Good Signs?

Yesterday there was a report on jobs and employment in the United States. And the news was good. In fact, the news was better than anybody expected! Unemployment is at a 7 year low. The economy is not just showing signs of growth, but robust economic growth.

Nor was this “growth only an economist could love.” Many things I’ve been harping on for years got better: wages grew faster than inflation; more people are working; there’s growth in more areas; more people are working full time! I’m not ready to say yet that the economy is all healed up — I know too many people who are unemployed or underemployed — but I’m willing to say that the light at the end of the tunnel is probably not a train.

Now all the Very Smart People are talking about how the Fed will now have an excuse to raise the interest rates banks charge one another when they meet next month. Some are saying that’s a bad thing. However, I think it’s long overdue.


A few items on job creation

Ok, by now everybody’s heard that really good job creation and unemployment numbers were announced Friday, right? Good. There were even jobs for people without a lot of education! I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet — I’ve only been talking about job creation numbers for a decade or so — but I do think we are headed in the right direction. That said, the middle class has still lost a lot of ground. Oh, look over there!

In Closing: On bankers; everything old is new again; into the woods; GOP = Rum Tum Tugger; Donner Pass; be afraid!!; compare and contrast; secure the data first; and gird up thy loins.


So, another jobs report came out today. Now, remember that economists believe it takes 150-200k new jobs gained each month to keep up with new people entering the workforce. Obviously that’s an average, and also obviously June is one of those months that a disproportionate number of people get out of school and start looking for jobs. Keep that in the back of your head, even though it’s not going to get mentioned elsewhere.

In June, the United States added 288,000 jobs, roughly 10% of which were government jobs. Unemployment is down to a mere 6.1% nationally. And there’s more good news hidden behind the headline: average manufacturing workweek is above 40 hours, so theoretically factories need more workers now; long term unemployed is down to [a still depressing] ~3,100,000.

Of course there’s bad news hidden too: average workweek overall was 34.5 hours; wages aren’t up; when you include the underemployed and discouraged workers, unemployment looks more like 12.1%. Think about that: just under of 1 in 8 workers is either working part time when they want full time work, or has given up on finding work at all!

As a guy with more expertise than me summarized, it’s “meh.” Or perhaps you prefer the more technical “yawn.”

Nevertheless, Wall Street went WHEEEEE! on anticipation that the Fed might actually raise interest rates.

Oh, and it turns out that the states with the most job growth are the ones with those “job killing” higher minimum wages.


In Closing: Oh yeah, get those sweet sweet NSA and spying on Americans and the world links here; free science books; birth control Supreme Court Hobby Lobby ruling follow up links; problem solved!; media points out what many of us have been saying for years; apparently I’m the only one surprised that Maliki is alive and actually in charge of anything; when a red cross blanket on a gym floor is soooo much better than home [insert sad face here]; for pity sake, use seat belts and make sure the kids buckle up too; and then they wonder why the locals are pissed at them.

“Don’t Worry Little Lady, I Won’t Let the Democrats Kill Your Cat!”

A couple years ago, I mentioned the Sea Stone wait I mean Hotel Baja California Restaurant. Guess what? It closed.

The rather expensive building sat vacant for a while before displaying a new banner: “Coming Soon! Boca Park Animal Hospital.” Another expensive build ensued. I found this rather curious. Repurposing serially failed restaurant space with a veterinary clinic? Who had deep enough pockets for this to be a good idea? The other day we found out.

His name is John Ensign.

Remember Nevada Senator John Ensign? He’s the one that was having an affair with his administrative aide’s wife and then had to cover it up by seeing to his future employment? The one whose replies to emails told me not to worry because he wouldn’t vote with the Democrats (scroll down)? Well, before he went to the Senate, he was a veterinarian who owned the West Flamingo Animal Hospital. It’s the kind of place that will try to talk you into hundreds of dollars of tests to determine that the reason your elderly cat has lost a quarter of her body weight in the last 2 months is that she’s elderly (in the interest of disclosure, they did send me a card upon that cat’s passing). He was forced to sell, but I understand from multiple sources that they were happy to have him back after he was forced to resign his Senate seat.

Now, Sen. Dr. Ensign is not a man without money. His step/adoptive father is a gaming executive, and Dr. Ensign has done well with his own ventures — to say nothing of his Congressional pension. So it’s no problem for him to put lots of money into a swank new animal hospital “with luxury suites for pets and treadmills for hefty canines,” and a “four or five star resort” feel.

He sounds very happy about this new business, and I do wish him well. Nevertheless, I think I’ll stick with the nice vet lady on the corner who squealed with joy when she saw my kittens.

In Closing: Your latest dose of NSA, government spying, Ed Snowden, and encryption links (make no mistake, this means anything sent over the internet for any reason must be assumed to be insecure); a nice healthy set of links about the Syria situation; unemployment is only going down because the labor participation rate is going down (that is, fewer people working) and by the way most of the new jobs are low wage; I love this minifigure; how exactly is it cost effective to ship chicken to China for processing and then ship it back again??; it pays to shop around; the gluten free fad; unpaid internship; and one man’s forest.

The economy sucks so bad they have to add Seinfeld to the calculations.

No joke!

For the first time in four years, the Commerce Department will revise its estimates of U.S. gross domestic product — the value of U.S.-made goods and services — back to 1929. The biggest of the changes affect money spent on research and development and on artistic endeavors such as writing books or filming TV shows.

For the first time, R&D spending and money spent on the arts will count in GDP — if they’re intended to generate long-term streams of income, such as a decade or more of drug sales or profits from syndicated reruns of a hit TV show.

That led the government to decide that spending on TV comedies and dramas — such as Seinfeld — will count, but game shows and reality shows, such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians, will not, because they have a limited syndication market.

Fewer young adults are working full time. Politicians are arguing about whether it’s better to have millions employed at starvation wages or risk making them unemployed by giving them a living wage. Official unemployment might be down, but employment is not up. Toyota is giving logistics help to charity rather than actual money (clearly they needed it but still). And government safety nets — that RepubliCANTs want to cut, are the only thing keeping millions of people out of poverty.

Oh well, at least we don’t have to add the Kardashians to GDP.

In Closing: silly women clearly don’t know what men think is good for them; turns out that when you treat kids like criminals, they live up to your standards; anyone surprised?; and the Burka Avenger.

Over 95% Bums and Idiots

I’m more than a little peeved at Washington today.

Let’s start with the reply I got from Senator Reid regarding NSA spying programs, including this paragraph:

These surveillance authorities are important tools for the counterterrorism officials working to dismantle foreign terrorist networks and keep America safe. These authorities have played a vital role in helping the U.S. Government identify and disrupt terrorist plots, and have helped our Intelligence Community better understand the nature and extent of terrorist networks. However, I share your concerns about ensuring transparency and protecting the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans as our government uses these expansive tools. I have strongly supported efforts to strengthen oversight and disclosure requirements as we have periodically reauthorized these surveillance authorities.

Really, Harry? Are you sure about that? If these programs are so successful, how come they can’t trot out some captured terrorists? The other day, the NSA said they can’t actually search through the “Centuries of Data” they are prepared to collect. Now which is it? “This is a vital program that helps us find and catch bad guys,” or “I dunno, it’s in here somewhere”?

The nicest thing I can say about having voted for you, Harry, is that you were more sane than your opponent. Don’t make me regret that, Senator.

Remember that the Amash amendment failed bipartisanly. That means the RepubliCANTS and DemocRATS are equally in favor of letting the spies violate your rights under the 1st, 4th, and 5th Amendments all they like.

Speaking of bipartisan idiocy, why won’t Steve King just shut up? Bad enough he wants to compare immigration to choosing “a pretty good bird dog” and can’t understand why anybody thinks that’s offensive. Now he’s doubled down with talk about how most immigrants are drug smugglers with calves the size of cantaloupes. Steve, sweetie, when even Mr. Boehner thinks your remarks are  hateful and ignorant, they probably are.

Remember that an immigration “reform” plan that doesn’t include a way for undocumented workers to eventually become citizens is saying “We like having easily exploited, illegal workers in this nation.” See also, the truth about guest workers, and why unemployment is “down.”

And now there’s serious talk about making Larry Summers the Fed chair? Oh please.

Are there more than a handful of intelligent elected officials who aren’t owned by special interests in all of Washington DC? Who the heck am I supposed to vote for when all my choices are idiots, nutcases, liars, hopelessly out of touch, paid to do as they are told, openly against my interests, and/or quietly working against my interests while telling me it’s for my own good? Jon Porter was a Republican, but at least he had the guts to tell me “I respect your opinion but I disagree because….” on multiple occasions.

In Closing: Thanks for saving Ohio the expense of a heavily publicized trial; some of the smartest stuff I’ve read about Detroit; why yes, I find it convenient to be alive.

Another Month, Another Mediocre Jobs Report

Sadly, I’ve written on this topic many times over the last 10 years. This time it’s the June employment report. I’ll let Bill McBride summarize it for you:

The good news: This was the best first half for private employment gains since 1999.  Also hourly and weekly wages increased 0.4% in June, and hourly wages are now up 2.2% over the last year (weekly wages are up 2.5% year-over-year).

Some bad news: the employment-population ratio for the 25 to 54 year old group (prime working age) declined, the number of part time workers (for economic reasons) increased and U-6 (an alternative measure of labor underutilization) increased to 14.3%.

Be sure to scroll down for The Scary Chart showing that there are still 2% fewer jobs than there were at the beginning of the Great Recession. At least — theoretically — there may have been enough jobs created to absorb the new people in the workplace. Or rather, there would have been if it hadn’t been June, a month when both high school and college graduations occur.

So let’s dig into the bad news. A lot of people are working part time because that’s the best they can do right now. Some employers think they are getting around benefits such as health care costs doing this, but the fact is that if the economy ever really recovers, workers will demand little things like full time work at decent wages with benefits.

Many of those workers are also in low wage jobs — or worse yet, temporary jobs that might vanish next month. It’s dishonest to say a job was “created” if it’s not worth actually hiring someone to do it. These are the kind of jobs where they can get away with giving workers a debit card instead of a paycheck, because they know the worker has no choice but to suck it up.

Now, I’m hesitant to bring up this story, but it seems that some “Doctors” licensed in other countries are having a hard time getting licensed here. I’m finding it difficult to swallow the idea that our standards are just too high for typical FMGs (Foreign Medical Grads). If Depak Desai could get licensed in the states, it can’t be that hard. However, these “doctors” are taking jobs that could be done by someone with a fraction of the education. Maybe we could find them jobs as medical or nursing assistants pending their actually passing the exams, and free up those menial jobs for others? At least this story is another stake in the heart of the idea that we need H1B guest workers.

The good news today masks another sad truth: the percentage of us “in the workforce” has declined. That means that more of us are staying home with the kids, more of us have gone back to school, more of us have tried to get disability benefits, and more of us have just plain given up on the idea of finding gainful employment.

I will wrap up with two related stories. First, unemployment benefits don’t increase unemployment, no matter what some conservatives want you to think. Second, some advice for the kids: employers don’t want to hear from or about your parents. Be a grown-up.

In Closing: All the NSA and Snowden you can stand; follow up on the 4th.


Alright, by now everybody and his or her dog has heard the latest about Angelina Jolie, right?

Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average.

Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.

On April 27, I finished the three months of medical procedures that the mastectomies involved.

Needless to say, this has sparked much online discussion. Here’s a featured item on BlogHer by a woman considering the same decision. Here’s one from a Professor of Pediatrics (is he also a doctor of medicine? probably?) who points out that this sort of surgery comes with risks and without promises of a cancer free life.

And do you know what I don’t see mentioned much? Time and money.

Most of us don’t have the ability to be in and out of surgery and recovery for three months — more if there are any sort of complications. Heck, many of us can’t really afford to take 2 days off from work (or school, or taking care of family…). Ms. Jolie is truly blessed that not only could she free up her busy schedule to do this, but also that her loving husband Mr. Pitt was able to be there by her side, and further that they were able to arrange adequate childcare for their six children — ranging in age from 5 to 12 — during this stressful time.

Another area where Ms. Jolie is truly blessed is money. Many women can’t justify spending the “approximately $3000” to see if she has the 1 in 100 chance of ridiculously higher breast cancer risk. In a time and country where it can be difficult to figure out exactly how much any given hospital service is going to cost, she didn’t have to worry about it. She knew that the money was in the bank. Perhaps she did get her insurance company to pay for it; after all, this has to be cheaper than cancer treatments followed by reconstructive surgery!

Some people simply have more options than others.

In Closing: transparency and accountability, and why big brother won’t work; it wouldn’t be a bad idea to retire these; austerity, unemployment, and job creation (for the record, I am currently not in the workforce and not officially “unemployed,” more on that later in the week); mobility; interesting point; the law of supply and demand (and why we desperately need a public option).

John Dies at the Shorties

Baby Dinosaurs: More accurately, embryos in various states of development.

Follow-up on FPS Russia: Yeah, not a lot of meat on this story. Since when does the ATF get involved in “murder” investigations?

Random items on Real Estate, biased towards Vegas: Foreclosures are returning to where they were before the bust, with Nevada leading. However, prices are 30% higher than last year and distressed sales are down by a similar percentage. Interesting.

When you have a minute: Check out BustedKnuckles‘ new site.

Backtracking: CNN/Money might have thought Chained CPI was a great idea to save the budget a few days ago, but now they realize what way the wind is blowing.

I can’t believe we are back to “Jobs Americans Won’t Do”: They want to solve this “problem” with a new class of serf permit visa. Seems like these hypocrites are all about “let market forces do the magic” when it’s raising prices, but against the same when it might mean paying an American a decent wage! Go ahead, watch a bit of Dirty Jobs and tell me there’s such a thing as “jobs Americans won’t do” with a straight face! It isn’t that Americans won’t do them, it’s that they want more money (and perhaps safety equipment) than an easily exploited semi-legal immigrant worker.

Meanwhile, there are 3 unemployed Americans for every job opening: Yeah. Go ahead and push that serf permit visa program.

At some point, the Baby Boomers decided that they were never going to get Social Security; then they went about insuring just that: 1983 was the important year.

Le Petit Prince: Prince Hisahito goes to Kindergarten. You may remember him from this adorable picture.

Diet Research? It must be January.

Yes indeed, it’s the first week of the year, and that means millions of Americans are trying to shed between 5 and 500 pounds. Some scientists were even willing to stick their necks out there and say fructose is a culprit in weight gain (a culprit not the culprit). Check the archives and you will find me many times saying that every weight loss diet that works requires drastically reducing if not altogether eliminating added sugars.

So Loyola University wants to help you out. They’ve got what they think are the top 4 reasons diets fail. Let me save you some reading:

  1. Underestimating calorie intake (e.g. eating too damn much)
  2. Overestimating activity and calories burned (e.g. imagining that an amble around the mall is just like a 5 mile run)
  3. Poor timing of meals (the dreaded “starvation mode“)
  4. Inadequate sleep (having a job and other responsibilities)

Really? I’m on board with reasons 1 and 2, although I see them as two sides of one coin. But do they really think that sleep is a bigger issue than unrealistic expectations in the first place, or diet plans that are for whatever reason unsustainable? Do they think that eating at the wrong time is truly a bigger issue than unsupportive friends and family who –subtly or openly — undermine the dieter’s efforts?

Want to lose weight without torturing yourself? Try eating reasonable portions of real food: plenty of veggies; adequate protein; no sweets, no crap that comes out of a box, no food-like chemistry sets. Hey, it’s no dumber than the other diets you’ve tried over the years.

In Closing: free classes; Downtown Vegas and F15; maybe now somebody will ask banks to follow the law pretty please?; Onnabugeisha; ha!; conform or be called a terrorist; Malala; why oh why did Texas give him a second term?; more employment data than you probably want; somebody inform Scalia that 24 is not a documentary; the estate tax is not a wealth tax, it’s a wealth moving into the hands of someone who didn’t actually earn it tax; it turns out you need facts before you can figure out what to think about them; well that’s gonna have conservative panties in a wad; the Romney Loophole; is anybody surprised by this?; and I think Brent may have been playing Black Ops 2.