May 31, 2014

Unanswered VA Scandal Question: Why Is Even a 14-Day Wait For an Appointment Acceptable?

An item which appears to be overlooked in the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal is the press’s and presumably the public’s blind acceptance of the department’s goal to reduce its average wait times to 14 days as supposedly “aggressive.”

My reaction is that the goal doesn’t seem “aggressive” at all, or even borderline acceptable, based on both personal experience and some admittedly limited research I’ve done on best practices. It seems to me that the average consumer, and for that matter the average journalist, would have a hard time accepting the idea of an average 14-day wait time for a personal appointment involving real urgency. So why should the expectations of or for those who served our country be any lower?

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Despite April Consumer Spending Dip, AP’s Crutsinger Likes Sunny Growth Predictions

After investing so much emotional energy in the idea that the weather-impaired contracting U.S. economy of the first quarter is going to give way to a super-duper awesome second quarter and strong rest of the year, it was foolish to think that Martin Crutsinger at the Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press, would backtrack after just one contradictory report on consumer spending, which “unexpectedly” fell 0.1 percent in April, confounding expectations of a 0.2 percent pickup.

And of course he didn’t. What’s remarkable is that Crutsinger’s Friday report seemed to get even more aggressive with his second-quarter prediction, citing “some analysts” who believe that it will come in at an annualized 4 percent — quite the reversal from the first quarter’s 1.0 percent annualized contraction. Meanwhile, the AP reporter missed a less buoyant report from his colleague Christopher Rugaber which punctured a bit of Crutsinger’s premise. Excerpts from both items follow the jump.

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Inevitable: Complaints About How Sterling Is Being ‘Rewarded’ For Racism

I guess the PC sports press was hoping for a high-tech lyching of sorts, wherein Donald Sterling, the owner in limbo who is soon to be former owner of the National Basketall Association’s Los Angeles Clippers, would be frog-marched out of his office and dumped onto Skid Row, never to be heard from again, for his undeniably racist remarks to his now ex-girlfriend about how he didn’t want her bringing blacks to Clippers games while directing racial invective at other specific persons.

It’s not working out that way. In fact, quite the opposite. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is reportedly paying $2 billion for the Clippers. That’s quite a windfall for Sterling, considering that he apparently paid about $12.5 million for the team in the early 1980s and that the team was valued at about $575 million in the most recent related edition of Forbes. At Huffington Post and ESPN, Earl Ofari Hutchinson and Scoop Jackson, respectively, are almost beside themselves.

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In Covering Shinseki’s Sacking, AP’s Pace Cites VA’s Rising Caseload, Ignores Huge Spending Increases

Julie Pace at the Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press, is used to carrying water for the Obama administration. Last year, she proudly reveled in how she and her wire service sat on information it had about secret U.S.-Iran negotiations for eight months. My immediate take was that “They didn’t report it until the Obama administration said it would be okay to report it.” The AP denied it; unfortunately for the self-described “essential global news network,” another news organization confirmed that it and AP “both had versions of it independently early & were asked to not publish til end of Iran talks.” There’s not a chance in Hades that the AP would have similarly accommodated a Republican or conservative administration.

After that heavy lifting, Pace surely found that giving readers the impression in a Friday report about President Barack Obama’s sacking of Eric Shinseki that the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs have more to do with its growing caseload than with incompetence and potential criminality was relatively easy.

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Saturday Off-Topic (Moderated) Open Thread (053114)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 6:05 am

This open thread will stay at or near the top today. Rules are here. Possible comment fodder may follow. Other topics are also fair game.

Positivity: Colombia Senate Votes: ‘There is No Right to Abortion’

Filed under: Life-Based News,Positivity — Tom @ 6:00 am

Via Sofia Martinez at Life News:

On May 6, Colombia’s Senate unanimously voted that there is no “right to abortion.”

This is a milestone for pro-lifers in Colombia who have been in a fierce battle with abortion advocates who want to establish abortion as a right. Abortion activists have even gone so far as to exploit rape victims to make this happen.
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May 30, 2014

Agenda-Driven Much? CNBC’s Dan Mangan, on Kaiser Poll: ‘Shut Up About Obamacare!’

In a report at CNBC on Thursday, Dan Mangan covered a “Kaiser Health Tracking Poll” which appears to have been pre-cooked to please an administration which would love to have the press give Obamacare even less than the disproportionately low coverage it has received since a few weeks after HealthCare.gov’s disastrous initial rollout.

Mangan eagerly took the bait. His opening sentence: “And the winner by a nose is…shut up about Obamacare!” Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine):

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Latest PJ Media Column (‘Too Rolling Stoned’) Is Up

It’s here.

It will go up here at BizzyBlog on Sunday morning (link won’t work until then) after the blackout expires.

Low-Info Voter Outreach: USAT Tweets and Makes Excuse For GDP Contraction — On Its Weather Feed

In an apparent attempt to reach those who usually don’t pay much attention to the economy, USA Today sent out a tweet Thursday afternoon in the wake of the government’s report earlier in the day that the U.S. economy contracted by an annualized 1.0 percent — on its weather feed.

The tweet (HT Zero Hedge), plus evidence that the economy has somehow managed to “weather” previous cold and stormy winters, follow the jump:

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Friday Off-Topic (Moderated) Open Thread (053014)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 6:05 am

This open thread will stay at or near the top today. Rules are here. Possible comment fodder may follow. Other topics are also fair game.

Positivity: Pope makes new Christian unity step in meeting with Patriarch

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:00 am

From Jerusalem:

May 25, 2014 / 11:56 am

In a declaration delivered at the end of a private meeting, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Costantinople Bartholomew I marked a new step on the journey towards unity, stressing their commonality in areas such as respect for the sanctity of life and the protection of the family.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew met in Mount Scopus, Jerusalem on May 25 during the pontiff’s current three-day visit to the region.

The two signed a common declaration after a private meeting and an exchange of gifts, and then held an ecumenical celebration in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The meeting between the Pope and Patriarch marks the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Paul VI and the then Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem Jan. 6 1964, which concluded with the historical embrace between the two.

Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew wanted to commemorate that historical meeting again in Jerusalem, thus pushing to foster the ecumenical path toward the Unity of Christians.

“Our fraternal encounter today is a new and necessary step on the journey toward the unity to which only the Holy Spirit can lead us, that of communion in legitimate diversity,” the common declaration read.

Pope Francis and the Patriarch Bartholomew declared to look forward “in eager anticipation to the day in which we will finally partake together in the Eucharistic banquet,” and that Christians are “preparing to receive this gift of Eucharistic communion” through “the confession of the one faith, persevering prayer, inner conversion, renewal of life and fraternal dialogue.”

The Pope and the Patriarch underscored the “substantial progress” of the theological encounters which took place under the predecessors St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Patriarch Dimitrios.

The theological dialogue “does not seek a theological lowest common denominator on which to reach a compromise, but is rather about deepening one’s grasp of the whole truth that Christ has given to his Church,” the common declaration said. …

Go here for the rest of the story.

May 29, 2014

Nancy Pelosi: VA Wait List Manipulation Isn’t a ‘Scandal With Intention and the Rest of It’ Yet

Imagine the press letting a Republican or conservative get away with trying to avoid uncondtionally calling something as infuriating and outrageous as the Veterans Administration waiting list scandal a real scandal.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did that on Monday (HT Patterico and Real Clear Politics) in an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, who naturally let it slide right on by:

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1Q14 Gross Domestic Product, First Revision (052914): An Annualized 1.0% Contraction

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:48 am

Note: This “live blog” post originally appeared just after 7:30 a.m., and will be periodically updated before and after the GDP report’s release.

_______________________________________

Background:

In April, following third- and fourth-quarter 2013 performances which came in at annual rates of 4.1 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, and sustained bouts of rough winter weather around much of the country in January and February, the consensus prediction was that the government’s first report on first-quarter 2014 growth would show that the economy grew at a 1.1 percent annual rate.

The actual reading was the lowest possible positive result, i.e., an annual rate of 0.1 percent. Growth in personal consumption was weaker than expected. Fixed business investment exclusive of inventories declined. Exports fell sharply.

In the past few weeks, additional government and other reports have indicated that the first quarter was even weaker than initially thought.

Predictions:

What to watch for:

Other economic reports released in the past few weeks point towards an upward GDP revision in personal consumption of goods, a downward revision in exports, and a bigger hit from inventories.

The report will be here at 8:30 a.m.

Other pre-release commentary:

  • The New York Post’s John Crudele (“Grim, dim & puny”) dishes out a heavy dose of sarcasm — “don’t worry – it was the snow and the cold and, you know, things that only God can control.”
  • CNBC’s Patti Domm (“Here’s why markets should look past negative GDP”) — “First-quarter GDP could ultimately be revised to a positive number in the third and final reading next month.” Domm also quotes an Deutsche Bank’s chief U.S. economist Joseph LaVorgna predicting 4.2 percent annualized growth in the second quarter.

HERE IS THE REPORT (full tables link): The overall number is worse than anyone thought —

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — decreased at an annual rate of 1.0 percent in the first quarter according to the “second” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.6 percent.

The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the “advance” estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, real GDP was estimated to have increased 0.1 percent. With this second estimate for the first quarter, the decline in private inventory investment was larger than previously estimated.

The decrease in real GDP in the first quarter primarily reflected negative contributions from private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, state and local government spending, and residential fixed investment that were partly offset by a positive contribution from personal consumption expenditures. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.

… The downturn in the percent change in real GDP primarily reflected a downturn in exports, a larger decrease in private inventory investment, and downturns in nonresidential fixed investment and in state and local government spending that were partly offset by an upturn in federal government spending.

… Profits from current production (corporate profits with inventory valuation adjustment (IVA) and
capital consumption adjustment (CCAdj)) decreased $213.4 billion in the first quarter, in contrast to an increase of $47.1 billion in the fourth.

Here is how the contributions to GDP changed by major component:

GDPcomponents1Q14OrigAnd1stRev

By far the biggest revision was in inventories. This may be weather-influenced, but the disappointing Christmas shopping season may also have weighed on many retailers who have decided to keep their on-hand stocks at minimal levels.

Quick Reactions:

  • Associated Press — “The U.S. economy was battered even more than first suspected by the harsh winter, actually shrinking from January through March. But economists are confident the contraction was temporary.”
  • Bloomberg — “The last time the economy shrank was in the same three months of 2011. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.5 percent drop. A pickup in receipts at retailers, stronger manufacturing and faster job growth indicate the first-quarter setback will prove temporary as pent-up demand is unleashed.”
  • Reuters via CNBC (“Frigid winter takes toll as US GDP contracts for first time in 3 years”) — “The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter for the first time in three years as it buckled under the weight of a severe winter, but there are signs activity has since rebounded.”
  • Wall Street Journal — “Most economists predict the U.S. economy will bounce back in the second quarter, though it isn’t clear how strong of a rebound is in the works. Gauges of industrial production, retail sales and durable-goods orders all rose in February and March before weakening in April. Even if it is temporary, the first-quarter downturn reflects a pattern seen repeatedly over the past five years. The worst recession since the Great Depression ended in June 2009, but the economic recovery has struggled to gain traction.”
  • Zero Hedge — “if one excludes the artificial stimulus to the US economy generated from the Obamacare Q1 taxpayer-subsidized scramble, which resulted in a record surge in Healthcare services spending of $40 billion in the quarter, Q1 GDP would have contracted not by 1% but by 2%!”

 

Initial Unemployment Claims (052914): 300K SA

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:47 am

Note: Post-release analysis will be deferred until after a review of today’s GDP release.

__________________________

Predictions:

Seasonal Adjustment Factors:

  • Week ended May 24, 2014 — 90.7
  • Week ended May 25, 2013 — 91.2

Raw Claims:

  • Week ended May 17, 2014 — 286,590 (before likely revision)
  • Week ended May 25, 2013 — 319,508

To meet or beat the Business Insider prediction, raw claims will need to be 289,000 or lower (289K divided by .912 is 317K, rounded). That would be barely more raw claims than the previous week.

The Department of Labor’s report will be here at 8:30.

UPDATE: The seasonally adjusted number is 300,000. More later.

NewsBusted (052714)

Filed under: NewsBusted — Tom @ 6:44 am

A bit delayed, but here we go:

Topics:
– Memorial Day
– V.A. Hospitals
– Senator Jay Rockefeller
– Obamacare
– Prince Charles
– Putin and Hitler
– Congressman Joe Garcia
– Jay Leno
– Macklemore

Best Lines (among many):

  • “The White House is under fire for long wait times at most VA hospitals. And the administration promised to get help quickly to all our veterans, just as soon as they get around to telling the whole truth on Benghazi.”
  • “Speaking at an awards ceremony in Israel, Jay Leno made fun of President Obama and John Kerry. But don’t worry, Jay. It’s not like Hollywood can take the Tonight Show away from you again.”