November 11, 2007

Bob Herbert Does His Best to Talk Down the Economy

One of the many downsides of the mid-September takedown of its TimeSelect firewall by the New York Times is that the general public must endure exposure to the uninformed rants of Bob Herbert.

Mr. Herbert’s “Recession? What Recession?” yesterday (HT Brad DeLong via Instapundit) is one such screed that is so over the top that it requires a detailed takedown.


With all due respect to the chairman (Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke), he would see the recession that so many others are feeling if he would only open his eyes. While Mr. Bernanke and others are waiting for the official diagnosis (a decline in the gross domestic product for two successive quarters), the disease is spreading and has been spreading for some time.

As I noted Monday, The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM’s) October report on manufacturing, which is about 12% of the economy, read “expansion” (though not by much) for the ninth straight month, and 51st in the past 53. October’s ISM “non-manufacturing” report, covering the vast majority of the rest of the economy, including residential construction, read “expansion” for the 55th straight month, and with a stronger result than in September (as usual, “surprising” analysts who had expected a decline). The ISM reported that the economy as a whole expanded for the 72nd straight month.

The government has also reported GDP growth of 3.9% and 3.8% in past two quarters.

Where is the “disease,” and how can it have “been spreading for some time” with so much recent good news?

Oh, but Business-Economy Expert Bob, citing absolutely no evidence, has the answer: Thousands of government employees have been co-opted by the eeeeeevil Bush Administration to lie about the economy for years. No he didn’t use those words, but he clearly implied them:

….. The country has been in denial for years about the economic reality facing American families. That grim reality has been masked by the flimflammery of official statistics (job growth good, inflation low) and the muscular magic of the American way of debt. …..

In the process of constructing his alternative reality, Herbert exposes the ignorance of an Empire State congressman:

….. In an interview after the hearing, Representative Hinchey discussed the disconnect between official government reports and the reality facing working families. He noted that the unemployment rate does not include workers who have become so discouraged that they’ve given up looking for a job.

Hinchey is correct, but is also clearly implying that the pool of discouraged workers is huge, and increasing. It is neither, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its Employment Situation report on November 2, clearly stated (bolds are mine):

Nearly 1.4 million persons (not seasonally adjusted) were marginally attached to the labor force in October, about unchanged from a year earlier. These individuals wanted and were available to work and had looked for a job sometime during the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. Among the marginally attached, there were 320,000 discouraged workers in October, little different from a year earlier. Discouraged workers were not currently looking for work specifically because they believed no jobs were available for them. The other 1.0 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in October had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey for reasons such as school attendance and family responsibilities.

If every single “marginally attached worker” was (incorrectly) counted among the unemployed, the unemployment rate would be a whole 0.9% higher. The marginally attached and discouraged worker numbers as a percentage of the total workforce have not risen significantly over the past decade.

Oh, I forgot. BLS must be part of Herbert’s “flimflammery.”

(By the way, if Herbert wants to investigate possible “flimflammery,” he should look into why Gross Domestic Product growth in the first three quarters of 2000, the three quarters in the runup to that year’s presidential election, were originally reported as 4.8%, 5.6%, and (in the last report before the election) 2.7%, respectively, when the final results recorded at the government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis are now 1.0%, 6.4%, and -0.5%, respectively. I’m not kidding.)

Back to Herbert:

And the most popular measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, does not include the cost of energy or food, “the two most significant aspects of the increased cost of living for the American people.”

Wrong.. There is an overall statistic, and one that excludes food and energy. There’s no need to prove this with a link.

The elite honchos in Washington and their courtiers in the news media are all but completely out of touch with the daily struggle of working families. Thirty-seven million Americans live in poverty and close to 60 million others are just a notch above the official poverty line.

This does not at all square with the recently-released findings of The Conference Board, noted by yours truly yesterday (NewsBusters; BizzyBlog), but nearly totally ignored by Old Media. This would explain why Herbert isn’t aware of this remarkable news:

About 73 million U.S. households now have discretionary income, up from about 57 million in 2002, according to a report by The Conference Board. The percent of the U.S. population with discretionary income has increased to nearly 64 percent, up from 52 percent in 2002.

Let’s break it down:

  • There were about 115 million households in the US a year ago, and 299 million people.
  • If 73 million had discretionary income 42 million didn’t.
  • If the family sizes of those with and without discretionary income were the same, that would leave 109 million Americans in households with no discretionary income. If 37 million Americans are living in poverty, that leaves 72 million.
  • Bob Herbert is absurdly claiming that 60 million, or 83%, of that 72 million is “just a notch above” poverty. No, way.

Not only does the Conference Board report blast Mr. Herbert’s claim out of the water, but as chronicled yesterday, it continues a quarter-century march of significant improvement. The percentage of Americans with discretionary income has gone up from 30% or so in the 1980s, to 50% or so during the 1990s up to about 2002, to the last year’s 64% (actually 63.5% before rounding) just reported.

The Conference Board isn’t even part of the government. This is some conspiracy Bob Herbert has cooked up.

Bob Herbert is either assuming that the depressing financial situation at his company, and the circulation conditions in his industry, are reflective of the entire economy, or he’s part of the high-DB horde trying to capitalize on the difficulties in the housing and mortgage lending sectors to talk down the rest of the economy. I believe it’s the latter.

Cross-posted at

Positivity: History of Veterans Day

Filed under: Positivity,Taxes & Government,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 6:58 am

From US Department of Veterans Affairs web site:

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m.

The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday – - a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” which stated: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible.” (Click here for the full text of the proclamation.)

On that same day, the President sent a letter to the Honorable Harvey V. Higley, Administrator of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), designating him as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee. (Click here for the text of President Eisenhower’s letter.)

In 1958, the White House advised VA’s General Counsel that the 1954 designation of the VA Administrator as Chairman of the Veterans Day National Committee applied to all subsequent VA Administrators. Since March 1989 when VA was elevated to a cabinet level department, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has served as the committee’s chairman.

The Uniforms Holiday Bill (Public Law 90-363 (82 Stat. 250)) was signed on June 28, 1968, and was intended to insure three-day weekends for Federal employees by celebrating four national holidays on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day. It was thought that these extended weekends would encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production. Many states did not agree with this decision and continued to celebrate the holidays on their original dates.

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.