Free Markets, Free People

Economy

Ducati Execs Do the Right Thing

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It’s no secret that the recent worldwide economic downturn has seriously affected motorcycle sales, sending them plunging by a third.  Now here in the United States, it’s become a common thing to see executives at big firms take huge bonuses, even when the company isn’t doing so hot.  The most egregious example of this was when failed insurer AIG took billions of dollars in Federal money for a bailout of the company, then promptly paid off millions and millions in executive bonuses with it.

Apparently, things are different in Italy, where senior executives at Ducati, faced with slumping sales, did the right thing.

Senior executives at Ducati have taken a 10 per cent cut in their pay and will not receive any bonuses because of the decline, while [Ducati CEO] Mr [Gabriele] Del Torchio said he had taken a 20 per cent pay cut.

Let’s leave aside any legalistic or other arguments about whether the executives should be compensated or not.  At the end of the day, when you’re cutting production, and laying off staff, it seems only right that the pain should be shared by everyone else in the company, all the way to the top.

Kudos to Ducati for setting an example of shared sacrifice.

Americans Are Cooling Toward Global Warming

Part of the reason is the financial situation and part of it is the new evidence that science is producing which is making Americans more skeptical about the AGW crowd’s claims.

Recent  Gallup polls carry the news:

Here’s what Gallup found: The number of Americans who say the media have exaggerated global warming jumped to a record 41 percent in 2009, up from 35 percent a year ago. The most marked increase came among political independents, whose ranks of doubters swelled from 33 percent to 44 percent. Republican doubters grew from 59 percent to 66 percent, while Democratic skeptics stayed at around 20 percent.

What’s more, fewer Americans believe the effects of global warming have started to occur: 53 percent see signs of a hotter planet, down from 61 percent in 2008. Global warming placed last among eight environmental concerns Gallup asked respondents to rank, with water pollution landing the top spot.

Another recent Gallup study found that, for the first time in 25 years of polling, more Americans care about economic growth than the environment. Just 42 percent of people surveyed said the environment takes precedence over growth, while 51 percent asserted expansion carries more weight. That reverses results from 2008, when 49 percent of respondents said the environment was paramount and 42 percent said economic growth came first. In 1985, the poll’s first year, 61 percent placed a bigger priority on the environment, while 28 percent ranked economic growth highest.

Scientists have begun to push back against those who have been claiming “consensus” for so long. And, Americans are simply becoming more informed about the matter. Part of that is the effect of the new media which has broken the monopoly hold of the mass media’s ability to shape public opinion. As the poll points out, Americans increasingly think the media is exaggerating the problem. That skepticism has to be based in something, and the only media carrying the skeptical side of the argument is the new media.

Obviously, since the financial meltdown, priorities have also changed. While AGW was apparently never a high priority among environmental priorities, it is dead last now. That’s again because people are becoming more informed about the economic impact of the draconian legislative measures being touted as a solution. And as time goes by, and there is more of a focus put on cap-and-trade legislation, I expect the numbers in opposition to go up even further.

Naturally the opposition disagrees and cites polls from Pew and the National Wildlife Federation that they claim contradict Gallup (no date for those two polls is given). But as you recall, Rasmussen had a very recent poll which had similar results to the Gallup poll.

The radical agenda is in trouble, folks. Whether that means Democrats will “listen” as they claim they do, is another matter entirely. I fully expect them to attempt to ram both health care and cap-and-trade through. But that doesn’t mean we have to give them a pass if they do. Be your “un-American” best and tell them loudly and strongly that cap-and-trade is not a good thing for the US and is not something that should be passed while the science of AGW is decidedly unproven.

Again, what’s the freakin’ rush?

~McQ

Six months and counting: Team Obama looks pretty pitiful at this point

I have not posted much lately. Busy. Very busy. I don’t see how McQ does it. He’s a machine.

But I have been paying attention, and I must say Obama is as amusing during his first six months as I had hoped, and maybe more. Here’s a brief summary of where he’s at as far as I’m concerned, categorized into various types of success and failures on the political front.

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Middle Class Tax? Knock, Knock – “Hello Out There!”

Read this carefully. This is from George Stephanopoulos:

To get the economy back on track, will President Barack Obama have to break his pledge not to raise taxes on 95 percent of Americans? In a “This Week” exclusive, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told me, “We’re going to have to do what’s necessary.”

Geithner was clear that he believes a key component of economic recovery is deficit reduction. When I gave him several opportunities to rule out a middle class tax hike, he wouldn’t do it.

“We have to bring these deficits down very dramatically,” Geithner told me. “And that’s going to require some very hard choices.”

“We will not get this economy back on track, recovery will be not strong and sustained, unless we convince the American people that we are going to have the will to bring these deficits down once recovery is firmly established,” he said.

For the gullible who believed their taxes weren’t going to go up “one dime”, Turbo Tax Tim is laying the ground work to prove your gullibility.

For those who never believed the “promise” to begin with, big surprise, right?

But the more important point is found in Geithner’s last sentence in the cite. In there he’s telling the public that they have to bear the cost of this administration’s profligacy. Because, you see, they spent your money (like the porkapalooza they called the “stimulus package”) like drunken sailors on shore leave and it is now up to you – the sober ones in this deal – to bail them out. But watch ‘em – they’re going to claim they saved the economy.

And now they’re ready to save the climate and fix your health care too.

Yes some very hard choices are going to have to be made – some adults are going to have to stand up to Timmy and the boys and say “no”.

~McQ

The “Obama Economy”

If this NPR poll has any validity, it removes, once and for all,  the “I inherited this mess” meme from Obama’s rhetorical quiver. Americans see this as his mess now and they’re not particularly happy with how he’s handling it:

In another part of the poll, respondents were asked which of two statements on the economy came closer to expressing their view. The first statement: “President Obama’s economic policies helped avert an even worse crisis and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery.” The second statement: “President Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.” A plurality preferred the second statement, 48 percent to 45 percent.

Another indicator of the point:

Greenberg and Bolger found that 38 percent considered the country to be going in the “right direction,” while 54 percent saw it on the “wrong track.” But that 15-point negative reading was the least negative of any NPR poll in more than year. The portion saying “wrong track” had been nearly 90 percent in the NPR poll done in the fall of 2008.

The principal reason for negativity appeared to be the economy. Asked to assess the current state of the economy, 49 percent called it poor while 42 percent opted for “not so good.” Only 8 percent said it was good and only 1 percent said excellent.

While NPR tries to soften the news, the fact remains that a solid majority think the country is on the wrong track. As mentioned above, there’s a 15 point difference between right and wrong track polling.

Lastly:

The so-called generic ballot question was also very close. Asked whether they would support a Democrat or a Republican for Congress in 2010 if the election were held today, 42 percent said they would choose a Democrat and 43 percent a Republican, a difference well within the poll’s margin of error (plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for each number in each question).

All three areas show a trend that has to be troubling to Democrats and the administration. In political terms, 2010 is right around the corner. And yes, it’s still early in the administration, but after the honeymoon, it appears those polled are not happy, for the most part, with what they’re seeing from either Congress or Obama.

~McQ

The Transparent Administration

Except when locked in a battle in which it is trying to fool the public into accepting a 1 trillion plus spending program as a “money saver”. Then, apparently, it is quite all right to delay the scheduled release of its revised budget numbers (based on known economic indicators):

The White House is being forced to acknowledge the wide gap between its once-upbeat predictions about the economy and today’s bleak landscape.

The administration’s annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama’s budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update – usually scheduled for mid-July – has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

And, of course, what it hopes to have in its pocket at that time is a health care reform bill passed by Congress. So why delay the budget update? Well, it isn’t going to be kind to the administration’s rosy speculation concerning deficit and growth, that’s why:

“Instead of a dream, this routine report could be a nightmare,” Tony Fratto, a former Treasury Department official and White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, said of the delayed budget update. “There are some things that can’t be escaped.”

The administration earlier this year predicted that unemployment would peak at about 9 percent without a big stimulus package and 8 percent with one. Congress did pass a $787 billion two-year stimulus measure, yet unemployment soared to 9.5 percent in June and appears headed for double digits.

Obama’s current forecast anticipates 3.2 percent growth next year, then 4 percent or higher growth from 2011 to 2013. Private forecasts are less optimistic, especially for next year.

Any downward revision in growth or revenue projections would mean that budget deficits would be far higher than the administration is now suggesting.

And then there’s the debt problem, which is headed to new and dizzying heights:

The nation’s debt – the total of accumulated annual budget deficits – now stands at $11.6 trillion. In the scheme of things, that’s more important than talking about the “deficit,” which only looks at a one-year slice of bookkeeping and totally ignores previous indebtedness that is still outstanding.

Even so, the administration has projected that the annual deficit for the current budget year will hit $1.84 trillion, four times the size of last year’s deficit of $455 billion. Private forecasters suggest that shortfall may actually top $2 trillion.

The administration has projected that the annual deficit for the current budget year will hit $1.84 trillion, four times the size of last year’s deficit of $455 billion. Private forecasters suggest that shortfall may top $2 trillion.

If a higher deficit and lower growth numbers are not part of the administration’s budget update, that will lead to charges that the White House is manipulating its figures to offer too rosy an outlook – the same criticism leveled at previous administrations.

Of course, if it does include the higher deficit and lower growth numbers, as it should, it would also most likely kill the costly push toward health care “reform”. And that is why it is being delayed.

How do I say that with such assurance? Because this is a routine and easily produced report despite what the administration is trying to claim.

White House officials say it is now expected in mid-August. They blame the delay on the fact that this is a transition year between presidencies and note that Obama didn’t release his full budget until early May – instead of the first week in February, when he put out just an outline.

Still, the update mainly involves plugging in changes in economic indicators, not revising program-by-program details. And indicators such as unemployment and gross domestic product changes have been public knowledge for some time.

As Ed Morrissey asks:

Consider this: if those budget numbers looked good, would the White House postpone revealing them? Obama could use all the good news he can get at the moment, especially with two big-spending bills stalling in Congress.

Ironically, the White House budget director was making the rounds claiming those trying to delay the vote on health care were trying to kill it, all the while the administration is delaying the budget report with the purpose of depriving law makers the information they need in their consideration of the cost of such legislation.

Meanwhile, we are apparently on course to eat our way into prosperity as the Recovery Act spends your hard earned dollars on … cheese.

~McQ

CBO Says Federal Budget On Unsustainable Path (Is Anyone Surprised?)

I‘m not sure how often everyone has to be told, but here’s the warning again, just as Democrats attempt to pile another trillion plus dollars in federal health care spending (and debt). From the CBO Director’s blog:

Under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path, because federal debt will continue to grow much faster than the economy over the long run. Although great uncertainty surrounds long-term fiscal projections, rising costs for health care and the aging of the population will cause federal spending to increase rapidly under any plausible scenario for current law. Unless revenues increase just as rapidly, the rise in spending will produce growing budget deficits. Large budget deficits would reduce national saving, leading to more borrowing from abroad and less domestic investment, which in turn would depress economic growth in the United States. Over time, accumulating debt would cause substantial harm to the economy.

I’m not sure how it can be said any more clearly and more succinctly.

The choices, as laid out in the paragraph above are fairly simple – cut federal spending dramatically or raise taxes (revenues) dramatically to meet the spending or your going to do “substantial harm to the economy”. Of course we also know that raising taxes dramatically would have the same effect. That leaves one option and, as is clear with the health care reform proposals, that’s nowhere near the table, is it?

Yet that’s the formula:

Keeping deficits and debt from reaching these levels would require increasing revenues significantly as a share of GDP, decreasing projected spending sharply, or some combination of the two.

CBO offers the following graph to illustrate the point of letting the status quo remain in place. Note that the second line coming off the actual/projected line – that’s the “extended baseline scenario” where absolutely nothing is changed and the budget, as projected, is executed. Disregard the first line for the moment.

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What is important is to understand this:

The current recession and policy responses have little effect on long-term projections of noninterest spending and revenues. But CBO estimates that in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the federal government will record its largest budget deficits as a share of GDP since shortly after World War II. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public will soar from 41 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to 60 percent at the end of fiscal year 2010. This higher debt results in permanently higher spending to pay interest on that debt. Federal interest payments already amount to more than 1 percent of GDP; unless current law changes, that share would rise to 2.5 percent by 2020.

Now you’ve heard that, in various forms for years. But what does that mean to you personally – how does one put that in terms that mean anything to a taxpayer?

Well Jim Glass at scrivner.net has done that for us:

The national debt incurs interest that is paid with taxes. The interest rate on US debt is projected be about 6% annually in the long run, according to the Social Security Administration’s actuaries and other such governmental budget projectors. Six percent of one trillion dollars is $60 billion.

There are 80 million payers of income tax in the US. (If that seems low for a population of 300 million remember that 47% of all “tax units”, 70 million potential taxpayers, pay no income tax or receive refundable tax credits from the government.)

Now $60 billion divided by 80 million taxpayers equals $750 per taxpayer — so each trillion dollars of the national debt costs the average taxpayer $750 per year, every year that the debt is carried, forever.

So for every trillion in debt the federal government puts us, we owe $750 per tax payer in interest alone.

Jim extends his example to what the chart above depicts:

As of the end of last year the government’s outstanding explicit and implicit debt was $64 trillion. Add another year’s interest on that, plus this year’s $1.8 trillion deficit, and we will be well over $66 trillion at the end of this year. Which creates an explicit and implict annual interest liability to just carry the debt of more than $49,000 per taxpayer.

Yet we have Joe Biden claiming we have to spend money to avoid bankruptcy – and there are people out there who believe him.  As Jim points out:

As of today most of that is implicit (for unfunded Medicare liabilities, etc.) but every year from now on (as more seniors retire and start collecting Medicare, etc) more of the debt will shift from being implicit to explicit, requiring cash tax collections to pay for it.

And the same entity which has put the country in this shape running a health care system, now wants the rest of it with the stated goal of cutting costs.

If you’re gullible enough, given the facts above, to fall for that, I have to question your critical thinking abilities. In fact, you might want to consider the chart above again and pay attention to the top line coming off the actual/projected line – that’s likely what our debt will look like if you hand over health care to the federal government.

It is very close to fish or cut bait time for the people of the US – we have got to realize, very quickly, that in fact,  we are on the verge of bankruptcy and what that buffoon Biden says is just abject, unthinking nonsense.

Either cut government spending – drastically – or go under. Those are your choices.

~McQ

Democrats Unveil Their “Affordable” Health Care Plan

And yes, that’s right, just because Democrats put “affordable” in the title doesn’t mean it is anything close to being affordable (unless another trillion in spending is something you find affordable). In fact, you can almost count on the opposite being true.

Another vitally important point to keep in mind is that trillion we’re batting around like we’re talking about spending ten bucks, is a government estimate. Anyone remember the government estimate about the cost of Medicare and how that turned out?

The Democrats are claiming the CBO “scored” this bill and it came up under the “affordable” column.  But the RNC says the CBO didn’t actually score the language in the bill:

In the second paragraph of CBO’s letter, it says, “”It is important to note, however, that those estimates are based on specifications provided by the tri-committee group rather than an analysis of the language released today.” So they scored what Democrats asked them to score. Not the actual bill.

Yes, in this infernal rush to get a bill out, we obviously couldn’t be patient enough to have the CBO score what the bill actually said vs. what the committees declared the bill would say. And we all know how honest our Congress is about such things, don’t we? Last but not least, the politics of the thing. Here’s a graph to show you how the planned appropriation of your money will take place:

houseDemHC Note carefully when the costs will actually begin to kick in. Yes, when Obama is safely in his second term and hopefully, at least as the Democrats reason, still with a Democrat majority Congress (since both the 2010 and 2012 Congressional elections shouldn’t be effected). Note the slope of the curve after that. Philip Klein, who put the chart together, explains:

It’s important to keep in mind that the most costly aspects of the legislation involve providing subsidies to individuals to purchase health care ($773 billion) and to expand Medicaid ($438 billion), but it takes several years for those provisions to kick in. As you can see from the chart below, that means that the costs start out relatively modest but ramp up over time. In the first three years of the plan the cost of the subsidies and Medicaid expansion is just $8 billion; in the first five years, it’s $202 billion; but in the last five years, it’s $979 billion. Put another way, 17 percent of the spending comes in the first five years, while 83 percent comes in the second five years. What this means is that the American people see $1 trillion over 10 years and they think that means the bill would cost about $100 billion a year — but the reality is more than double that. In the final year of the CBO estimates, 2019, the spending hits $230 billion.

Another important note – at the end of 10 years, that line on the graph isn’t going to drop to zero. It’s going to continue to climb. That’s “affordable?” If so, Democrats have given new meaning to the word.  And all of it to be paid for by taxing the rich.

Yes, in the midst of an economic crisis, the con artists in Washington are at it again.  They’ve co-opted “affordable” to sell their snake oil, ignored the impact of such a bill in a weak economy but carefully weighed the politics of it, and have decided that funding it on the back of “the rich” won’t have any adverse consequences when it comes to the economy and its health.

You can see this train wreck coming from miles and miles away, can’t you?

~McQ

“Recovery Act” A Bust, But Not Because Economic Distress “Misread”

The vaunted stimulus which President Obama claims is doing exactly what it was supposed to do is seen by a majority of others as a complete bust.

Why? Mort Zuckerman lays some of it out:

About 40% of U.S. workers believe the recession will continue for another full year, and their pessimism is justified. As paychecks shrink and disappear, consumers are more hesitant to spend and won’t lead the economy out of the doldrums quickly enough.

It may have made him unpopular in parts of the Obama administration, but Vice President Joe Biden was right when he said a week ago that the administration misread how bad the economy was and how effective the stimulus would be. It was supposed to be about jobs but it wasn’t. The Recovery Act was a single piece of legislation but it included thousands of funding schemes for tens of thousands of projects, and those programs are stuck in the bureaucracy as the government releases the funds with typical inefficiency.

As I and many others pointed out when it was being passed, the stimulus package was nothing more than a collection of porky earmarks on an unprecedented level. It was a lefty wet-dream come true – full access to the treasury and the power to do whatever they wanted. Democrats finally had the power to reward themselves and their constituencies and they took full advantage of it.

This wasn’t a “misreading” of the economy as Joe Biden likes to claim, but a misappropriation of funds to fulfill political dreams and promises that had been denied them for years.

Zuckerman wants to wave off the problems with execution to the “typical inefficiency” of government (but I bet he’s all for the government expanding its role in health care), but this recovery act isn’t just about government inefficiency or bureaucracy. It’s about where the Recovery Act’s money is aimed – and it isn’t aimed at creating jobs.

That’s why, despite the dire claim that if the Recovery Act wasn’t passed, unemployment would rise above 8%, unemployment continued to rise, unabated, to 9.5%. And it will climb higher. It was never targeted at creating (or even saving) jobs. Nor was it targeted toward stimulating the economy (by getting money out in the economy and circulating).

It was a 787 billion dollar payoff/payback pork bill – something both Obama and the Democrats denied but which was obvious to anyone who took the time to look into the provisions of the bill itself.

And now we’re supposed to believe that the economy was worse than they thought and they simply “misread” it.

Nonsense.

For those of you paying attention, this is all a prelude to claiming a second “stimulus” is necessary, after having misappropriated almost a trillion of your dollars previously to pay off their political debt.

The answer, of course, is “no”.

They’ve already proven they can’t be trusted to address the problem at hand without succumbing to the lure of political payoffs. And, in fact, they gave those political payoffs higher priority than the economic distress we are suffering. They should not be given the opportunity to misappropriate anymore of your money to repeat the process.

Because they will.

~McQ

The Recession is Racist (Updated)

Just thought you should know:

While unemployment rose steadily for white New Yorkers from the first quarter of 2008 through the first three months of this year, the number of unemployed blacks in the city rose four times as fast, according to a report to be released on Monday by the city comptroller’s office. By the end of March, there were about 80,000 more unemployed blacks than whites, according to the report, even though there are roughly 1.5 million more whites than blacks here.

Across the nation, the surge in unemployment has cut across all demographic lines, and the gap between blacks and whites has risen, but at a much slower rate than in New York.

Economists said they were not certain why so many more blacks were losing their jobs in New York, especially when a large share of the layoffs in the city have been in fields where they are not well represented, like finance and professional services. But in those sectors, the economists suggested that blacks may have had less seniority when layoffs occurred. And black workers hold an outsize share of the jobs in retailing and other service industries that have been shrinking as consumers curtail their spending.

Hmm, so maybe it’s just NYC that’s racist?

“Low-wage workers and workers who lack skills are really getting hit hard,” he said. “These are the workers who are sort of fungible. They lose their jobs very quickly, particularly in retail, the people who move boxes and do unskilled work. There are large numbers of African-Americans in that sector.”

Manufacturing, which has shed more jobs than any other sector of the city’s economy, had become a mainstay for black workers, Mr. Jones said. Government jobs had also become a prime source of solid, stable work for many blacks in the city, he added. But lately there have been cutbacks there, too, as falling tax revenue has forced the paring back of budgets.

So it’s those who hire unskilled workers who are racist? This theme is confusing.

Still, Mr. Parrott’s analysis painted a stark picture of how uneven the effects have been for whites, blacks and members of other minorities. His figures show that whites gained about 130,000 jobs in the year that ended April 30 over the previous 12 months, but blacks, Hispanics and Asians all lost jobs during that period. Employment fell by about 17,000 jobs for blacks, 26,000 jobs for Hispanics and 18,000 for Asians and other ethnic groups, the data show.

“That’s a black-and-white employment picture,” Mr. Parrott said. “It’s like night and day over the 12 months. “There’s a real racial shift taking place in the city’s labor market in the past year.”

Okay, I’ve got it now. It’s white New Yorkers who are racist. Or maybe its the high-skilled labor market that’s racist? Again, I’m not sure.

But the article seems to imply pretty strongly that racism is at the bottom of this problem. Otherwise, why not mention how many of the unemployed are men, or of prime-age, or well-educated? Heck, why not mention that of the 108,000 [139,100 newly] unemployed workers in NYC [over the 12 month period between April 2008 and 2009], 61,000 [92,000] (or a little more than 56% [66%]) are white (which really makes you wonder where the 130,000 jobs figure came from)?* Obviously, the story is intended to tell us that somebody is being racist, and that’s why the “black-white gap in joblessness” is being discussed at all.

Welcome to post-racial Obamaland. If you don’t know whose fault it is, then it’s probably yours, racist.

UPDATE: Those numbers (in the sentence marked above with the *) were really bothering me. I went back and looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for New York City’s unemployment and discovered that the NYT article is way off. The number of jobs lost between April 2008 and April 2009 was 139,100, of which (according to the article) 17,000 were lost by blacks, 26,000 were lost by Hispanics, and 18,000 were lost by Asians and other races. Somehow or another, Mr. Parrott, who the article cites for the numbers, came up with 130,000 jobs gained by whites in this period. Of course, that makes absolutely no sense because, if it were true, then there would have been an increase in employment during that period, and the unemployment rate would have fallen, not skyrocketed. Instead, 139,100 people became unemployed, only 47,000 of whom were non-white. Ergo, instead of whites gaining 130,000 jobs, they lost 92,000.

There are other problems with the article as well, some of which you can discover by reading the NYT (in fact, the stories are written by the same person). For example, the story above cites low-wage, manufacturing and government workers as hardest hit, but last month the picture was just the opposite (emphasis added):

In the private work force, the weakness in May was concentrated in the fields of communications media, advertising and other information services, as well as in finance and education, according to James Brown, an analyst with the state’s Labor Department.

Those losses offset employment gains in tourism-related businesses and construction, Mr. Brown said. He said that aggressive price-cutting by hotels had kept tourists visiting and saved jobs. Construction benefited from the flow of federal stimulus funds, he added.

The latest numbers, Mr. Brown said, illustrate that New York’s economy is still contracting, despite recent fluctuations in the city’s unemployment rate, which was 8 percent in April.

“Although the unemployment rate actually dipped slightly in three of the last five months, the trend is still strongly upward,” he said. “Despite some positive notes, the city’s job market is still weak and the weakest areas — financial activities and professional and business services — will not resume growth until after the national economy improves.”

I’m sure there’s other stuff that’s wrong as well, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a racist.