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Economics
March 2, 2014

Evan Soltas asks, "Is the labor market getting tight?"

He claims that the rising rate of workers quitting their jobs could show that the labor market is getting tighter. Workers quitting their jobs at a higher rate is taken as an expression of confidence. As Joe Weisenthal argues, "When the economy is bad, workers don't quit their jobs." The quit rate shows that the relationship between unemployment rate and quit-rates has remained steady, suggesting that it's the headline unemployment rate — which has now fallen to 6.6 percent — that best captures the state of the workforce.

Of course, what the rate of quits tells us is the rate of quits. People quit their jobs for all sorts of reasons, and even though the rate of quits is tightly correlated against unemployment, reading the rate of quits as a proxy for the tightness of the labor market is a risky extrapolation, and overlooks the bigger picture.

To assess the tightness of the labor market, we need a concept of the natural rate of unemployment. There is lots of argument over what we should mean by the "natural rate of unemployment," but the most popular definition is from Milton Friedman and Edmund Phelps, who defined it as the rate of unemployment consistent with output being at the "long-run" level. And what's very clear is that output is still in a big slump after 2008, way below its long-run trend:

[Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis]

So even if we assume that the headline unemployment rate is the best measurement of tightness in the labor market, 6.6 percent (which translates to millions of people who want a job but can't find one) is still very slack because the economy is way below potential. John Aziz

Law And Order
10:35 p.m. ET

A man who ran for Congress in Tennessee last year was charged Tuesday with plotting to burn down a mosque and other buildings in a New York community with a large Muslim population.

Robert R. Doggart, 63, of Sequatchie County, was indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of the civil rights violation of soliciting others to destroy religious property. Court documents say he wrote on Facebook that his targets — a mosque, school, and cafeteria in a hamlet near Hancock, New York called Islamberg — "must be utterly destroyed in order to get the attention of the American people." Doggart spoke with a confidential source and others on a cell phone being tapped by the FBI, court documents said, and he was heard saying he wanted to firebomb the different buildings. The plot was never carried out.

Doggart was arrested in mid-April, and said he would plead guilty, but a judge rejected the proposed plea as legally insufficient, NBC News reports. During the 2014 Congressional race, Doggart ran as an independent against the incumbent, Republican Scott DesJarlais, and received six percent of the vote. Catherine Garcia

activist governor
9:55 p.m. ET

Despite an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling last week saying a 10 Commandments monument violates the state Constitution, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said it will remain on Capitol grounds.

Fallin said she made her decision after Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked the court to reconsider its 7-2 decision and lawmakers filed legislation to have citizens vote on whether to remove Article II, Section 5 of the constitution, which reads "No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such."

The court said the statue, which was privately funded by Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow), was obviously religious in nature and an integral part of Christian and Jewish faiths, Tulsa World reports. Citing Pruitt's request and the potential vote, Fallin said, "Oklahoma is a state where we respect the rule of law, and we will not ignore the state courts or their decisions. However, we are also a state with three co-equal branches of government."

The ACLU of Oklahoma filed the challenge on behalf of three plaintiffs, and Fallin's decision doesn't sit well with executive director Ryan Kiesel. "The Supreme Court did not give any leeway in their opinion," he told Tulsa World. "The bipartisan, seven-member majority did not say remove the monument except if you look into your crystal ball and think the law might allow it at some point in the future and go ahead and keep it. The court said remove the monument." Catherine Garcia

Greek debt crisis
8:47 p.m. ET
Thierry Charlier/Getty Images

The eurozone is giving Greece until Thursday to come up with new proposals to secure a deal with its creditors.

This is the "most critical moment in the history of the eurozone," European Council President Donald Tusk said. "The final deadline ends this week." During an emergency summit Tuesday in Brussels, it was expected that new Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos would bring written proposals, but instead only supplied an oral update on Greece's financial situation. The problem goes beyond Greece, French President Francois Hollande said, adding, "It's the future of the European Union."

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he wants a "socially just and economically viable agreement," and suggested on Tuesday night he will agree to several demands from creditors, including some that he rejected in the past. In return, he wants a third bailout from the eurozone, an agreement on restructuring Greece's public debt, and measures to encourage economic growth, the BBC reports. Catherine Garcia

Crisis in Syria
8:04 p.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress Tuesday that the United States has only trained roughly 60 Syrian opposition fighters to take on the Islamic State.

The program launched in Jordan and Turkey this May, with the goal of training 5,400 fighters a year, Reuters reports. Some rebel leaders say that in order to be successful, the trainees have to target Syrian government forces, but they are off-limits for U.S. offensive operations.

Carter said he thinks Syrian recruits need some protection from the U.S., but said no decisions have been made yet on the type of assistance to provide. He also said that after the U.S. streamlined vetting candidates, the numbers of recruits would increase. “We are refining our curriculum, expanding our outreach to the moderate opposition, and incorporating lessons learned from the first training,” he said. Catherine Garcia

sorry donald
7:26 p.m. ET
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

ESPN is the latest company to cut ties with Donald Trump, following comments he made about Mexican immigrants during his presidential campaign kick off in June.

The ESPY Celebrity Golf Classic was scheduled to be played July 14 at the Trump National Golf Club in Palos Verdes, California, but has been moved to Pelican Hill in Orange County, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a statement, ESPN said the change reflects "support for inclusion of all sports fans. Diversity and inclusion are core values at ESPN, and our decision also supports that commitment."

During his kick off event, Trump stated that Mexican immigrants are "bringing drugs" and "crime" to the U.S., and "they're rapists." He later added, "some, I assume, are good people." Since then, Macy's, NBC, Univision, and other major corporations have severed ties with the GOP candidate. Catherine Garcia

Nature's Wonders
6:46 p.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A giant sheet of granite has fallen from Half Dome, making it even harder to ascend the Yosemite National Park landmark.

Park officials said the sheet, which they estimate is 100 by 200 feet, peeled off from halfway up the sheer face of Half Dome sometime last week. No one was hurt or saw the granite fall; it was found by climbers, who were unable to pass and had to turn around. "What used to be relatively easy climbing has gotten much more difficult," park geologist and climber Greg Stock told The Associated Press.

There are several routes climbers can take, and this particular one is considered one of the top 50 climbing destinations in North America. Hundreds of skilled climbers take on Half Dome every year, and while this affects some climbers, Yosemite Chief of Staff Mike Gauthier is certain it won't keep anyone away. "Now is their chance to find a new work-around," he said. "And they will." Catherine Garcia

In a galaxy far, far away
4:13 p.m. ET
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

That galaxy far, far away just keeps getting more crowded. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney has yet another expansion of the Star Wars universe on the horizon: a spin-off focused on the adventures of the young Han Solo.

The Han Solo spin-off will be written, directed, and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directorial team behind recent smash hits like 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie. No word on casting, but it's hard to imagine a young actor in Hollywood who wouldn't jump at the chance to step into such an iconic role.

The Han Solo movie is just one of many new movies designed to expand the depth and breadth of the Star Wars universe. In addition to J.J. Abrams' Episode VII, which arrives in December, and its two planned sequels, Godzilla director Gareth Edwards is slated to helm Rogue One, a spin-off about the team that stole the plans for the Death Star, setting the stage for the original Star Wars.

Update: Following The Hollywood Reporter's story, the Han Solo spin-off was confirmed on StarWars.com. The movie will explain "how young Han Solo became the smuggler, thief, and scoundrel whom Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi first encountered in the cantina at Mos Eisley," says the press release. The film will hit theaters in May 2018. Scott Meslow

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