From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. economic expansion is now the third-longest on record and showed no signs of letting up in February, with robust hiring, falling unemployment and firmer wage growth opening the way for the Federal Reserve to raise short-term interest rates....Average hourly earnings in the private sector rose 2.8% from a year earlier,1 a sign that the tightening job market is pushing employers to raise pay.

"Firmer wage growth." Maybe so. But overall wages can be skewed by big gains at the top, so every month I look at production and nonsupervisory workers as a gauge of how wages are doing for ordinary people. Here it is since the end of the recession:

Production and nonsupervisory workers had a pretty good 2015, notching wage gains a little over 2 percent (adjusted for inflation). But it's been downhill ever since, and they've actually seen wage cuts in the first couple of months of 2017. Maybe the economy is overheating, but it sure looks to me like inflation is still pretty restrained and a lot of people aren't seeing that supposedly tighter labor market.

1This is not adjusted for inflation, so even for the broad labor market, wage gains haven't been all that impressive recently.

President Trump has already claimed that Barack Obama left him an economy in a "mess"; that Obama is probably behind all the protests and leaks; and that Obama had him wiretapped during the campaign. Now along comes OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to add yet another ugly accusation:

We thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers in terms of the number of people in the workforce to make the unemployment rate, that percentage rate, look smaller than it actually was.

These folks just don't stop. This isn't quite as bad as the wiretapping thing, but it's still plenty appalling. Then there was this:

The BLS did not change the way they count, I don't think, but you can have a long conversation when you've got a numerator and a denominator, how to arrive at a percentage.

Oh FFS, it's a pretty short conversation even for a sixth grader. Here's the formula:

  • Percentage = 100 * (numerator / denominator)
  • Employment rate = 100 * (number employed / labor force)
  • Using the jobs numbers from February: 100 * (152,528 / 160,056) = 95.30 percent. Subtract from 100 to get the unemployment rate: 4.70 percent.

There are no alternative ways of doing it. Here's a pretty chart for Mulvaney showing the numerator, denominator, and unemployment rate for the past decade:

Frisbee Golf!

I got caught up in some other stuff today and didn't use the new camera much. But I promised to annoy you, and the weekend is almost over, so annoy you I shall. Here's my pal David on the 6th hole of the UC Irvine disc golf course this morning. We play every Sunday. This picture shows off the burst mode of the Lumix, which my old camera didn't have:

That was David's best shot of the day. The disc landed about a foot from the pin. Here's a full-frame crop of a penny in macro mode. Not bad, but nothing special:

And here's a flower at UC Irvine, just because:

Here's a look at new job creation over the past six years. The trendline has been steadily downward since 2014. Perhaps the Fed should have second thoughts before deciding that the February report was strong enough to deserve an interest rate hike.

Panorama!

Exclusively for my weekend readers, here's the first-ever panorama shot showing the nerve center of this blog. Impressive, isn't it? Phone, computer, TV, the whole nine yards. And convenient to the refrigerator. Sort of like Air Force One.

I would have shown even more, but this was the most I could coax out of the camera. I'm not sure if this is some limitation in the Lumix, or if it expects you to hold the camera very, very level, and I didn't.

Bokeh!

As you'll recall from yesterday, bokeh refers to the blurry background in a photograph. It's a word taken from the Japanese, probably because blurriness didn't sound very professional. Besides, every profession needs its own jargon to refer to simple concepts in a way that will confuse outsiders.

This morning was bokeh test day. I chose flowers for my subjects because they don't move around as much as some other subjects I could name. All of these shots are full frame, with a small bit of exposure compensation in some cases but no other retouching.

First up is a succulent of some kind, precise name unknown. This was taken very close with a sunny background in the far distance. The round white circles are typical of bokeh, so this shot makes an excellent test subject:

When professional photographers talk about bokeh, they mean more than just the blurriness itself. They're talking about quality of the blurriness. Is it nice and smooth? Is it pleasing to the eye? Are the circles round, rather than cat-eyed? I'm not experienced enough to judge bokeh at a deep level, but this seems pretty good to me. However, anyone with more expertise is welcome to comment. Don't worry: I won't be offended if it's not actually all that great.

For comparison, here's the same shot with the old Canon. I couldn't fill the whole frame, so this picture is cropped. It was also tricky to compose because the Canon doesn't have as much focusing flexibility as the Lumix. It's not bad, and you might actually prefer it to the Lumix version. But more to the point of this exercise, the amount of blurriness in the background is far less than the Lumix with its bigger sensor and longer lens. The Lumix can easily be set to provide less blurriness if you want, but the Canon can never get more than this:

Next up is a salvia. It's similar to the picture of the succulent (i.e., taken up close with the background far away), but shot away from the sun:

Next is a calla lily. This one was shot at medium zoom. It turns out the Lumix can focus pretty close even at longish focal lengths, which helps produce bokeh even when the background is fairly close:

Ditto for this one, a pretty flower that I don't know the name of:

Thie next shot shows how you can use a narrow depth of field to highlight a single subject in a field. This was shot at maximum zoom, so the background flowers are out of focus even though they're only a few inches away from the foreground flower:

In theory, all of these pictures were shot at f4.5, which maximizes the bokeh. However, the Lumix randomly changes aperture on me for some reason, even though I have it set to aperture priority. I'm not sure what's going on with that. However, I've downloaded the full manual, so I'll study up on that today.

Finally, here's a cat:

Why? Well, why not?

Every couple of weeks I like to post the latest Pollster aggregate of Obamacare's approval rating. It's been rising for months, and it's now a solid five points in positive territory.

And as long as we're on the subject, a friend reminded me the other day of just how infuriating Democrats have been on Obamacare. They've had seven years to extol its benefits, which they should have been doing at the top of their lungs. Instead, most of them have done their best to avoid being associated with it. This is one of the biggest own-goals in party history. Is it any wonder that the public has been lukewarm about Obamacare when one party has attacked it relentlessly and the other has mostly twiddled its thumbs and stared at the ceiling?

Canada Goose at Sunset

Here's a Canada Goose at sunset. Based on comments, I downloaded a trial copy of Lightroom, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I suppose I'll have to RTFM or something. But no matter. He's a pretty nice looking critter even without a lot of retouching.

If everything goes according to plan, I intend to annoy you all weekend with the fruits of my new camera. I have to get my money's worth somehow, after all.

Looky here:

House Republicans are proposing legislation aimed at making it easier for companies to gather genetic data from workers and their families, including their children, when they collect it as part of a voluntary wellness program.

The bill, the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, introduced by Representative Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina and the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, would also significantly increase the financial costs faced by someone who does not join a company wellness program.

And here I thought Republicans were opposed to mandates for health care. Only from the government, I guess. When it's corporations doing it, everything is just ducky.

As far as I'm concerned, this is just another good reason to ditch employer health insurance and move to a true national health care system. I suppose Virginia Foxx doesn't see it that way, but then again, I'll bet Congress doesn't have a wellness program either. She might feel differently if she were the one being badgered into taking yoga classes.

UPDATE: This is even worse than I thought. Eric Levitz has the grim details here.

Earlier this week I noted that one-tenth of the Republican health care bill is taken up with a provision that denies Medicaid coverage to lottery winners. I figured it was just Republicans being Republicans, ever watchful for some poor person who's gaming the system and getting something they don't deserve. But no. The Rude Pundit point out—very rudely!—that the real reason is more prosaic. Here's a snippet from a CBO report released a couple of years ago:

It turns out that Republicans aren't just being dicks. They're also playing the CBO scoring game. Half a billion dollars may not be much over ten years, but it's better than nothing. And if you can help your CBO score and stick it to some poor schmoe who won the lottery—well, that's just a win-win, isn't it?

OK, BUT SERIOUSLY FOLKS: This isn't quite the real story, though it's true that Republicans really are sort of obsessed with making sure no poor person ever gets a penny more than they deserve. Michigan was the trendsetter here. After the great midterm landslide of 2010 gave Republicans total control of the state, they passed a law requiring state agencies to automatically cross-check lottery winners with people receiving welfare benefits. The result was a lovely report about the "truly needy":

Now, you may be thinking that this is pointless since Medicaid has an income test, and lottery winnings count as income. So if you win the lottery, you don't qualify for Medicaid anyway.

But no! Not anymore, anyway. For complicated reasons—explained here in unbelievable detail if you really want to torture yourself—Democrats were forced to change the Medicaid rules in Obamacare so that lottery winnings counted as income only in the month they were received. That means you'd be ineligible for Medicaid that month, but then you'd go right back on Medicaid the next month even though you had this huge pile of lottery cash available to you.

Fixing this rank injustice became a hobbyhorse of Rep. Joe Pitts (R–Penn.), who introduced multiple bills designed to change Obamacare's rule. Pitts retired last year, but no matter: other Republicans are now selflessly carrying on his work. And the complexity of this rule explains why lotteries take up six pages in their bill. It's not just a matter of kicking lottery winners off the Medicaid rolls. Republicans have to define in detail how lottery income is handled. Lots of detail:

A State shall...include such winnings or income...as income received in the month in which such winnings or income (as applicable) is received if the amount of such winnings or income is less than $80,000....over a period of 2 months if the amount of such winnings or income (as applicable) is greater than or equal to $80,000 but less than $90,000....over a period of 3 months if the amount of such winnings or income (as applicable) is greater than or equal to $90,000 but less than $100,000....over a period of 3 months plus 1 additional month for each increment of $10,000 of such winnings or income (as applicable) received, not to exceed a period of 120 months (for winnings or income of $1,260,000 or more), if the amount of such winnings
or income is greater than or equal to $100,000.

So now you know. Republicans are fixated on lotteries and Medicaid because (a) poor people are getting away with something, and (b) the income reporting rule for lotteries was changed by the hated Obamacare. The CBO score is useful not because of the amount of money involved—which really is peanuts—but because it demonstrates that the rule affects the federal budget. That means it can be changed in a reconciliation bill. Which is what Republicans are trying to pass.

All clear now?