Building A Peak

June 3, 2018

by Steve Stofka

First I will look at May’s employment report before expanding the scope to include some decades long trends that are great and potentially destructive at the same time. In the plains states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska, summer rain clouds are a welcome sign of needed moisture for crops. That’s the good. As those clouds get heavy and dark and temperatures peak, that’s bad. Destruction is near.

May’s employment survey was better than expected. The average of the BLS and ADP employment surveys was 203K job gains. The headline unemployment rate fell to an 18 year low. African-American unemployment is the lowest recorded since the BLS started including that metric in their surveys more than thirty years ago. As a percent of employment, new unemployment claims were near a 50-year low when Obama left office and are now setting records each month.

During Obama’s tenure, Mr. Trump routinely called the headline unemployment rate “fake.” It’s one of many rates, each with its own methodology. Now that Mr. Trump is President, he takes credit for the very statistic that he formerly called fake. The contradiction, so typical of a veteran politician, shows that Mr. Trump has innate political instincts. A President has little influence on the economy but the public likes to keep things simple, and pins the praise or blame on the President’s head.

The wider U-6 unemployment rate includes discouraged and other marginally attached workers who are not included in the headline unemployment rate. Included also are involuntary part-time workers who would like a full-time job but can’t find one. Mr. Trump can be proud that this rate is now better than at the height of the housing boom. Only the 2000 peak of the dot com boom had a better rate.

Let’s look at a key ratio whose current value is both terrific and portentous, like a summer’s rain clouds. First, some terms. The Civilian Labor Force includes those who are working and those who are actively seeking work. The adult Civilian Population are those that can legally work. This would include an 89-year old retiree and a 17-year old high school student. Both could work if they wanted and could find a job, so they are part of the Civilian Population, but are not counted in the Labor Force because they are not actively seeking a job. The Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate is the ratio of the Civilian Labor Force to the Civilian Population. Out of every 100 people in this country, almost 63 are in the Labor Force.

While that is often regarded as a key ratio, I’m looking at a ratio of two rates mentioned above: the Labor Force Participation Rate divided by the U-3, or headline, Unemployment Rate. That ratio is the 3rd highest since the Korean War more, ranking with the peak years of 1969 and 2000. That is terrific. Let’s look at the chart of this ratio to understand the portentous part.

CLFUIRatio
Whenever this ratio gets this high, the labor economy is very imbalanced. Let’s look at some previous peaks. After the 1969 peak, the stock market endured what is called a secular bear market for 13 years. The price finally crossed above its 1969 beginning peak in 1982. In inflation-adjusted prices, the bear market lasted till 1992 (SP500 prices). Imagine retiring at 65 in 1969 and the purchasing power of your stock funds never recovers for the rest of your life. Let’s think more pleasant thoughts!

For those in the accumulation phase of their lives, who are saving for retirement, a secular bear market of steadily lower  asset prices is a boon. Unfortunately, bear markets are accompanied by higher unemployment rates. The loss of a job may force some savers to cash in part of their retirement funds to support themselves and their families. Boy, I’m just full of cheery thoughts this week!

After the 2000 peak, stock market prices recovered in 2007, thanks to low interest rates, mortgage and securities fraud. Just as soon as the price rose to the 2000 peak, it fell precipitously during the 2008 Financial Crisis. Finally, in the first months of 2013, stock market prices broke out of the 13-year bear market.

We have seen two peaks, followed by two secular bear markets that lasted thirteen years. The economy is still in the process of building a third peak. Will history repeat itself? Let’s hope not.

May’s annual growth of wages was 2.7%, strengthening but still below the desirable rate of 3%. The work force, and the economy, is only as strong as the core work force aged 25-54. This age group raises families, starts companies, and buys homes. For most of 2017, annual employment growth of the core fell below 1%. It crossed above that level in November 2017 and continues to stay above that benchmark.

Overall, this was a strong report with job gains spread broadly across most sectors of the economy. Mr. Trump, go ahead and take your bow, but put your MAGA hat on first so you don’t mess up your hair.

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Executive Clemency

This week President Trump pardoned the filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, serving a five-year probation after a 2014 conviction for breaking election finance laws. He helped fund a friend’s 2012 Senate campaign by using “straw” contributions. D’Souza complains that he was targeted by then President Obama and General Attorney Holder for being critical of the administration. A judge found no evidence for the claim but if he didn’t see the conspiracy against D’Souza, then he was part of the conspiracy, no doubt. I reviewed the 2016 movie in which D’Souza unveiled the perfidious history of the Democratic Party and its high priestess, Hillary Clinton.

Electoral College

November 20, 2016

Did you know that the U.S. has the highest Presidential voting record in the world?  100%.  No other country comes close.  How do we achieve this extraordinary participation rate?  The Electoral College (EC).

What the heck is the Electoral College and why doesn’t any other democracy use this system?  Firstly, the U.S. is not strictly a Democracy, in which people vote directly for their leader.  It is a democratic (small ‘d’) republic.  Within this republic, the states are semi-autonomous regions in a Federal alliance.  It is the states, not the people, who elect the President.

Each Prez election is a survey conducted by the state asking its citizens: who do you want the state to vote for in the Presidential race?  The survey is voluntary.  Each state has its own rules for participation in the survey.  Federal election law specifies a set of common rules that each state has to follow in conducting their survey.

Each state gets a certain number of Electoral College votes based on population.  The survey in each state simply tells the state what the wishes of the people are for President. There is no requirement in the Constitution that a state must follow the survey results, but each state has, over time, passed state laws that promise to abide by the will of the people in that state.

In 2000 and again in 2016, the Democratic candidate won the popular vote of all the states but lost the state by state vote in the Electoral College.  Some people in dense urban areas who vote Democratic would like to abolish the Electoral College.  If there were no college, Presidential  candidates could concentrate their campaign resources and promises to win the vote in the urban areas and largely leave the less populous areas of the country alone.

In the current system, a candidate must mount a campaign that involves and employs people in each state, a difficult if not impossible task.  The appeal and focus of the campaign must be broader than just urban or rural areas.  Resources and time are limited so a candidate must make critical choices regarding the deployment of those limited tools.

A candidate must surround him or herself with smart people who can:

1) organize and  deploy human and media resources within each state,
2)  organize the outreach for financial support,
3)  search for and identify undercurrents of sentiment and concern in each state,
4)  compact a message that will resonate with those sentiments and concerns,
5)  sample and analyze the ongoing responses to a candidate’s message.

There is an algorithmic strategy used in many fields called “win-stay, lose-shift.” The problem is commonly called the multi-handled bandit.  In a casino with many one-armed bandits what is the best strategy to maximize profits and minimize losses?  Mathematically, the problem may be insoluble but a reliable quasi-solution exists that is better than chance.  Stay with a particular bandit as long as it wins, then shift when it loses and start again.

Donald is a casino owner so he may be familiar with the strategy and used it quite successfully to conduct an unusual campaign.  A campaign has a number of characteristics – a saying or slogan (“Si se puede” or “Build the wall”), a policy (foreign trade or national security), an issue (abortion or honesty), or an attitude (impassioned, combative, or calm and reassuring).  A candidate feeds people’s sentiments into each of these characteristics like one would feed coins into a slot machine.  Now pull the handle.  If that theme pays off the majority of the time, then stick with it.  If it doesn’t, then shift.

Now here’s the brilliant part that Donald played whether he was conscious of it or not.  Every political bandit that was a loser for Donald Trump was not only abandoned but moved over to Hillary’s casino.  In many cases, she couldn’t win at them either.

Honesty?  Donald had a problem.  Load up the honesty bandit and move it over to Hillary’s casino. Let her feed people’s sentiments into that bandit and see if it pays off.  The woman issue?  Another non-paying bandit for Donald.  Again, move it over to Hillary’s side and let her see if she can win with the machine.  In both cases, she pulled the handles over and over again with only modest success.

Each Presidential campaign seems to bring some new innovation.  Successes are often incorporated into later campaigns.  Obama’s campaign was noted for its ability to raise money online with many small donations.  The campaign carefully tested the appearance of different web pages, measuring even the appearance of one click button over another.  Obama outraised his opponents in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns.   In the 2016 race, Hillary Clinton and her superPACS outraised Donald Trump almost 2:1, yet he won. (Bloomberg)

We should all wish that a President has a successful term.  Unsuccessful terms are usually accompanied by economic and military events that are not good for ourselves, our families, and our communities.  Whether Donald Trump has a successful term or not, he has certainly made a long lasting impact on future campaigns for President.  Who can be out with the first book?  Already CNN is advertising a comprehensive look at the election. As we put a bit more distance in the hindsight mirror, expect a number of books on the election.  Masters’ theses and doctoral dissertations will explore the many aspects of the campaign.

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Election Autopsy 

After each Presidential election, those in the campaign business do an autopsy of both the losing and winning campaigns.  What worked?  What didn’t?  Dems need to ask themselves if they neglected the needs of everyday working Americans. In 2008, Obama promised that the needs, values and perspective of his grandparents, who raised him, would guide his decisions. Then he and his party started bailing out the banks, car companies and solar industry as many ordinary people struggled and suffered with job loss, home loss and bankruptcy. With majorities in both Houses, he fiddled with decades old Democratic dreams like healthcare and climate change while working class Americans felt discarded.

Some attribute the heavy Demcratic losses in 2010 to Obamacare but that was only a symbol for the larger betrayal that many Obama voters felt. Having control of both the Presidency and Congress is a mandate that a party can abuse.  It is given to that party to get something done fairly quickly.  When a political party uses it for pet projects, people turn away or vote the other way.  Many turned away in the 2010 election.  Six years later, Republicans control the majority of state legistatures, the governerships, the House and Senate.

As Majority House Leader, Nancy Pelosi certainly had a hand in the growing disaffection with the Party yet she insists that she should continue in her role as Minority Leader.  Her strength as a formidable fund-raiser may prove to be the winning card that trumps her past errors.

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Vaccines

A familiar meme on social media is that there is a vaccine conspiracy between pharmaceutical companies and the government who force parents to vaccinate their children and pad the pockets of Big Pharma.  The U.S. has a policy of giving infants and children more vaccines than any other developed country.  Do pharmaceutical companies make millions off vaccines? You be the judge.

The PVC13 vaccine given to older people costs the provider $16 per dose (CDC Price List). In March 2016, the discounted price from Kaiser was $313 for the vaccine alone. The labor to give the vaccine was a separate line item. That is a 2000% markup on the vaccine itself by Kaiser, not the manufacturer.

It is the providers who administer the vaccines who make the money.  Investors who own the stocks of a pharmaceutical company often pressure the company to get out of the vaccine business because most vaccines are low margin products and yet carry partial liability.

If the pharma companies don’t want to bother making many vaccines, should the government simply build their own vaccine manufacturing labs?  Patents and other intellectual property could be a hurdle but Congress could arrange to purchase them or use eminent domain to set a price and seize the intellectual property.

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Retail Sales

Average = Strong.  When growth is rather anemic, a return to average seems strong.  In October, retail sales rose 4.3% above October sales in 2015, a welcome bump up from the lackluster growth of the past two years.  Last month I showed that recent sales growth less population and inflation growth has been negative or close to 0.

The stock and bond markets have been shifting money around in anticipation of fiscal stimulus and more relaxed regulation from a Republican Party in control of the levers of government.  Small business stocks (VBR) are up more than 10% and financial companies (XLF, VFH) have shot up about 12%.  Consumer discretionary stocks (XLY, VCR) are up about 4% while the more defensive consumer staples stocks (XLP, VDC) are down 2%. Oil stocks (XLE, VDE) are up about 3%.

Will consumers put aside their cautions and spend more?  Active stock managers are certainly hoping so.

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Ideas for IRA contributions

Emerging market stocks are still up 8% YTD after falling more than 6% in November.  Much of that decline has come on the heels of Trump’s election win.

A broad bond index has fallen almost 4% in the past few months.

Hillary’s America

August 7, 2016

Those of us who did not fall asleep in sixth grade civics class remember that the Democratic Party was the party of slavery in this country for almost two hundred years.  (To save some typing, I’ll use DP and RP for the Democratic and Republican parties.) Dinesh D’Souza, the maker of the political documentary “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” beats us over the head with that party association for about half the length of the film.

The film’s release was deliberately timed for July, coinciding with the conventions of both political parties.  The timing and the strong audience interest surely have the industry’s attention. In almost two weeks, the film had grossed over $5  million, admittedly weak compared to the usual movie offerings from Hollywood.  For a documentary, however, those are strong numbers.  I went to an early afternoon showing on a weekday, expecting a theater of mostly vacant seats.  Instead, I had difficulty finding a seat among a sea of gray haired retirees, the age demographic that votes in consistently high percentages each election.  The person manning the ticket booth later confirmed that the movie was the most popular daytime choice among the twelve movies it was showing.

The movie begins with the conviction and two year imprisonment of D’Souza, who contributed too much money to the campaign of a friend who was running for local office.  An innocent man persecuted by our legal system, we are told.  A sentence that was hardly commensurate with a technical violation of election law.  D’Souza had my sympathies until he attributed his plight to a vendetta by President Obama who evidently orchestrated this judicial persection of D’Souza in retribution for earlier documentaries that D’Souza had created.  What was next, I wondered?  The Illuminati?

Taking notes during the film, I did some fact checking afterwards.  Did D’Souza go to prison for two years?  Not according to this NY Times article.   By law, the judge could have given D’Souza two years but declined to do so.  The details of the trial are here. The reader will see that this was not an innocent mistake of  mistakenly writing one too many checks to a political campaign. The audience is led to believe that several scenes and conversations that occurred inside the jail were during D’Souza’s two year sentence.  They might have happened while he was in detention, not a pleasant experience, for sure, but not two years in prison.

D’Souza makes the claim that Obama rules over an urban plantation of blacks, other minorities and immigrants, following a template laid down by rural southern plantation owners and urban DP politicians.  Obama’s political background is rooted in the state of Illinois where Democratic mayors and a gang of political cronies have ruled Chicago through a system of voter impressment, physically forcing immigrants and blacks to the ballot box. D’Souza neglects to mention that the most corrupt mayor of Chicago was “Big Bill” Thompson, a Republican whose two terms during the Prohibition era set the template of power and corruption that marked successive administrations in the city. But this is not a Republican Party hatchet job, is it? More inconvenient facts, darn it.

D’Souza makes the case that FDR’s reign during the Depression era 1930s marks the beginning of the Democratic theft of America.  Whether it was a theft is a matter of opinion.  As Lincoln did, FDR used the crisis to help rewrite the relationship of the Federal government to the states and its citizens.

During some forty minutes, the movie documents the many horrors of slavery by Democratic landholders. The moral rot at the heart of the DP is evidenced by the election of a savage, ruthless man to the highest position in the land.  Andrew Jackson was a Democratic President who treated his slaves worse than farm animals and forced Indian tribes on a long death march from their ancestral lands.  The party of slavery and Jim Crow laws now tries to market itself as the champion of blacks and minorities.

As with other documentaries of political propoganda – yes, Michael Moore, I’m talking about you – there are careful omissions of fact and context as well as just plain old sloppy research.  Facts are sacrificed to the cause the film promotes.  D’Souza tells us that Abraham Lincoln started the Republican Party, a falsehood that is easily checked by anyone with a cell phone.  Why tell such balderdash? D’Souza wants to stress that the RP, which began as a friend to the blacks, is still a friend of the blacks and other minorities.

D’Souza notes that it was Republicans who took land from the defeated Democrats after the Civil War and gave it to the blacks who had worked those lands.  On the face of it, this is true.  Now for the rest of the story, as broadcaster Paul Harvey would say. In the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, Republican politicians took over state legislatures and did award white owned farms to the newly freed blacks.  Many blacks, illiterate and unschooled in the management of a farm, lost the newly awarded lands to tax forfeiture.  Republican legislators and their friends were at the courthouse when the lands were auctioned and became the new owners of the land for a paltry sum.  That unlovely coincidence of human greed surpasses all political affiliation.

Emphasizing the point that it is the Democrats who are the party of racism, D’Souza recounts Democratic President Woodrow Wilson’s sordid sentiments toward blacks, his endorsement of the KKK and the hosting of a White House screening of the D.W. Griffith film “Birth of a Nation.”  D’Souza includes several clips from the movie to cement the association between the Democratic Wilson and slavery.

D’Souza dramatizes a scene where Wilson repulses the efforts of Ida Wells, a black journalist and activist, who attempted to get the President’s help to stop lynchings in the Democratic South.  Left out is the fact that Wells had been unable to get cooperation in this cause from a Republican President, William McKinley (Source).  In 1918 and subsequent Congresses, there were repeated Republican efforts to pass anti-lynching legislation but they were blocked by Democratic Senators (See notes at end).

The RP is a friend of women as well as blacks, D’Souza tells us.  After all, a Republican Congress passed the women’s suffrage amendment.  What we are not told is that Republicans specifically excluded women from the draft language of the 14th Amendment.  As this historian notes, “History is messy.”  Inconvenient facts are tossed aside to present a consistent narrative with a simple, clear message.  Donkeys bad.  Elephants good.

Although Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, D’Souza reminds us that it was the Republicans who overcame a Senate filibuster of the Act by southern Democrats.  One more reminder in an election season that the RP has been a friend to blacks.  Republican efforts to make voting by blacks a bit more difficult is conveniently left out of the narrative.

D’Souza dismantles the notion of a party switch, the idea that southern racist Democrats switched parties and are now Republican.  To refute this theory popular in Democratic circles , D’Souza shows a graphic of the 1500 KKK leaders and Democratic politicians in the southern states in the 1960s.  After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, less than 1% switched parties.  The graphic is a visually powerful argument but there is little explanatory information with this graphic. What years are compared? Why include the KKK members?  How were the party affiliations of these members checked?  A comparison of election maps before and after the passage of the Civil Rights Act makes it clear that there was a party switch.

In the 1960 Presidential election, most of the southern states, including Johnson’s home state of Texas, voted Democratic. This election map shows the southern blue voting block.  The Civil Rights Act passed in July 1964, a few months before that year’s Presidential election.  Texas stayed with Johnson but five Southern states went Republican, as this election map shows. (You can also toggle the election year above the map.)

In the 1968 election, four of those five southern states voted for George Wallace, the former Democratic governor of Alabama who had refused to integrate public schools in the state. Running as an Independent and a champion of segregation and states’ rights, Wallace won about 10% of the electoral votes, a feat achieved by no third party candidate since. (Map)

Clearly now the southern states were in the hands of Republicans and segregationists. Or were they?  In the 1976 election, many southern states voted for Jimmy Carter, a fellow southerner and the Democratic governor of Georgia. (Map)

The appeal of political propoganda documentaries is that they simplify history by carefully filtering out the confusion of contradictory events and data.  We would all like to disregard the complexity of human behavior, the conflicting loyalties that confirm the chaotic in human affairs.  We want tidy circles, not ragged inkblot shapes.  What keeps historians busy in a lifetime of academic research and study can be easily brushed aside by the makers of message films.  Darn it, we’re still arguing over the causes of WWI  and that was a century ago!

Champions of slavery, tolerant of racist Jim Crow laws and lynchings in the southern states,  the DP has also supported eugenics laws.  D’Souza implies that this is part of a continuing effort to eradicate the black race.  No longer able to use black people as free slave labor, the DP seeks to rid the country of them through sterilization and abortion.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of what is now called Planned Parenthood, was also a champion of eugenics (see here),  as were many progressives.  In today’s political alignment, progressives are part of the DP, but they used to be part of the Republican Party when the eugenics movement first gained popular strength.  Led by President Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive movement was responsible for workplace and social reforms, and the creation of the first national parks.  Eugenics was an “enlightened” and scientific idea at the time, but horrifies us now. Hitler’s devotion to the concept impelled his commitment to the methodical destruction of the Jewish race, and the wholesale slaughter of Slavs and Communists who surrounded and threatened the noble German race.

Linking Sanger with another group devoted to the suppression and eventual eradicaton of the black race, D’Souza shows a picture of Sanger at a KKK rally as proof of her association with the racist group. The researchers at the debunking site Snopes showed that this was a doctored photo .  Sanger did speak before a NJ women’s chapter of the KKK as part of her effort to speak about birth control to as many groups as possible.  In her autobiography, Sanger wrote about the meeting and the strangeness of the experience so D’Souza uncovers no dark and hidden secrets.

Sanger wrote that she wanted Negro parents to have the ability to make the same family planning decisions that white parents did.  She envisioned a day when Negro parents had the same access to hospital services for their births that white parents did.  She wrote ” Some day … there will not be a single section of the country without adequate hospital facilities for all. But until that day is here, Negro mothers should be given all possible protection against needless sacrifice through childbearing.”  Doesn’t sound like someone who wants to eradicate the Negro race, does it?

D’Souza’s message is that abortion and sterilization are the twin weapons of the eugenics movement.  Although sterilization was discontinued after the 1970s, abortion remains a tool of the eugenics movement primarily aimed at black women and the gradual reduction of the black race in America.

As evidence of this, D’Souza notes that the majority of Planned Parenthood (PP) clinics are in black-majority neighborhoods.  Protecting Black Life, a pro-life advocacy group, has an interactive tool using 2010 census figures that verifies the correlation of clinics in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.  With a tendency to have lower incomes, these minority population may simply use PP’s services more frequently, prompting PP to position their clinics in these areas.  Secondly, lease rates are lower in these neighborhoods and are attractive to an organization with constant funding needs.  However, those are boring pedestrian explanations for the correlation of locations.  D’Souza’s more dramatic explanation is that the location of PP clinics is part of a DP master plan of genocide.  Republican presidential candidates Herman Cain (2012) and Ben Carson (2016) have made accusations similar to D’Souza’s (WP article)  Maybe D’Souza will write the next Jason Bourne film?

A conservative propoganda piece must include Saul Alinsky, the anti-Christ of liberal politics who wrote “Rules For Radicals.”  The 1971 book consisted of tactics that a community organizer might use to knit low income communities into a more powerful voice at the political bargaining table. Confrontation and conflict are themes common to many of the tactics.

Political propoganda consists of a series of “dog whistles” familiar to the target congregation.  Conservatives are quick to tar any Democratic politician with the epithet “Alinskyite” as in “Alinskyite ideas.”  The congregation barks with approval.

Obama was only ten years old when Alinsky died in 1972 but Obama was a community organizer who has quoted Alinsky.  The quotes are not direct but close enough that any true conservative can see that Obama is a commie radical like Alinsky.  In Chapter 2 of Rules for Radicals, Alinsky wrote about the world as it is and the world as it should be. When Obama uses the words “world”, “is” and “should” in the same sentence, he is quoting Alinsky and professing to be a Communist.  I totally get that.  Here is one example of this kind of dogmatic analysis.

In a 1963 speech, President Kennedy – yes, a Democrat – differentiated those who saw the world as it was and asked why, and those who dreamed of what the world could be and asked why not.  His brother, Robert Kennedy, used the phrase as well in several speeches.  In that same speech, JFK  attributed the original quote to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.  Using the logic of this conservative accusation, we can assume that anyone who has dreams about a better world is a disciple of Alinsky and yes, a radical Commie Utopian.

The movie’s title begins with Hillary’s America, so when is D’Souza going to show us Hillary’s secrets?  Why, just about now. Hillary Clinton actually wrote a student thesis on Alinsky.  As president of the student club, Hillary invited Alinsky to speak at Wellesley College. The audience does not have to be good at math to realize that Hillary Clinton = Communist.

As the student commencement speaker at her graduation from Wellesley in 1969, Hillary went off script to chide the guest speaker, Republican Senator Edward Brooks, an African American, about his remarks (Transcript of Hillary’s speech). D’Souza dramatizes it for his audience. White girl at Wellesley rebukes black senator, showing no respect for either his position or his race.  Senator sits quietly in chair on dais as Hillary says these disrespectful words.  Bad Hillary.

Here is a piece of Hillary’s remarks: “we feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.”  Any conservative can see what she is saying.  We feed her words into the conservative de-confabulator and out pops the translation. She is talking about the world as it is and as it should or could be.  Alinskyite Communist thinking of a better world, for sure.

D’Souza left out the Senator’s remarks that prompted Hillary’s response. Senator Brooke adopted what was a mild authoritarian posture typical of the time.  Student protests against the Vietnam war, discrimination and entrenched power structures occurred almost weekly, it seemed.  He said: “Dissent and protest are essential ingredients in the democratic concoction. Without them an open society becomes a contradiction in terms, and representative government becomes as stagnant as despotism. Yet there is a narrow but distinct line between productive dissent and counter-productive disruption.” (Transcript of Brooke’s speech)

Brooke cautioned against protest for the sake of protest, sentiments that sound reasonable to most American ears today.  Other elements of the speech would be typical of today’s moderate Democrat or Republican, animals who may have been driven to extinction in the current era of polarized opinions.  Only a Republican very secure in his seat would dare to give such a speech today.  Brooke endorsed the growth of the many Federal government cabinets recently created to combat housing and job discrimination, poor education and poverty.  Yes, a Republican endorsing bigger government. He was practically a Socialist in the eyes of some conservatives today! What did bad Hillary find wrong with those sentiments?

Hillary’s response is rather tame for the period when there was open antagonism between the rulers and the ruled. D’Souza uses a snippet of a sentence taken out of context to portray Hillary as an uncivil person with little respect for authority.  That’s the message of this segment of the film.  Hillary bad.

These days ain’t those days.  There, I said that and you can quote me.

Rulers had rigid rules that gave most of society’s power to men, not women.  Hillary spoke for many who wanted a change.

The rulers said war was necessary and that the ruled were supposed to go fight the war to stop Communism.  The ruled were ordered to fight but were not allowed to vote. The ruled broke things in protest.

At the universities, rulers had clearly defined and time honored curricula choices that reflected the prejudices and preferences of past generations.  The ruled wanted a greater voice in curricula selection.

The rulers had a grading system that seemed arbitrary to the ruled.  What is the difference between a B+ and a B paper?  With few consistent rules to guide the grading process, wouldn’t a pass-fail grading system make more sense?  No, the rulers said.  Rulers make the rules and students follow them.  Is that clear?

Those were the good old days.  College students today are surprised when they hear of these old rules, most of which have been either abandoned or dramatically altered.  The ruled stormed the forts of power and the rulers compromised so that they could continue ruling in whatever capacity they could manage.  Some of the ruled became the rulers.

I do encourage the reader to read the speeches of both Hillary and Brooke.  Hillary’s speech is the shorter, for sure, but both speakers are rather moderate and deliberate, remarkable in an age of sometimes murderous (Kent State) and often bloody (Columbia U. and others in NYC, for example) protests.

Having established that Hillary is a socialist, anarchist Communist, D’Souza then shows the tragedy of her personal life.  For several decades she has been covering up for the sex addiction of her husband and former President Bill Clinton.  Democratic Party = slavery = sexual deviants = Communism = Godlessness = bad.

I was busy writing out D’Souza’s equations when I realized that I was going to miss an appointment.  I had to miss the final 15 minutes of the film but I suspect that D’Souza was going to finish with the tragedy at Benghazi and Hillary’s personal email server while she was Secretary of State. If you want to know how the film turned out, you can rent it on Vudu or spend a couple of hours at your local theater.  I have now seen a Michael Moore film and a Dinesh D’Souza film.  As Johnny Cash sang, I walk the line between either extreme.  I hope I can keep my balance.

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Notes:

“We urge Congress to consider the most effective means to end Iynching in this country which continues to be a terrible blot on our American civilization.”  Republican presidential platform, 1920. In the House, Republicans held a 50 seat majority, 240 seats to 192 Democratic seats.  In the Senate, Republicans had won a 49 to 47 majority in the 1918 elections.  Repeated Republican efforts were blocked by Democratic Senators (more here)

The claim that Lincoln founded the Republican party is incorrect.  Here and here.

In Buck v. Bell (1927), the Supreme Court ruled that state sterilization laws were legal.  As further evidence of the DP’s efforts to eradicate the black race, D’Souza notes that it was Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Progressive, who wrote the court’s majority opinion.  D’Souza omits the fact that a Republican President, Theodore Roosevelt, appointed Holmes to the court and a Republican majority Senate approved the appointment.

Midpoints

July 3, 2016

A week after crash-go-boom in the stock market following Brexit, the British vote to leave the European Union, the market recovered most of the 5 – 6% lost in the two days following the vote.  The reaction was a bit too intense, inappropriate to an exogenous shock, the vote, whose consequences would take several years to develop. In last week’s blog I had suggested that the market drop was a good time to put some IRA money to work for 2016.  This was not some kind of magic insight.  Each year’s IRA contribution amount is a small percentage of our accumulated  retirement portfolio.

Buying on market dips can be an alternative strategy to regular dollar cost averaging since the market recovers within a few months after most dips, although the recovery is at a slower pace than the fall.  Fear can cause stampedes out of equities; confidence grows slowly.  As an example of an abrupt price decline, the SP500 index fell almost 7% in five days last August, then took more than two months to regain the price level before the fall.  The 12% price drop at the beginning of this year was more gradual, occurring over six weeks.  The recovery to regain that lost ground also took two months, from mid-February to mid-April. In the latter quarter of 2012, the market also took two months to erase a 7% price decline from mid-October to mid-November.

The price level of the SP500 is near the high mark set in May 2015, more than a year earlier.  Only in the past year has the inflation-adjusted price of the SP500 surpassed its summer 2000 level (Chart and table).  Nope, I’m not making that up. The stock market has just barely kept up with inflation for the past 15 years. The inability of the stock market to move higher indicates that buyers are not attracted to the market at current price levels.  The absurdly low interest yields on bonds makes this caution especially puzzling.  As stock prices recovered this past week, prices on long term Treasury bonds should have fallen as traders moved into more risky assets.  Instead, bond prices have risen.  As the price of long term Treasuries (ETF: TLT) broke through its January 2015 high  on Friday, the last day of June, traders began betting against treasuries (ETF: TBF).

Those who are concerned about the return OF their money, the safety searchers buying bonds, are competing against those seeking a return ON their money.  VIG is a Vanguard ETF that focuses on company stocks with dividend appreciation, and is favored by those seeking some safety while investing in stocks. TLT is an ETF of Treasury bonds for those seeking safety and, as expected, pays more in dividends than VIG.  Rarely do we see a broad stock ETF like VIG have a yield, or interest rate, that is close to what a long term Treasury bond ETF like TLT has.  At the end of this week, VIG had a dividend yield of 2.15%, just slightly below TLT.  Why are investors/traders bidding up the price of Treasury bonds?  Some 10 year government bonds in the Eurozone have recently crossed a dividing line and now have negative interest rates.  The low, but positive, interest rates of U.S. Treasury bonds look like big open flowers to the busy bees of institutional investors around the world.

In a large group of investors, buy and sell decisions tend to counterbalance each other.  Occasionally there are periods when such decisions reinforce each other and create a precarious imbalance that all too often rights itself in an abrupt fashion.  Bubbles and – what’s the opposite of a bubble? – are iconic examples of this kind of self-reinforcing behavior.

In another week we will mark the middle of the summer season.  The All-Star game on July 12th occurs near the halfway mark in the baseball season and advises parents in many states that there are still five to six weeks before the kids head back to school.  Our mid-40s is about the midpoint of our working years, a reminder that we need to start saving for retirement if we have not done so already.  It has been seven years since the market trough in March 2009.  Let’s hope that this is the midpoint of a 14 year bull market but I don’t think so.

Next week will be chock full of data before the start of earnings season for the second quarter. We will get the June employment report as well as the Purchasing Managers Index.  In this time of short, sharp reactions to news events, we can expect continued volatility.

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Earnings


Pew Research just released a comparison of earnings by racial group and sex that is based on Census Bureau surveys, the same data that the BLS compiles into their monthly employment reports.  My initial criticism of the Pew Research comparison was that they used the earnings of full and part time workers.  Women tend to work more part time jobs so that would skew the earnings comparison, I thought. Thinking that a comparison of full time workers only would show different results, I pulled up the BLS report which groups the data by sex, only to find out that the differences between the earnings of men and women was about the same.  At the median, women earn 82% of men.



An even more depressing feature of the BLS report is that median weekly earnings have barely kept ahead of inflation during the past decade.  This wage stagnation provides a base of support for the criticisms voiced by former Presidential contender Bernie Sanders in a recent NY Times editorial.
Like a truck stuck in the mud, households are spinning their wheels without making much progress.  In the coming months, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will try to sell themselves as the tow truck that can pull average American families out of the mud. Well, it would be nice if they would conduct their campaigns in such a positive light.  The truth is that each candidate will try to convince voters that voting for the other candidate will get American families stuck deeper in the mud.  The conventions of both parties are later this month.  Expect the mud to start flying soon after they are over.  By election day in November, we will all be buried in mud.