Im-Politic: A Labor Shortage Story Short on the Facts

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Is Bloomberg.com trying to make yours truly look good? It certainly seems that way. Exactly two days after I wrote that American journalism has long been suffering from an editing crisis (and subjecting readers and viewers to a flood of ineptly reported and reasoned articles, posts, and broadcast segments), this news site ran a piece illustrating perfectly two of this so-called profession’s biggest (and intimately related) flaws: pushing narratives largely by ignoring information that provides crucial context.

The lead paragraph tells you all you need to know where Joe Mayes’ September 22 story was going (and where he and his editors believed it should go): “The red lines of Boris Johnson’s Brexit project are starting to crack as voters face growing shortages of food and fuel, as well as a marked rise in living costs.”

As the second paragraph elaborated, “Despite riding to power on a Brexit campaign that pledged to cut immigration from the European Union, the prime minister [Johnson] and his cabinet are now preparing for what would be a significant and politically damaging U-turn: Tapping those same EU workers to plug the labor shortages crippling parts of the U.K. supply chain.” And “the most immediate and pressing concern”? “A major shortage of truck drivers.”

What could be more revealing – and embarrassing for supporters of the United Kingdom’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union (in large part to gain more national control over immigration inflows)? Immigrants from the same EU are now being recognized even by the Leaver-in-Chief as that country’s last hope for staving off starvation, freezing to death this winter, and raging inflation.

No question Brexit was a landmark decision, and no doubt there were plenty of valid reasons to be skeptical (as the close 2016 referendum results indicate). But this Bloomberg piece plainly suggests that the countries that have decided to remain in the EU literally have truckers to spare the British.

Which insinuates that the Brexiteers deserve to have insult added to injury. Except this story line is a crock. As an internet search that took me mere minutes revealed, there’s lots of info out there making clear that truck driver shortages are a global problem – that is, they’re not limited to countries that left the EU. Indeed, this industry website reports that trucking companies in Europe are expecting a 17 percent driver shortfall this year.

Further, the survey it’s based on found that any number of steps could be taken by trucking companies and governments in shortage-afflicted countries to increase driver supply without importing foreigners. Like raising pay. Like lowering the training age to encourage more young people to replace retiring truckers (a big problem in a sector with an aging workforce). Like creating safer parking areas, which would be especially helpful in attacting more women into the business. (They currently make up only two percent of drivers globally, according to the survey.)

In fact, finding such ;material is so easy that it raises the question of whether the main problem (and all the others I’ve spotlighted on RealityChek – e.g., here) doesn’t reflect simply a competence crisis. It also reflects a bias crisis, with the target being any measures or information that clash with longstanding globalist orthodoxies – in this case, Open Borders- friendly policies on the immigration and labor shortage fronts.

Those Stubborn Facts: Haitian Migrants Not Present or Accounted For

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Biden administration count of number of Haitian migrants living

under Del Rio, Texas bridge at peak: 14,000

Biden administration count of Haitian migrants at Del Rio as of

yesterday: 4,000

Biden administration count of Haitian migrants from Del Rio

returned to Haiti as of yesterday: 1,400

Number of Haitian migrants from Del Rio released into the United

States despite Biden administration claim that “our borders are not

open”: 8,600?

 

(Sources: “Biden administration defends handling of Haitians amid uproar,” by Morgan Chalfant and Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill, September, 23, 2021, Biden administration defends handling of Haitians amid uproar | TheHill and “Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks in Del Rio, TX,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, September 20, 2021, Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks in Del Rio, TX | Homeland Security (dhs.gov) )

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Why the Fed is Still (Really) Dovish on Economic Stimulus

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Yesterday, I tweeted that the Federal Reserve’s just-published statement on its policy plans looked pretty dovish – that is, signaling a continued determination to keep pouring massive amounts of stimulus into the U.S. economy. Most every other student of the economy worth heeding read exactly the opposite into the message and some related materials it issued – including Chair Jerome Powell’s statement at his subsequent press conference that the central bank could start easing off the accelerator as early as November. (One notable exception:  CNBC’s Steve Liesman.)  

Here’s why I’m right – at least in the most important senses – and why the dovishness I see isn’t great news for the American economy at all over any serious length of time.

The folks reading hawkishness into the Fed’s stance pointed to three main reasons for their conclusion, and I’d be the last person to ignore them. First, the policy statement did declare that “moderation” in the central banks’ bond-buying program, known as “quantitative easing” (QE) “may soon be warranted” if the economy’s progress “continues broadly as expected.” That’s a big change even from the July statement’s analysis:

Last December, the [Fed] indicated that it would continue to increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $80 billion per month and of agency mortgage-backed securities by at least $40 billion per month until substantial further progress has been made toward its maximum employment and price stability goals. Since then, the economy has made progress toward these goals, and the [Fed] will continue to assess progress in coming meetings.”

Second, at the press conference, Powell not only hinted at a November start for the so-called “taper” of Fed bond buying.  He added that the process could conclude “around the middle of next year.” So although the change is expected to occur gradually, the Fed is indicating it won’t take forever to accomplish. 

Third, in a regularly issued graphic summary of their (anonymous) future expectations (called the “dot plot”), fully half of these policymakers made clear they anticipated that next year would also see the interest rate they control begin rising. As Powell told the press, taking this step would mean that these Fed officials had seen much more economic progress than that required for the taper of bond purchases they appear ready to begin.

I actually agree that this evidence adds up to more Fed “hawkishness.” But “more” clears only a very low bar for an institution that’s been super-dovish for the better part of the last decade and a half (since it decided to fight the Great Recession following the 2007-08 global financial crisis by opening up the stimulus spigots to an unheard of extent).

In other words, a Fed that for many more months will be continuing to spur growth and employment by purchasing tens of billions of dollars of bonds every month (only less than the current $120 billion) still looks pretty devoted to easy money to me.

At least as important, Powell in particular made clear that the Fed’s expectations for ending what are, after all, measures taken to counter the Covid-induced economic emergency are so fragile that he and his colleagues could change their minds as soon as the current recovery – which has been strong by most measures – veers off track.

It’s true that at the press conference, the Chair stated that all it would take for him to decide that employment was still improving enough to support a prompt beginning of tapering would be a “reasonably good” and “decent” official U.S. jobs report come out next month – not a “knockout, great, super strong” result. (Powell already believes that the nation’s inflation record – the Fed’s other main “taper test” has already been good enough to warrant reducing those bond purchases.)

But aside from questions about how Powell defines “reasonably good,” etc., his remarks show that he (along with his policymaking colleagues, over whom he wields considerable influence) still believes that a single poor jobs report, or similar discouraging development, would suffice to keep the economy on its exact same monumental levels of literal life support even though the patient has long exited the emergency room.

And these exacting standards for merely reducing current stimulus gradually (which, as the Chair himself noted, would still leave its asset holdings “elevated” and “accommodative”) tell me at least that, however well the economy performs, the Fed will be remaining on a super easy-money course pretty much indefinitely.

The one development that could change this picture significantly: a big, sustained takeoff of inflation.

But if Powell’s right (which I believe he is), then the current burst of higher prices results from “transitory” developments peculiar to the dramatic stop-start dynamics created by the pandemic and its policy and behavioral fall-out. Prices, therefore, should start normalizing before too long.

So what’s the problem? First, if the Fed is afraid that the U.S. economy can’t prosper adequately without what are essentially massive government subsidies, that’s a pretty damning indictment of that economy’s ability to generate satisfactory levels of growth and employment and living standards improvements more or less on its own.

Even more important, even if this Fed judgment is wrong, clearly it’s going to keep the stimulus flowing at historically unheard of rates, and historically, anyway, super easy-money has undermined financial stability – and disastrously – by creating what economists call “moral hazard.” That’s the condition in which over-abundant, dirt-cheap resources produce any number of reasons for using these resources foolishly (i.e., unproductively). After all, they drive down the economic penalties for making these mistakes to rock bottom levels by all but eliminating interest costs.

And an economy that uses resources so inefficiently is bound to run into big trouble before too long and suffer punishing and lingering after-effects. If you’re skeptical, think back to that devastating financial crisis and Great Recession – which weren’t so long ago – and to the slowest U.S. recovery in decades that followed. If that’s not persuasive enough, ask yourself why even the easy-money pushers at the Fed are talking about tapering in the first place.

Im-Politic: A Small Step Toward Quality Journalism ( I Hope)

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It was not only great news that the Washington Post‘s new Executive Editor, Sally Buzbee, has just announced that the paper will hire 41 new editors. It’s urgently needed news, as made painfully clear by this September 13 article on rising crime in Atlanta, Georgia – which violates one of the most important rules of good journalism: Don’t try to shoehorn an article into a certain narrative when you’ve presented almost no supporting evidence.

The narrative chosen by reporter Tim Craig and evidently approved by enough editors to warrant publication is plainly stated in the headline: “Brutal killing of a woman and her dog in an Atlanta park reignites the debate over city’s growing crime problem.” It’s hardly unheard of for headlines to clash with the body of their story, or to exaggerate the findings. After all, nearly news organizations are private businesses, they need to make money, and what better way to generate the kinds of eyeballs that will make advertisers pay top dollar than clickbait – which of course is journalism’s version of flashy packaging.

And sometimes, headline writers just make innocent mistakes, and place such labels on stories too late for the reporter to object – or even an editor to spot it. That’s not a capital crime, especially when we’re dealing with a form of communication that’s often necessarily hastily composed.

But the claim of a “debate” on crime convulsing the city wasn’t confined to the headline. Craig himself wrote that Atlanta’s crime rate is dominating the political debate in Georgia, a state that is expected to be key in next year’s midterm elections. Georgia Republicans believe a tough-on-crime message offers them a chance to win back suburban Atlanta-area voters after the party suffered punishing losses in last year’s presidential and U.S. Senate contests.”

Meanwhile, “many Democrats,” readers are told, dismiss [such] concerns as a partisan effort to rally conservatives to the polls by stoking fear….”

The above link documents that Atlanta crime is definitely influencing city and state politics. But what’s weird about Craig’s story is that it per se offers almost no examples of such clashing opinions.

Toward the end of the article, Craig quotes a single resident fretting that “state Republicans will use the city’s crime problem to their political advantage.” But even she both acknowledges a “crime problem,” calls it “unbelievable” and “said she thinks some of the city’s Democratic leaders went too far last year by embracing calls to shift resources away from the police.”

The only Democratic politician whose views are presented – Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis, told Craig that Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who’s up for reelection next year and has focused on the crime issue, “is right to be concerned” because “the city’s criminal justice system is overwhelmed amid a shortage of police officers and ballistics experts needed to help solve crimes.”

This is a debate on crime? Or even close?

In fact, the rest of Craig’s article is devoted almost exclusively to a wide variety of Atlantans emphasizing how serious the city’s crime problem is and worrying that if some dramatically different strategy to fight it isn’t adopted soon, its economy could suffer and its “community cohesion, vitality and civility” could be damaged. (One exception to the head of a local business booster group – who’s basically paid to be optimistic.)

Just as important, no one mentioned in the article voiced any support for defunding police or “reimagining public safety” to focus on non-coercive ways to reduce crime or any of the other police reform proposals that mushroomed following George Floyd’s 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

Spotting such internal contradictions isn’t the only editing problem experienced lately by the Post (or other major news organizations). As known by RealityChek regulars, the output of these outlets regularly contains major factual mistakes, ignores crucial context, presents too narrow a range of opinion, and relies on experts plainly not worthy of the title (to name just a few of their leading shortcomings).

So let’s hope Buzbee’s hiring decision stems from a recognition of these problems (rather than a desire to add new bells and whistles to their websites and the like), and that lots of other news organizations follow suit. Her newspaper’s latest motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” spotlights the essential role journalism plays in protecting Americans’ freedoms. She and her peers should also remember that the trust on which this role is based will weaken further in incompetence.

Our So-Called Foreign Policy: Could U.S. Protectorates in Asia Finally Become Real Allies?

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Lots of stuff going on lately in security affairs in the Asia-Pacific region (which foreign policy congoscenti have been calling the Indo-Pacific region, reflecting India’s new prominence). And I’m not just talking about the new agreement (which goes by the awkward acronym “AUKUS”) by which Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines provided by the United States and the United Kingdom (acing out the furious French in the process), and gain access to lots of advanced militarily-relevant American technology, like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

I’m also talking about long overdue signs that key U.S. allies in the region are starting to take the threat they face from growing Chinese aggressiveness as seriously as the United States has been taking it. The interesting policy questions are (1) why they seem finally to be waking up and (2) what if anything the United States can or should do to convince Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan in particular to assume more of the burden of defending themselves, thereby enabling America to take a less risky, less costly role in the region.

For the time being, unfortunately, the United States is going to have to stay deeply involved in the defense of these countries, and to keep accepting a degree of nuclear risk that I’ve long described as unacceptable, and still consider unnerving. I’ve changed my mind, however, because the globalist and free trade-happy U.S. foreign policy establishment and the tech companies that write so many of its members’ paychecks boneheadedly let South Korea and especially Taiwan seize global leadership in the manufacture of the world’s most advanced and powerful semiconductors.

These devices are simply too valuable to the American economy as a whole and to its continuing military superiority to take the chance that the relevant Taiwanese and South Korean facilities and knowhow fall into Chinese hands. As for Japan, it continues to produce many of the materials and equipment on which cutting-edge semiconductor production relies, so it’s got to be kept safe from the likeliest threat it faces from China – which is some form of blackmail. (See this recent Biden administration report, and especially pp. 45 ff.)

As a result, until the United States gets its semiconductor act back together, the American nuclear umbrella needs to remain over Japan and South Korea – which means that America could well be sucked into a nuclear war with China and especially North Korea if hostilities break out. And such “extended deterrence” may need to be extended to Taiwan (which Washington is not yet as tightly committed to defend).

That’s why it’s not good that not only the Australians will be getting nuclear-powered (but not – so far – nuclear-armed) submarines. Because of their superior capabilities, these which will add quantitatively and qualitatively to the forces China would need to think about when contemplating, say, moves to increase its sway over the regional sealanes through which so much of the world’s trade flows.

It’s also good that South Korea has decided to build (so far non-nuclear) ballistic missiles that can be launched from its own submarines (in response to North Korea’s progress toward the same capabilities). Deserving of applause as well are Japanese and Taiwanese plans to boost defense spending – and acquire some impressive weapons along the way. Japanese officials are even talking seriously about what steps Tokyo can and should take to help defense Taiwan if the stuff hits the fan with China – although nothing like a clear decision had been made.

Defense spending levels in all three countries are still measly, especially considering what dangerous neighborhoods they live in. And it’s not as if time is necessarily on their side. But something new seems astir, and I’m not convinced that China’s worsened behavior is entirely responsible. Some credit undoubtedly goes to the Trump administration. Since his initial White House campaign, the campaign, the former President insistently asked why Americans should risk their own security for that of allied freeloaders, and foot so much of the bill. And throughout his presidency, he kept so much pressure on that the Asia allies clearly worried that the Uncle Sucker days were over, and that Trump’s complaints reflected much and possibly most American public opinion. (See, e.g., here.)

President Biden deserves some credit here, too – but I would argue in part in spite of himself. Mr. Biden of course is a card-carrying globalist who for the entirety of his long career in public life has agreed wholeheartedly with the need to maintain strong U.S. alliance relationships. Hence it was no surprise that during the 2020 campaign and immediately after his inauguration, he took great pains to assure U.S. allies that the United States would “be back” after years of Trump-ian neglect. And indeed, earlier this year, Mr. Biden showed every sign of coddling continued Asian defense free-riding.

But ironically, the biggest Biden spur to more Asian defense burden-sharing might be his botched withrawal from Afghanistan. In other words, whereas the Asians (and other allies) were worried mainly that Trump would cut them loose because he was unwilling to protect them if they didn’t change their deadbeat ways, it’s entirely possible that they fear Mr. Biden won’t be able to ride to their rescue – at least not in any effective way.

I know that there’s little evidence of such mistrust in official Asian rhetoric so far. And of course, one of the President’s main stated reasons for leaving Afghanistan in the first place was to free up more American energies and resources to focus on China. But some unofficial Asian voices seem less sure, and it would be surprising to see any governments pushing the panic button in almost any circumstances. And could it be a total coincidence that the aforementioned spate of Asian defense decisions came in the wake of the Afghanistan pullout?

I seriously doubt it.  And as a result, if Mr. Biden wants to turn America’s Asian protectorates into genuine allies, he should continue his own strategy of stepping up exports of advanced weapons to them (and to many of their neighbors, depending on each one’s solidarity), signaling his willingness to go even further (as with this excellent decision) and employ some of the Trump-ian “transactionalism” that’s had so many globalists clutching their pearls for so long

But instead of threatening American withdrawals if they don’t pony up more defense-wise, the President should promise them more hardware if they do.  Casually floating the idea of OKing the acqusition of nuclear weapons by various allies wouldn’t hurt, either.

And he should stop pretending that none of this activity is directed against China. Not only does such rhetoric signal credibility-shaking skittishness. It contradicts yet another example of transactionalism that should become part of the Biden strategy: Making clear to China that staying on its current belligerent course will be a great way to guarantee that it’s ringed with ever more neighbors that are armed to the teeth.        

Im-Politic: In Case You Doubt Biden’s Immigration Plans Will Hammer U.S. Wages

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We’ve just gotten a bright, flashing sign that, despite some recent stopgap steps (like this and this) obviously meant to convey the impression that the Biden administration hasn’t completely and dangerously lost control of America’s southern border, the President is just as determined as ever to open the floodgates to seemingly unlimited numbers of foreigners.

Worse, the development I’m writing about also makes clear that the President cares not a whit about the likely economic harm his policies will inflict on workers legally in the country at present – too many of whom haven’t exactly been killing it economically for decades now.

That sign consists of a post on the White House’s website by the Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and three other government economists touting “The Economic Benefits of Extending Permanent Legal Status to Unauthorized Immigrants.” Just so we’re totally clear on their intent, in plain English, the title would read, “The Economic Benefits of Giving Amnesty to Illegal Aliens.” And the strength of the administration’s Open Borders ambitions is clearest from the utterly threadbare manner in which the authors deal with a central question: whether amnesty would drive down the wages of workers who live in America legally now.

This question of course is especially salient now because, due to the labor market turmoil generated by the CCP Virus pandemic and resulting behavior changes and official responses, U.S. employers are experiencing problems hiring enough workers, and consequently, these workers are enjoying major new leverage in bargaining for higher wages.

As pointed out in the CEA post, “Permanent legal status is likely to increase the effective labor supply of unauthorized immigrants” and that, “Given that providing legal status to unauthorized immigrants would increase their effective labor supply, critics of legalization argue there could be adverse labor market consequences for native and other immigrant workers.”

Here of course is where you’d expect the highly credentialed experts who wrote this post to respond with reams of evidence (or at least citations of scholarly works), decisively proving that, however commonsensical it seems to conclude that increasing the supply of anything (including labor) all else equal will reduce the supply of that thing, it ain’t so in the case of illegal aliens.

But as initially (at least to me) pointed out by Breitbart.com‘s Neil Munro, nothing of the kind happened. Here’s what the CEA said:

While there is not a large economics literature on the labor market effects of legalization on other workers, in a well-cited National Academies report on the economic and fiscal impact of immigration, a distinguished group of experts concludes that in the longer run, the effect of immigration on wages overall is very small.”

I could write an entire blog post on what’s jaw-droppingly wrong with this sentence’s methodology. Chiefly, it’s not only an appeal to authority – which logically is an implicit confession that the appealers don’t know much themselves about the subject they’re writing about. It’s an appeal to authorities who themselves don’t seem to know much about their subject, or can’t cite any evidence. Therefore they can only offer an evidently unsupported conclusion.

But what’s most important to me about this CEA point is that it never challenges the wages claim made by those “critics of legalization.” All the authors can counter with is a contention that, at some unknown point, the wage depression resulting from amnesty will become “very small.” That’s some comfort to Americans workers today. And for possibly decades.   

Also crucial to point out is how narrow and thus misleading the post’s analytical framework is. It clearly assumes that amnesty won’t stimulate ever greater inflows of foreign laborers who compete against the domestic worker cohort that exists at any given time – which would include the millions of amnestied illegals. Yet everything known about the impact of looser immigration policies – and even official announcements thereof – demonstrates that they exert a powerful magnet effect on other foreigners. Nor do you need to take my word for it. That’s what many migrants themselves have said about the Biden administration’s approach. (See, e.g., here and here.)

The so-called magnet effect of the Biden roll-back of its predecessor’s immigration policies isn’t the only reason to expect the White House’s current approach to supercharge the supply of American workers. To mention just one example, his immigration reform bill and budget reconciliation bill would ease Trump-era limits on “chain migration” – a policy that enables immigrants into the country legally if a spouse, parent, child, or sibling already lives here legally. Further, once these chain migrants arrive, their own relatives receive the same easy entry. And so on. Special bonus: The restrictions on chain migration-related visas granted for employment reasons will be eased even further.

If a better way to keep a huge share of American workers underpaid (especially those in low-wage portions of the economy, which heavily rely on the kinds of low-skill employees who dominate the illegal alien population), let me know. And of course in the cruelest irony of all, as the CEA post shows, among the leading advocates of these wage-hammering measures are the very liberals and progressives that have for decades claimed to be champions of Americans left behind. 

Im-Politic: More Evidence That the Vaccines are No Cure-All

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Time for a CCP virus update with a focus on the effectivnes of vaccines. And the big takeaway? Good luck to you if you can detect any evidence for the popular view (including President Biden’s) that the United States has been seeing a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” lately – and especially during pandemic phase dominated by the highly infectious Delta variant.

Full disclosure: I’m fully vaxxed and have been since late April. I got the shots as soon as I could make an appointment (not easy back then in my state of residence, Maryland). I’ll probably get a booster – and certainly have no inherent objections to these jabs.

But I’m 67 years old and have some underlying conditions that make me more vulnerable than other young seniors (although my physicians tell me I’m still  healthy overall). So I concluded that getting vaccinated made good sense for me. For anyone else? As always, the only medical advice I’m qualified to give is “Use your judgment in consultation with your doctor(s).”

In other words, I’m no anti-vaxxer. Instead, my main concern continues to be the often confusing advice given by public health authorities on dealing with the pandemic, their regular habit of departing from “The Science” in their recommendations, and – especially important – their willingness to push aggressively for policies with major implications for both other public health issues and crucial non-health-related issues based on highly questionable data. (The latest potential problem revealed concerned the hospitalization figures, which I and many others viewed as the most reliable measure of the pandemic’s status and the severity of the virus – though far from perfect.)

Here’s what I’ve just done. I’ve looked at the statistics for the states and territories that have fully vaccinated the highest percentages of their populations and the lowest percentages of their populations, and compared the changes in newly reported deaths and numbers of CCP Virus-related hospitalization rates over the last week as of this morning. My source, as often the case, is the Washington Post‘s very well-designed and thus very convenient interactive virus database. The results are below:

Top 10 vaxxed states   Full Vax rate  new deaths last week  new hospns last week

National average:         54.2 percent        +26 percent                   -6 percent

Vermont:                       68.8 percent      +100 percent             +26.5 percent

Connecticut:                 67.5 percent      +33.3 percent               +4.4 percent

Puerto Rico:                  67.4 percent       +8.3 percent                 -15 percent

Maine:                           67.2 percent            0 percent               +3.1 percent

Massachusetts:                 67 percent     +44.4 percent             +14.5 percent

Rhode Island:                66.5 percent        +50 percent              -11.8 percent

Guam:                            65.1 percent     +200 percent               not available

New Jersey:                   63.1 percent    +12.5 percent               +2.6 percent

Maryland:                         63 percent    +23.1 percent                     0 percent

New York:                      62.1 percent    -29.4 percent               -14.6 percent

Bottom 10 states for vaccination rates

National average:           54.2 percent      +26 percent                    -6 percent

West Virginia:                   40 percent   +91.7 percent                +9.3 percent

Wyoming:                      40.4 percent    +100 percent                 -9.4 percent

Idaho:                            40.5 percent     +120 percent              +10.3 percent

Alabama:                      40.7 percent     +110 percent                -14.5 percent

Mississippi:                  41.7 percent     -15.4 percent                -15.1 percent

North Dakota:              42.9 percent            0 percent                 +7.4 percent

Virgin Islands:             43.1 percent             0 percent              +16.7 percent

Georgia:                       43.5 percent     +50.6 percent               -10.2 percent

Louisiana:                    43.8 percent     +10.4 percent               -17.8 percent

Tennessee:                   43.8 percent      +28.3 percent              -12.2 percent

Before proceeding, another data caution shouldn’t be forgotten. Because most of the states in each group have very small populations, changes in both deaths and hospitalizations are often infinitesimal in absolute terms, which means that even tiny increases or decreases in those terms can produce huge percentage change results. Indeed, in places like Vermont and Wyoming and the Virgin Islands, these changes are only in the single digits in absolute terms.

All the same, as for some of the most obvious comparisons:

The number of top ten vaxxed states whose CCP Virus-related deaths rose during the past week is eight. For the bottom ten, it’s only seven.

The number of top ten vaxxed states where such deaths fell during that week is one. None of the bottom ten saw falling deaths.

The number of top ten vaxxed states whose hospitalizations rose over the last week is five. The comparable figure for the bottom ten vaxxed states is four.

The number of top ten vaxxed states whose hospitalizations fell over the last week is two. For the bottom ten vaxxed states? Six.

If anything, the bottom ten vaxxed states recently have been doing slightly better than the top ten according to these measures.

Also peculiar – and tough to square with the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” claim: Within these two groups, there are some big death and hospitalization variations between states with identical or very similar vaccination rates. Indeed, the fully vaxxed range in the top ten group is between 68.8 percent and 62.1 percent. Yet the trends for New York and Massachusetts, for example, are going in exactly the opposite directions – and very strongly so. Moreover, the top ten state with the best record on both counts combined by far is New York, even though it’s the least fully vaxxed state in this group.

Using the national average as the bar doesn’t produce a better story for the highly vaxxed states.

In that group, the number whose deaths rose faster than the national average is five. For the lowest vaxxed states, the number is six.

As a result, five states in the top ten category saw deaths rising more slowly than the national average, versus four in the bottom ten category.

Turning to hospitalizations, six of the top ten vaxxed states experienced worse changes than the national average, and data were unavailable for Guam. The comparable number for the bottom ten states was the same.

Therefore, three states in the top ten group experienced better hospitalization change results than the national average, versus four in the bottom ten group.

One possible reason for still taking the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” claim seriously: Many of these results might be explained by the fact that in the top ten vaxxed states, absolute levels of deaths and hospitalizations are starting from very low levels. So as explained just above, their apparently worsening records in many cases can be dismissed as a statistical illusion, and the focus should remain on how good their records in absolute terms remain.

And the converse for the bottom ten: Seeming improvements in their records may stem from death and vaccination rates that stood at very high absolute levels, and remained high despite impressive-looking percentage change drops.

But another possibility deserves at least as much attention: These supposed statistical illusions actually show that the virus is advancing and retreating in waves in many instances – and that to some extent, the results mean that the worst vaxxed states are seeing significant improvements in their numbers, and the best are seeing significant deterioration, for reasons having little to do with vaccinations, and much more to do with the nature of viruses and their natural life cycles.

One particularly notable example is Florida, which has received so much attention because Governor Ron DeSantis has so strongly opposed many mandatory mitigation measures. Its full vaccination rate is now a little higher (55.6 percent) than the national average of 54.2 percent, and actually has been rising somewhat faster.

Its death rate initially rose much more strongly than the U.S. rate as a whole, and has stayed considerably higher (1.69 daily new deaths measured by the seven-day average per hundred thousand residents, versus 0.59 for the nation as a whole). But over the last week, its daily deaths have risen much more slowly (seven percent versus 26 percent).

Similarly, Florida’s hospitalization rate is still higher than the national average (with 45 residents per 100,000 versus 29 per 100,000 for the entire United States). But over the last seven days, Florida daily hospitalizations are down 19 percent, versus six percent for the nation as a whole.

It’s become a commonplace to observe that viruses don’t care what your politics are, or where you live, or what your vaccine views are.  That’s all true.  But it looks like, except for considerations that have long been known, like age and race, certain they care much less about whether you’re vaxxed than where you happen to live at any given time as they appear, surge, and fade (to varying extents) as they always have.    

Im-Politic: So Far, Milley’s Sure Acting Like He’s Guilty of Treason

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I’d bother to advise General Mark Milley to lawyer up – fast – except I can’t imagine that even Johnnie Cochrane (Google “O.J. trial”) – ultimately could get the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff off the hook for treason charges if claims made by an upcoming book on the Trump administration’s final months are true. Worse, the President of the United States seems just fine with such behavior from the person who’s both the top military advisor to the chief executive and to the Pentagon.

It should go without saying that Milley, as with every other American, deserves a presumption of innocence. But his behavior since the publication of excerpts from Peril, by Washington Post correspondents Bob Woodward (of Woodward and Bernstein Watergate fame) and Robert Costa decidedly resembles that of someone who’s guilty as sin.

As stated by another Post reporter, according to Woodward and Costa, Milley called his Chinese counterpart last October 30 and told him, “General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay.”

Allegedly, Milley continued, “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.” (With this phrasing, Milley for some reason might have been trying to exclude cyber-attacks from his promise.) 

And here’s the key passage: If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.”

Again, if true, any number of aspects of this phone call could be shocking and disgraceful for any number of reasons centering around the possibility that the General shattered the principles of civilian control over the military by taking an unauthorized initiative with major implications not only for U.S. national security but overall U.S. foreign policy as well.

And whether Milley was completely freelancing or not, the notion that former President Trump’s dangerously unstable state of mind excuses this behavior is utterly unacceptable. The Constitution’s 25th Amendment lays out procedures for dealing with situations like this, and none of them were invoked before Milley picked up the phone.

Worse, keep in mind that Milley made the first of two phone calls to Beijing was made October 30, before Election Day and well before Trump set off alarm bells with his behavior in the voting’s aftermath. In addition, if Milley really believed that Trump would order an unprovoked attack on China, his own sanity needs to be questioned.

Even if you fear that a Trump victory last November would have freed him to make all manner of reckless decisions, there’s no reason to think that China would have been placed in any danger unless Beijing set the stage for war by, say, invading Taiwan. In fact, one of the most common (however bizarre, given the massive tariffs and damaging sanctions he’d imposed) criticisms of the former President’s China policy at the time was that in order to preserve his 2020 trade deal with the People’s Republic, he’d been treating China and especially its dictator Xi Jinping with kid gloves. The Biden camp itself was making this accusation as late as last September.

But none of Milley’s supposed offenses compare with the claim that he told China’s top military officer that if Trump decided to strike, he’d warn the Chinese. Talk about providing “aid and comfort” to an enemy – a centerpiece of American law’s definition of treason. And from a real world standpoint, what if Milley got wind of such plans a few days before the attack was scheduled? Would he have given the Chinese that much warning? Which would have given them a chance to launch their own preemptive strike? How do you think that would have worked out?

Further, what if Milley was simply worried that Trump might try this, with no concrete evidence, or less-than-conclusive evidence? Just because he thought Trump was crazy. Would he have warned China in this circumstance? Who can tell?

For these reasons, the Woodward-Costa claims are so jaw-dropping that you’d expect an innocent Milley to deny them specifically and indignantly – with wording on the order of “I never told General Li or any other Chinese official that I would warn them about an impending U.S. attack.” If I was him, I’d threaten a slander suit, too, if the authors didn’t recant (and probably even if they did).

Milley, however, hasn’t done anything close. The only statement issued (and not by him, but by his spokesman) ignored the charges. And almost as interesting, his allies in the government haven’t denied these charges expressly, either, when speaking (anonymously, of course) to other journalists. Most disturbing of all, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued similar remarks yesterday – which must mean that Mr. Biden himself isn’t interested in getting to the bottom of this crucial matter.

The good news is that soon, neither the President nor the General may have a choice. On September 28, Milley’s scheduled to testify (under oath, natch) before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Afghanistan debacle. You can be sure that the Woodward-Costa charges will come up, too. And if Milley deides to keep playing footsie, don’t be surprised if you see an attorney at his side – and even counseling him to take the Fifth.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: U.S. Manufacturing’s Now Defying Hurricanes and Delta

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Domestic manufacturing’s done it again. Just as with the Labor Department’s August jobs report, the Federal Reserve’s new release on manufacturing output for the month shows that industry kept dodging whatever potholes the CCP Virus and its highly infectious Delta variant keep digging for the rest of the U.S. economy.

America-based manufacturers’ inflation-adjusted production grew by a meager 0.11 percent sequentially in August. But output was held down by facility closures forced by Hurricane Ida in the petrochemicals, plastics resins, and petroleum refining sectors. Overall revisions were mixed, but some upgrades and downgrades in individual major industries were pretty remarkable, as will be seen below.

The biggest winners in the new price-adjusted manufacturing production report were the small, catch-all “other manufacturing” category (2.42 percent); furniture and related products (up 2.07 percent); computer and electronics products (whose 1.21 percent output rise may have been a response to the worldwide shortage of semiconductors); paper (up 1.07 percent); and fabricated metal products (up 0.74 percent).

The biggest losers were electrical equipment, appliances, and components (down 1.16 percent); textiles products (down 0.81 percent on month); machinery (down 0.80 percent); and the big chemicals sector (down 0.49 percent).

Normally, the machinery results would be discouraging, since its products are used so widely both in the rest of manufacturing and also in big non-manufacturing industries like agriculture and construction. But its August dip followed a July jump of 3.31 percent – its best production improvement since January’s 4.63 percent – which was dramatically upgraded from the previously reported 1.91 percent.

The electrical equipment category followed a similar pattern. Its July real production results were revised all the way up from 2.31 percent to 3.95 percent – its best such performance since January, 2010, when the economy was still in its early bounce-back from the Great Recession that followed the global financial crisis.

Also enjoying a solid August were two narrower manufacturing categories that remain in the news due to the ongoing effects of the CCP Virus. Air travel has of course suffered throughout the pandemic-era, and aerospace manufacturing giant Boeing has been hit with numerous related manufacturing and safety problems (including some pre-dating the pandemic, like the grounding of the popular 737 Max jetliner).

Yet aircraft and parts production in constant dollars advanced by 0.34 percent in August, and in another major revision, July’s previously reported 2.78 percent increase is now pegged at 4.10 percent – its best such result since January’s 6.79 percent burst. And June’s downgraded 3.57 percent rise was bumped back up to 3.84 percent. As a result, aircraft and parts production is now 12.63 percent higher in after-inflation terms than in February, 2020 – the last full data month before the virus began significantly affecting the U.S. economy.

The pharmaceuticals and medicines sector (which includes vaccines) saw a real month-to-month production increase of 0.89 percent in August, and revisions were modest and mixed. These results left inflation-adjusted output 12.33 percent higher than its immediate pre-pandemic levels.

But August real production sank sequentially by 1.73 percent in the vital medical equipment and supplies sector – which includes virus-fighting items like face masks, protective gowns, and ventilators.

On the brighter side, July’s initially reported 1.71 percent constant dollar production rise was revised up to 2.42 percent. June’s dramatically downgraded 1.54 percent decrease was upgraded to a 0.13 percent drop, and May’s upwardly revised 1.86 percent real growth was downgraded only slightly – to 1.78 percent. Even so, on a price-adjusted basis, this crucial industry is just 2.66 percent larger than before the CCP Virus arrived in force.

Domestic industry still faces important headwinds of course – and not just from the possibility that Delta keeps worsening America’s public health and economy, and that approaching winter weather triggers a new wave of infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and restrictions. Those global supply chain snags are still with us, too.

But throughout the pandemic era, U.S.-based manufacturers have overcome obstacles just like this, and their consistent vigor indicates that it’s the pessimists about their future prospectswho now face the biggest burden of proof.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: The New U.S. Inflation Slowdown Still Leaves Lots of Questions

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Given how the U.S. economy could still face some major ups and downs in the next few months, largely because no one really knows what will happen with the CCP Virus and the responses from government, business, and consumers, only an idiot would confidently declare that this morning’s official report shows that the recent inflation burst is over. 

So even though I’ve been in that inflation-is-transitory camp – and therefore, that price trends haven’t yet provided the government to use its taxing, spending, and monetary policy tools to slow the economy’s expansion – I’ll just note how the inflation situation has changed in recent months.

What matters most is that the monthly inflation rate has come way down since June. During the first half of this year, the sequential pace of all price increases sped up from 0.3 percen to 0.9 percent. July’s result was down to 0.5 percent and the August figure just released by the Labor Department was just 0.3 percent – right back where it was in January, when the virus’ last powerful winter wave was cresting.

Also important: The so-called core inflation rate (this measure strips out food and energy prices, supposedly because they can be volatile for reasons having nothing to do with the level of overall national economic activity, and how fundamentally inflation-prone it is) has lost major momentum, too. Between January and June the monthly rise in prices increased from 0.1 percent to 0.9 percent . Since then, it fell to 0.3 percent in July and back to 0.1 percent last month.

Inflation pessimists can still point to year-on-year inflation rates that remain elevated by historic standards (5.3 percent for the total measure and four percent for the core). But the statistical curve is bending in the right direction on these two counts also, and as I’ve written previously, the annual numbers are still distorted – and therefore rendered useless – by the unusually weak inflation reads generated by last year’s short but steep virus-induced recession.

Further, that slowing monthly momentum counts for a lot because the biggest fear surrounding inflation is that it could feed on itself and spiral out of control, as higher and higher prices convince all sorts of customers for goods and services that prices will only keep increasing. As a result, they can fuel further inflation by stepping up purchases and pushing prices still higher (because greater demand for anything, all else equal, will enable producers and providers to charge more). Weaker monthly inflation figures indicate that these pressures have been easing lately.

Focusing singlemindedly on the core carries risks, though. Principally, food and energy prices may well belong in their own analytical category when it comes to measuring inflation. But when it comes to living life day-to-day, it’s another story altogether – since it’s hard to imagine living without them. So price trends could still be hammering consumers and businesses, and in turn the broader economy, even though the core inflation rate is signaling that all’s well.

Just as important, food and energy costs are so important that, if they last long enough, they could feed persistent inflationary fires throughout that broader economy.   

Another potential reason to check inflation optimism: The Labor Department also reported today that price-adjusted hourly wages climbed month-to-month by 0.4 percent. That’s the first positive monthly number since December’s 0.8 percent. A single data point proves little, especially in the pandemic era, but if wages begin advancing faster than overall price increases, many businesses will try to respond to these higher costs by hiking their prices – potentially adding new momentum to inflation.

The consistent drop in inflation-adjusted wages, however, between January and July shows that nothing of the kind had been happening, even though most businesses seem to keep complaining about labor shortages (which should be forcing wages – the price workers can command for their services – up strongly).

Moreover, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, historically, American employers overall have responded to perceived or actual labor shortages by boosting their productivity – that is, using new technologies (like labor-saving equipment or software) or better management, or both, to improve efficiency and better enable themselves to absorb higher prices rather than pass them on to customers.

This scenario may sound bad for workers, and for some over various periods of time it will be. But to me, anyway, the clear lesson of history is that higher productivity does indeed, as the economic conventional wisdom holds, raise living standards (including wages) in general over time by (a) fostering the emergence of wholly new industries (which invariably need new workers); and (b) boosting existing industries’ ability to turn out more goods and services (which invariably creates the need for new workers, too).

At the same time, clearly not all businesses will take this tack. In fact, many are trying to keep wages low for many employees by agitating for more mass immigration. So far, this lobbying hasn’t succeeded, but it’s still way too early to say that workers have now regained enough bargaining leverage to ensure that their after-inflation pay continues rising robustly.

Wage increases (which I believe are long overdue) may also come to an end, or slow significantly, if weaker recent inflation stems from weaker economic growth – which would be bad for just about everyone. Unfortunately, the last monthly jobs report (also for August) and two important growth forecast series indicate that that’s precisely the case. (See here and here.)

But let’s close on a highly revealing note: One of the sources of these forecasts, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has just decided to suspend releasing these projections until it can figure out how to adequately take into account “The uncertainty around the pandemic and the consequent volatility in the data….” If this august institution, with its legions of Ph.D. economists, is telling us that assessing the economy’s direction and fundamental health is currently a mug’s game, that seems like a pretty good reason for caution in interpreting the new inflation report, too.