There Is No Such Thing As a Legal Progressive

At the Kagan confirmation hearings today, Senator Sessions (R-AL) had some tetchy back and forth with the Supreme Court nominee. One of the questions that has been getting a lot of coverage in the media and blogosphere, however, was when Sessions asked Kagan if she was a “legal progressive.”

A what? Legal progressive? What the heck is that?

Is it… a progressive who does law? In which case, of course Kagan is one. But that can’t have been what the term was meant to imply — a phrase like “legal progressive” suggests some sort of theory of jurisprudence, not merely a description of a progressive who happens to have a JD.

When I heard Sessions use the phrase, I blinked a couple times. Which I’m sure Kagan was probably doing, too. And then I tried to figure out what on earth he was talking about.

Legal positivist, legal realist, legal pragmatist, legal formalist, natural law theorist, critical legal studies theorist, legal hermeneutics — I’m pretty familiar with all those, and I could probably rattle off a few more “legal X-isms” if I spent some more time thinking about it. But “legal progressive” I’ve never before come across. So I was sort of relieved when Kagan acknowledged that she hadn’t a clue what it meant, either.

Google seems to agree with me and Kagan. A search for the term does not reveal any web page using the phrase that is not actually in reference to Kagan’s nomination, or else refers to something entirely unrelated. I’ve now clicked through 12 pages of Google results for “legal progressive,” and I cannot find even one that suggests such a pre-Kagan judicial philosophy has ever existed.

In response to Kagan’s semi-confused queries about what he meant, Sessions responded, “Well, it means something, and I would have to classify you as someone in the theme of a legal progressive.” One would think that if the term really meant ‘something,’ and if Sessions knew what this ‘something’ was, he would’ve elaborated. But regardless of what Sessions’ personal understanding of the term is, I am relatively certain that if “legal progressive” had a pre-Kagan meaning, it would have turned up within the top 10 pages of Google results.

Even those using this exchange as proof that Kagan is being deliberately obtuse at best, and a blatant liar at worst, can offer no proof that the term has any academic significance. The original source of the term appears to be Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff, who stated, “Elena is clearly a legal progressive… She’s got a pragmatic perspective.” As best I can tell, the VP Chief of Staff coined the term on the spot, or else was confusing it with Posner-style legal pragmaticism. (In which case, if Kagan truly is one, by all means, hurry up and confirm her!)

But no one has been able to step forward and offer a definition for the jurisprudence of legal progressivism.

Mostly because, well, it doesn’t exist. There is no more a judicial philosophy known as “legal progressivism” than there is one called “legal regressivism.” Kagan was right not to answer the question, because any answer she could’ve given would’ve been factually wrong — someone cannot be a follower or non-follower of a judicial philosophy that has yet to be created.

Hollow and vapid, indeed.

-Susan

North Koreans Watch World Cup Live, Results Were Less Promising Than Expected

Ouch. Kim Jong-il must be regretting his decision to allow the first live showing of a North Korean soccer match for the national team’s game today against Portugal.

After the Chollima’s rather impressive 2-1 loss to #1 ranked Brazil, and after receiving a lot of praise from startled soccer fans worldwide, the North Korean government must have decided it was safe to allow the game to air in North Korea, un-filtered by the state. Most games, including the match against Brazil last week, are only shown a day or two later, after being safely sanitized for the public’s consumption.

I was only able to watch the first half of the game, after which score stood at a 1-0 lead for Portugal. That was still an impressive result for the Koreans, who were massively outmatched. I was shocked to see the final score sometime later, however: 7-0, for Portugal. Apparently, after I looked away, the game turned into a massive slaughter.

If I had to guess, sometime after the third or fourth goal, the live feed being broadcast to the DPRK got cut. Or I sort of hope it was, anyway. By all accounts, it was an exceedingly painful second half to watch, at least for anyone not from Portugal — and I can only imagine how much worse the reaction was in Pyongyang.

-Susan

The Japanese Prostitutes-for-Whaleburgers Programme

Tomorrow, the International Whaling Commission meets for the beginning of its 5-day conference in Agadir, Morocco. The annual conference will be of particular importance this year, due to Australia’s decision to move ahead with its claims before the ICJ against Japan, based upon the latter’s whaling activities.

Although there has been a moratorium on whaling since 1986, Japan (as well as Iceland and Norway) have continued whaling under the “research exception” of the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Article VIII, section 1 of the Convention provides as follows:

Notwithstanding anything contained in this Convention any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention.

So it’s not clear cut who has got the better side of the argument, here. “Scientific research” is not defined elsewhere in the Convention, and, if this case does make it up to the ICJ, the Court will have a fairly complex question of treaty interpretation to grapple with.

Japan is, currently, hunting whales for what can fairly be characterized as commercial purposes. However, Japan is also using the whales it kills to conduct research, through its Institute of Cetacean Research. Although debate continues about the necessity of using lethal methods for whale research, it would not be accurate to characterize Japan’s whale research programs as merely a front for the commercial operations — the research on the whale populations is genuine.

On the other hand, the principle of good faith in treaty interpretation would seem to prevent construing the Convention to allow the “research” exception to encompass any sort of whale harvesting that also incidentally includes a research component. The ICJ will have a difficult task before them, in determining whether or not the Japanese research whaling fleet is authorized as a matter of law.

But if the judicial process does not go Japan’s way, there’s always the political method. And, if things go the way the pro-whaling nations hope, the upcoming IWC conference in Morocco could ultimately lift the whaling moratorium, rendering Australia’s claims moot.

I’ve talked before on this blog about Nauru’s practice of selling its recognition power. China and Abkhazia both essentially purchased Nauru’s recognition of their statehood, through the use of foreign aid. A similar situation has now developed with regards to the IWC, and Japan is engaging in very direct forms of diplomacy in order to secure more votes for the pro-whaling coalition.

Currently, 88 states are parties to the Convention, and any state that wishes to join may do so. Most of these countries, however, are not themselves whaling states, nor do any whales live in their jurisdictions. Eight of member states are actually landlocked territories. For countries that have no strong interest in whales or whaling, the decision of whether to prohibit or allow whaling on international waters is a decision controlled less by State preference, and more upon which option will garner them the most diplomatic favor. As a result, the vote-buying has been pretty blatant.

The Caribbean states all largely vote along with Japan on whaling issues, and receive large amounts of aid from Japan in return. The Pacific is more divided, as some of the countries there have been wooed by Japan, while others have been bought out by Australia and New Zealand. The Marshall Islands and Kiribati are among those Pacific Island states who receive aid from Japan and vote with the pro-whaling bloc in return.

What is interesting about Japan’s purchasing of pro-whaling votes, however, is the form of compensation offered. Although some of the compensation consists of fairly standard foreign aid packages, or the paying of smaller states’ IWC fees, or covering the travel costs for their diplomats to attend the IWC conference, some of Japan’s tactics are more questionable.

Other forms of compensation include providing prostitutes to foreign diplomats, giving government officials generous “discretionary expenses funds” for their visits to Japan or IWC conferences, and providing diplomats with lavish vacations. Although generally I disagree with those who characterize this sort of compensation-based diplomacy as a form of “bribery,” in this case, the label does seem to fit.

Japan’s justification for this particular brand of diplomacy is that the IWC is abusing its mission by failing to have adequate membership requirements. Some Japanese politicians go as far as to argue that only pro-whaling nations should be permitted to join the IWC, because the goal of the IWC is to regulate the harvesting of whales — and countries that do not harvest any do not have any legitimate interest in setting that number.

They do have something of a point. The object and purpose of the Whaling Convention clearly indicates an intention to protect whale stocks in order to create a sustainable global whaling industry. The purpose of the IWC was not to work towards the complete elimination of whaling, but rather to ensure the preservation of the earth’s whale resources so that commercial harvesting could continue — and by allowing in any country that wants to join, the IWC is letting states with no economic or territorial interest in whales to exert control over states like Japan.

But the prevalence of schemes through which smaller states sell out there international-law-making-power in exchange for cash poses something of a long term dilemma for customary international law. CIL is developed through a combination of state action and opinio juris, but for international legal issues in which “state action” is only conducted by a bare handful of states — such as with whaling — or where there state action consists of a nebulous act of “recognition”, having opinio juris be determined by who’s writing the biggest checks undermines the credibility of the whole process.

-Susan

Armor for the Medieval Kitten

This weekend, I spent far too much time sacked out in the living room watching the World Cup. While the games were going on, though, I decided that my kitten almost-cat deserved to have a shiny suit of armor.

Every cat should own a set of sturdy armor, of course. It provides valuable protection for the spine and flanks when an inevitable battle breaks out with the dreaded Forces of Dog. And so I made a chainmail suit for Ragnarok, my faithful feline companion.

The armor didn’t take as long as expected — I finished up even before Germany vs. Australia came on. (I cheated and used a really really large ring size. That helped.)

Not too surprisingly, Ragnarok was slightly less-than-thrilled about having his own armor to wear. But he is a very brave kitten, and although he looks at me with very sad eyes when I put the chainmail on him, he wears it with a stoic grace. And by “stoic grace,” I mean, “occasionally and unexpectedly falls off chairs because the weight throws off his center of gravity.”

Sir Kitten boldly surveys his domain.

And because my co-blogger might just murder me if I dare post more than one gratuitous kitten picture outside of a cut, click below to see more of the Adventures of Brave Sir Kitten: Continue reading

American Exceptionalism: So Exceptional That We Are the Only Nation That Realizes Soccer Sucks

There is nothing more boring than Americans who find a personal sense of superiority in their disdain for soccer. Sadly, they are everywhere. Warning: reading these articles may be dangerous to your health, as they tend to induce extreme and uncontrollable episodes of eye-rolling. Particularly so when they start bragging about not understanding soccer. “The rest of the world likes this sport, but I can’t understand what’s going on or why it’s interesting! Res ipsa loquitur, America is better. And smarter. And prettier.”

And then there are the Theories. The convoluted, detailed explanations for both why soccer sucks and why Americans are the only ones capable of comprehending this great truth. All of the soccer haters have Theories:

More than having to do with its origin, soccer is a European sport because it is all about death and despair. Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less you score.”

Because the sport itself is so boring, so devoid of action, of physical contact, of life, it falls upon the hyped-up (and in many cases, liquored up) crowd to enact the action that it failed to witness on the field. The patriotic crowd shows up looking for blood, and ends up with a zero-zero tie. Simply put, it is because the sport is so lifeless, that the crowds are so prone to violence.

For sure, there may be a number of reasons that is the case but my suspicion is that the so-called “beautiful game” is not so beautiful to American sensibilities. We like, as good small “d” democrats, our underdogs for sure but we also still expect folks in the end to get their just desert. And, in sports, that means excellence should prevail. Of course, the fact that is often not the case when it comes to soccer may be precisely the reason the sport is so popular in the countries of Latin America and Europe.

Despite the heroic efforts of soccer moms, suburban liberals, and World Cup hype, soccer will never catch on as a big time sport in America. No game in which actually scoring goals is of such little importance could possibly occupy the attention of average Americans. Our country has yet to succumb to the nihilism, existentialism, and anomie that have overtaken Europe.

In fact, if Real Americans were in charge, the World Cup would never be broadcast in America. The media’s coverage of the World Cup is all part of a thinly disguised liberal plot to destroy America, and to force “multiculturalism” down our throats:

Part of the liberal sales pitch for soccer is its popularity with Hispanics. Liberals who fetishize race are eager to adopt a sport with a special appeal for a certain minority, and it would never occur to them that new arrivals to the country might be well served adapting to traditional U.S. pastimes. To the left, it’s America that must change.

Or maybe, as one commenter claims, the reason America doesn’t like soccer is because we already have freedom. Only people without freedom — i.e., the rest of the world — need to use soccer as a substitute for the real thing:

Most of the rest of the world find almost exclusively in soccer, what we enjoy in great measure in real life: Freedom within sound rules to achieve our own goals.

As you can see, it is Very Important to these people that everyone knows how much soccer sucks. Lest someone in this great nation enjoy the World Cup, they must proclaim to everyone the truth: that America is unique among nations in being able to realize that soccer is a deficient and boring sport.

Except there’s a problem with that. America is not, in fact, a special, soccer-scorning snowflake — we aren’t actually the only nation that, every four years, saturates the media with repetitive OpEds on why soccer sucks. Australia is our equal on that front.

And this is from a nation that believes cricket is a thrilling activity. Something is very wrong with that country.

But part of the U.S.’s dislike for soccer (and Australia’s too) is that our soccer teams just aren’t themselves particularly exceptional. Unlike in the Olympics, we aren’t reliably going to wind up on top.

Oh, the U.S.’s squad isn’t bad. And, truth be told, I kind of enjoy the opportunity to cheer for the home team and also be cheering for the underdog. But they’re no Dream Team, so it must be tempting for some sports aficionados to write off soccer as “not important” as a means of excusing the U.S.’s failure to dominate.

But our failure to be Number One isn’t the entire story. For instance, our women’s team is pretty phenomenal, but that has done little to increase the standing of the sport in this country. Of course, that has more to do with a cultural disdain for women’s sports than it does with soccer, but even if the men’s team did the unthinkable and won the World Cup this year, I doubt soccer would become the next big thing here.

Another reason soccer never took hold as strongly here is market saturation. In the States — and also in Australia — there are already plenty of non-soccer sports crowding the airwaves, and there’s little demand for yet another major pro-sports league. Also, soccer is less convenient in terms of advertising opportunities for broadcast tv, so the networks themselves have little incentive to try to increase soccer’s prominence.

Almost certainly, soccer (at least at the pro level) will never be as huge in the U.S. as it is overseas. And that’s okay — plenty of sports in America have a small but viable market presence, and are still respected for what they do offer. But for the Soccer Haters, the idea that soccer might be semi-popular in the U.S. is, essentially, the equivalent of burning the American flag.

As a nation, we really need to get over the idea that there is a special virtue in disliking soccer. If it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine; I promise that the Liberal Inquisition has no plans on brainwashing you to make you enjoy it.

But your failure to understand soccer says a lot more about you than it does about soccer.

-Susan

Police Raids Conducted on Global Technical, Grosvenor, and Scandec — Will the Magic Bomb Wands Finally Be Stopped For Good?

There has been some good news today: it looks as if Gary Bolton and the rest of the UK Magic Bomb Wand Gang might finally be taken down. Police staged raids on three companies, targeting Global Technical, Grosvenor, and Scandec. Combined with the arrest in January of ATSC’s MD, that amounts to most of the UK’s magic bomb wand market [Edit: But ComsTrac, maker of the Alpha 6, is still out there!]:

Police have raided three companies suspected of selling ineffective hand-held explosives detectors to overseas markets, in a case that raises questions about whether Britain has done all it can to curb the much-criticised trade.

City of London police on Tuesday said they raided five properties and planned to interview a number of individuals as part of an expanding investigation into the sale of the devices, which critics say have endangered lives in Iraq and other countries.

The police action comes after Britain in January introduced a ban on the export of the devices, but applied it only to Iraq and Afghanistan because it said it lacked the power to extend it to countries in which UK and allied forces were not engaged.

The police said they executed five search warrants at premises in Kent, Devon and Nottingham linked to the companies Grosvenor Scientific, Scandec Inc and Global Technical, seizing a large amount of cash and several hundred detection devices and their component parts. A number of people were due to be questioned under caution on suspicion of fraud by false representation and other matters, the police said, adding that they were also investigating whether bribes had been paid to procurement agents in countries in which the probes had been sold.

Thank god. Good work, Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit, but a part of me can’t help but sadly wonder why it took you so long. The OACU said in another article:

“Our suspicion is that they are deliberately manufactured in the knowledge that they don’t work,” Det Supt Cowan says. “They are being sold overseas and we suspect that corruption is in the middle of that process.”

Sorry to be snarky, but “your suspicion” is that? Y’think?

Let’s hear from another expert, as well as Gary Bolton himself, on what exactly those bomb detectors he’s manufacturing are made of:

Explosives expert Sidney Alford took apart the “black box” of the GT200, which is supposed to receive signals from the detection cards.
He was surprised at what he found.
“Speaking as a professional, I would say that is an empty plastic case,” he told us.
Mr Alford also took apart a “detection card” and found there was nothing in it other than card and paper.
Gary Bolton from Global Technical told the BBC that the lack of electronic parts “does not mean it does not operate to the specification”.

It’s pretty safe to infer what Mr. Bolton’s mens rea was here, and it ain’t just willful ignorance.

As for the allegation that there is some serious government corruption going on to explain why so many foreign states have actually bought these useless devices, it’s been pretty obvious from the start that that’s what has been going on.

It looks as if maybe the private sector in Britain has finally realized, too, that the activities of Jim McCormick and Gary Bolton aren’t just a threat to foreign states, but could very much be a danger to Britain’s security and defense industry as a whole:

ADS, the trade association for the UK aerospace and defence industry, said it was “very concerned” that the “isolated case” could cause “unjustified damage to the UK’s hard-earned global reputation as a reliable supplier of world-class and effective products”.

It said: “This one regrettable case should be balanced against the enormous number of positive contributions that our industry has made to our armed forces and to security around the world.”

But this ain’t over yet. When it comes to Global Technical and ATSC, the mere occurrence of a police raid is not enough to ensure that they will be stopped for good.

If you are reading this and from the UK, do me a favor and contact your representative and tell them you want to see follow-through on the prosecution of the fake bomb detector crew. Keep up the political pressure. The ADE-651, GT200, and other devices should be banned from export to ALL countries, not just to Iraq and Afghanistan. As an initial matter, banning the export of dangerous devices solely to countries where British troops might be is pretty sick. But also, it’s completely ineffective. These bomb wand companies have foreign distributors all over the place, and it is no trouble for them to route the “bomb detectors” to Iraq or Afghanistan through other pathways.

Back in January, the British police arrested Jim McCormick, and I thought then that there would finally be a stop to this madness. But they let him out on bail, and Jimbo went right back to business as usual, opening up a new and improved version of the ATSC, Ltd. website, just as ready to sell fake bomb detectors as he was before. Despite the arrest, nothing happened, except ATSC got a new distribution network set up in Romania.

And now, in response to the raids earlier today, a UK agency has this to say, to excuse its complete failure over the past decade at stopping the fraudulent bomb detectors:

The Department for Business defended its earlier decision to impose only a geographically limited export ban on the ADE-651 and similar devices, describing the response as “proportional and appropriate at the time”. It added that it had notified other governments about its concerns.

What a load of self-serving rubbish. The Department of Business allowed the snake oil merchants to carry on with their activities, and by doing so, contributed to further death and injury around the world. There is absolutely no reason why the UK’s response should be more forceful now than it was in January — other than a couple dozen more deaths in developing countries around the world, there has not been any change of circumstances that would justify putting more extensive bans in place now that wouldn’t have justified putting the bans in place then.

For that matter, in case anyone in the United Nations Procurement Department is reading this, there’s a lesson here for you as well:  get off your butts and take Global Technical off your vendor list! For gods sake, Global Technical has a shiny “UNITED NATIONS REGISTERED” icon on its page. That might carry a lot of weight with potential customers who check out the GT200′s webpage and see that.  It needs to go, now — there’s no excuse for why they slipped onto your supplier list in the first place, but it’s time to fix the mistake.

-Susan

Rush Limbaugh, Stalwart Defender of Marriage Rights

Until today, I had never realized that Rush Limbaugh believed so strongly in marriage rights. But he showed how mistaken I was about his beliefs, when, yesterday, he celebrated his right to get married for the fourth and (potentially) final time. This was a bold move for Rush to make; by doing so, he took a strong stand in the name of the many rights that he believes all Americans are entitled to. These rights include:

(1) The right to get married, even though traditional values forbid it, or, at a very minimum, find your fourth “marriage” to be an example of moral depravity and an indication of underlying character flaws. So what, you’ve screwed up before. You’re a flawed person, everyone is. But now you have found someone you love, and you think this time you can get it right. Some people may call it immoral, but to you, it’s just love.

(2) The right to get married, and to have the state recognize your marriage even if certain religious traditions prohibit it. It is irrelevant that someone’s version of the Bible says that you are a sinner, and that your union is not recognized by god. Who cares if god recognizes it? You just want the state to.

(3) The right to get married, even if a lot of the public finds the idea of you and spouse getting married to be really kinda icky. Some people might object to your marriage, because, for a large segment of the population, the thought of your sex life makes their skin crawl. Too bad — if it grosses them out, they should just try not to think about it. The fact that you make them squeamish is not a valid reason for denying you the right to marry the one you love.

(4) The right to get married, even if by doing so you are setting a disturbing example for the nation’s children. By divorcing three times and marrying for a fourth, you are teaching children that marriage is a temporary and discardable institution, and that it is not a commitment to be taken seriously. Even if you are setting a terrible example, it’s not your problem. Although some parents may not want their children to emulate you and what they believe is your sinful behavior, that is not a valid reason for denying you the right to live your life in the manner you believe is best for you.

(5) The right to privacy, and to have marriage be a personal decision that is not regulated by the state. Rush has always believed that the federal government should not meddle in our personal affairs. It would be morally wrong if the government prohibited people from marrying more than three times, and, luckily, the government has not tried to regulate that yet. Additionally, Rush has firmly declared his right to privacy regarding his choice to get married. As he wrote in an email to the media, “We try to live our lives as normal people. We do not seek media attention. We do not want it, especially for this.” You tell them, Rush. This is your personal life — who do they think they are, trying to get involved in it?

    I wish the happy couple all the best. Their dedication to marriage rights is an inspiration to us all.

    -Susan

    Does the May Jobs Report Show Unemployment is Down and the Number of Jobs Has Gone Up? Think Again.

    The May Jobs Report was released today, and on the face of it, it indicates that 431,000 new jobs were created last month. Although this number was somewhat of a disappointment, as it did not show as much growth as had been estimated and hoped for, the result of the report was a flurry of media articles trumpeting that “May brings 5th straight month of jobs growth” and “U.S. adds jobs in May”, although, to be fair, the exuberance of these articles was tempered somewhat with somber commentary on the modest increases in private sector employment.

    But a closer look at the May jobs report shows a situation deeply more concerning than what the media is describing. (Alas, the stock market isn’t falling for the spin either, it seems.)

    Breaking the establishment report down, which is the source of the BLS’s number proclaiming job growth, we see the following:

    Total Increase in Jobs: 431,000.
    Total Government Job Increase: 390,000
    Total Private Sector Increase: 41,000

    But wait. We added a total of 411,000 census jobs in May — which means we actually lost 21,000 non-census government jobs. (Which means, not counting census jobs, there was only a net increase of 20,000 jobs total.)

    And it gets worse. In the private sector, the largest growth was found in a category called “temporary help services,” with an increase of 31,000 jobs. Perhaps this is merely reflecting a May increase in summer jobs that will be gone again in August, such as camp counselors and resort employees? At any rate, it is not a strong indication of job market stability.

    On the other hand, the unemployment rate at least has been reported as being modestly optimistic, falling from 9.9% to 9.7%, as shown in the household survey. It went from 15,260,000 unemployed in April to 14,973,000 in May, for a total swing of -287,000 unemployed persons. That’s good news, right?

    Not so fast.

    These two statistics — the decrease in unemployment and the increase in jobs — come from entirely different surveys. The figure showing a growth in jobs was taken from the establishment survey, while the May Job Report’s conclusion that there was a decrease in the unemployment rate comes from the household survey.

    But while the household survey does show a decrease in unemployment, but it also shows a decrease in total employment as well. In April, the household survey found 139,455,000 employed persons. In May, it found 139,420,000, i.e., it found a decrease in total employment of 35,000 persons. How is it possible for the survey to show both a decrease in jobs and decrease in employment, you might ask? Because it also found a decrease of 322,000 in the overall civilian labor force.

    Looks like there’s been some statistical cherry-picking here. Favorable numbers from each survey have been reported, and the unfavorable ignored.

    The discrepancy between the two reports can be explained in part because the two use different methods, and count slightly different types of data. For instance, the household survey looks at employed persons, while the establishment survey looks at number of employment positions on the payrolls, so a person with two jobs shows up once on the first survey, but gets counted twice on the latter.

    But the discrepancy between the two surveys is better explained by the fact that the alleged “increase” in jobs or “decrease” in unemployment are in fact meaningless, nothing more than statistical phantoms. As the BLS report states,

    BLS analyses are generally conducted at the 90-
    percent level of confidence.

    For example, the confidence interval for the monthly
    change in total nonfarm employment from the
    establishment survey is on the order of plus or minus
    100,000. Suppose the estimate of nonfarm employment
    increases by 50,000 from one month to the next. The 90-
    percent confidence interval on the monthly change would
    range from -50,000 to +150,000 (50,000 +/- 100,000).
    These figures do not mean that the sample results are off by
    these magnitudes, but rather that there is about a 90-percent
    chance that the “true” over-the-month change lies within
    this interval. Since this range includes values of less than
    zero, we could not say with confidence that nonfarm
    employment had, in fact, increased that month.

    At an unemployment rate of around 5.5
    percent, the 90-percent confidence interval for the monthly
    change in unemployment as measured by the household
    survey is about +/- 280,000, and for the monthly change in
    the unemployment rate it is about +/- 0.19 percentage point.

    Full disclosure: I haven’t taken a course that required me to do math since freshman year of college, let alone taken statistics. So I can’t comment too deeply on what’s going on here.

    But it looks to me like the May Job Report is largely a wash. Most of the increases or decreases are just a chance fluctuation, not a reflection on any actual underlying change in the data.

    The BLS report also states that “An over-the-month employment change of about 100,000 is statistically significant in the establishment survey, while the threshold for a statistically significant change in the household survey is about 400,000.” [Note: I'm assuming by statistically significant they mean the odds of it being meaningless are the usual 1-in-20 figure? Which is why these numbers don't quite match up with the previous quote, which used a 1-in-10 figure.]

    So remember that net change in the employment rate of 287,000? Yep, turns out that doesn’t mean anything. There has been no actual decline in unemployment, as far as is shown by the BLS’s May Jobs Report — and ignoring the minor blip upwards in unemployment rates that happened in April, we’ve had essentially stagnant unemployment rates for all of 2010 so far.

    As for the establishment survey, true, the increase in jobs that it found is significant. But remember — 411,000 of the new jobs were from census positions, which will evaporate once the census is over. And that 41,000 uptick in private sector jobs? Illusory. This survey does not demonstrate any net increase in private sector jobs; the most positive thing that can be said about it is at least it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s been any decrease, either.

    Moral of the Story: If it were not coincidentally that time of the decade for the census, we would have zero job growth right now. Take out the census, and we only “gained” 20,000 jobs in May — a statistically meaningless number, under either of the BLS’s surveys.

    -Susan