August 19, 2010

AP: Initial Unemployment Claims Jump to 500K (No, That’s the Seasonally Adjusted Number)

Really bad reporting that is actually unfair to Team Obama makes pretty bad news look a lot worse:

Employers appear to be laying off workers again as the economic recovery weakens. The number of people applying for unemployment benefits reached the half-million mark last week for the first time since November.

It was the third straight week that first-time jobless claims rose. The upward trend suggests the private sector may report a net loss of jobs in August for the first time this year.

Initial claims rose by 12,000 last week to 500,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

No they didn’t:

  • ACTUAL initial claims were 401,856.
  • That was a drop of 22,650, or 5.33%, from the previous week.
  • Looking at the comparable weeks in 2009, actual claims dropped 5.10% from 482,590 to 457,985 (go to this interactive link to confirm).
  • After seasonal adjustment, the Department of Labor came back with a psychologically damaging 500,000.

There’s no sugar-coating the poor data, but it’s not as bad as the Associated Press’s Chris Rugaber has presented it. This year’s percentage drop-off from the previous week is a bit higher than last year’s — not much to get excited about, but it is what it is.

As of his 10:27 a.m. rendition, Rugaber makes no reference to seasonal adjustment in his report. That’s really weak. Maybe he or someone else at AP will read this post and revise accordingly.

There are, as would be expected, several examples of bias in the other direction. Here’s one:

Jobless claims declined steadily last year from a peak of 651,000 in March 2009 as the economy recovered from the worst downturn since the 1930s. After flattening out earlier this year claims have begun to grow again.

“Recovered”? In the past tense? As if it’s over and done? Zheesh.

ORPINO Is Still AWOL (UPDATE: Portman Chooses an Alternative Venue)

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:17 am

It has been 3-1/2 months since the May 4 primary. We’re only about 45 days away from the beginning of the travesty known as early voting, and about 75 days away from Election Day in November.

The home page at ORPINO (the Ohio Republican Party In Name Only) still hasn’t changed in any meaningful way during that time:

ORPINO081810at10am

After 3-1/2 months, if you didn’t know better, you would STILL think that that Golden Boy Jon Husted and Auditor candidate Dave Yost are the party’s most important candidates.

Josh Mandel and Mike DeWine are STILL nowhere to be found (the latter is a bit of a blessing, but I digress).

We STILL don’t know why that lovely couple is taking up space on the bottom right.

Oh, here’s an “improvement”: Rob Portman finally makes an appearance. Well, actually, three-quarters of one his campaign signs does, in the item about Democratic outsourcing of work to Central America.

While a sensible, Constitution-based conservative wave continues to build throughout the rest of the nation, ORPINO remains AWOL. When last seen engaging in real activity, it spent large amounts of money and on-the-ground resources — even enlisting help from out of the state — to thwart candidates who were on board with that wave.

Supply your own adjectives.

____________________________________________________

UPDATE: It’s official.

With the appearance of the BlogAd at the top of its strip, people have seen more of Rob Portman’s picture at BizzyBlog than they have at ORPINO’s home page in the past 3-1/2 months — and as readers here know, I’m not exactly a Portman fan.

I guess Team Portman had to find an alternative outlet, any alternative outlet. Apparently, they’ve figured out that they’ll grow old waiting for any real help from ORPINO.

Barney Frank’s Big, Fat, Fear-Driven Political Ploy

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:13 am

The Wall Street Journal’s editorialists are pleased today:

Barney to Fannie: Drop Dead
Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles.

Barney Frank has been all over the airwaves this week with a clear and—we never thought we’d say this—perfectly sound message about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: “They should be abolished.”

Well, praise be. Two years ago next month, then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson put the two government-sponsored mortgage-finance giants into conservatorship, and Congressman Frank declared himself pleased that there was a good chance, according to government bean-counters, that the rescue wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Also at the time, Mr. Frank scoffed at the Bush Administration’s view that Fan and Fred should be wound down, saying it would never happen. One and a half trillion dimes ($149 billion) later, Mr. Frank appears to have seen the light.

Recall that in 2007 Mr. Frank had complained that the reason Fannie and Freddie hadn’t been reformed earlier was “the insistence of some economic conservative fundamentalists in the Bush Administration who, to be honest, don’t think there should be a Fannie Mae or a Freddie Mac.” Welcome aboard, Barney.

In another sign that he’s an avid reader of these columns, Mr. Frank even told Fox Business, “If we want to subsidize housing then we could do it upfront and let the budget be clear about that.” That is certainly a more honest way to subsidize housing and makes us think we don’t write in vain.

This is nice, but Captain Ed at Hot Air says we shouldn’t forget the history. He is of course correct (bold is mine):

That’s … a sea change for Frank. While he nearly dislocates his shoulder attempting to pat his own back by claiming that he has said this all along, it’s simply not true. Frank, in his role on the House Financial Services Committee, played a huge part in creating and maintaining the government intervention that severely distorted the lending markets. Whether or not he ever uttered a comment along the way about overdoing home ownership, Frank’s actions helped to create and maintain those policies, and he defended them repeatedly over the last twelve years.

… Just last year, Frank and his allies were busily claiming that the free market caused the collapse, and that only government intervention could restore American prosperity. Eighteen months into the Obama administration, Frank now wants to sound like a born-again acolyte of Adam Smith, or at least as close as Frank can approximate such a pose.

My theory: Barney “I Really Like the Free Market” Frank is frightened that Sean Bielat actually has a shot at pulling off the supposedly unthinkable — taking his congressional seat.

Here’s more from Bielat (bold is mine):

… Now, amid a heavily anti-incumbent election year, Frank has suddenly changed his tune on Fannie and Freddie, telling Fox News the companies should be “abolished”. Massachusetts voters should not be fooled by Frank’s election year conversion. He risked every hard working American’s economic well-being when he endorsed and protected Fannie and Freddie’s loaning practices.

“It’s pure election-year politics,” said Bielat, a Marine and successful businessman. “The voters are on to Congressman Frank. He is scared and knows Fannie and Freddie are a huge albatross around his neck going into November. Sub-prime mortgages were a primary reason our economy collapsed and why so many people are out of work. Nobody pushed harder to increase Fannie and Freddie’s stake in sub-prime mortgages than Barney Frank.”

This is Barney’s big, fat, fear-driven political ploy. No one in his district should even think about buying what he’s selling.

Other than the apparent need for an on-board grammarian (“loaning policies”?), Bielat looks like the real deal.

Impossible? Yeah, that’s what they said about Scott Brown.

The larger message is that this may be the first true “no incumbent in the president’s party is safe” election since the 1974 post-Watergate ballot box massacre. Pass the popcorn.

____________________________________________

UPDATE, August 20: Robert Snider at Pajamas Media analyzes the situation, and find a Bielat blockbuster difficult but doable.

Positivity: Mayo’s ‘Smart’ Adult Stem Cells Repair Hearts

Filed under: Life-Based News,Positivity — Tom @ 8:41 am

From Rochester, Minnesota (HT Catholic News Agency; related Mayo Clinic blog post is here):

‘Landmark work’ moves beyond the bench
Monday, August 16, 2010

Mayo Clinic investigators, with Belgian collaborators, have demonstrated that rationally “guided” human adult stem cells can effectively heal, repair and regenerate damaged heart tissue. The findings — called “landmark work” in an accompanying editorial — appear in today’s Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Stem cells isolated from patients have normally a limited capacity to repair the heart. This innovative technology boosts the regenerative benefit by programming adult stem cells to acquire a cardiac-like profile. Primed by a cocktail of recombinant cardiogenic growth factors, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) harvested from the bone marrow of a cohort of patients with coronary artery disease showed “superior functional and structural benefit without adverse side effects” over a 1-year follow-up in a model of heart failure according to the study.

Significance of the Findings

“These findings provide proof-of-principle that “smart” adult stem cells have added benefit in repairing the heart, providing the foundation for further clinical evaluation,” says Andre Terzic, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic researcher and senior investigator of the study. “The successful use of guided “lineage specified” human stem cells is based on natural cardiogenic cues” adds Atta Behfar, M.D., Ph.D. first author of the study. The pre-clinical data reported in this seminal paper have cleared the way for safety and feasibility trials in humans, which were recently conducted in Europe.

In their editorial, Eduardo Marban, M.D., Ph.D., and Konstantinos Malliaras, M.D., of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, in Los Angeles describe the Mayo approach as a “boot camp” for stem cells and also write that the study “& provides the first convincing evidence that MSCs, at least in vitro, can in fact become functional cardiomyocytes (heart cells) &”

The long-term potential of the findings include development of an effective regenerative medicine therapy for patients with chronic heart failure.

How It Was Done

Researchers obtained bone marrow-derived stem cells from heart disease patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery. Testing of these stem cells revealed that cells from two of 11 individuals showed an unusual capacity for heart repair. These rare cells demonstrated upregulated genetic transcription factors that helped identify a molecular signature identifying highly regenerative stem cells. The cardiogenic cocktail was then used to induce this signature in non-reparative patient stem cells to program their capacity to repair the heart. Mouse models with heart failure, injected with these cells, demonstrated significant heart function recovery along with improved survival rate after a year, compared to those treated with unguided stem cells or saline.

Specifically, researchers found that the heart tissue healed more effectively; that human cardiac and vascular cells were found participating in the regeneration, repair and strengthening of heart structures within the area of injury; and that scars and vestiges of heart damage appeared to fade away.

Go here for the rest of the news and other links

Really Raw Data: July 2010 Is Worst July on Record for Housing Starts, Permits

HousingDownHere’s how the Associated Press’s Martin Crutsinger and Daniel Wagner reported the housing portion of their Tuesday report on the day’s economic news (“Factories aid bumpy recovery, housing still weak”):

Single-family home construction, which represented nearly 80 percent of the market, fell 4.2 percent. And requests for building permits, considered a good sign of future activity, slid 3.1 percent.

… The July increase in housing construction pushed total activity to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 546,000 units. Building activity in June was weaker than first reported. It fell 8.7 percent to an annual rate of 537,000 units, the slowest pace since October of last year.

“The bad news is that activity is likely to remain depressed for several years,” said Paul Ashworth, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “The good news, however, is that housing is so depressed it is hard to see activity falling much further from such a severely depressed level.”

Well, okay, but the situation is already closer to a zero-out than it is to the levels we were seeing just a few years ago–or any time in the 50-plus years such records have been kept. Looking at the raw data on a historical basis, one finds that July 2010 was the worst July on record for the both stats the AP pair cited:

HousingStartsAndPermitsJuly1959to2010

This is on top of the worst June ever last month for housing starts and new home sales (noted on July 27 at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog; new home sales haven’t been released yet). And note that June 2010 was revised down even further with the release of the July data.

It doesn’t matter how much you season (i.e., seasonally adjust) the raw data before presenting it to the public; the raw data still stinks like it never has before. Both stats, which happen be identically awful, are even worse than July of last year, when the economy (but apparently not the housing market) bottomed out. There aren’t a lot of compelling reasons to believe that the housing situation is going to get much better any time soon — at least as long as “An explicit federal guarantee of a large portion of the mortgage-backed securities created to finance American’s home mortgages” is considered a key linchpin of housing policy. The “implicit” guarantees of the debt government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became explicit as soon as they imploded in September 2008. From all appearances, they’re ready to do what caused that to happen all over again.

You don’t get the impression that things are as bad as they really are from the AP pair’s reports. That doesn’t change the fact that things really are that bad, and unprecedentedly so.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.