April 5, 2008

AP: Is It ‘Recession No Longer a Question’ or ‘Widening Agreement’?

Is it just me, or is the Associated Press’s Jeannine Aversa doing an end-zone dance because she thinks that the recession Old Media has been pining for has finally arrived?

Someone needs to remind her that one negative quarter, if it even occurs, does not a recession make.

In an early-Saturday story on the economy, Aversa treated the recession as a lock in her first paragraph, even though the fifth paragraph betrayed uncertainty (bolds are mine):

It’s no longer a question of recession or not. Now it’s how deep and how long. Workers’ pink slips stacked ever higher in March as jittery employers slashed 80,000 jobs, the most in five years, and the national unemployment rate climbed to 5.1 percent. Job losses are nearing the staggering level of a quarter-million this year in just three months.

For the third month in a row total U.S. employment rolls shrank—often a telltale sign that the economy has jolted dangerously into reverse.

At the same time, the jobless rate rose three-tenths of a percentage point, a sharp increase usually associated with times of deep economic stress.

The grim picture described by the Labor Department on Friday provided stark evidence of just how much the jobs market has buckled under the weight of the housing, credit and financial crises. Businesses and jobseekers alike are feeling the pain.

“It is now very clear that the fat lady has sung for the economic expansion. The country has slipped into a recession,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group. Indeed, there is widening agreement that the first recession since 2001 has arrived.

“Widening agreement” is a far cry from “It’s a question of how deep and how long,” ma’am.

Throughout her report, Aversa makes the same mistake — mistaking seasonally-adjusted total employment losses for actual job losses — that she did in an earlier report Friday (covered in more detail by me yesterday at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog).

The economy lost 80,000 jobs in March and 232,000 jobs during the first quarter of 2008 on a seasonally-adjusted basis. But, no matter how much Ms. Aversa may wish that it were so, that does not translate to the “blood on the streets” verbiage she used — language that was mimicked by most of the rest of Old Media yesterday:

Job losses were widespread last month, hitting workers at factories, construction companies, retailers, banks, real-estate firms and even temporary-help agencies. Also mortgage brokers, hotels, computer design shops, accounting firms, architecture and engineering companies, legal services, airlines and other transportation as well as telecommunications companies.

Those cuts swamped employment gains elsewhere, including at hospitals and other heath-care sites, educational services, child day-care providers, bars and restaurants, insurance companies, museums, zoos and parks.

The fact of the matter is that the economy added 574,000 jobs in February, after having added another 529,000 in January (data can be retrieved from this BLS page; select the very first “not seasonally adjusted” table):

BLSrawDataEmployed0108to0308.jpg

It sadly is the case that the number of jobs added in January and February of this year is significantly lower than the number added during the same two months in 2007 and 2006. This largely explains why total employment, when adjusted for seasonality, has shrunk. There is also no denying that the slower level of job additions so far this year in comparison to previous years is cause for concern about whether a recession has begun.

But none of this changes that fact that the negative core of Aversa’s employment narrative (“pink slips stacked higher,” and “job losses were widespread last month”) is demonstrably false. Pink slips did NOT stack higher, and there were job GAINS (though less than one would have hoped for).

There is no indication in her AP story that Aversa’s reporting is entirely based on seasonally adjusted data. It makes me wonder if she, or AP, even realize it.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Social Security Will Cause Fiscal Headaches Within Just Two Years

Note: This column was originally posted at Pajamas Media on Thursday under the title “Social Security: Anything But Secure.”
_______________________________________________

The Latest Social Security Trustees’ Report Masks the Near-Immediate Nature of Uncle Sam’s Budget Problem

The Social Security Administration’s 2008 Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trustees Report has contained this sterile language for several years:

Long-Range Results
Under the intermediate assumptions, OASDI cost will increase more rapidly than tax income between about 2010 and 2030 due to the retirement of the large baby-boom generation. …..

Conclusion
Annual cost will begin to exceed tax income in 2017 for the combined OASDI Trust Funds, which are projected to become exhausted and thus unable to pay scheduled benefits in full on a timely basis in 2041 under the long-range intermediate assumptions.

Many readers, and many reporters who should know better, naively conclude from this that Social Security’s big problems are 33 years down the road. Others more astutely note that 2017 is when the trouble starts.

I’m here to tell you that as far as the government’s full fiscal situation is concerned, the trouble will really begin in 2010. Things will get progressively worse for the next six years (2011-2016), and go “code red” after that.

To understand why, let’s establish a few undeniable facts about Social Security (Medicare is its own separate nightmare).

For years, Social Security has been taking in more in taxes than it has paid out in benefits — in recent years, lots more. In fact, Social Security has run a 22-year “surplus” of over $2.1 trillion, as reported by the Congressional Budget Office (the related CBO page in graphic form is here; the full report is a PDF found at this CBO page):

CBObudgetData1986to2007

That must mean that Social Security’s Trust Fund is flush with investments, right?

Wrong. This bit of history explains why:

In early 1968 President Lyndon Johnson made a change in the budget presentation by including Social Security and all other trust funds in a”unified budget.”

Social Security’s Trust Fund, instead of being a separate, untouchable stash of cash and investments (i.e., instead of being run like a normal pension plan), thus became money that the rest of the government could raid.

This fiscal sleight-of-hand didn’t matter much until the mid-1980s; the net Social Security surplus from 1968-1985 was only about $3 billion. But as you see above, the system’s surpluses exploded after that as the Baby Boomers entered their prime earning years.

What have the politicians in Washington done with those surpluses? They’ve spent them, by continually borrowing from Social Security’s “Trust Fund.”

By including Social Security in a “unified” budget and raiding its surpluses, Uncle Sam has been able to paper over typically huge deficits in all other government operations. For example, as you can see above, in fiscal 2007, the government’s operational (“on-budget”) deficit was $343.4 billion; but after netting in the Social Security surplus and the Postal Service, it “officially” reported a deficit of $162 billion.

This situation has been allowed to continue with rare objection through Republican and Democratic administrations, with the acquiescence of Republican and Democratic Congresses, for 40 years. Insert your own conclusions about the breathtaking irresponsibility of our political class.

The Social Security “Trust Fund” is thus nothing but a pile of IOUs from the rest of the government — which is itself over $9.4 trillion in debt.

So there is no money to speak of in the “Trust Fund” to pay benefits. There is also no indication from anyone who could make a difference in Washington, including the three presidential candidates, that they want to change this situation.

Sorry.

Like it or not, the next president is going to face the “Trust Fund” problem early in his or her first term. That’s because Social Security’s annual surpluses are going to start shrinking, and quickly. You can already see the looming trouble above in the minimal change (less than inflation) from 2006 to 2007.

In 2010 (perhaps 2009, if the economy slips into recession), that subsidy to the rest of the government will get smaller with each successive year. Every year in which the subsidy decreases will be a year with three stark choices: cut spending, raise taxes, or issue more debt.

Beginning in 2017, Social Security will collect less in taxes than it will pay out in benefits. Its annual subsidy to the rest of the government will be a mere memory. The rest of the government will then either have to start paying in to Social Security, or decide to reduce benefits immediately in some way. That’s code-red time.

To believe that the problem doesn’t become serious until 2041, you have to believe that the government, starting in 2017, will “somehow” be able to pay back what will be then be about $4 trillion in Social Security IOUs over a period of 24 years — an average of about $170 billion a year in principal alone — without significantly disrupting or tanking the economy. Surely you jest.

Positivity: Friend says Aspen undersheriff saved his life with Heimlich Maneuver

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:55 am

From Aspen, Colorado:

March 27, 2008

ASPEN, Colorado — Saving lives is all in a day’s work for Pitkin County Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo.

When DiSalvo spotted his friend Cameron Leonard choking on a piece of steak at Cache Cache Bistro in Aspen recently, instinct and training kicked in.

“If Joe hadn’t have been there I’d be dead,” Leonard said later. “And I mean that because Joe is one of the few guys in town who’s big enough to get his arms around me.”

Leonard, a chef and limo driver in Aspen, is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs more than 300 pounds. DiSalvo is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds.

DiSalvo made a joke and thought Leonard was laughing before he noticed that Leonard, who was sitting at the bar, had something coming out of his nose and looked peculiar.

“I knew immediately something was wrong,” DiSalvo said. “I could tell he was in distress.”

DiSalvo checked to see if Leonard could make any noise, a sign that no air is passing through the windpipe, then wrapped his arms around Leonard to clear his friend’s windpipe.

Leonard already had turned blue and was losing his vision when DiSalvo began performing the life-saving maneuver.

But it was more than a minute that DiSalvo worked on Leonard with no result, he said.

“He was getting worse,” DiSalvo said.

He could feel Leonard slumping in his seat at the bar and losing consciousness.

“I think he was going,” DiSalvo said. “It was a long time.”

“My vision was gone and I was going down,” Leonard said later.

DiSalvo was just about to push Leonard to the floor and pounce on him to clear his windpipe when the situation improved.

“I gave it one more gigantic tug and it seemed to dislodge the thing and he came around,” DiSalvo said.

“I had a nice stiff drink as soon as it popped loose,” Leonard said.

It’s not the first time he’s performed the Heimlich maneuver, DiSalvo said.

A few years ago, he saved his own mother from choking during a family meal at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.

DiSalvo has also performed CPR some 12 times on victims with one save to his credit, he said. …..

Go here for the rest of the story.

AP Covers for Obama by Avoiding Church’s, and Pastor’s, Essence

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:40 am

Now playing defense for Team Obama: Karen Hawkins and Christopher Wills of the Associated Press, as carried in the Washington Post (“Obama Found a Home in His Church”) on Thursday.

Call it a Wright-wash — Hawkins and Wills managed to avoid any mention of the main tenets of “Black Liberation Theology” that form the foundation of the belief system of the Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC). Until recently (though TUCC’s Pastoral Staff page at its web site still does not reflect the supposed change), TUCC was headed by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose preaching moved presidential candidate Barack Obama to join the congregation 20 years.

The AP pair also managed to avoid any mention of often inflammatory items in weekly bulletin articles published by the Church.

Nowhere in the story’s 1,200-plus words was there any mention of the Church’s belief system, which was outlined by McClatchy’s Margaret Tavel on March 20:

Obama’s church pushes controversial doctrines

Jesus is black. Merging Marxism with Christian Gospel may show the way to a better tomorrow. The white church in America is the Antichrist because it supported slavery and segregation.

Those are some of the more provocative doctrines that animate the theology at the core of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Barack Obama’s church.

….. Wright has said that a basis for Trinity’s philosophies is the work of James Cone, who founded the modern black liberation theology movement out of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Particularly influential was Cone’s seminal 1969 book, “Black Theology & Black Power.”

Cone wrote that the United States was a white racist nation and the white church was the Antichrist for having supported slavery and segregation.

To cover up the theology, the AP writers made TUCC seem typical:

Trinity is a predominantly black congregation in a mainline, mostly white denomination _ the United Church of Christ. Its 8,000 members include politicians, doctors, lawyers and other leaders on Chicago’s South Side.

It would be interesting to take a poll of this mainline denomination’s members about Marxist “theology” and whether the “white church” is the Antichrist.

Now to the bulletins.

In the July 22 bulletin, in the “Pastor’s Page” section, the Rev. Wright gave two pages of space to a colunmn by Hamas terrorist Mousa Abu Marzook. The column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times, which came under heavy criticism for running it. Among Marzook’s many whoppers:

A number of political parties today control blocs in the Israeli Knesset, while advocating for the expulsion of Arab citizens from Israel and the rest of Palestine, envisioning a single Jewish state from the Jordan to the sea.

CAMERA.org wrote at the time that “that no Israeli parties in government advocate the ‘expulsion’ of Arabs; one calls for voluntary transfer.

A June 10 bulletin article, also in the “Pastor’s Page” section, was written by terrorist sympathizer Ali Baghdadi. Among other things, Baghdadi wrote (bolds are mine):

I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the White Supremacists of South Africa. In fact, South Africa allowed Israel to test its nuclear weapons in the ocean off South Africa. The Israelis were given a blank check: they could test whenever they desired and did not even have to ask permission. Both worked on an ethnic bomb that kills Blacks and Arabs.

The KKK, on its worst day, never accused the ethnic groups it hated of attempting to concoct a “white bomb.”

The Rev. Wright not only allowed these hate-filled diatribes to appear in TUCC’s bulletins, he was — and presumably, in the absence of any expressed remorse, still is — supportive of them, as indicated by what he wrote in the July 8 bulletin:

WrightOnProgrMuslims070807

Putting “state” in quotes when describing Israel is a standard tactic of those who do not wish to see that nation survive. Rev. Wright surely knows that. Also note that the Rev. Wright put “war on terror” in quotes. So not only does he feel that we deserved to be attacked on September 11, as seen in the infamous “chickens coming home to roost” video, he apparently believes that our response to the attacks is either illegitimate and/or should not be taking place.

Barack Obama has denied reading TUCC bulletins, but was seen taking notes by a New Republic writer during one of the Rev. Wright’s sermons in March 2007. The default option for where Obama would have been recording his notes would be the “Sermon Notes” section of each week’s ….. church bulletin.

AP writers Hawkins and Wills made no mention of the bulletins or their content. No words relating to Israel, Hamas, or the Palestinians appeared in their article.

Instead, readers were fed pablum such as this:

People familiar with Trinity compare its emphasis on African culture to the way some Catholic churches play up Irish or Italian roots.

….. (Wright is) a serious biblical scholar who thinks carefully about issues.

….. Wright’s sermons, even when they included strong critiques of racism and inequality in America, were always grounded in the Bible, church members said. Wright sometimes used harsh, painful language, his supporters acknowledge, but mostly he was well within a black tradition of emotional, social commentary.

Very little in the AP story would cause the reader to question Obama’s continued association with the Rev. Wright and TUCC. That is the fundamental reason why the Rev. Wright issue continues to resonate.

NewsBusters poster Matthew Balan reported on Friday afternoon that CNN portrayed TUCC sympathetically as “under siege.” On Wednesday, NB poster Mark Finkelstein caught Good Morning America’s David Wright (no relation) positing that bringing up Rev. Wright any further may be unfairly “raising the race issue” to hit “below the belt.”

As long as Old Media reporting on Obama-Rev. Wright continues to be as disgraceful as the AP article covered here, my two-word response to David Wright is: No. Way.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.