June 4, 2015

My Email to the President of Citizens Against Government Waste

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:14 pm

Apparently Citizens Against Government Waste has run out of examples of waste, fraud and abuse inside the federal government to report, and has now turned its eyes on trade.

I received an email urging me to contact my congressional representative to urge him to support the Obama administration’s fast-track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in connection with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Here’s my emailed response:


Assuming he sends me the full agreement, I’ll post it here. (/ heavy sarcasm)


UPDATE, 2:55 P.M.: Sean Motley at Human Events

Is the TPP actually free trade? Well, we don’t know – it’s shrouded in lock-down, totalitarian secrecy.

The fact that it’s shrouded in secrecy makes it very likely that it’s not free trade — something which MAY have been present in NAFTA at first, but has gradually been compromised with each successive trade agreement.

1Q15 Productivity Revised Down; Now Two Consecutive Awful Quarters

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:47 am

On the ADP conference call yesterday, Mark Zandi at Moody’s expressed the belief that the government is not detecting productivity increases caused by disruptive technologies at places like Facebook and Snapchat.

This continues a recent pattern of people who never questioned very often initially understated data during the middle of last decade now deciding that the economy can’t possibly be as bad as the data says it is, so the data must be a problem. (See “residual seasonality.”)

Zandi and the economy’s other cheerleaders obviously doesn’t like what the government is reporting in this area, which just got worse this morning:

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity decreased at a 3.1 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, as output declined 1.6 percent and hours worked increased 1.6 percent. (All quarterly percent changes in this release are seasonally adjusted annual rates.) The decline in productivity follows a decline of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. From the first quarter of 2014 to the first quarter of 2015, productivity increased 0.3 percent, reflecting
increases in output and hours worked of 3.2 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively.

Even if Zandi is right, how in the world do you make up for steep declines like these (a combined actual 1.3 percent — minus 0.525 percent in the fourth quarter and minus 0.775 percent in the second) with Facebook posts and Internet photos?

Initial Unemployment Claims (060415): 276K SA; Raw Claims (230K) 13 Percent Below Same Week Last Year

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:18 am

From the Department of Labor:


In the week ending May 30, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 276,000, a decrease of 8,000 from the previous week’s revised level. The previous week’s level was revised up by 2,000 from 282,000 to 284,000. The 4-week moving average was 274,750, an increase of 2,750 from the previous week’s revised average. The previous week’s average was revised up by 500 from 271,500 to 272,000.


The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, unadjusted, totaled 230,055 in the week ending May 30, a decrease of 23,399 (or -9.2 percent) from the previous week. The seasonal factors had expected a decrease of 17,029 (or -6.7 percent) from the previous week. There were 264,133 initial claims in the comparable week in 2014.

Predictions were for 280K-84K.

Memorial Day was in the most recently reported week and the same week last year. The seasonal adjustment factors were nearly identical (83.3 this year, 84.1 last year).

In isolation, the report is strong. Here’s a contrarian take:

It seems pretty clear that companies have cut as far as they can cut … so any downturn in the economy now flows right through to the bottom line. The big question is – does any of this data extrapolate into the noise-prone payrolls number tomorrow?

Speaking of tomorrow’s employment report, predictions are currently 225,000 to 235,000 seasonally adjusted Establishment Survey job additions, and for the unemployment rate to stay at 5.4 percent. The Associated Press has 227K, and quotes a (Moody’s) High Frequency economist projecting 240,000.

May ISM Non-Manufacturing: 55.7 Percent, Down 2.1 Points From April

Filed under: Economy — Tom @ 7:05 am

From the Institute for Supply Management (bolds are mine; some paragraph breaks added by me):

Economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector grew in May for the 64th consecutive month, say the nation’s purchasing and supply executives in the latest Non-Manufacturing ISM® Report On Business®.

… The NMI® registered 55.7 percent in May, 2.1 percentage points lower than the April reading of 57.8 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector although at a slower rate.

The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 59.5 percent, which is 2.1 percentage points lower than the April reading of 61.6 percent, reflecting growth for the 70th consecutive month at a slower rate. The New Orders Index registered 57.9 percent, 1.3 percentage points lower than the reading of 59.2 percent registered in April.

The Employment Index decreased 1.4 percentage points to 55.3 percent from the April reading of 56.7 percent and indicates growth for the 15th consecutive month. The Prices Index increased 5.8 percentage points from the April reading of 50.1 percent to 55.9 percent, indicating prices increased in May for the third consecutive month.

According to the NMI®, 15 non-manufacturing industries reported growth in May.

It’s still strong expansion, despite the drop. So those who are troubled by the fact that it’s the lowest reading in 13 months shouldn’t be that worried, except for one thing … the results clearly don’t reflect the underlying reality.

Those surveyed said that New Orders are booming; but they aren’t in the economy as a whole. They’re contracting year-over-year. Same with shipments.

Orders Backlog went back to reflecting reality, dropping into contraction, going from 53.5 to 48.5.

It’s very unsettling to watch the punditry cite ISM, which is a sentiment survey, as some kind of evidence that the economy is fine, when the hard numbers clearly say otherwise.

Thursday Off-Topic (Moderated) Open Thread (060415)

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

This open thread is meant for commenters to post on items either briefly noted below (if any) or otherwise not covered at this blog. Rules are here.

Positivity: A history of little miracles is behind Pope Francis’ devotion to St. Therese

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:00 am

From Varican City:

Jun 2, 2015 / 04:02 am

Pope Francis on several occasions has spoken of his strong devotion to the Little Flower saint as well as his habit of asking her for favors: favors, his former press secretary says, which have often come in the form little miracles.

One of those miracles came Aug. 7, 2010, when the then-cardinal Bergoglio was accompanied by his press secretary, Federico Wals, to celebrate Mass honoring St. Cajetan on his feast day.

The cardinal was set to celebrate a Mass at the saint’s shrine in Buenos Aires and then walk to greet a long line of pilgrims, as he did every year.

“When leaving he told me that he had already asked Santa Teresita (St. Therese of Liseux) to send him a sign,” Wals said in an interview with Bolivian newspaper “El Deber” published May 31.

“When he told me this I was very skeptical and asked myself ‘A sign?’”

The former press secretary for Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio – now Pope Francis – gave an interview to El Deber in which he detailed personal stories and memories from his time working with the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Located on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the Shrine of St. Cajetan draws thousands of pilgrims each year on the feast of his death.

Mass is celebrated each hour on the Aug. 7 feast, and after attending faithful queue and wait as long as 10 hours to pass in front of a small statue of the saint and kiss the glass separating it from them.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires then-cardinal Bergoglio would preside over a Mass himself, and then walk down the line of pilgrims – which sometimes extended 15 blocks – to greet people, speak with them and bless the children.

That day in 2010 “he didn’t feel very well, but we were going to go anyway,” Wals said, explaining that Bergoglio had asked St. Therese to send him a sign as to whether to go all the way or not, since after the Mass he had to walk 15 blocks down the line of faithful.

After celebrating Mass the cardinal was in too much pain to walk the whole distance, and decided to go just two blocks before heading back to the center of Buenos Aires, Wals recalled.

However, as they reached the second block Wals said they came across a man “taller than (the cardinal), dressed with a black overcoat and he had his right hand inside the coat.”

Before they could blink the man “pulled out a white rose,” he said, explaining that Bergoglio was “surprised,” blessed the rose and tried to move out of the way.

At that moment the man told the future Pope “you don’t understand anything: this is the sign that you are waiting for.” He then smiled and handed Bergoglio the rose.

Once Bergoglio heard what the man said he immediately grabbed the rose, Wals said. The cardinal then told him, “Federico, Santa Teresita did not abandon me, I’m going to walk until the end of the line (of faithful).” …

Go here for the rest of the story.

Foreign Affairs Writers: Stop Saying ‘ISIS Is on the Rise’ and Recognizing Their Wins

Foreign Affairs is “a multiplatform media organization with a print magazine, a website, a mobile site, various apps and social media feeds, an event business, and more.” It is published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an influential organization which has caught flak for decades, predominantly from the right, for undermining and misrepresenting U.S. interests.

One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to recognize that CFR has significant influence on Washington politicians and the press. Thus, it’s fair to say that contentions in a column in its flagship magazine by Bridget Moreng and Nathaniel Barr that recognizing the ISIS victory at Ramadi last month as significant is “dangerous,” and that any kind of statement indicating that ISIS is on the rise feeds “directly into the group’s narrative,” are very disturbing (HT Patrick Poole at PJ Media; bolds are mine):