarks Wednesday, Zarif referred to what he called a “group of extremists (that) must not be allowed to determine the agenda of Iran’s presence in the United Nations.”
The US and Iran still do not have diplomatic relations, but Rouhani and US President Barack Obama have taken steps to ease tensions through a tentative agreement to freeze parts of Iran’s nuclear programme.
APRIL 14, 2014
The Lord will pass to smite the Egyptians, and He will see the blood
on the lintel and on the two doorposts, and the Lord will pass over
the entrance, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter
your houses to smite you.

APRIL 14, 2014

Reports: Company Tied to Reid's Son Wants Land in Bundy Standoff

By Greg Richter / Newsmax

Image: Reports: Company Tied to Reid's Son Wants Land in Bundy StandoffThe Nevada rancher who forced the federal Bureau of Land Management to back down last week may have been targeted because a Chinese solar company with ties to Sen. Harry Reid's son wants the land for an energy plant, several websites report.

A report on,  says Chinese energy giant ENN Energy Group wants to use federal land as part of its effort to build a $5 billion solar farm and panel-building plant in the southern Nevada desert. Rory Reid, the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is representing ENN in their efforts to locate in Nevada.

Part of the land ENN wants to use was purchased from Clark County at well below appraised value. Rory Reid is the former Clark County Commission chairman, and he persuaded the commission to sell 9,000 acres of county land to ENN on the promise it would provide jobs for the area, Reuters reported in 2012.

In addition to the county acreage, the federal Bureau of Land Management at one time was looking at BLM property under dispute with cattle rancher Cliven Bundy. The BLM is headed by former Harry Reid senior policy adviser Neil Kornz.

According to BizPac Review, BLM documents indicate that the federal property for which Bundy claims grazing rights were under consideration by a solar energy company. Those documents have since been removed from BLM's website, but BizPac quotes from one of them:

"Non-Governmental Organizations have expressed concern that the regional mitigation strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone utilizes Gold Butte as the location for offsite mitigation for impacts from solar development, and that those restoration activities are not durable with the presence of trespass cattle."

"Trespass cattle" is a reference to Bundy's herd. Bundy's family has grazed cattle on the land since the 1870s, and Bundy maintains he has grazing rights to the federal land. But he hasn't paid his federal grazing fees in 20 years in a dispute with the BLM.

BLM agents hired contract cowboys earlier this year to seize hundreds of head of cattle and were moving in to seize the rest when militia members from across the country and other supporters showed up last week.

Citing a dangerous situation, the BLM backed off its efforts and returned Bundy's cattle Saturday, but it has vowed to continue fighting him in court and administratively.

In its effort to get Bundy off the land, it has attempted to get him to reduce his 1,000-head herd to 150, The Blaze's Dana Loesch reports. Bundy says his ranch would not be viable with a herd that small.

The BLM claims a need to control grazing on the land to protect an endangered desert tortoise. But Loesch and others note that in August, the tortoise population in a nearby conservation center was set to be euthanized because of underfunding.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied those reports, saying that only unhealthy tortoises would be euthanized and others would be relocated. But KVVU-TV in Las Vegas reported that the agency didn't say how many of the tortoises in its care were deemed "healthy."

Further, Loesch reports, Harry Reid pressured the BLM to change the tortoise's protected zone to accommodate developer Harvey Whittemore, one of the Democrat's top donors. Whittemore was convicted in May 2013 of making illegal campaign contributions to him.

"BLM has proven that they’ve a situational concern for the desert tortoise as they’ve had no problem waiving their rules concerning wind or solar power development," Loesch writes.

"Clearly, these developments have vastly affected a tortoise habitat more than a century-old, quasi-homesteading grazing area. If only Clive Bundy were a big Reid donor."