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Free Markets, Free People

Economic Statistics for 7 Jun 16

Non-farm productivity fell at an annualized rate of -0.6% while unit labor costs rose 4.5%. This is a key weakness in the economy. It looks better on a year-over-year basis, but not much, with productivity up 0.7% and unit labor costs up 3.0%.

The Fed’s Labor Market Conditions index fell from -0.9 in April to -4.8 in May, the 5th straight negative, and the lowest since 2009.

Gallup’s US Spending Measure indicates that Americans’ self-reported daily spending fell from $95 to $93.

The Gallup Economic Confidence Index was unchanged at -14 in May.

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales growth fell to 0.6% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s 0.9%.

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Punching back

Resolute is a forest products company.  It is one of the largest manufacturers of newsprint in the world.  It has also been the target of a lengthy campaign by Environmental Non Government Organizations (ENGO), like Greenpeace.  At first, when approached by the ENGOs, Resolute cooperated and thought it was part of a cooperative effort.  But, like all good shakedown artists, the ENGOs continued to defame Resolute while insisting on more and more draconian measures be met by the company as new provisos in their “agreement”.

Resolute finally had enough:

On May 31, Resolute took a page from the ENGO’s playbook and, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, filed a civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) suit against Greenpeace and a number of its associates who, though they claim to be independent, act cooperatively. The RICO Act intended to deal with the mob as a loose organization, or “enterprise,” with a pattern of activity and common nefarious purposes, such as extortion. (Greenpeace has asked the Justice Department to use the RICO Act to investigate oil companies and organizations that sow doubts about the risks of climate change.)

The 100-page complaint alleges that Greenpeace and its affiliates are a RICO “enterprise.” According to the Resolute news release, it describes the deliberate falsity of the malicious and defamatory accusations the enterprise has made and details how, to support its false accusations, “Greenpeace has fabricated evidence and events, including, for example, staged photos falsely purporting to show Resolute logging in prohibited areas.” The suit also calls Greenpeace a “global fraud” out to line its pockets with money from donors and says that “maximizing donations, not saving the environment, is Greenpeace’s true objective.” Additionally, it cites admissions by Greenpeace’s leadership that it “emotionalizes” issues to manipulate audiences.

In the U.S. lawsuit, Resolute is seeking compensatory damages in an amount to be proven at trial, as well as treble and punitive damages.

I’ve got to say I’m really glad to see this.  This ENGO scam has gone on far too long and in many cases has had the tacit backing of the government, or elements of the government.  As the article notes, the discovery portion of this suit will be interesting since it will likely uncover many things the ENGOs would prefer stayed unknown to the general and easily duped public – well, at least the part of the public they’re able to dupe into contributing to their “cause”.  Their “cause”, it seems, has become shaking down companies. Even one of the original founders of Greenpeace acknowledges what they’ve become and he minces no words doing so:

Patrick Moore, one of the original founders of Greenpeace, is disappointed that the group that originally wanted to help, is now an extortion racket. He told me: “I am very proud to have played a small role in helping Resolute deal with these lying blackmailers and extortionists.”

We’ll follow and report.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a large and needed pushback.



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Stray Voltage

Is the panic and uproar concerning the “college rape crisis” similar to the McMartin preschool travesty?   Christina Hoff Sommers sees some similarities.

It appears that we are in the throes of one of those panics where paranoia, censorship, and false accusations flourish—and otherwise sensible people abandon their critical facilities. We are not facing anything as extreme as the Salem Witch Trials or the McCarthy inquisitions. But today’s rape culture movement bears some striking similarities to a panic that gripped daycare centers in the 1980s.


Today’s college rape panic is an eerie recapitulation of the daycare abuse panic. Just as the mythical “50,000 abducted children” fueled paranoia about child safety in the 1980s, so today’s hysteria is incited by the constantly repeated, equally fictitious “one-in-five women on campus is a victim of rape”—which even President Obama has embraced.

The one-in-five number is derived from surveys where biased samples of respondents are asked an artful combination of straightforward and leading questions, reminiscent of the conclusory interviews behind the daycare agitation. A much-cited CDC study, for example, first tells respondents: “Please remember that even if someone uses alcohol or drugs, what happens to them is not their fault.” Then it asks: “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had vaginal sex with you.” (Emphasis mine.) The CDC counted all such sexual encounters as rapes.

Reputable studies suggest that approximately one-in-forty college women are victims of rape or sexual assault (assault includes verbal threats as well as unwanted sexual grabbing and fondling). One-in-forty is still too many women. But it hardly constitutes a “rape culture” requiring White House intervention.

She makes it clear that any sort of sexual abuse should be taken seriously and pursued legally.  However, she cautions that allowing a panic to take hold simply isn’t in the best interest of anyone.  My question remains, why are colleges left to investigate and sort this out anyway?  Considering that rape is a major violent crime, seems to me law enforcement should be involved immediately.  My guess is that doing so will cut down on both false reports and the crime itself.  But hey, what do I know.

Well here’s a milestone that one could go without seeing:

In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.

Obviously part of the problem has to do with the dismal economy.  But there’s also something to be said about an education system that doesn’t prepare kids for the real world, participation trophies and helicopter parents.  There’s a popular meme that shows the 19 year olds of D-Day storming the beaches of Normandy set off against the special snowflakes at just about any university you can name, huddled up in their “safe spaces” and sharing whatever they’ve identified as their “pain” (you know, like chalk political slogans on the university sidewalk) with counselors.  There’s a good reason why there are more adults of 18-34 years of age living in Mom’s basement.

They’ve never been properly prepared to leave the place.  Pew Research thinks it is mostly about the economy.  Yes, but it is also a lot about the failure of both parents and government (via schools) to prepare these young adults to assume their role in society.  Or, perhaps, it is where government is quite happy to see them … in a dependent and pliable status where it can better control them.  Who know?

So, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the official unemployment rate dropped by 0.3% to bring it under 5% at 4.7%.  How, you might wonder, could the rate drop so drastically when only 38,000 jobs were added last month?  Easy.  500,000 Americans were dropped from the calculation, assumed to be no longer looking for work.

Other than that, the government and its apologists are trying to blame the weak numbers on the Verizon strike.  But, Reuters doesn’t seem to be buying the spin:

The U.S. economy created the fewest number of jobs in more than five years in May, hurt by a strike by Verizon workers and a fall in goods producing employment, pointing to labor market weakness that could make it difficult for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by only 38,000 jobs last month, the smallest gain since September 2010, the Labor Department said on Friday. Employers hired 59,000 fewer workers in March and April. The government said the month-long Verizon strike had depressed employment growth by 34,000 jobs. …

Even without the Verizon strike, payrolls would have increased by a mere 72,000.

The Verizon workers, who were considered unemployed because they did not receive a salary during the payrolls survey week, returned to their jobs on Wednesday. They are expected to boost June employment.

So with weak numbers both March and April, it’s … Verizon.  Right.  Another in a long line of disingenuous nonsense from your government to fool you in believing everything is on the upswing.  Welcome to Recovery Summer #7!

Gee, if only someone had warned them about this:

Wendy’s has placed an increasing emphasis on tech as wages have begun rising in regions across the country. Last year, the company opened a technology and innovation center called 90° Labs in Ohio, which it said would be used to “develop differentiating, interactive digital experiences for our customers, employees and franchise system.”

Other restaurants are making similar moves to combat rising wages. McDonald’s is testing self-serve kiosks in some of its stores, which CEO Steve Easterbrook called “progress” in the company’s most recent earnings call. Some have speculated that the greater use of tablets — and even robots — could also be on the horizon. Other restaurants, like Shake Shack, are choosing instead to offset higher-wages the old-fashioned way: by raising prices.

Any guesses how long the “Shake Shack” will be able to afford the loss in business to “offset” higher wages?

Meanwhile at the day care center:

Students at Yale University recently sent a petition asking the English department to drop two required classes covering “Major English Poets” because reading those poets “creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.”

You see, they want to “decolonize” the course.  Note the title – “Major ENGLISH poets”.  Included among these poets are Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, John Donne, John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and T.S. Eliot.  Hmm … everyone of them an ENGLISH poet.  Question to the snowflakes – who would you replace them with and still be within the course title?  Back when these folks wrote ENGLISH poetry, there were few LGBTQ poets who identified as such.  In fact, there weren’t any that I’m aware of who self-identified and focused on that.  Same with poets of color. Or feminist poets (note I didn’t say female, but I do leave it to those more expert in this field to identify any major female poet of the time that should be included). All of that my not be particularly agreeable with the SJWs, but it is both reality and history.

“A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms students, regardless of their identity.”

Well, here’s an idea, don’t take the course!  If it does such “active harm” to the students you identify (and who must have the lowest self-esteem on the planet), then find something else to study.  Because like it or not, when you attempt to take your place in society outside of your safe space, they’re not going to excuse the fact that you are ignorant of the major players in ENGLISH poetry.

Here are students who are the most privileged in not only America but likely the world, whining because the object of their study isn’t the right color or sex for them.  Apparently the utility of these dead white males is all wrapped up in their skin color and sex.  I can imagine what they’d call anyone else who based their approval on such trivialities, can’t you?

Have a good weekend!


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Economic Statistics for 3 Jun 16

May’s Employment Situation is very disappointing, with only 38,000 net new jobs created. Labor force participation dropped -0.2% to 62.6% as 458,000 workers left the labor force. Overall, the number of people not in the labor force grew by 664,000. These negatives are hidden, of course, by the clearly meaningless “unemployment” rate which plunged by -0.3% to 4.7%. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2%, but the average workweek fell -0.1 hours to 34.4 hours. Still, congratulations to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who’ve managed to create a method of calculating the unemployment rate that is completely unmoored from any actual labor market condition.

The nation’s trade deficit unexpectedly narrowed to $-37.4 billion in April.

Factory orders rose 1.9% in April, due to civilian aircraft orders. Core capital goods orders actually fell a disappointing-0.6%.

The PMI Services Index fell -1.5 points to 51.3 in May, while the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index dropped -2.8 points to 52.9.

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Economic Statistics for 2 Jun 16

Chain stores that reported sales today reported just slightly less strength in year-on-year sales than in April.

The Challenger Job-Cut Report shows that Layoff announcements during May were a relatively low 30,157 vs. April’s 64,141. 

ADP’s May Employment Report came in in at 173,000 net new jobs, compared to a revised 166,000 for April. 

May’s Gallup Good Jobs rate was 45.5%, up slightly from April’s 44.9% and the highest May rate since Gallup began measuring it in 2010.

Initial weekly jobless claims fell 1,000 to 267,000. The 4-week average fell 1,750 to 276,750. Continuing claims rose 12,000 to 2.172 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 1.2 points to 43.2 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $0.3 billion last week, with total assets of $4.461 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-9.4 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $21.0 billion in the latest week.

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Science vs. “science”

Megan McArdle touches on one of the great political truths of today:

Ask a Washington dinner party full of moderately well informed people what will happen with Iran over the next five years, and you’ll end up with a consensus that gee, that’s tough. Ask them what GDP growth will be in fall 2019, and they’ll probably converge on a hesitant “2 or 3 percent, I guess?” On the other hand, ask them what’s going to happen to the climate over the next 100 years, and what you’re likely to hear is angry.

How can one be certain about outcomes in a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling? Anyone who’s familiar with the history of macroeconomic modeling in the 1960s and 1970s will be tempted to answer “Umm, we can’t.”

And that’s sort of the root of the problem, isn’ t it?  The “science” of “climate change” is based in modeling “a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling”, just as in years past economists attempted the same thing with similar results.

So, how is the inability to capture all the variables, even variables of which little is known at present (and, dare I say it, some unknown) and put them in a model and claim … “science”.  Seems to me its a guess at best.  That’s certainly what economists found when they tried to model economies or even parts of economies.  The number of variables is just too vast and the knowledge of those variables is imprecise at best.

McArdle goes on to talk about the experience of economists and how models have pretty much been put in their place in the “dismal science”.  They’re aids, but they’re certainly nothing to bet your career or economic policy on.

Somehow, however, that’s not been the case with climate models – even when they’ve been shown to be horribly inaccurate time after time (in fact, not even close and have such a tenuous grasp on the mechanics of climate they can’t even reproduce the past).

That’s not stopped those who proclaim the “science is settled” from attempting to vilify and condemn those who disagree.  Money grafs from McArdle:

This lesson from economics is essentially what the “lukewarmists” bring to discussions about climate change. They concede that all else equal, more carbon dioxide will cause the climate to warm. But, they say that warming is likely to be mild unless you use a model which assumes large positive feedback effects. Because climate scientists, like the macroeconomists, can’t run experiments where they test one variable at a time, predictions of feedback effects involve a lot of theory and guesswork. I do not denigrate theory and guesswork; they are a vital part of advancing the sum of human knowledge. But when you’re relying on theory and guesswork, you always want to leave plenty of room for the possibility that your model’s output is (how shall I put this?) … wrong.

Naturally, proponents of climate-change models have welcomed the lukewarmists’ constructive input by carefully considering their points and by advancing counterarguments firmly couched in the scientific method.

No, of course I’m just kidding. The reaction to these mild assertions is often to brand the lukewarmists “deniers” and treat them as if what they were saying was morally and logically equivalent to suggesting that the Holocaust never happened.

And that’s where we are.  McArdle ends with a plea for sane and objective discussion but in my opinion, that ship sailed when we saw state Attorney Generals band together to prosecute “deniers” under the RICO statutes.  Of course that doesn’t change the science or “science” but it does make it much more difficult to dial back the rhetoric.  There is a reason for that:

The arguments about global warming too often sound more like theology than science. Oh, the word “science” gets thrown around a great deal, but it’s cited as a sacred authority, not a fallible process that staggers only awkwardly and unevenly toward the truth, with frequent lurches in the wrong direction. I cannot count the number of times someone has told me that they believe in “the science,” as if that were the name of some omniscient god who had delivered us final answers written in stone. For those people, there can be only two categories in the debate: believers and unbelievers. Apostles and heretics.

This I wholeheartedly agree with and the actions of those who believe in man-made climate change constantly validate my position. This has moved well beyond objectivity and rational discourse.  It is into the realm of religious belief.  It is interesting which side of the ideological curve tends to believe the “science” presented and to agree with the oppressive sanctions offered to silence those who disagree.  The same ones who will tell you they’re “progressive”.  For those of us who read a bit, we know the history of “progressivism” and what is happening on the “progressive” side of this issue is exactly what you’d expect from them.

Now apply that knowledge to other “progressive” ideas and policies and you’ll soon understand what their end game looks like.


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Economic Statistics for 1 Jun 16

May motor vehicle sales kept pace with April, at a 17.5 million annual rate, with North American vehicles selling at a 13.8 million pace.

The Fed’s Beige Book seems to indicate the economy is slowing, characterizing the nation’s economic growth as generally “modest”.

Construction spending fell -1.8% in April, with the year-on-year rate falling to 4.5%, the lowest since June, 2013.

The PMI Manufacturing Index for May fell -0.1 points to 50.7, but the ISM Manufacturing index rose 0.4 points to 51.3.

Gallup’s U.S. Job Creation Index rose 3 points to 33 in May.

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales growth rose to an anemic 0.9% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s even weaker 0.4%.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -4.1% last week, with purchases down -5.0% and refis down -4.0%.

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The state of “science” today?

These numbers should make everyone cringe, especially “scientists”:

  • The biotech company Amgen had a team of about 100 scientists trying to reproduce the findings of 53 “landmark” articles in cancer research published by reputable labs in top journals.
    Only 6 of the 53 studies were reproduced
     (about 10%).
  • Scientists at the pharmaceutical company, Bayer, examined 67 target-validation projects in oncology, women’s health, and cardiovascular medicine.  Published results were reproduced in only
    14 out of 67 projects
     (about 21%).
  • The project, PsychFileDrawer, dedicated to replication of published articles in experimental psychology, shows a
    replication rate 3 out of 9
     (33%) so far.

How can this be?  Where is the rigorousness?  Where is the peer review?  Where are the reproducible results and why aren’t we getting more than we are?

Oh, with a minute:

[T]he US government gives nearly $31 billion every year in science funding through NIH only, which is mainly distributed in research grants to academic scientists. The 10% reproducibility rate means that 90% of this money ($28 billion) is wasted. That’s a lot. How are the tax-payers supposed to respond to the scientist plight for more research funding given these numbers? Would you give more of your own money to someone who delivered you such a result?

Any bets on what the 90% unreproducible results help further?


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Economic Statistics for 31 May 16

In April, Personal income rose 0.4%, Consumer spending rose 1.0%, and the PCE Price index rose 0.3%. The Core PCE Price index rose 0.2%.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index for March rose 0.9%, and is up 5.4% on a yer-over-year basis.

The Chicago purchasing Manager’s Index slipped into a contractionary reading of 49.3 in May, from April’s 50.7.

The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index fell -2.1 points to a lower-than-expected 92.6 in May.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index fell -2.0 points to 106.6 in May.

The Dallas Fed Manufacturing Survey turned strongly negative, falling from 5.8 to -13.1 in May.

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