Category Archives: Commerce Department

DIY Business News: How to stop yelling at the TV screen and get some real news

Stock Ticker Old

Spare me the whining about Americans and their financial illiteracy.  It’s not like they are getting any help from institutions which ought to be assisting them. 

Media bashing gets a bit cheap at times, but in this realm the broadcast media isn’t delivering anything close to real “business news.”  For starters, most of what passes for “business” news on the cable TV outlets is nothing more than financial sector gossip and stock market reporting.   When everything is said and scrolled across the screen, what the consumer has gotten is information of the stock markets, by the stock markets and for the stock markets.  

If we take the most generous definition of an investor possible – one including individual investors, investors in retirement 401(k)’s, IRAs, mutual funds, and ETF’s – then we can claim that 48% of the adults in the U.S. have money invested in “the market.” [CNN]  Meaning, 52% of Americans have no investment in “the market” at all, and one could question how carefully those who have funds in the retirement accounts are attending to the investments made on their behalf.  Drilling a bit deeper into the numbers we find that only 13.8% of all U.S. families held any individual stock. [CNN] “Ownership of savings bonds, other bonds, directly held stocks, and pooled investment funds sustained sizable drops in ownership rates between 2010 and 2013, although none of the four types of assets are commonly held, with ownership rates in 2013 varying between 1.4 percent (other bonds) and 13.8 percent (directly held stocks).” [FED pdf]

The best face we can put on this is that what passes for business news in this country is stock market information of direct interest to at best 14% of the nation’s adult population.  Why? We can guess — (1) It pleases the managerial types who are focused on short term gains in stock prices? (2) It’s cheap to produce?  Reporting on stock prices is really easy, especially if the big driver is something accessible like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (3) It gives executives an opportunity to tout the value (whatever that might be) of their companies, thus moving their stock prices up?  However, what it doesn’t do is give anyone a clear overall picture of business in the United States of America.

Do It Yourself

If business news isn’t what’s on offer from the news channels which purport to provide it – then where to find it? 

The Federal Reserve has all manner of publications available online which will inform the inquisitive about consumer and personal finance.  Auto and Student debt is up at the moment, while the home ownership rate is falling, but not as many homeowners are now in default.  Interested in income inequality, or wealth gaps? Information is available from the FED on those topics as well.  Look and one can find all manner of information and analysis, unfettered from political punditry, on the subject.  In fact, one can discover that the way we talk about income inequality may be a function of how we measure it.

The San Francisco Federal Reserve is pleased to highlight its blog, with features ranging from how the FED recycles old currency to how Medicare payments may be curtailing inflationary trends.  If more generalized information is the target, then the Beige Book is as good a source as any:

“Commonly known as the Beige Book, this report is published eight times per year. Each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its District through reports from Bank and Branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by District and sector. An overall summary of the twelve district reports is prepared by a designated Federal Reserve Bank on a rotating basis.” [FED]

Think of the Beige Book as “one stop shopping” for general economic news in each of the FED’s regions.

 Hard Hat

Labor:  A steady diet of cable business news might leave a person with the idea that labor news doesn’t exist except so far as it concerns minimum wage issues, or the latest protest of less than living wages. It’s more difficult to find than information about economic trends, but it’s there.   A person might want to start with Labor Press.OrgLabor Notes, is another source.  Union labor issues are well publicized in AFL-CIO sites.  There’s more information available from the SEIU, and AFSCME.

Those cable shows – and they are just ‘shows’ – could fill a goodly amount of their time just from Department of Labor information.  They won’t because they’re too busy tossing softballs to CEOs, but they could for example offer the investor’s side of the argument about fiduciary responsibility and financial advisers from DoL information.  If it’s numbers that are wanted, there’s a whole bureau for those – the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Want the current consumer price index, the unemployment rate, payroll employment figures, average hourly earnings, the producer price index, productivity statistics, or the employment cost index? All these are available from the Department of Labor.

Doing Business:  Republican presidential candidates Cruz and Kasich both proposed eliminating the Department of Commerce.  This is taking the Tea Party Express right over the edge into the Silly Swamp.  One excellent source of information about our economy is the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles data regarding personal income and outlays – read: income and spending – what could be more “economic” than that?  Want information concerning the Gross Domestic Product? Consumer Spending? Corporate Profits? Fixed Assets?  Balance of Payments? State and Metropolitan GDP? Quarterly GDP by industry? It’s all available from the Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

When thinking of broadcast media it’s important to remember that what keeps the cable ‘business’ news going are advertising sales, and a commercial which might cost $2,000 to $3,000 for a network broadcast sponsorship could be as cheap as $175 on cable.  Little wonder their business seems to be limited to softball interviews and streaming the DJIA numbers on the screen – which you could do at home on any computer monitor.  Those shows are relatively banal because they probably can’t afford anything else.

Enterprises like Bush’s Baked Beans, Chef Michael’s Canine Creations, and Slap Chop are right in the mix with Ford, Chevrolet, and Wal-Mart sponsoring what passes for business and news reporting. [HuffPo] We’d be better served to Keep Calm and Do It Yourself.

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Filed under Commerce Department, Economy, labor, media, Tea Party Express

The Old Congressional Punching Bags

Amodei 3 The 114th Congress had a fine time with amendments to the appropriations bill for the Department of Justice (H.R. 2578)  A few of these are worth considering, and noting the positions taken by Nevada’s Congressional Delegation. 

Bag One: Amendment 271, from Representative David Reichert (R-WA) cuts $100 million from the Census Bureau and transfers the money to the COPS program. Reichert’s punch line is commendable: “Today there aren’t enough cops on the street. The community policing program has, in some parts of this country, been eliminated or cut back. So school resource officers are gone in some communities. Storefront officers are gone. They are gone, Mr. Chairman, and we need to bring them back. We can do it together. We can solve this problem and keep our community safe.”  [Thomas]  Where he found the money is not.  It’s taken from the programs and periodic census appropriations in the Census Bureau. [HR 2578 pdf page 7 line 8] The Wingnuts among us don’t like the Census Bureau because it collects information on Freedumb Folks

The corporate lackeys aren’t happy with the social programs and any way they can prevent reliable statistics from being compiled which indicate poverty levels, numbers of children living in poverty, numbers of elderly relying on nutrition assistance, etc. is acceptable.    The problem with whacking demographic statistics is that these are used by companies, large and small, on which to base expansion, hiring, store placement, and other business decisions.  There is some information available from private business information firms, but by cutting the capacity of small business to easily access retail level statistics from the Department of Commerce, Congress has just made it harder on the little guys.  Not that the interests of truly small family owned businesses has been an essential feature of Republican politics lately… and we won’t know exactly who favored this sleight of hand because the amendment was adopted on a voice vote.

This wasn’t the only raid on the Census Budget. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) Offered his amendment to “reduce funding for the Periodic Censuses and Programs by $17.3 million and increase funding for victims services programs for victims of trafficking by a similar amount.” [Amdt  275] This, too, passed on a voice vote.

Bag Two: Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC) offered his amendment (294) “an amendment to increase funding for the FBI by $25 million and to reduce funding for administrative provisions of the Legal Services Corporation by a similar amount.” The Legal Services Corporation is another popular punching bag for conservatives.  Pittenger’s specific amendment failed, but the 20% cut in the Legal Services Corporation funding stayed in the final bill, the vote on which was 242-183.  Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy voted in favor of the cuts, Representative Titus voted no. [rc 297]

The bill passed after lawmakers turned back an amendment from Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) to cut LSC’s funding by an additional $25 million, with the money to be reallocated to the FBI budget.  The amendment failed  by a vote of 263-163.” [LSC]  Representatives Amodei and Hardy voted in favor of the Pittenger amendment; Representatives Heck and Titus voted no. [rc 275]   Even without the extra slash from the Pittenger amendment, what’s the impact of the House appropriations on the Legal Services Corporation?

“We are disappointed that in the face of enormous unmet need for essential civil legal services among low-income Americans and other issues affecting access to justice, the House has voted to cut LSC funding by 20% to levels not seen since 1999,” said LSC Board Chair John G. Levi and Frank B. Strickland, LSC Board Chair during the George W. Bush administration. “We recognize that this is a time of austerity, but the foundation of our country and the integrity of its legal system are built on the concept that everyone is entitled to fair and equal access to justice, irrespective of their economic means. Because this is a core American value, we are hopeful that significant additional funds will be provided to LSC by the Senate or in a negotiated budget agreement later in the year.”

LSC estimates the funding cuts will force local programs to lay off more than 1,000 staff members, including 430 attorneys, and close 85 legal offices nationwide.  This would result in 350,000 fewer people served and 150,000 fewer cases closed each year.”    [LSC]

Just as the Census Bureau presents an obvious punching bag for the radical right, so does the Legal Aid budget.  No matter that Nevada is already working on shoestrings … there are 23 lawyers, about 14 paralegals, and 15 other assistants in Nevada who worked on 3,984 cases in 2014.  In case the conservatives are thinking that all Legal Aid does is represent gang members in criminal courts – think again.  Nevada Legal Aid is NOT the public defenders office.

Of the 3,984 cases Nevada Legal Aid worked on in 2014, 2,669 (67%) were concerned with housing. There were 366 income disputes, and another 175 consumer law cases.  And, who were these people?

Clients by Ethnicity Nevada 2014
White 1,822 46%
African American 1,172 29%
Hispanic 641 16%
Native American 131 3%
Asian/Pacific 97 2%
Other 121 3%
Total 3,984 100%

Nothing says “protecting corporate interests” quite so well as reducing the capacity of low income citizens of Nevada to prevail in their disputes about housing, income, and consumer protection.

It might be well to recall even before the next election rolls around that three members of the Nevada Congressional Delegation (Representatives Heck, Amodei, and Hardy) believed it was perfectly defensible to punch the Census Bureau – from which most truly small businesses get their demographic data, and the Legal Services Corporation – the last resort of those who have been unlawfully evicted, swindled, or cheated – one more time.  There aren’t too many more hits these agencies can take.

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Filed under census, civil liberties, Commerce Department, Congress, conservatism, Judicial, Justice Department

>It really does look like Bloody Monday

>Monday May 14, 2007 Paul McNulty, former deputy attorney general resigns from the Justice Department in the midst of Congressional investigations into the firing of at least 8 U.S. Attorneys. [MSNBC]

Monday May 14, 2007 Lanny Davis, the only Democratic member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board overseeing the implementation of the Patriot Act resigns saying the White House edited the recent report issued, and sought to delete a large section on FBI abuses of National Security Letters [MSNBC] Think Progress has a section of Davis’ full statement.

Monday May 14, 2007 a group of staff members in the Commerce Department want a special counsel to investigate Commerce Inspector General Johnnie E. Frazier (who is already being investigated by a congressional committee, the Office of Special Counsel, and the Council on Integrity and Efficiency) on allegations of fraud, contract abuse, wasteful spending, and retaliation against subordinates. [ABC] Think Progress

May 3, 2007 Julie A. MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary in charge of the Fish and Wildlife Service resigned after being rebuked for altering scientific reports [LAT]

April 6, 2007 Monica Goodling, Justice Department official, takes the 5th, and announces her resignation. [TPMM]

March 13, 2007 Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzales resigns. [CNN]

There have been more:

Last December a 33 year veteran of the Justice Department Civil Rights Division left because she saw racial discrimination in the Civil Rights Division and the voting rights section in particular. [TPMM]

Two years ago Robin C. Ashton, criminal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, was informed that a promised promotion was being withheld because she had a “Monica problem.” Monica Goodling, that is, who believed the prosecutor was insufficiently loyal to the Bush Administration. [NYT]

and more….and more…and more…
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Nevada news roundup at Blue Sage Views

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Filed under Alberto Gonzales, Bush, Commerce Department, Interior Department