Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Don’t Fire Brian Williams!

I’ll assume that, if you made it to this website, you are at least somewhat familiar with the Brian Williams (growing?) fiasco, so I’m not going to provide a link. It’s all over the internet. Use your Google-fu. You have the power.

As this story continues to metastasize, more and more people will call for Williams’ head. Reportedly, Tom Brokaw is even doing so. But I say, let him stay.

Why? Well, it’s basically the same reasoning as the Basterds:

Lt. Aldo Raine: [to Wicki] Ask him what he is gonna do with his uniform when he gets home.
Pvt. Butz: [through an interperter] Not only do I intend to take off my uniform, I intend to burn it.
Lt. Aldo Raine: Nah, see, we don’t like that. We like our Nazis in uniform. That way we can spot ‘em just like that. We’re gonna give you a little something you cant take off.

Right now, Williams is tarred with the truth. That is, he’s a lying fabulist who represents legacy media and, apparently felt not a twinge of guilt about telling his tale for twelve years. Judging by his actions, Williams believed that his media buddies would back him up, even though at least some in his own organization had to know he was completely full of horse puckey. He wasn’t the only one on that helicopter after all. His crew that day new damned well they didn’t take any fire. And the NBC upper brass had to know it too. They’re all in this together.

So, I say, let him stay. Let him sit there in that chair, night after night, pretending to be the very embodiment of sober truth and empirical justice. Everyone knows who he really is. He can’t scrub that off now. After a dozen years of not just telling the same lie, but embellishing it further, the stain of that prevarication is indelible. Let him wear it, and be a true representative of the legacy media. I can’t think of a better or more apt standard bearer.

~MichaelW
Twitter: @mjwadeesq

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Economic Statistics for 5 Feb 15

Chain stores today are reporting mostly stronger rates of year-on-year sales growth in January vs December.

Challenger’s layoff count for January jumped to 53,041 from 32,640 in December. Troublingly, 40% of layoffs are in the energy sector.

Gallup’s US Payroll to Population rate fell -0.2% to 44.1%. Gallup estimates unemployment at 7.1%, and underemployment at 15.8%.

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly widened in December, from $-39.0 billion to $-46.6 billion as exports fell -1.1% and imports rose 2.2%.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 11,000 to 278,000. The 4-week average fell 6,500 to 292,750. Continuing claims rose 6,000 to 2.400 million.

The initial estimate of non-farm productivity for the 4th Quarter of 2014 is for a decline of -1.8%, while unit labor costs increased 2.7%.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index fell -1.8 points to a still healthy 45.5 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet rose $0.3 billion last week, with total assets of $4.500 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $-7.3 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $67.5 billion in the latest week.


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6,500 in the week to 292,750

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Economic Statistics for 4 Feb 15

The MBA reports that mortgage applications rose 1.3% last week, with purchases down -2.0%, but refis up 3.0%.

ADP sees slowing job growth with a lower-than-expected 213,000 private payroll jobs added in January.

Gallup’s U.S. Job Creation Index rose 1 point to 28 for January. 

The Markit PMI services index for January rose 0.9 points to 54.2.

The ISM non-manufacturing index rose 0.5 points to 56.7 in January.

J.P. Morgan’s Global Composite PMI rose 0.5 points to 52.8, while the Global Services PMI rose 0.6 points to 52.9 in January.


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Media Manufacturing Controversy … Again

What else is new, right? In the last presidential election, it was the “War on Women”, with George Snuffleupagus firing the first volley with an oddball question about contraception. This time around, it’s a report from Chis Christie’s tour of the UK:

As he toured the United Kingdom on Monday, Chris Christie seemed to leave his tough guy persona back in the United States. The potential Republican 2016 presidential contender punted on questions about whether Americans should vaccinate their kids amid a 14-state outbreak of a disease which is staging a comeback after being largely eradicated by science.

“All I can say is we vaccinated ours,” Christie said, while touring a biomedical research facility in Cambridge, England, which makes vaccines.

The New Jersey governor added that “parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

Not exactly controversial unless you spin it the right way (which CNN does in the above article by accusing the New Jersey Governor of being uncharacteristically mealy-mouthed). And it would really help if you could get another potential candidate on the record saying something similar. Enter Rand Paul:

In a contentious interview today, Sen. Rand Paul said he’s heard of cases where vaccines lead to “mental disorders” and argued that parents should be the ones to choose whether they vaccinate their children, not the government. Paul is a former ophthalmologist.

“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview with CNBC anchor Kelly Evans.

“I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing, but I think the parents should have some input,” he added. “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom.”

Again, not terribly controversial except for the “mental disorders” part. Which is what the media are now running with to paint all conservatives as “anti-vaxxers”:

NBC News – “Rand Paul: Vaccines Can Lead to ‘Mental Disorders'”
CNN – “Paul: Vaccines can cause ‘profound mental disorders'”
ABC News – “Rand Paul Says Vaccines Can Lead to ‘Mental Disorders'”
HuffPo – “Rand Paul: Children Got ‘Profound Mental Disorders’ After Receiving Vaccines”
Vox – “Rand Paul says he’s heard of vaccines leading to ‘profound mental disorders’ in children”
FactCheck.org – “Paul Repeats Baseless Vaccine Claims”

So on, and so on. The New York Times tackles it this way:

The politics of medicine, morality and free will have collided in an emotional debate over vaccines and the government’s place in requiring them, posing a challenge for Republicans who find themselves in the familiar but uncomfortable position of reconciling modern science with the skepticism of their core conservative voters.

[…]

The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.

Suddenly, we’re all talking about vaccines and how those nasty, anti-science Republican weirdos are dangerous to society. Funny how that works. And of course, never let facts get in the way, such as Paul being correct about the mental disorders thing. Here’s his statement again:

I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.

Guess what? The CDC agrees with him (my emphasis):

MMR vaccine side-effects
(Measles, Mumps, and Rubella)
What are the risks from MMR vaccine?
A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.
The risk of MMR vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.
Getting MMR vaccine is much safer than getting measles, mumps or rubella.
Most people who get MMR vaccine do not have any serious problems with it.
Mild Problems
Fever (up to 1 person out of 6)
Mild rash (about 1 person out of 20)
Swelling of glands in the cheeks or neck (about 1 person out of 75)
If these problems occur, it is usually within 7-12 days after the shot. They occur less often after the second dose.
Moderate Problems
Seizure (jerking or staring) caused by fever (about 1 out of 3,000 doses)
Temporary pain and stiffness in the joints, mostly in teenage or adult women (up to 1 out of 4)
Temporary low platelet count, which can cause a bleeding disorder (about 1 out of 30,000 doses)
Severe Problems (Very Rare)
Serious allergic reaction (less than 1 out of a million doses)
Several other severe problems have been reported after a child gets MMR vaccine, including:
Deafness
Long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness
Permanent brain damage

These are so rare that it is hard to tell whether they are caused by the vaccine.

While extremely rare, do long-term seizures, coma, lowered consciousness, or permanent brain damage count as “profound mental disorders”? I guess you make an argument that not all such cases do, but I would think permanent brain damage fits the bill.

Ironically enough, the FactCheck.org article actually highlights that Paul and the CDC are on the same page:

There have been some reports of “lowered consciousness” or permanent brain damage after a vaccine is given for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) or measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), but the CDC says that these are so rare that a cause-and-effect relationship cannot be determined.

Note that the CDC does not posit a causal connection, but then again neither does Paul. Indeed, he further clarified:

“I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related — I did not allege causation. I support vaccines, I receive them myself and I had all of my children vaccinated,” Paul said in a statement. “In fact today, I received the booster shot for the vaccines I got when I went to Guatemala last year.”

Too late, since the media has its juicy soundbites already.

None of this is to say that GOP politicians don’t do this to themselves. Paul certainly didn’t have to even raise the specter of a potential causal link between vaccines and mental disorders. He should have known that, regardless of what the CDC and science says, most everyone was going to associate his comments with the debunked autism link. Even if there was a proven causal link, it’s so incredibly rare as to not be deserving of a mention. I get his thinking from a liberty perspective, but message delivery is vital and Paul failed at that.

The Chris Christie statements, on the other hand, don’t strike me as even slightly off, but clearly there was a theme building here amongst the media hivemind. The idea that the guy who insisted on quarantining the Ebola nurse is super interested in liberty does sound a sour note, and Christie probably should have led with the idea that routine vaccinations are safe and effective which is why everyone should get them. Seems like a rookie mistake for someone who’s been in the limelight for quite some time.

Not that it matters. The theme has been set, and the narrative will now run its course. Inconvenient facts such as who the anti-vaxxers really are, or what Democrats have had to say on the issue, will be glossed over or simply dismissed. And all vaccines will be treated the same so that if a GOP candidate balks at mandating, say, a flu vaccine, he or she will then be tarred as an anti-science, ant-vaxxer. Democrats and the Left will be fine with this since they have zero problems with government mandates. And thus the media has neatly cleaved the country it two wholly separate and unequal parts in order to drive the political wedge deeper.

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When your government lies to you

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup lays out one of the biggest lies our government is party to each month.

The unemployment rate.

Right now the lie claims that only 5.6% of those who want to work aren’t working.  That’s simply not true.

But it is a lie that banks on you not looking into how the government computes this number.  It banks on you using a different definition – i.e. one that defines unemployment as I have above – the unemployed are those who want work but can’t find work.

However, the government uses an entirely different set of criteria to come up with their number and ignore a  huge portion of the public which is out of work.

Clifton points out:

If you, a family member or anyone is unemployed and has subsequently given up on finding a job — if you are so hopelessly out of work that you’ve stopped looking over the past four weeks — the Department of Labor doesn’t count you as unemployed. That’s right. While you are as unemployed as one can possibly be, and tragically may never find work again, you are not counted in the figure we see relentlessly in the news — currently 5.6%. Right now, as many as 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed.

Yet politicians and the media keep pushing that number out there without any caveat or qualifier.  They too expect you to use your definition of unemployment while they knowingly push this lie.

And, it’s even worse than that.  Here’s another way they pad that official number:

There’s another reason why the official rate is misleading. Say you’re an out-of-work engineer or healthcare worker or construction worker or retail manager: If you perform a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20 — maybe someone pays you to mow their lawn — you’re not officially counted as unemployed in the much-reported 5.6%. Few Americans know this.

Of course “few Americans know this”.  It’s because our government goes out of its way to avoid telling us this. The official unemployment numbers is a fantasy number with very little basis in reality.  It is aimed at serving the political resumes of our government masters.  It is designed to pretend there has been progress in the employment field.  There hasn’t.  Period.

Yet another figure of importance that doesn’t get much press: those working part time but wanting full-time work. If you have a degree in chemistry or math and are working 10 hours part time because it is all you can find — in other words, you are severely underemployed — the government doesn’t count you in the 5.6%. Few Americans know this.

None of this gets much press.   The politicians and bureaucrats glibly push this lie and the media dutifully publish it with little or no research into its efficacy.  We have the lowest labor participation rate in about 40 years meaning huge numbers of Americans remain unemployed or grossly underemployed while our political betters celebrate false employment numbers and claim things are “getting better”.  It is all about the next election instead of service to this country for them.

Clifton concludes:

I hear all the time that “unemployment is greatly reduced, but the people aren’t feeling it.” When the media, talking heads, the White House and Wall Street start reporting the truth — the percent of Americans in good jobs; jobs that are full time and real – then we will quit wondering why Americans aren’t “feeling” something that doesn’t remotely reflect the reality in their lives. And we will also quit wondering what hollowed out the middle class.

The middle class is the real victim of these horrid economic conditions.  Pretending that “all is well” on the employment front lets politicians off the hook when it comes to addressing the problems the middle class in this country are facing – like UNEMPLOYMENT!  They simply point to the lie and claim that “historically” that rate signifies “full employment” and they’re the heroes that brought it down.

When your government purposely lies to you, any trust you may have in it vanishes.  And it portends even worse problems.  If it will lie about the unemployment rate, what else will it lie about?  And what steps will it take to maintain those lies and protect those who tell them?

What was supposed to be a servant to the people is evolving quite rapidly into the people’s master.  Government wasn’t envisioned like this at all at our founding.  In fact, what we have today is anathema to what our founders envisioned.  A huge, bloated, powerful, coercive and dishonest government which seems to think it has the right to intrude at all levels of our life.   The particular lie Clifton exposes is only one of many it has pushed over the years.  And unless something is done and done quickly it will only get worse.

Maybe it is time for a convention of the states.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 3 Feb 15

January auto sales weakened by -1.2% to 16.7 million annual rate, following December’s -0.7% decline. Having said that, sales are still strong compared to a year ago, and the weakness is centered in foreign-made vehicles.

Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index rose from -5 to 3 in January, the first positive reading since 2008.

Redbook reports retail sales rose 3.8% on a year-ago basis, from last week’s 3.2%.

Factory orders are weak at the headline level, down -3.4% in December, and the fifth straight decline. Excluding defense goods and civilian aircraft, however, orders are actually up 0.1%.


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They call them “economic laws” for a reason

So the citizens of San Francisco voted themselves an increase in prices, er, excuse me, a “$15 minimum wage” and thumb their noses at the laws of economics.

Reality hits back.  Borderland Books, an iconic SF bookstore, provides the perfect two-fold example with this announcement:

In November, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 per hour by 2018. Although all of us at Borderlands support the concept of a living wage in principal and we believe that it’s possible that the new law will be good for San Francisco — Borderlands Books as it exists is not a financially viable business if subject to that minimum wage. Consequently we will be closing our doors no later than March 31st. The cafe will continue to operate until at least the end of this year.

Many businesses can make adjustments to allow for increased wages. The cafe side of Borderlands, for example, should have no difficulty at all. Viability is simply a matter of increasing prices. And, since all the other cafes in the city will be under the same pressure, all the prices will float upwards. But books are a special case because the price is set by the publisher and printed on the book. Furthermore, for years part of the challenge for brick-and-mortar bookstores is that companies like Amazon.com have made it difficult to get people to pay retail prices. So it is inconceivable to adjust our prices upwards to cover increased wages.

The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%. That increase will in turn bring up our total operating expenses by 18%. To make up for that expense, we would need to increase our sales by a minimum of 20%. We do not believe that is a realistic possibility for a bookstore in San Francisco at this time.

Note the key lines.  “The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%.”  Yet, there’s not 39% room in the earnings to weather that increase, because an 18% increase in operating costs puts them in the red.  Borderland Books explains why – retail price is almost impossible to get anymore so they can’t increase the price of the product to cover the cost.  Result?  The workers in the bookstore will have a wage of $0 as of March 31.  I’m sure they’re thrilled.

Meanwhile the cafe will stay open because it can do what?  Pass the cost on to the customer.  So in essence, those who voted for the increase in minimum wage voted dollars out of the pockets of those who opposed it as well as their own.  While the workers in the cafe will get their $15 an hour minimum wage, it will be achieved in an increase in the price of the goods the cafe sells (about 20%).  And if their experience is anything like Seattle’s (which also instituted a $15 minimum wage) tips will dry up to next to nothing, while perks (such as free meals, parking, etc.) will be discontinued now that the workers make enough money to pay for most of them.

Yes, economic illiteracy has a price – and here it is.  Fewer jobs, higher prices, all a result of fools who thought they could magic “a living wage” out of a vote without that having any consequences to the workers or themselves.

Idiots.

~McQ

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If you’re a pacifist, it helps if everyone else is too

That’s the hard lesson Japan’s Prime Minister is learning:

When Islamic State militants posted a video over the weekend showing the grisly killing of a Japanese journalist, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacted with outrage, promising “to make the terrorists pay the price.”

Such vows of retribution may be common in the West when leaders face extremist violence, but they have been unheard of in confrontation-averse Japan — until now. The prime minister’s call for revenge after the killings of the journalist, Kenji Goto, and another hostage, Haruna Yukawa, raised eyebrows even in the military establishment, adding to a growing awareness here that the crisis could be a watershed for this long pacifist country.

“Japan has not seen this Western-style expression in its diplomacy before,” Akihisa Nagashima, a former vice minister of defense, wrote on Twitter. “Does he intend to give Japan the capability to back up his words?”

Japan has been a pacifist country by declaration, pretty much forced into that position by the United States after WWII.  But Japan, if its history is any indication, isn’t a pacifist country by tradition.

And, of course, it is easier to be a “pacifist” nation when you’re essentially protected by GreatPower.  Japan has enjoyed that luxury for almost 70 years.

That’s enough time to begin to believe you can be a pacifist nation and survive.  But, as the title indicates, that’s a dream reality won’t support unless certain unlikely conditions are sought.  It’s a bit like demanding that guns be banned with the belief that if law abiding citizens are prohibited from carrying weapons, criminals too will refrain from using them.   Or unilateral nuclear disarmament.  If you destroy your nukes, well, the other guy has an huge bit of leverage hasn’t he?

No country today can afford to be “pacifist” in this world.  Those organizations and countries like ISIS would love that.  It would be like a homeowner putting a sign in their window that says “this is a gun free house”.  Why not send an engraved invitation to those who look for situations like that to criminally exploit?

Like most ideals, while nice to contemplate and certainly wonderful to wish for, reality simply doesn’t look kindly on unrealistic ideals nor does it deal gently with those who try to practice them foolishly.

Japan is emerging from a long sleep in which they were able to indulge themselves in their dream.  But with China rattling sabers and looking at least regionally expansionist, North Korea in the hands of a mad man and the US showing little or no leadership nor inclination to back Japan like it has in the past — dreamtime is over.

It’s time for them to embrace the suck and do what is necessary to survive and thrive in it.

~McQ

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Economic Statistics for 2 Feb 15

Gallup’s self-reported daily consumer spending measure fell to $81 in January from $98 in December.

Personal Income rose by 0.3% in January, while personal spending fell by -0.3%. The PCE Price index, and inflation measure, fell by -0.2% at the headline level, while the core rate, excluding food and energy, was unchanged. On a year-over-year basis, personal income is up 4.6% while spending is up 3.6%. The PCE price index is 0.7% higher than a year ago, while the core PCE is up 1.3%.

The Markit PMI manufacturing index for January was unchanged at 53.9. 

The ISM Manufacturing index fell -2.0 points in January to 53.5.

The J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI rose just 0.1 points in January to 51.7.


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