March 10, 2014

Staples, Radio Shack, and Other Store Closures: Press Keeps the Weak Economy, Jobs Lost Out of Its Coverage

In the past week, Radio Shack has announced that will close 1,100 stores, or over 20 percent of its U.S. outlets. Staples is shuttering 225 stores, or roughly 12 percent of theirs. Smaller downsizings earlier this year have been reported at Macy’s (involving store and other personnel) and J.C. Penney.

One gets the impression from press reports that these are occurring primarily because of poor management or the ongoing trend towards more online sales. Though those two factors are obviously relevant, the fact that the economy began weakening during the fourth quarter, especially so in December, rarely gets a mention. When it does get noted, it’s usually something mild, along the lines of “disappointing holiday sales.” A Thursday afternoon Associated Press article by business writer Tom Murphy illustrates the kid-glove approach (bolds are mine; my responses to certain of Murphy’s points are in italics):

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Ryan v. McConnell on the Presence of a Republican ‘Civil War’ (See Update)

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:53 am

Paul Ryan:

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says there’s no civil war in the Republican Party.

“I don’t think there’s really this vast civil war in the Republican Party like many in the left like to suggest there is,” the Wisconsin Republican said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think we’re a party with a vibrant debate, adding ideas, solving problems, and I think we’re going to be OK.”

Someone forgot to tell Mitch McConnell (HT RedState):

“I think we are going to crush them everywhere,” Mr. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said in an interview, referring to the network of activist organizations working against him and two Republican incumbents in Kansas and Mississippi while engaging in a handful of other contests. “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”

This is pretty rich, given that his fellow Bluegrass State senator Rand Paul is in the top tier of GOP leaders as seen by the grass roots, and was one of the noteworthy additions to the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body in 2010. McConnell should be grateful that his term wasn’t up in 2010, because Rand Paul would have beaten him like a drum.

If Mitch McConnell had his way, sensible conservatives wouldn’t have Paul, Mike Lee of Utah, or Ted Cruz of Texas representing them in the Senate. We also wouldn’t have stellar congressmen like Kentucky’s own Tom Massie, who represents the northern part of the state. Enough said.

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UPDATE: Well, not enough, now that I’ve found this excellent writeup by Don Todd at NetRightDaily.com

To keep things simple let’s just look at the 2012 Senate elections.

Scott Brown the incumbent Senator from Massachusetts who was elected by promising to be unreasonable about Obamacare came to Washington and joined the smart set. With all the advantages of incumbency he managed to get 46 percent of the vote against the fake Native American Elizabeth Warren. He now is threatening to screw things up for the GOP in New Hampshire.

In Florida, Connie Mack IV son of the former reasonable Republican Senator Connie Mack III managed to round up 42 percent of the vote against Senator Bill Nelson who has a hard time stringing three words together.

Former reasonable Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan got 38 percent against Debbie Stabenow whose approval rating has never been much over 40 percent.

Former ultra-reasonable Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson got 45 percent for an open Senate seat in New Mexico.

Tommy Thompson, the former Governor of Wisconsin who also occupied a chair in the Bush Cabinet collected 46 percent of the vote to lose to Tammy Baldwin by 5.5 percent in an open seat race. Ms. Baldwin’s main claim to fame is that she is a self-proclaimed lesbian making her another first in the Senate.

Denny Rehberg even managed to lose in a state that Romney carried by nearly fourteen points. Rehberg lost by a reasonable 4 points.

Romney received 58.3 percent of the vote in North Dakota. In an open seat race North Dakota’s only Congressman Rick Berg lost to Heidi Heitkamp who ran on the issues of putting politics aside and being North Dakota nice. It is unclear what issues Berg ran on. …

The Job Market’s February Crumble

The raw numbers tell the ugly story.

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This column went up at PJ Media and was teased here at BizzyBlog on Saturday.

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Friday morning’s monthly jobs report from the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a level of February job additions which the establishment press quickly portrayed as tremendous news.

The Associated Press described the results as “a welcome surprise,” achieved “despite a blast of harsh winter weather.” Bloomberg News claimed that “the U.S. economy is starting to shake off the effects of the severe winter weather.” Reuters heralded it as an “upbeat sign for weather-beaten economy.”

Opportunistic Obama administration Labor Secretary Thomas Perez crowed: ”We’re moving in the right direction.”

Do not be fooled. Especially be wary of “the prevailing view of economists,” which is that “When the weather warms up, so, too, will the U.S. economy.”

All of the “surprise” in Friday’s employment report lies in how BLS could possibly have converted truly awful raw data into decent-looking numbers — 175,000 payroll jobs added overall, with 162,000 of them in the private sector — after performing its seasonal adjustment calculations. We had better hope that the raw numbers came in as weak as they did due to February’s rough weather. If they didn’t, we may be facing the worst year in the job market since 2010.

For those unfamiliar with the process, “seasonal adjustment” is “a statistical method for removing the seasonal component of a time series that is used when analyzing non-seasonal trends.” In layman’s terms, it’s an attempt to smooth out results which fluctuate throughout the year to present them in proper context.

For reasons which I have never understood, economists, analysts, and especially reporters seldom go beyond the seasonal adjustment calculations to look at the raw, not seasonally adjusted data, aka the report presenter’s best estimate of what actually happened. This has always been a negligent practice; but it’s especially dangerous now. That’s because, as I wrote last year, “Five years of the Obama economy render the government’s seasonally adjusted numbers virtually worthless.” As we near six years since the Pelosi-Obama-Reid economy began, its erratic nature continues to disrupt normal seasonal patterns.

Let’s look at how bad February really was, and at how the government’s seasonal calculations larded tons of lipstick onto a couple of really ugly pigs:

NSAandSAjobAddsJan2008toFeb2014

February’s figure of 750,000 jobs added overall was the worst February since 2010, the final month of the Obama economy’s extended “jobs recession.” (The administration likes to crow about its 48 months of consecutive though sometimes tepid job growth, but always overlooks how it managed to unprecedentedly extend job losses a full eight months after the recession officially ended in June 2009.) “Somehow,” that result, which is 288,000 jobs below last year’s 1.038 million, converted to 175,000 seasonally adjusted jobs added, only 105,000 fewer than last year’s 280,000. In the context of both February 2013 and February 2012 — BLS seasonally adjusts using five years of data, but weights recent years more heavily — the reported result should have been barely above zero, in which case we’d be seeing the press citing the weather as the go-to excuse instead of something the “resilient” job market heroically overcame.

The private sector’s reported 300,000 in February job additions is 46 percent lower than last February’s 553,000, and is thus even more troubling. In historical context, its seasonally adjusted result should also have come in barely positive.

Unfortunately, those who suspect that BLS may have fudged its presentation now have some basis for holding that belief. Since January 2013, fever swamp leftist Erica Groshen has occupied an influential perch as its Commissioner of Labor Statistics. As an opponent of her nomination said in 2012, “To place at the head of the bureau someone with a far-left record … has the potential to diminish the believability of the information that they produce.” The narratives in BLS’s monthly employment reports during the past year have clearly come across as more selective, inconsistent, and politicized than in the past. One would hope that Groshen’s influence only extends that far, but it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that it doesn’t go further.

The job market’s clearly bad February could not have come at a worse time.

The five months from February through June have traditionally been the time when employers are most actively hiring. As a result, the economy almost always adds millions of jobs. A job market with as much unutilized and underutilized labor as this one should be adding at least 5.5 million not seasonally adjusted (i.e., actual) jobs during these five months. As seen above, the Obama economy hasn’t come anywhere close to achieving that result in any of the three years since the jobs recession ended, falling short by about 1.4 million in 2011 and 2013, and by about 1.6 million in 2012.

Based on February’s awful results, this year may be shaping up to be even worse than the previous three, just in time for what is supposed to be peak hiring — hence my earlier suggestion that we had better hope that February’s bad weather is what seriously hurt the results. If it’s not the cause, we’re in for a very rough ride in the coming months.

It’s not too early to raise the distinct possibility that February’s awful results have far more to do with destructive federal government policies and programs than with ice and snow. Of special concern is its newest and most comprehensive initiative. Obamacare anyone?

Monday Off-Topic (Moderated) Open Thread (031014)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 6:07 am

This open thread will stay at or near the top today. Rules are here.

This continues a two-week catch-up effort, where I am getting to items which may be a bit dated but which many readers might have missed. Other topics are also fair game.

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Feb. 27“The political arm of Planned Parenthood is preparing to launch its largest campaign offensive ever, targeting more than a dozen states and some of the cycle’s top Senate and gubernatorial races,” with their spending “expected to cross the $18 million mark.”

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Opportunism exposed:

Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to restore voting rights to felons after they’ve served their time in prison has split Senate Democrats.

Liberal Democrats who are not facing tough re-elections this year say it’s the right thing to do, but vulnerable incumbents are steering clear of the proposal.

In other words, their degree of stated support depends on whether they’re up for election or reelection.

Safe assumption: They all favor allowing convicted felons to vote.

In my view, that’s the case even if a Dem up for election says that he or she opposes it.

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Feb. 27“… the Obama administration wants to institutionalize the targeting in the form of the new IRS regulations that will leave unions, trade groups, and big media unscathed.” I suspect that in this lawless administration, the targeting will continue whether or not the regulations are approved.

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Feb. 28“Vice President Joe Biden’s role in the administration was virtually frozen after he angered President Barack Obama in 2012 by announcing his support of gay marriage while the president was still on record opposing it.”

If so, he deserves it.

Related: Many African-American pastors want to impeach Eric Holder.

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Feb. 28“Texas Lt. Governor: We Did the Job the Feds Won’t Do – We Shut Down the Border.” I’d like to see some stats on this.

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March 4Grandstanding: Ahead of President Obama’s visit to Connecticut last week, New London passed an ordinance raising its minimum wage to Obama’s favored $10.10 per hour.

New London is the city which “won” the infamous Kelo v. New London property rights case at the Supreme Court in 2005, but which hasn’t been able to develop anything on the site where 78 perfectly useful homes were destroyed in the ensuing nine years. The city’s finances are in grave peril. But the Mayor and City Council agreed to spend $13,000 (some commenters believe it will cost more than that — and they didn’t even pick up on the costs associated with payroll taxes) to pay summer employees in their recreation department $10.10 instead of $8.70.

Go to the link, and you’ll see that commenters are not amused at this stunt, and with good reason. Here’s one of them: “The mayor just announced that he cannot afford trash and snow removal for downtown businesses yet they can afford to raise minimum wage.”

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March 3“London Mayor Calls For State to Take Children Based on Parents’ Political Beliefs.” I don’t need to tell you which political beliefs held by parents might make them vulnerable to having their kids seized, do I?

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The federal government’s reported January deficit was $10.4 billion, about $13 billion worse than the $2.9 billion surplus seen in January 2013.

Previous months in the current fiscal year all showed somewhat sizable improvement over the previous year. February’s result, which should come out on Wednesday, will bear watching. If it’s a comparative repeat of January, it may be evidence that the economy really has weakened.

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Two rich guys on globaloney:

  • Warren Buffet, Democratic Party darling, “told CNBC (on) March 3, that extreme weather events haven’t increased due to climate change, saying that weather events are consistent with how they were 30-50 years ago.”
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook says, in Breitbart.com’s words, that “Global Warming Skeptics Should Dump Company’s Stock.” I presume that means we should also stop buying Apple’s products. That’s a deal, Tim. You won’t see me with buying an iPhone or an iPad. Whether I replace my current Mac with another one in 2016 has become an open question.

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Feb. 21“The Washington state Health Benefit Exchange has spent $2.6 million on an advertising campaign in order to convince young people to sign up for Obamacare. Its latest advertising push features a rap duo who interviews people who have signed up coverage.”

They’re awful. The videos’ creators are laughing all the way to the bank at the waste.

Positivity: Woman thankful of NY Jets trainers who saved her life

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:00 am

From Newark and Indianapolis:

SUNDAY, MARCH 2, 2014, 12:24 AM

After passengers near Larisa Enker, 74, alerted those around them that she seemed unresponsive just after the door to the gate had closed, she was brought off the aircraft by three people: a Louisiana cardiologist named Conrad Jablonski and the two Jets trainers, Josh Koch and Dave Zuffelato.

Larisa Enker doesn’t remember boarding the plane at Newark on Monday, Feb. 17, scheduled to fly her back to Indianapolis. She doesn’t remember waking up at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center at some point afterward, either.

In the long interim that she can’t recall, Enker, 74, had a heart attack and had her life saved by her fellow passengers, including two Jets trainers, and Port Authority police officers on the ground at the airport.

After passengers near her alerted those around them that Enker seemed unresponsive just after the door to the gate had closed, she was brought off the aircraft by three people: a Louisiana cardiologist named Conrad Jablonski and the two Jets trainers, Josh Koch and Dave Zuffelato. Jablonski, who had been at the front of the plane, remembered seeing Enker slowly make her way to her seat a few minutes earlier, one of the last passengers on the aircraft.

On the jetway, the three of them performed CPR on Enker as she continued to be unresponsive, had no pulse and wasn’t breathing. Together with the Port Authority police arriving on scene, they were able to restore her pulse on the second shock from an AED. Using what Jablonski described as an “old school” oxygen tank and mask, they were able to get her breathing as well.

Enker was brought to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where she is still recovering from both the heart attack and broken ribs as a result of CPR. She was emotionally moved when she heard of the quick action taken by her three fellow passengers.

“(They) practically saved my life,” Enker said. “I was crying when I find out. I was very touched.”

Enker is originally from Estonia, but has lived in Indianapolis for the past 22 years. She was on her way back from Israel, where she had been on vacation, and was connecting through Newark. …

Go here for the rest of the story.