“A fact can be a beautiful thing,” sings one of the characters in the award-winning musical, “Promises, Promises.” True. Unfortunately, a gaggle of facts can be somewhere between confusing and a curse, especially if you are a central banker who has specialized in promises, promises that a process of normalization will begin after seven years of zero interest rates. Now, faced with its next meeting less than two weeks hence, the Federal Reserve Board’s monetary policy committee has to decide whether to replace promises with action.
The most-watched set of facts was released late week. The economy added only a disappointing 173,000 jobs in August, a mere 140,000 in the private sector, the smallest increase since March 2008, and the labor force participation rate continues to decline, even after 66 consecutive months of job creation. Although August job figures are typically revised upward, these data support those who would have the Fed stay its hand. But the three-month average of new jobs is around 200,000, which is about twice the growth rate of the work force, the unemployment rate is down to 5.1%, usually regarded as full employment, and average hourly earnings continue to move up, all facts that dictate raising rates before inflation takes off. Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Richmond Fed and a voting member of the monetary policy committee, had said “It’s time to align our monetary policy with the significant progress we have made,” and repeated that call for an increase in interest rates after examining yeserday’s job report.
The recent Fed survey of business conditions around the country, the so-called Beige Book, is not of much help. Its general conclusion is that growth is continuing at a moderate pace, activity in the manufacturing sector is “mostly positive”, and that employment growth is only “slight or modest” -- hardly a clarion call for an interest rate increase that some key Fed officials say is necessary. But countering that are some “beautiful” facts.
Second-quarter growth clocked in at an annual rate of 3.7%. Exports jumped, cutting the trade deficit. Construction spending in July hit its highest level in more than seven years, after rising at an annualized rate of 26% in the three months ending in July. And this was no government-stimulus spending: it was private-sector spending on residential and non-residential construction that drove spending higher.
The news from the auto sector is equally good. Last month, consumers snapped up cars and small trucks (light vehicles in the jargon of the trade) at the fastest annual rate since July 2005. Low gasoline prices resulted in shortages of SUVs, and generous financing terms (no interest on 72-month loans) encouraged buyers to load their vehicles with extras, driving up the price of the average vehicle sold by GM by $660 compared with a year earlier, and opt for German-brand luxury vehicles. Car makers are expecting to keep “moving the metal” at a brisk pace for the rest of the year.
Bitcoin value dropped significantly in August, which proves that Bitcoin and crypto-currency markets are still developing. The value of Bitcoin is tumultuous to put it lightly, but dropping from $256 on August 17th to $200 on the 25th of August is pretty a big deal. Furthermore, this drop happened in opposition to what many may suggest Bitcoin should have done in response to China's devaluation and the subsequent big losses in the U.S. economy. Driving this devaluation is fear, and the exposure of the most important development in the crypto currency movement: politics.
Right now a fascinating lesson is happening over at Bitcoin. Bitcoin is quickly reaching an inflection point where the technology will reach a maximum of transactions that it can handle in a given day. Unable to agree on a consensus, quickly enough for the proponents of BitcoinXT, supporters of change pulled their biggest programming weapon out and used it.
I refer, of course, to the fork.
Open source programming is kind of like a page on Wikipedia: Anyone can log in and contribute, while different levels have more administrative rights than others, everyone can see the underlying code and debate and work on making it better. However, sometimes there is a disagreement and this is when things get tricky with a leaderless movement or program. Previously, the lead contributors of Bitcoin have waited for consensus among themselves before rolling out any changes, and then waited for 95% implementation before fully rolling out those changes. Even this conservative model previously caused waves at times in the community including several incidents of blocks of transactions, one in early July, that were wrongly added causing some problems in transactions and some doubt about the system earlier this summer.
Not willing to wait out the normal internal debate among the lead Bitcoin Core developers, BitcoinXT developers posted a forked version of Bitcoin Core. The “fork” doesn’t have many immediate changes, but if implemented, will signal a shift in the way that consensus has previously been agreed to in the Bitcoin community.
The BitcoinXT change -- the fork -- is fundamental shift in Bitcoin’s blockchain from blocks of 1 megabyte to blocks of 8 megabytes that will double in size every 2 years. For now users of the BitcoinXT and Bitcoin Core forks are working on the same blockchain, and approximately 11.3% of the Bitcoin community is using the forked version of Bitcoin Core. However, if users of BitcoinXT have reached 75% of the network the change in Block size will happen.
The goal of the blockchain increase is to dramatically expand the amount of transactions that the network can process. But, the increase in size also makes it harder to mine Bitcoin and maintain a democratically built block chain. Proponents are betting on the forecast growth of computer and Internet speed, and opponents of the change are really just being more conservative.
When Donald Trump botched a question Thursday about General Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, it wasn’t the first time. He did the same thing last month during the Fox News debate, but his answer was largely overlooked in the post-debate hysteria over Trump’s answers to questions on a third party candidacy and his treatment of women.
Bret Baier asked Trump about Suleimani and offered the candidate a helpful tutorial in the introduction.
“Candidates, you may not have seen the late developing news today our Fox Pentagon team broke earlier this evening about a top Iranian general traveling to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Baier said. “His name is General Qassem Soleimani. He's blamed for hundreds of U.S. troops death in Iraq and Afghanistan. His trip to Russia appears to directly violate U.N. Security Council resolutions to confine him to Iran. So, Mr. Trump, if you were president, how would you respond to this?”
“I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite,” Trump said, before setting off in several different directions at the same time. “We have a president who doesn't have a clue. I would say he's incompetent, but I don't want to do that because that's not nice. But if you look at the deals we make, whether it's the nuclear deal with 24 hour periods—and by the way, before you get to the 24 hours, you have to go through a system. You look at Sergeant Bergdahl, we get Bergdahl, a traitor, and they get five of the big, great killers leaders that they want. We have people in Washington that don't know what they're doing. Now, with Iran, we're making a deal, you would say, we want him. We want out our prisoners. We want all these things, and we don't get anything. We're giving them $150 billion dollars plus, they are going to be—I'll tell you what, if Iran was a stock, you folks should go out and buy it right now because you'll quadruple—this, what's happening in Iran, is a disgrace, and it's going to lead to destruction in large portions of the world.”
In his Thursday interview with Hewitt, Trump asked for some help before attempting an answer. Here is that exchange:
HH: Are you familiar with General Soleimani?
DT: Yes, but go ahead, give me a little, go ahead, tell me.
HH: He runs the Quds Forces.
DT: Yes, okay, right.
HH: Do you expect his behavior…
DT: The Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by …
HH: No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Forces.
DT: Yes, yes.
HH: …is the bad guys.
HH: Do you expect his behavior to change as a result…
DT: Oh, I thought you said Kurds, Kurds.
HH: No, Quds.
DT: Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said Kurds, because I think the Kurds have been poorly treated by us, Hugh. Go ahead.
Hugh Hewitt’s interview with Donald Trump has received a fair amount of attention, mainly because Trump didn’t know the answers to some of Hewitt’s supposed “gotcha” questions.
But how challenging were Hewitt’s queries? Not very. Consider this exchange:
HH: … But on the front of Islamist terrorism, I’m looking for the next commander-in-chief, to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahiri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi. Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?
DT: No, you know, I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone. I knew you were going to ask me things like this, and there’s no reason, because number one, I’ll find, I will hopefully find General Douglas MacArthur in the pack. I will find whoever it is that I’ll find, and we’ll, but they’re all changing, Hugh. You know, those are like history questions. Do you know this one, do you know that one. I will tell you, I thought you used the word Kurd before. I will tell you that I think the Kurds are the most under-utilized and are being totally mistreated by us. And nobody understands why. But as far as the individual players, of course I don’t know them. I’ve never met them. I haven’t been, you know, in a position to meet them. If, if they’re still there, which is unlikely in many cases, but if they’re still there, I will know them better than I know you.
It doesn’t take someone who is the equivalent of a General Douglas MacArthur to know the personalities mentioned by Hewitt.
Baghdadi, as in Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, is notorious around the world. His image is routinely splashed on the front pages of newspapers and on the nightly news. His organization, the Islamic State (or ISIS), has dominated headlines for more than year with atrocity after atrocity. It is possible that Baghdadi will be “gone” by the time the next president assumes office. (There are, for example, persistent unconfirmed rumors that Baghdadi has been seriously wounded or is otherwise in poor health.) But that shouldn’t stop Trump, or any other candidate, from knowing who Baghdadi is.
What’s especially curious about Trump’s answer is that he has made a big deal out of his claim that “nobody” would be tougher on ISIS than a President Trump. He has also claimed to have a winning plan: Take away ISIS’s oil.
But how can Trump be the best candidate to defeat ISIS if he doesn’t even know someone as infamous as the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi? Hewitt didn’t ask about some obscure ISIS lieutenant, or even Baghdadi’s recently deceased #2. If not a household name, “Baghdadi” is close to it.
Perhaps he didn’t hear all of the names mentioned by Hewitt. But consider, too, Zawahiri–as in Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda.
Hillary Clinton sat down with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Friday in a rare one-on-one interview. After several questions from Mitchell about Clinton's use of a private email and a homebrew server while she was secretary of state, the Democratic frontrunner apologized the controversy was "confusing" the American people.
"At the end of the day, I am sorry that this has been confusing to people and has raised a lot of questions," Clinton said. Asked twice if she was sorry about choosing to have a private email server in the first place, Clinton simply said she would have made a "different choice."
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is launching his first TV ad campaign next week, according to a spokesperson. The $500,000 purchase for New Hampshire TV markets will begin next Wednesday and run through the rest of September. The campaign says 15 percent of that buy will go toward "targeted online advertising."
"This is the first step in a multi-week process where we will be expanding our advertising in New Hampshire and the other early states," says Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell. "Our first television ad will highlight Governor Bush’s strong conservative record of reform and his plan to change the culture in Washington."
Right to Rise, a super PAC supporting Bush's presidential candidacy, will also begin running TV ads in both New Hampshire and Iowa markets this month.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released its latest statistics on the number of former Guantanamo detainees who are either confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight. As expected, there has been a slight increase in the number of ex-detainees who have rejoined the jihad.
The ODNI says that a total of 196 ex-Gitmo detainees, or 30 percent of the 653 total detainees transferred or released, are now either confirmed or suspected of reengaging. The number of confirmed recidivists (117) outnumbers those on the suspected list (79). The figures are current as of July 15, 2015.
For an ex-Gitmo inmate to be considered a “confirmed” recidivist, a “preponderance of information…identifies a specific former GTMO detainee as directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.” For those in the “suspected” category, “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting indicat[es] a specific former GTMO detainee is directly involved in terrorist or insurgent activities.”
In the past, administration officials have argued that a significant number of the recidivists have been taken out of the game once again. But a look at the newly released numbers shows that most of the ex-detainees on the list are at large.
The ODNI’s figures show that 122 of the ex-detainees (62 percent of the total) who are confirmed or suspected of rejoining the fight are “not in custody,” with the remaining 74 being either dead or in custody.
The ODNI’s latest summary also reveals that (on net) 11 additional ex-Gitmo detainees have been added to the recidivist list in the first seven months of this year. As of January, the ODNI included 185 former detainees in its summary statistics, as compared to the 196 in the current tally.
A comparison of the two lists reveals that (on net) 10 of the newly added 11 ex-detainees were placed in the suspected recidivists category, with five being transferred during the Bush administration and the other five during Obama’s tenure. However, the overwhelming majority of the recidivists (184 out of 196) were transferred during the Bush administration.
The “reengagement” statistics do not include former detainees who are actively spreading anti-American propaganda, but who are not suspected of committing other acts. In addition, intelligence officials contacted by THE WEEKLY STANDARD in the past have explained that the US does not know what numerous other ex-detainees are currently doing.
The number of former detainees on the ODNI’s list has grown significantly since 2008.
In June 2008, the Department of Defense reported that 37 former detainees were “confirmed or suspected” of returning to the fight. On January 13, 2009, a Pentagon spokesman said that number had climbed to 61. As of April 2009, the DoD found that same metric had risen further to 74. More than six years later, that figure has nearly tripled to 196.
Not long ago, one of my favorite, but alas now defunct radio shows used to keep an Apology Clock. This time-piece counted very specific numerals: The Apology Clock ticked off each time someone famous was forced to apologize for their indiscretions. Since the Apology Clock is a product of our SJW (short for social justice warrior, a term which is decidedly unfair to actual warriors) climate, most of these “indiscretions” were nothing more than words or phrases. Remember “stick and stones” and all that? Well, the Apology Clock highlighted just how hollow that formerly golden bit of wisdom has become. Consider the recent cases of Justine Sacco, Tim Hunt, and Curt Schilling, among many, many others.
During the last week of August, somebody else landed in hot water. This time around, the hater-in-residence is Anthony Horowitz, a noted thriller writer and James Bond “continuation author” who said something unconscionable. During an interview with The Daily Mail, Horowitz, who recently penned a critically praised Bond novel entitled Trigger Mortis, took time to trash the recent round of Bond films. Skyfall? In Horowitz’s own words: “Skyfall is my least favorite. I know it’s heresy to say so, but it is the one Bond film I have never liked.” Furthermore, in Horowitz’s estimation, the great sin of Skyfall is that “Bond is weak in it. He has doubts. That’s not Bond.”
Hard words, but only Bond aficionados are likely to grouse over such assertions. No, what put Mr. Horowitz on the Apology Clock tour was his summation that Idris Elba, the black British actor who first came to fame in the U.S. as criminal-cum-businessman Russell “Stringer” Bell in the crime drama The Wire, is “too rough,” “too ‘street’” to play the martini-sipping, clubland hero that is James Bond. Although Horowitz did praise Elba as “a terrific actor” in the interview, the social media world and the big journalism echo chamber didn’t want to hear it.
Since going viral, Horowitz has apologized and even did the old two-step by claiming that his words were mischaracterized as racist. Almost as a chore, Elba was forced to weigh in on the matter, replying “Always Keep Smiling!! It takes no energy and never hurts!” (As a final riposte, Elba added “Learned that from the street.”) The coverage so far has made Elba look magnanimous, while Horowitz has been cast in the role of Archie Bunker, or more properly Alf Garnett.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with editor William Kristol on the Donald Trump plateau, his signing of the GOP loyalty pledge and what that means, and whether or not Carly Fiorina can sieze on some of her momentum going into the CNN debate.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is currently playing at Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre, must be a nightmare to direct.
One can emphasize its political accents, with Theseus’s decision to abrogate ancient Athenian law and introduce democratic consent into the structure of the aristocracy, or choose to weave a dream-like production, that places Puck and the comedy of the Mechanicals front and center. Doing both is next to impossible, if only because the theatrical elements of Midsummer tend to eclipse (when performed, not read) instead of shade, the deeper political philosophy of the play. Director Ethan McSweeny’s decision to make “all the different stories work equally well,” de facto settles the matter in favor of theatrics, and so we are treated to a Midsummer that delights the eyes in favor of enlivening the mind. But what delight you are in for!
Midsummer is set during the Athens of mythical Theseus, which is to say it is set both somewhere and nowhere at once. This allows McSweeny a latitude of artistry of which he takes—at times—a bit too much advantage. The play opens with Theseus, here in full military regalia resembling a Perón or Mussolini, addressing Athens from the top of a balcony through a booming microphone. One immediately gets the sensation that this Midsummer will, after all, focus on the question of regime and ruler. Instead, the play largely takes place against the backdrop of a dilapidated theatre that is also inhabited by Oberon and his extended retinue. The decision to set the play in this manner produces a slightly soporific effect, which sublimates the animating imperative (Marry him, or else!) deeper than is useful for understanding the dramatic action. The two sets of lovers are also somewhat out of sync with the opening background: Lysander is dressed (and acts) like a young Bob Dylan, while Demetrius looks a Phillips Andover pupil; Hermia is adorned like an Archie comics character, Helena like one of Edward Hopper’s suffering women. The interplay between the adolescents is a further cause of disorientation. For instance, Lysander and Demetrius are supposed to be playing for keeps, so to speak, but the two men act more like fraternity brothers overcome in heat than rival lovers dueling for the eternal heart of a beloved. Here, however, any complaints with the play end.
The eagerly anticipated jobs report for August has come in and it is a disappointment … sort of. Expectations were for an increase of 217,000 jobs. The number was … 173,000. But
... the jobless rate dropped to 5.1 percent, a level that the Federal Reserve considers to be full employment.
Fed policy makers meeting in less than two weeks will weigh resilient U.S. employment conditions against the recent turmoil in world financial markets as they debate the timing of any interest-rate increase.
So the odds of a Fed move to increase interest rates would seem to have improved. But there are, as always, risks. In 1937, the Fed called it wrong and managed to bring a recovery from the Great Depression to its knees and produce a “recession within a depression.”
One looks at the divergence between the expectations and the reality in this jobs report and wonders.
Amy Kass was a great student and teacher of Alexis de Tocqueville, and would have appreciated the latest "Conversation" to be released by the Foundation for Constitutional Government, Harvey Mansfield on Tocqueville.
In this conversation, Mansfield discusses key themes in Tocqueville's work, including the nature of democracy, why individualism is a danger to democracy, how associations counteract individualism, and how religion and liberty reinforce one another in our times. Mansfield also describes Tocqueville's own life and political career, and how his thought differs from that of other modern thinkers such as J.S. Mill, Edmund Burke, John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes.
Radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewed Donald Trump Thursday and asked the Republican frontrunner some details on foreign policy. After Trump confused some terminology, he accused Hewitt of asking "gotcha questions."
Hewitt, who will also be moderating CNN's September 16 presidential debate, first asked Trump if he was familiar with General Qasem Soleimani. When Trump asked for a little more information about Soleimani, Hewitt said, "He runs the Quds Forces," the Iranian military unit that engages in terrorism and guerilla tactics outside of Iran. But Trump seemed to have confused that term with the Kurds, an ethnic group being targeted by ISIS in northern Iraq.
"The Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated," Trump began.
"No, not the Kurds," Hewitt cut in. "The Quds Forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Forces."
In the interview, Trump also expressed his belief that it isn't important at the moment that he know the difference between Hamas (the Palestinian political and paramilitary group) and Hezbollah (the Iran-backed political party in Lebanon). He also said asking about who the various leaders and players in the Middle East was asking about "history" because those leaders would likely not be in power by the time Trump became president.
Trump called Hewitt's inquiries "gotcha questions," although the level of detail Hewitt asked about was not different from that he's asked of other Republican candidates. Listen to excerpts from the interview below:
Update: Hewitt later recorded an interview with Trump rival Carly Fiorina. The radio host claimed Fiorina was not aware of Trump's interview and asked her the same questions he asked Trump. Fiorina, the former CEO of HP, responded somewhat better than Trump to the same questions.
Listen to the audio of Hewitt and Fiorina's conversation below:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has long observed that Obamacare, which President Obama pitched as a great deal for Americans of all stripes, is really only for the near-poor and near-elderly—at the expense of the middle class and the young. While only a small minority has benefitted from the 2,400-page overhaul, a large majority has been hit with higher costs and diminished freedom.
Obamacare is slated to cost more than $1.7 trillion over the next decade (for its insurance-coverage provisions alone) in large part because it funnels massive sums of money to the chosen few. Take a 64-year-old couple living in Miami and making $23,500 a year. As Jed Graham writes in an Investor’s Business Daily op-ed—which contrasts Obamacare with Scott Walker’s conservative alternative—that couple can get insurance through Obamacare that is worth about $24,000 while paying for only $936 of it themselves. The remaining $23,000 or so is financed at their fellow Americans’ expense. In other words, Obamacare essentially doubles the couple’s income (while funneling half of it to an insurance company).
As Graham details, the published price of such “silver” Obamacare insurance is about $15,000, with almost all of that covered by a taxpayer-funded premium subsidy. However, Obamacare also provides an additional taxpayer-funded subsidy that dramatically lowers the couple’s potential out-of-pocket costs, reducing their deductible from a potential $10,000 to $1,000. As Graham writes, this “effectively turns the silver plan to platinum, raising its implied price-tag to about $20,725.” If that weren’t enough, Obamacare also bans insurers from charging young people less than one-third what they charge older people (in defiance of actuarial science), which raises costs for the young and lowers them for the old. As Graham writes, “Removing age-rating restrictions would raise the cost of equivalent coverage for a 64-year-old couple by roughly 17%, to $24,175.” So the couple is getting $24,000 “platinum” insurance for $936.
Meanwhile a 40-year-old single woman, also living in Miami, who makes $35,000 a year, gets $0 under Obamacare. She’s too young and too middle class. If she were in her twenties or thirties and made $35,000, or more, she’d still get nothing. A man with the same income would also get nothing. If any of these people were to decide not to pay Obamacare’s inflated prices next year and simply forgo insurance, they’d get fined $875 for violating Obamacare’s unprecedented individual mandate. In short, Obamacare makes the near-poor richer and the middle class poorer.