Saturday, September 30, 2023

Enlightenment Now By Steven Pinker

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.

Far from being a na├»ve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature — tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking–which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.

With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.

Buy the book at Thriftbooks

(Note: I do not get any residuals or commissions on the sale of books.)

Friday, September 29, 2023

Border in Crisis (It's an Invasion)

Eagle Pass is the latest Texas town to be overwhelmed by our border crisis. It has 28,000 residents, two hospitals, and a police force of 100 people. Thousands of migrants are arriving in the town every day. Mayor Rolando Salinas issued a disaster declaration. Over just three days of this crisis, three migrants died near the crossing, including a three-year-old. Migrants are overwhelming the border because the Biden administration dismantled the web of executive orders and the remain-in-Mexico policy that successfully stopped the crisis under the last administration. The new amnesty for Venezuelans will not improve matters. This humanitarian disaster is a choice Biden made. (National Review, Sept 28, 2023)

Eagle Pass, Texas

The continuing incursion of illegal border crossers into the United States is the most astonishing story in American politics. There have been days recently in which 10,000 people crossed illegally into the country -- and remember, in a long-ago era, when Barack Obama was president, a tenth of that was considered a crisis.

The current emergency can be attributed entirely to President Joe Biden. In word and deed, from the 2020 campaign on, Biden sent a message to would-be illegal border crossers around the world: If you come to the United States, you will be allowed to stay. And millions have.

Lately, though, Biden's welcome-to-illegal-crossers policy has become a burden on some important Democrats. New York City Mayor Eric Adams is screaming about the arrival of an estimated 110,000 new asylum seekers in his city. The cost of caring for the new residents will "destroy New York City," Adams said. And even though Adams tried to blame Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for sending illegal border crossers to New York, the fact is that Abbott has sent just 13,000. In any event, the presence of all 110,000 in New York is the result of Biden policies.

Biden Officials: What Crisis?

“Orderly” and “humane.” That’s how White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre describes the Biden administration’s handling of illegal immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Others within the Biden administration have denied there’s a crisis at all, insisted the border is secure, and said everything is under “operational control.”

For many in the mainstream media, along with Democrats on Capitol Hill and others on Team Biden, all this is said to be true without any scrutiny or grounding in reality. Yet, the Biden border narrative collapses entirely with just one look at what’s actually happening at the border.

Recently, Townhall’s Julio Rosas traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to report on the reality of what’s going on and, unsurprisingly, it’s not at all what the Biden administration — including Border Czar Kamala “Do Not Come” Harris — is trying to get the American people to believe.

On the ground in Eagle Pass, Texas, Julio saw first-hand and reported on the thousands of illegal immigrants surging into the United States within a matter of hours, surpassing the capacity of processing facilities that have already been expanded in attempts to handle the ongoing surge of illegal immigrants since Biden’s border policies kicked in.

Related Articles:

The BorderLine: Boggled by Biden’s Border Crisis? Relax, AOC Is in Charge

Biden Has ‘Completely Abandoned’ Border Patrol, Texas Lawmaker Says After Crossings Reach Record High

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Where Does Your State Rank in Defense Spending?

Top 10 States Receiving Department of Defense spending

  1. Virginia ($62.7 billion)
  2. Texas ($58 billion)
  3. California ($56.2 billion)
  4. Florida ($30.2 billion)
  5. New York ($28.1 billion)
  6. Maryland ($26.4 billion)
  7. Connecticut ($22.3 billion)
  8. Pennsylvania ($17.9 billion)
  9. Massachusetts ($15.2 billion)
  10. Arizona ($15 billion)

See all the states here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Government Shutdown Looms

History Channel: How Many Times Has the Federal Government Shut Down?

In the United States, a government shutdown happens when there is a gap in federal funding and the government furloughs federal workers without pay. Although there are exceptions for certain “essential” employees (including the president and members of Congress, all of whom continue to receive pay) a shutdown means that a large portion of the federal government stops functioning.

Kelly Evans: The $2 trillion deficit: how did we get here?

It’s a little unnerving that we’re seeing record budget deficits, soaring government debt, and steadily rising interest rates--all at the same time.

How much of this can be undone? And how did we get here? The short answer is, government spending remains notably higher than it was pre-Covid, while revenues are more or less the same. And the fact that both deficits and debt are higher than in the past while our borrowing costs have soared means that paying interest is also taking up an increasing share of that revenue pie.

Here’s what we know: the budget deficit has doubled over the past year, to $2 trillion. It would have actually been $2.3 trillion if the Supreme Court hadn’t scuttled President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. That’s not only double what we ran last year ($1 trillion in fiscal 2022), it’s also double what we ran pre-pandemic, in 2019.

A government shutdown isn't inevitable – it's a choice. And a dumb one.

With recent setbacks in negotiations and the deadline quickly approaching, emerging consensus among lawmakers, staff, the Capitol Hill news media and longtime Washington operatives is that the federal government is almost certainly heading for another government shutdown come Oct. 1, the beginning of the government’s fiscal year.
A government shutdown isn’t inevitable – it is a choice. And it is among the dumbest decisions Washington can make.

Since 1995, there have been five government shutdowns, instigated by both Republicans and Democrats on the theory that withholding support for keeping the government open and functioning could somehow provide leverage to force the other party to agree to certain demands.

More (Illegal) Immigration Nightmares

Previously, here and here

Even 'Fact-Checkers' Can’t Cover Biden Losing 85,000 Kids & Flying In Migrants

Under Joe Biden’s centralized federal bureaucracy, the migrant flood along the borders of southern US states has become such a pressing problem that many conservatives are starting to acknowledge the wisdom of federalism and of states to handle things unfettered by the feds. And many are acknowledging that, no matter how many old-guard news agencies and how many US bureaus try to hide the truth, this federal immigration bureaucracy is both losing track of vulnerable migrant kids who have been separated from their parents, and also literally flying migrants into and around the US – while trying to keep it quiet.

Kamala Harris Fails to End Border Crisis, So Biden Taps Her to Also End Gun Violence

Despite her failure to secure the nation’s border, Pres. Joe Biden’s Border Czar – Vice Pres. Kamala Harris – has been given a new responsibility: stopping gun violence.

On Immigration, Who Are You Rooting For?

In his book We Wanted Workers, Harvard economist George Borjas says the main question in immigration policy is “Who are you rooting for?” (It should be “whom,” of course, but I think we’ve lost that fight.) Every government policy results in winners and losers, those who benefit from it and those who be hurt. Our preferences will be based, at least in part, on who the winners and losers are likely to be.

One of those choices is whether we should favor a tighter or a looser labor market. In a looser labor market, workers have to hustle to find jobs; by contrast, in a tighter labor market, it’s employers who have to hustle to recruit and retain workers. Different people benefit depending on which approach policy takes, but any and all decisions will tip the balance one way or the other.

Governors ask Biden for 'honest, accurate' information on illegal immigration

Twenty-four Republican governors said illegal immigration burdens every state and asked President Joe Biden for "honest" and "accurate" information about the situation.

A letter sent Tuesday blamed Biden's policies for a surge in illegal crossings at the southern border.

"States are on the front lines, working around-the-clock responding to the effects of this crisis: shelters are full, food pantries empty, law enforcement strained, and aid workers exhausted," the letter said. "As governors, we call on you to provide honest, accurate, detailed information on where the migrants admitted at the southern border are being relocated in the United States, in addition to comprehensive data on asylum claim timelines and qualification rates, and successful deportations. We ask for this information immediately, but also regularly as the crisis at the southern border continues."

Trudeau Cracks Down on Illegal Immigration

After reminding the world that Canada is “a country of laws,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the nation will no longer be ignoring refugees who enter the country illegally. Faced with a rash of border crossings from the U.S. and growing criticism of his quixotic approach to border control, Trudeau’s decision marks a major turning-point from his campaign.

Evidently, Trudeau is recognizing what any head of state who campaigns for radically loose immigration policies must at some point: Opening borders poses serious problems, both practical and political. Angela Merkel is facing pressure to accept an upper limit of refugees in Germany, and many see Britain’s exit from the European Union as a rebellion against the EU’s more liberal refugee policy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

What Is the Real Value of $100 in Metropolitan Areas?

If you’ve traveled to New York or San Francisco recently, you’ve likely noticed the price of your Starbucks order change from terminal to terminal. The difference is due to price level variation throughout the United States.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) recently released data detailing the disparities in spending power across metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas of each state for calendar year 2021. Using the data, we can compare how much $100 buys across the country.

The differences can be large and they have significant implications for the relative impact of economic and tax policies across the United States. $100 tends to buy the least in large cities in the Northeast, California, and the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand, $100 goes the furthest in rural areas in the Southeast and Midwest. Prices can vary significantly within states too—$100 in California tends to buy $89.45 worth of goods on average, but in the Los Angeles area, $100 can purchase about $87.86 worth of goods and services, while rural Californians can purchase $99.15 worth.

View Full Story at Tax Foundation

Note: It seems to me the most expensive areas to live have been run by Democrats. The correlation merits further study. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Again, Mortgage Rates Rise

More than reversing a notable two-day drop, rates on 30-year mortgages roared back Thursday, surging almost a quarter percentage point higher to set a new historic record. Rates for every single mortgage type were up Thursday, with most averages rising by double-digit basis points.

Mortgage Rates Rise Across the Board, Setting New Record for 30-Year Average

Kelly Evans: Who is really raising rates in Washington?

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Here’s How Biden Admin Destroyed Our Immigration Law

By Victor Davis Hanson

Since early 2021 we have witnessed somewhere between 7 million and 8 million illegal entries across the now-nonexistent southern border of the U.S.

The more the border vanished, the more federal immigration law was rendered inert, and the more Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spun fantasies that the “border is secure.” He is now written off as a veritable “Baghdad Bob” propagandist.

But how and why did the Biden administration destroy immigration law as we knew it?

The Trump administration’s initial efforts to close the border had been continually obstructed in the Congress, sabotaged by the administrative state, and stymied in the courts. Nonetheless, it finally had secured the border by early 2020.

Yet almost all the Trump administration’s successful initiatives were immediately overturned in 2021.

Construction of the wall was abruptly stopped, its projected trajectory canceled. The disastrous Obama-era “catch and release” policy of immigration nonenforcement was resurrected.

Prior successful pressure on Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to stop the deliberate export of his own citizens northward ceased.

Federal Border Patrol officers were forced to stand down.

New federal subsidies were granted to entice and then support illegal arrivals.

No one in the Democratic Party objected to the destruction of the border or the subversion of immigration law.

However, things changed somewhat once swamped southern border states began to bus or fly a few thousand of their illegal immigrants northward to sanctuary city jurisdictions—especially to New York and Chicago, and even Martha’s Vineyard.

The sanctuary-city “humanists” there who had greenlighted illegal immigration into the southern states suddenly shrieked. They were irate after experiencing the concrete consequences of their own prior abstract border agendas. After all, their nihilism was always supposed to fall upon distant and ridiculed others.

New York Mayor Eric Adams went from celebrating a few dozen illegal immigrants bused into Manhattan to blasting his own party for allowing tens of thousands to swamp his now bankrupt city.

But why did the Biden administration deliberately unleash the largest influx across the southern border in U.S. history?

The ethnic chauvinists and Democratic Party elites needed new constituents, given their increasingly unpopular agendas.

They feared that the more legal Latino immigrants assimilated and integrated into American society, the less happy they became with left-wing radical abortion, racial, transgender, crime, and green fixations.

Democratic grandees always had bragged that illegal immigration would create what they called “The New Democratic Majority” in “Demography Is Destiny” fashion. Now they slander critics as “racists” who object to left-wing efforts to use illegal immigration to turn southwestern red states blue.

Mexico now cannot survive as a modern state without some $60 billion in annual remittances sent by its expatriates in America. But many illegal immigrants rely on American state and federal entitlements to free up cash to send home.

Mexico also encourages its own abject poor and often indigenous people from southern Mexico to head north as a safety valve of sorts. The Mexican government sees these mass exoduses northward as preferable to the oppressed marching on Mexico City to address grievances of poverty and racism.

The criminal cartels now de facto run Mexico. An open border allows them to ship fentanyl northward, earn billions in profits—and kill nearly 100,000 Americans a year. Illegal immigrants pay cartels additional billions to facilitate their border crossings.

Don’t forget American corporate employers. Record labor nonparticipation followed the COVID-19 lockdown. In reaction to the dearth of American workers, the hospitality, meat packing, social service, health care, and farming industries were desperate to hire new—and far cheaper—labor.

Human rights activists insist that the borders themselves are 19th-century relics. And the global poor and oppressed thus have a human right to enter the affluent West by any means necessary.

Many in the tony suburbs and in universities do not live anywhere near the southern border. So they pontificate on the assurance that thousands of unaudited illegal immigrants will never enter their own enclaves or campuses.

The result is elite bottled piety—but not firsthand experience with the natural consequences of millions chaotically fleeing one of the poorest countries in the world to pour into the wealthiest. Without background checks, vaccinations and health audits, legality, high school diplomas, English facility, skill sets, or capital, the result is an abject catastrophe.

Polls continue to show that the American people support measured, diverse, legal, and meritocratic immigration as much as they oppose mass illegal immigration into their country and the subsequent loss of American sovereignty on the border.

They understand what the Biden administration does not: No nation in history has survived once its borders were destroyed, once its citizenship was rendered no different from mere residence, and once its neighbors with impunity undermined its sovereignty.

Ending illegal immigration now depends solely on the American people overriding the corrupt special interests and leaders who profit from the current chaos and human misery.

Friday, September 22, 2023

The (Illegal) Immigration Problem

American Has Fallen, And Can't Get Up

...There’s no denying the crisis. In some areas, the border between Texas and Mexico looks like a refugee camp in sub-Saharan Africa. There are thousands of African and Latin American migrants coming through daily. More than two million came last year, over 5,000 per day, and nearly as many will come this year.

...That hardly means we’re helpless to stop the flow. This year, for the first time, US Border Control is encountering more migrants from outside Latin America than from within it. That means people are flying from Africa to Latin America and entering through Mexico.

Is this part of a plan by Democratic leaders to expand the voting rolls? Some Republicans say so. And in California, some progressive politicians want to give undocumented immigrants the right to vote. They already provide official California state driver’s licenses and IDs.

But if that was the plan, it’s turning the nation against them

The migrants are overwhelming not just the state of Texas but also New York, whose Democratic leaders, both Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul, say bluntly that the city is filled up.

“The national government has turned its back on New York City,” said Adams in April. “This is impacting our schools, public safety, our ability to take care of those who were already in shelters. This is impacting the entire city.” Hochul is now proposing eliminating New York’s “right to shelter” law.

Maybe the progressive Democrats who run Chicago, Illinois, have more room — or compassion?

Not quite. “Let me state this clearly,” said Chicago’s progressive new Mayor. “The city of Chicago cannot go on welcoming new arrivals safely and capably without significant support and immigration policy changes.”

What, then, is to be done?

The Biden administration doesn’t even bother offering an answer. Democrats can only say what must not be done. We must not build a wall. We must not deport. Anyone. We must instead find jobs for the millions of mostly unskilled and uneducated immigrants to the US who, critics say, will drive down working-class wages and tax.

Biden's Bogus "Visa" Program

The Biden administration has made up its own bogus visa program to let hundreds of thousands of aliens illegally cross into the U.S. and remain indefinitely—as long as they have sponsors here willing to “support” them. Shockingly, those sponsors can include other illegal aliens.

In January, Texas and 19 other states sued the Department of Homeland Security complaining that:
DHS … under the false pretense of preventing aliens from unlawfully crossing the border between the ports of entry, has effectively created a new visa program—without the formalities of legislation from Congress—by announcing that it will permit up to 360,000 aliens annually from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela (CHNV) to be “paroled” into the United States for two years or longer and with eligibility for employment authorization.
“Parole” in immigration law gives the secretary of Homeland Security the authority to let foreigners enter the U.S. on a very temporary basis when they don’t have time to get a visa through the proper channels. Congress intended for parole to be very limited, such as when a foreign national’s testimony was crucial in an important trial.

The 20 states claim that the Biden administration’s mass parole of inadmissible aliens into the U.S. “fails each of the law’s three limiting factors” in that it is (1) not case-by-case, (2) not for urgent humanitarian reasons, and (3) advances no significant public benefit. The states specify their “substantial, irreparable harms” include millions of dollars in uncompensated education, health care, and social service costs.

Full Story

Biden Open Border Policies Have Created Immigration Crisis

President Donald Trump was committed to enforcing US immigration laws and policies. His policies were intended to slow illegal immigration and were thus opposed and criticized by many on the left.

Yet while Trump’s policies were controversial and widely criticized, they largely worked to the extent that immigration did not continue to expand rapidly under his administration. His efforts were dramatically affected by the outbreak of COVID which forced immigration changes in many countries, including the US.

President Biden, on the other hand, is committed to increasing immigration, and from day one in the White House, he worked very hard to reverse Trump’s policies. One of his first actions was to declare our southern border open to immigrants which essentially invited foreigners to enter this country and automatically receive benefits and rights normally available only to US citizens.

Since Mr. Biden became president, we have seen a flood of illegal immigrants enter this country. Specific numbers are not available, which could be as high as eight million illegals which have entered this country since he took office in 2021. Many believe the numbers could be substantially higher.

The question is, what have the effects been due to Mr. Biden’s open border policies? It depends on who you ask, of course, but today we’ll take a look and see if we can draw some conclusions. I trust most of my readers will conclude, as I have, that President Biden’s immigration policies have not been good.

It’s no secret that President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have presided over a national security and humanitarian crisis at our nation’s southern border. In the week leading up to the expiration of Title 42, Border Patrol saw more than 11,000 migrants crossing the border illegally each day – the highest single daily totals ever recorded.

Full Story


‘Absolutely unsustainable’: Hochul calls on Biden to fix NYC migrant shelter crisis

Karine Jean-Pierre refuses to answer question from Peter Doocy on illegal immigration

Illegal border crossings are on the rise: 7,500 migrants were stopped on Sunday alone

NYC shelters set to dump thousands of migrants to discourage new arrivals

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Biden Created 13.5 Million Jobs? Not So Fast!

from Gary D. Halbert's "Between the Lines"

President Joe Biden officially kicked off his 2024 re-election campaign in August, and he has been crisscrossing the country with campaign stops since then. His main re-election pitch is that the US economy is surging as a result of his economic policies.

On that subject, the president repeatedly touts that the US economy has added almost 13.5 million new jobs since he took office in January 2021. If true, that would be more jobs than created by any previous president over four years.

The question is: Is it true? The answer is a little complicated but I’ll sort it out for you below. The fact is, nearly 13.5 million jobs have been gained since Mr. Biden took office. But what is critical to realize is that the vast majority of those new jobs were simply businesses which shut down during Covid and are now reopening – and calling back their laid-off workers.

The issue when it comes to President Biden claiming he has created a record 13.5 million jobs since he took office is whether he should get credit for those workers being called back to their old jobs because their former employers are simply reopening. I say NO!

Let’s look at the actual jobs numbers from the House Budget Committee and the Labor Department. Of the 13.5 million jobs gained since Mr. Biden took office, nearly 72% of those were simply jobs that were being recovered from the pandemic, not new job creation.

In fact, when looking at today’s economy compared to pre-pandemic levels, employment is up only by 3.7 million under Biden. By comparison, prior to the pandemic, job creation under President Trump was 6.7 million -- 3 million more jobs than the current President.

So, the next time you hear President Biden claim that 13.5 million new jobs have been created on his watch, just know that he is lying. Almost 10 million of those jobs came from businesses that closed during the pandemic and have been merely reopening and rehiring workers which were laid of in 2021 and 2022.

The fact is, millions of American families are in serious financial trouble. A recent Morning Consult survey found that in the third quarter of this year only 46% of Americans could cover a $400 unexpected expense without going into debt.

It shows how expenses as commonplace as a surprise car repair or a medical bill are forcing many American families into debt – at a time when interest rates are disturbingly high.

The Lending Club’s “Paycheck-to-Paycheck Report” for June confirms the Morning Consult survey noted above. It found that a majority of Americans (54%) were living paycheck to paycheck. That includes 53% of consumers who earn $50,000 to $100,000 per year. So, this problem extends well beyond lower-income families, although it certainly hits you harder the less money you have.

But what about personal savings? Americans received a lot of cash from the government during the pandemic. In fact, when Biden took office, Americans had $2.3 trillion in personal savings. That number shot up to $5.7 trillion following Biden’s March 2021 legislation ironically named the "American Rescue Plan."

But by June of this year, a mere 27 months later, personal savings had dropped by nearly $5 trillion to a much diminished $862 billion.

Again, it isn’t just lower-income Americans who have watched their savings diminish. According to a Bloomberg analysis, the average middle-class household has lost over $33,000 in real wealth in just the past year. That’s huge!

The situation is so bad that many Americans are even draining their 401(k) plans to cover expenses. According to Bank of America’s analysis of its clients’ employee benefits programs (with a total of over 4 million plan participants), 36% more people drained their retirement accounts to make ends meet in the second quarter of 2023 as compared to the same period last year.

So, where did all that money go? Well, you may have noticed that Bidenomics-induced inflation has driven the cost of living up – a lot. Let’s look at it in dollar terms, which is how most Americans experience inflation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the Consumer Price Index (CPI) each month, a common measure of inflation. CPI takes a basket of commonly purchased goods and services and prices them on a monthly basis. In January 2021, when Biden took office, that basket cost about $261.50. In July of this year, the same basket cost $305.70. That’s a huge 16.9% increase in only two and a half years. It’s also larger than the CPI increase for any full four-year presidential term since the 1980s, and Bidenomics has 16 months to go.

Exacerbating the problem, wage growth has failed to keep pace with inflation – increasing only 13% since Biden took office (versus nearly 17% for inflation). When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, as over half of Americans are, that kind of disparity hurts.

The bottom line is: Bidenomics is not working out well for at least 54% of American families, as reported by Lending Club. It’s not working well for the other half of families not living paycheck-to-paycheck either. Most Americans know this.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

30-Year Mortgage Rates Rise Again, Flirting with Historic Peak

By SABRINA KARL, Investopedia

Rates on 30-year mortgages rose again Monday, adding to the jump they saw Friday and pushing the flagship average almost back to the historic 22-year high it registered earlier this month. Averages for most other loan types were flat to mildly up Monday, with only a couple of averages declining.

Rates on 30-year new purchase mortgages gained 6 basis points Monday, after jumping 16 basis points Friday. That raises the 30-year average to 7.82%, which is just barely below Sept. 7's historic reading of 7.84%—its highest mark since 2001.

Monday rates on 15-year loans rose only a minor 2 basis points, nudging the average to 7.15%. Like 30-year rates, the 15-year average is now back within a couple of basis points of its recent peak—a 21-year high of 7.17% reached in mid-August.

Jumbo 30-year rates held steady for a second day Monday, at the average's high-water mark of 7.02%. Though daily jumbo averages are not available before 2009, it's reasonable to assume that August's peak average of 7.02% was the most expensive level reached for jumbo 30-year loans in at least 20 years.

The biggest climbers Monday were the FHA 30-year and VA 30-year averages, each of which gained 12 basis points, while the FHA 15-year average sank 11 basis points. The only other average to decline was a minor dip of 3 basis points for the 7/6 ARM average.

What Causes Mortgage Rates to Rise or Fall?

Mortgage rates are determined by a complex interaction of macroeconomic and industry factors, such as:

  • The level and direction of the bond market, especially 10-year Treasury yields
  • The Federal Reserve's current monetary policy, especially as it relates to bond buying and funding government-backed mortgages
Because fluctuations can be caused by any number of these at once, it's generally difficult to attribute the change to any one factor.

Macroeconomic factors kept the mortgage market relatively low for much of 2021. In particular, the Federal Reserve had been buying billions of dollars of bonds in response to the pandemic's economic pressures. This bond-buying policy is a major influencer of mortgage rates.

But starting in Nov. 2021, the Fed began tapering its bond purchases downward, making sizable reductions each month until reaching net-zero in March 2022.2

Since that time, the Fed has been aggressively raising the federal funds rate to fight decades-high inflation. While the fed funds rate can influence mortgage rates, it does not directly do so. In fact, the fed funds rate and mortgage rates can move in opposite directions.

However, given the historic speed and magnitude of the Fed's 2022 and 2023 rate increases—raising the benchmark rate a cumulative 5.25% over the last 18 months—even the indirect influence of the fed funds rate has resulted in an upward impact on mortgage rates over the last two years.

The Fed's next rate-setting meeting is scheduled to conclude Sept. 20, and financial markets have priced in a near-certainty that the central bank will hold rates steady this time. A rate increase in November or December is still a possibility, however, with traders forecasting odds of 35-40% of an increase being announced at one of those meetings.

Homebuilder sentiment: Foundation Cracks Under Weight of Mortgage Rates

By Stephen Culp, Reuters

The mood amongst U.S. homebuilders took an unexpected dour turn this month.

The National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) Housing Market index (USNAHB=ECI) slid five points to land at 45 - the lowest since April - defying analyst expectations that it would hold firm at a neutral 50, which is the dividing line between optimism and pessimism.

Coming on the heels of a 7-point drop in August, the residential construction sector is feeling the stress of rising mortgage rates; the average 30-year fixed contract rate has been above the 7% level since early August, and applications for loans to purchase homes are down 27.5% from a year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

"High mortgage rates are clearly taking a toll on builder confidence and consumer demand, as a growing number of buyers are electing to defer a home purchase until long-term rates move lower," writes Robert Dietz, NAHB's chief economist.

Home construction initially benefited from rising mortgage rates, which resulted in a dearth of pre-owned homes on the market and prompted a demand shift to new builds.

But amid tightening credit conditions and downbeat consumer sentiment, that particular party appears to be over.

The index "has broken sharply to the downside in the past two months as the surge in mortgage rates, and the subsequent drop in mortgage applications to their lowest level since 1995, has made homebuilders nervous," says Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

A current-month indicator, NAHB is among the more up-to-date housing market metrics.

But for a glimpse into where investors see the sector six months to a year down the road, look to the stock market.

Through that lens, market participants appear to be seeing a Fed pivot in their crystal balls, which should help bring borrowing costs back down to earth.

Over the last 12 months, the S&P 1500 Home Building index (.SPCOMHOME) and the Philadelphia SE Housing index (.HGX) have risen 61.0% and 43.8%, respectively, handily outperforming the broader S&P 500's 14.9% advance over the same period:

Friday, September 15, 2023

UAW Strike May Cost Economy Billions

Note: As of 9 AM, GM is up .58 or 1.72% to $34.24, while Ford is up .10 or .7% to $12.72. 

Sometimes I side with the unions, but mostly I don't. In this case, the UAW has asked for too much, in my opinion. Democrats talk about greedy companies all the time, but ignore greedy workers. 

Full-time assembly plant workers at Ford and GM earn $32.32 an hour, while part-timers currently make about $17 an hour. Full-time employees at Stellantis earn $31.77 an hour, and part-time workers earn close to $16 an hour.

The $32 an hour translates to approximately $67,000 annually, based on a 40-hour work week. According to the U.S. BLS, the median wage in 2022 was $54,132. So the plant workers are already making above-average pay, some 25% more.

They want that $32 an hour to go up some 40 percent over four years, or to about $45 an hour. This equates to $94,000 a year, based on a 40-hour work week.

The strike will initially target one plant at each of the Big Three automakers and will not involve all of the union’s nearly 150,000 members walking out at once.

Walkouts have started at a General Motors plant in Missouri, a Stellantis plant in Ohio and a Ford plant in Michigan.

More workers may be called on to join the strike as time goes on, UAW said.

Collectively, just under 13,000 workers are striking at the three plants.

The union is also pushing for making all temporary workers at the automakers permanent, cost-of-living adjustments, increases in pension benefits for current retirees and restoring pensions for new hires, among other benefits. But one of the main sticking points at the table was GM's decision to close four US factories, including a large assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The sides eventually agreed to a deal that saw GM investing billions of dollars in a battery joint venture in Lordstown, which unionized with the UAW in late 2022. In return, GM was allowed to shutter three other factories.

Corporate leaders aren't happy with the union's demands, which at the high end call for a 40% wage hike. "There's no way we can be sustainable as a company" if those demands are met, Ford CEO Jim Farley told CNBC yesterday. Deutsche Bank analysts estimate the full demands would cut $1-2 billion from annual profit for the automakers. GM had a profit of less than $10 billion last year on $157 billion in revenue. Ford lost $2 billion.
Experts say the strike could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

$5.4 billion. That’s how much Moody’s Analytics estimates each of the Big Three automakers could lose from halted production over the duration of a six-week strike, roughly the same amount it said General Motors lost during a 40-day strike in 2019. All three of the companies could offset those losses with supplies of “ample cash and borrowing capacity,” Moody’s said, though it warned a prolonged strike could hamper the automakers’ pushes toward producing electric vehicles, which all three have embraced in recent years as the EV market skyrockets.

That is according to a new analysis from the Anderson Economic Group, a Michigan-based think tank that specializes in the economic impact of labor strikes. The report estimates that economic losses from a 10-day work stoppage could cost about $5.6 billion.

If you want to know just how bright the market thinks these companies' prospects are, well, they already look pretty dim. Ford shares peaked in 1998 around $35 and currently trade at $12-and-change. GM went bankrupt during the financial crisis and has been trading in the mid-$30s for the past decade, aside from a Covid spike. Both companies are valued around $50 billion today. Chrysler was fully bought by Fiat (now Stellantis) in 2014 and only its Jeep and Ram brands may even survive.

While there are dozens of different historical reasons for the Detroit automakers' struggles, their current diminution boils down to the fact that the market is shifting to EVs, and it's unclear how big--and profitable--a role they will even play in the global auto industry going forward.

According to Kelly Evans at CNBC, "we are of the biggest inflection points the auto industry has ever had; and the "big three" are looking smaller by the day."

Sources for this story: Business Insider, FoxNews, Forbes, CNBC, CNN 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Great Wealth Transfer: Baby Boomers

The baby boomers capitalized on an unprecedented 40-year rally in stock and housing prices. Now, those babies are bequeathing on an equally epic level.

According to financial market intelligence firm Cerulli and Associates, baby boomers and the Silent Generation (preceding boomers) will pass down $84.4 trillion in assets through 2045, with $72.6 trillion going directly to heirs.

The Bank Administration Institute says it will “end up as the greatest transfer of wealth in history.” So, how, exactly, do tens of millions of people pass on tens of trillions of dollars? Let’s examine the situation.

Boomers are handing down the lion’s share of the wealth — $53 trillion or 63% of all transfers. The Silent Generation will hand down $15.8 trillion, mostly over the coming decade.

Ultra-high-net-worth households in the top 1.5% will account for 42% of the Great Wealth Transfer — about $35.8 trillion.

That last part shouldn’t be surprising. The rich have always passed estates down to their heirs, but over the last few years inheritance has gone mainstream.

The research and benchmarking firm Hearts & Wallets surveyed nearly 6,000 households and found that in 2022, 60% had received, planned to receive or planned to leave inheritances like property, investments and cash, including 54% of households with less than $100,000 in investable assets.

The Baby Boom generation is identified with those Americans born in the years 1946 to 1964. Nearly 76 million Americans were born in those years. US birth rates surged in tandem with an enormous leap in prosperity after the Depression and World War II.

Baby Boomers Own Nearly Half The Wealth In U.S.

Yet while Millennials are the largest generation, Baby Boomers own most of the wealth in this country – almost half of it as a matter of fact, according to the Federal Reserve.

Notice also that Millennials own fewer assets than Generation X and the Silent Generation.

Baby Boomers have an average net worth between $200,000 and $255,000, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

With the average net worth at $200,000-$250,000 this means half of Boomers have total assets less than half that. Many may not have much to pass down to their heirs after their debts are settled. So, who is going to give the bulk of this $84 trillion which is due to be inherited?

Answer: The wealthiest 10% of households will be giving the majority of the riches. Within that range, the Top 1% – which holds about as much wealth as the bottom 90% and is predominantly white – will dictate the broadest share of the money flow. The more diverse bottom 50% of households will account for only 8% of the transfers.

In 1989, total family wealth in the United States was about $38 trillion, adjusted for inflation. By 2022, that wealth had more than tripled, reaching $140 trillion. Of the $84 trillion projected to be passed down from older Americans to Millennial and Gen X heirs through 2045, $16 trillion is expected to be transferred within the next decade.

Increasingly, heirs don’t need to wait for the passing of elders to directly benefit from family money – a result of the bursting popularity of “giving while living” – including property purchases, repeated tax-free cash transfers of estate money, and more – providing millions a head start.

It’s no longer “an oncoming phenomenon,” said Douglas Boneparth, a financial adviser whose New York firm caters to affluent millennials. “It’s present-day.”

And it’s already impacting the broader economy, greasing the wheels of social mobility for some and leaving obstacles for those left out as the cost of living, housing and raising families surges.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Easy Steps Toward an Emergency Fund

This is your bedrock for all your finances. Without an emergency fund, any other goals you may have, such as investing or saving for a vacation or college, will get derailed. It's difficult to recover. 

But first of all, have a budget and follow it. I'm retired now, but still use a budget. It's basic to sound financial planning and peace-of-mind.

Recent surveys indicate that 61 percent of American families cannot come up with $400 to meet an emergency. Don't be one of these people. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Five Things You Should Be Doing In Retirement

From Charles Schwab, Inc.

If you've already gone from saving for retirement to living off your savings—or you're still making this shift—it probably doesn't surprise you to hear that retirement doesn't mean an end to your financial responsibilities.

"In some ways, they become more important," says Rob Williams, managing director of retirement income and wealth management at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.

"As your focus shifts from work to enjoying the fruits of your labor, your planning needs also change," Rob says. "If the priority before was to save enough to retire, the main job now is to preserve and protect—but also use your savings so you can enjoy the retirement you dreamed about."

Here are nine things you can do after you retire (or partially retire), to keep your goals on track.

1. Review your spending and income plan at least once a year

After years of working and saving, you likely started retirement with a plan for how much you can spend each year and which income sources you'll rely on for living expenses. If so, you're off to a great start. But what if your expenses or income fluctuate from year to year?

"Most retirees find they need to spend more or less than they planned at various points in their retirement," says Rob. "Changes and unexpected events that require you to adjust your initial plan—like home repairs, uncovered medical costs, and market volatility—are inevitable. But knowing this and planning for it can help."

Rob recommends continuing to review your plan and portfolio annually, and any time you have a major life event, to ensure you're on track and adjust as needed. It may also help to talk with a financial planner, who can help you anticipate your long-term spending patterns, identify potential surprises, and put proactive strategies in place.

2. Make sure your portfolio reflects your current risk capacity—not just risk tolerance

It's important to know your risk tolerance—how much risk you can stomach—and adjust your investments so you can sleep at night. But once you retire, you also need to know how much of your portfolio you can afford to lose without derailing your finances. That's where risk capacity comes in.

"Risk capacity is a function of how much cash you're likely to need over the next one to four years, based on your personal goals and situation," says Rob. "This is money you'll want to preserve, since you'll need it soon and won't have much time to try to make up for losses."

To get an idea of your risk capacity, try calculating how much cash you'll need in the coming year beyond what you can pull from predictable income sources like Social Security, a pension, income from a job, or an annuity. Then do the same exercise for the next two to four years.

This is the amount you'll need your portfolio to provide in the short- or intermediate-term. In general, it's a good idea to hold this portion in cash or cash equivalents—for example, high-yield checking or savings accounts, money market funds, short-term bonds, or certificates of deposit (CDs)—to help ensure the funds are there when you need them.

3. Understand how large withdrawals affect your savings

Another big benefit of keeping a short-term cash reserve on hand is that you're less likely to need to take a large, unexpected withdrawal from your portfolio when the market is down.

"A market drop in the early years of retirement can cost you years of potential growth and income, if you're forced to cash out to cover expenses," says Rob. "Later in retirement, market drops aren't usually as costly, because by then, you may not need your portfolio to grow as much."

Experts call this potential scenario sequence-of-returns risk. It refers to the importance of timing, when it comes to investment withdrawals. If you're forced to tap your portfolio as it's losing value, you'll have to sell more assets to raise the cash you need. That not only drains your savings more quickly, but it also leaves you with fewer assets for future growth.

Rob recommends giving yourself an ample cushion, including a year's worth of cash for withdrawals and spending that you may need to make from your savings and two to four years of cash you anticipate you may need to withdraw in relatively liquid, conservative investments. This can help you keep more of your money invested, regardless of market conditions—and give your portfolio more time to likely recover from market dips.

4. Have a tax-smart withdrawal strategy

If you don't already have a tax-efficient plan for when and in what order you'll liquidate various assets during retirement, putting one in place could help your savings last longer.

"Not all investments are taxed the same way," says Hayden Adams, CPA, CFP®, director of tax and wealth management at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "A tax-efficient withdrawal strategy can help you take advantage of different tax treatments across your income sources and may result in significant tax savings."

Hayden recommends a step-by-step approach, working with a financial planner or tax professional if you need to: Take your RMDs. Make required minimum distributions on tax-deferred accounts, like a traditional IRA or 401(k), your top priority since not taking the full withdrawal by the deadline can trigger a 50% tax penalty.1 RMDs start the year you turn 73.
Tap interest and dividends. Next, turn to interest and dividends from your taxable accounts. But leave the original investment alone for potential growth and income.
Collect principal from maturing bonds and CDs. Reinvesting principal on mature bonds and CDs is ideal. But if you still need cash after RMDs, interest, and dividends, it may make sense to liquidate them next, since the original principal isn't generally taxed.
Sell other assets as needed. Taxable and tax-deferred accounts are your next stop for more cash. But first, ask yourself if RMDs are likely to push you into a higher tax bracket. If so, drawing down taxable and tax-deferred accounts at the same time may help keep your taxable income lower. If not, selling brokerage assets that have lost value, followed by those you've held a year or more may make more sense.

5. Create a long-term care plan

About 60% of people over 65 will need long-term care at some point in their lives, and it can be an expensive proposition. The median cost for assisted living is $54,000 a year ($4,500 a month),2 for example, and a private room in a nursing home costs more than double that.

"If you don't already have a strategy for long-term care in your overall plan, it's important to consider the possibility of these costs and how you would cover them if you need to," says Rob. "A financial planner can help you look at a range of options that align with your specific needs and preferences, including long-term care insurance, if it makes sense."

In addition to insurance, options for covering long-term care costs include caregiving from family members and paying costs out of pocket with retirement assets, such as money withdrawn from a traditional or Roth IRA, 401(k), or a health savings account (HSA).

As with other parts of your plan, the goal is to put a long-term care plan in place that will work for you whether you need it or not—so you can focus on other things.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Remembering 9/11: Attack on America

At approximately 8:46 a.m. on a clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more in higher floors.

As the evacuation of the tower and its twin got underway, television cameras broadcasted live images of what initially appeared to be a freak accident. Then, 17 minutes after the first plane hit, a second Boeing 767—United Airlines Flight 175—appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center, and sliced into the south tower at about the 60th floor. The collision caused a massive explosion that showered burning debris over surrounding buildings and the streets below. America was under attack.

Full story at

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Democrats Buckle Under Biden Border Chaos

Opinion By the Washington Examiner

The decision of Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) to bus immigrants from Texas to New York City is putting a squeeze on President Joe Biden, who refuses to enforce immigration laws. It has made every community in the nation a border community, and Democrats are starting to squeal.

This Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams delivered his strongest condemnation of Biden’s border policies yet, telling a crowd of wealthy Upper West Side Manhattans, “I don’t see an ending to this. This issue will destroy New York City.”

“We have to feed, clothe, house, educate their children, wash their laundry sheets, give them everything they need,” Adams continued. “One time, we were just getting Venezuela. Now we’re getting Ecuador. Now we’re getting Russian-speaking coming through Mexico. Now we’re getting western Africa.”

“Every community in this city is going to be impacted,” Adams said. “We have a $12 billion deficit that we’re going to have to cut — every service is going to be impacted. All of us.”

This is exactly the message Abbott was trying to send back in April 2022, when he first began busing immigrants from Texas — not just to New York City but also to Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

Biden’s border crisis affects “all of us.” Democratic mayors can’t now comfortably waive away a problem that burdens the Texas border. These immigrants will move to other communities, and when they do, those communities will be overwhelmed as well.

Adams called Abbott a “madman” during his Wednesday remarks. But the reality is that Biden is to blame for New York’s troubles, not Abbott. Texas has bused just 35,000 immigrants to destinations across the country, including about 10,000 to New York City. Those numbers are dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands Biden has caught and released into the United States, including more than 100,000 who chose New York City as their destination.

New York is not the only Democratic city suffering. Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts have declared states of emergency to deal with the problem Biden has dumped on them. Over 2,000 immigrants are sleeping on the floors of police precincts in Chicago, where residents have questioned why immigrants get millions of dollars unavailable to ordinary citizens.

Faced with a backlash from his own party, Biden is not thinking of fixing the real problem but is contemplating the ruse of forcing them to remain in Texas.

This remain near Mexico policy, a contemptuous echo of the "Remain in Mexico" policy that worked and Biden scrapped, has not been finalized, but it reportedly would force migrants released by the president into the U.S. to stay in border states. It is unclear how it would be enforced. The heads of each family released into Texas would be fitted with a GPS monitoring device. But what would happen if immigrants removed the device? Or what if they kept it on but traveled out of Texas anyway?

Would Biden send Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after them? Would the offending immigrants be deported for the crime of crossing state lines? It’s unclear. It’s also a terrible policy that would either fail from non-enforcement or cause more suffering in Texas communities forced to house all immigrants, who are now spread more evenly across the U.S.

There is only one way to end the Biden border crisis, and despite his blaming Abbott, Adams knows what the real solution is. “Any plan that does not include stopping the flow at the border is a failed plan,” Adams said last month. That is the truth. Until Biden stops the flow at the border by ending his "catch and release" policies, his crisis will get worse, and communities across the country will continue to suffer.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Climate Scientist: Leave Out ‘the Full Truth,’ and 3 Other ‘Tricks’ to Get Published

Craig Bannister, mrcTV

“I just got published in Nature because I stuck to a narrative I knew the editors would like. That’s not the way science should work,” a PhD climate scientist and adjunct faculty member at John Hopkins University’s Energy and Climate Policy Program says in a commentary excoriating the nation’s media for putting their political agenda ahead of scientific integrity.
Brown holds a PhD from Duke University in Earth and Climate Sciences, a Master’s degree from San Jose State University in Meteorology & Climate Science, and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

In his commentary, “I Left Out the Full Truth to Get My Climate Change Paper Published,” Brown explains that the editors’ selection of materials to publish is driven by agenda-driven bias - and not by academic rigor:
“[T]he biases of the editors (and the reviewers they call upon to evaluate submissions) exert a major influence on the collective output of entire fields.”

Rather than publish scientific papers that present the full picture regarding topics like climate change, editors refuse to publish those that don’t paint climate change as the virtually the only cause of any catastrophe – and that don’t tout greenhouse gas reduction initiatives like those in Democrats’ deceptively-named “Inflation Reduction Act.”

The exclusion of relevant information in news is what, in the media industry, is known as “Bias By Omission.

Brown says he omitted, among other things, the “startling fact” that over eighty percent of wildfires in the US are ignited by humans, in order to get his paper “Climate warming increases extreme daily wildfire growth risk in California” published in “Nature,” a prestigious science journal.

“To put it bluntly, climate science has become less about understanding the complexities of the world and more about serving as a kind of Cassandra, urgently warning the public about the dangers of climate change,” Brown says.

Sardonically, Brown then suggests four “tricks” researchers can use to get their papers published in today’s biased, high-profile media.

Number one, researchers should strictly adhere to the climate-doom/greenhouse gas reduction narrative, Brown advises:

“The first thing the astute climate researcher knows is that his or her work should support the mainstream narrative—namely, that the effects of climate change are both pervasive and catastrophic and that the primary way to deal with them is not by employing practical adaptation…but through policies like the Inflation Reduction Act, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Second, “The authors should ignore—or at least downplay—practical actions that can counter the impact of climate change,” because the media’s goal is to shun any solutions, other than greenhouse gas reduction, Brown says.

“Here’s a third trick: be sure to focus on metrics that will generate the most eye-popping numbers,” Brown says, suggesting that researchers make extreme, dire predictions of the horrors that may potentially, someday, be caused by climate change.

A fourth trick Brown says researchers can use to impress editors, reviewers and media is to “always assess the magnitude of climate change over centuries, even if that timescale is irrelevant to the impact you are studying.”

Brown calls on media to stop focusing exclusively on greenhouse gas emissions and to amend their review process in order to publish papers that present all the facts, not just those that advance their climate agenda.

Researchers also need to do their part to ensure scientific integrity, by either starting to stand up to editors “or find other places to publish,” Brown says.“I left academia over a year ago, partially because I felt the pressures put on academic scientists caused too much of the research to be distorted,” Brown explains, noting that he is now a member of The Breakthrough Institute, a private nonprofit research center.

Brown’s paper was received by “Nature” on July 22, 2022, accepted on July 17, 2023 and published last month, on August 30.

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