November 24, 2009

Searching for Christmas (Year 5, Part 1), and Case of the Missing Layoff Stories

This is the fifth year I have looked into how the media treats these two topics:

  • The use of “Christmas shopping season” vs. “holiday shopping season” (note how the AP photo at right uses “holiday” and not “shopping,” even though there is a C-C-, Chr-Chr-Christmas tree in the picture).
  • The frequency of Christmas and holiday layoff references.

I have done three sets of simple Google News searches each year — the first in late November, followed by identical searches roughly two and four weeks later.

The cumulative results of all three search sets during the past four years are in this graphic.

Year-to-year changes have often been subtle. That is anything but the case with the results of the first set of searches I did this morning. In the context of the current economy, they are stunning, and very revealing:

XmasShoppingAndLayoffs112409

The red boxes demonstrate that the relative frequency of references to the phrase “Christmas shopping season” vs. “holiday shopping season” is down almost 60% (58.6% to be more exact) in the past four years.

That’s bad enough. But the green boxes demonstrate that while searches on “Christmas layoffs,” “holiday layoffs,” and “holidays layoffs” (all entered without quotes) understandably came back with a huge combined number of hits last year, their frequency has dropped back to not very far above 2007 levels.

So how is that existing or impending layoffs during the Christmas/holiday season are almost back to pre-recessionary levels, even though the unemployment rate has jumped to over 10%, and is projected by most analysts to go even higher?

These charts vividly make the points:

XmasShoppingAndLayoffChart112409

There may be some variances due to Google News’s apparently tighter rules this year on who is and isn’t allowed to be a news source. But even after considering that matter, it’s clear from the first chart that there is press reluctance to refer to Christmas in connection with commerce, and that this reluctance is on the increase. If there wasn’t, we would not see the steep four-year decline in in the proportion of references to the “Christmas shopping season.”

Even after considering the overall reduction in the number of news stories, it’s also quite clear from the second chart that even though the economy is in worse shape than it was a year ago (GDP is down 1.1% during the first three quarters of this calendar year, and October’s unemployment rate of 10.2% is 3% higher than December’s 7.2%), the establishment media would prefer not to cover clearly continuing layoffs while a Democrat is in the White House. Last year, there were 31% more stories about layoffs associated with the Christmas/holiday season than there were about shopping (14,017 divided by 10,696). This year, in a far worse economy, there are 87% fewer (1,105 divided by 8,703).

Consider showing this post the next time someone tries to tell you that establishment media outlets play news about the economy straight. They don’t, and it’s really not arguable.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: Mom: Son in coma heard everything for 23 years

Filed under: Health Care,Life-Based News,Positivity — Tom @ 11:21 am

UPDATE, Feb. 16, 2009: There is strong evidence that Houben’s facilitated communication was not his own, as documented here. Nonetheless, these important facts remain, as noted in that same link:

This doesn’t necessarily discredit facilitated communication altogether. Laureys analyzed another paralyzed test subject who answered all 15 control questions correctly despite having a comparable brain-damage diagnosis. “That means it is really necessary to verify every single case,” Laureys says.

Now the work with Houben will have to start all over again. But there is one thing for sure — images taken of his brain activity reveal that it is behaving only slightly differently from that of a healthy brain. As a result, researchers are fairly certain that Houben is conscious — and they find themselves in the desperate position of a rescue team trying to dig out a person from under the rubble.

Since Houben had been thought previously to have been in a vegetative state, it’s a positive thing that it now “fairly certain” that he is not. It is also fairly likely that Houben, as this post’s headline claims, “heard everything for 23 years.”

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From Brussels, Belgium (bold is mine):

Nov 23 02:13 PM US/Eastern

BRUSSELS (AP) – A man who emerged from what doctors thought was a vegetative state says he was fully conscious for 23 years but could not respond because he was paralyzed, his mother said Monday.

Rom Houben, 46, had a car crash in 1983 and doctors thought he had sunk into a coma. His family continued to believe their son was conscious and sought further medical advice.

Professor Steven Laureys of Belgium’s Coma Science Group realized that the diagnosis was wrong and taught Houben how to communicate through a special keyboard, said Dr. Audrey Vanhaudenhuyse, who is on Laureys’ team.

Rom used the device to tell a reporter for the German magazine Der Spiegel that: “I screamed but there was nothing to hear.”

Belgian doctors who treated him early on said that Rom had gone from a coma into a vegetative condition.

Coma is a state of unconsciousness in which the eyes are closed and the patient can’t be roused, as if simply asleep. A vegetative state is a condition in which the eyes are open and can move, and the patient has periods of sleep and periods of wakefulness, but remains unconscious and unaware of him or herself or others. The patient can’t think, reason, respond, do anything on purpose, chew or swallow.

But Rom’s parents would not accept that he was comatose or vegetative.

His mother, Fina Houben, said in a telephone interview that they took him five times to the United States for tests.

More searching finally got her in touch with Laureys, who put Houben through a PET scan that indicated he was conscious. The family and doctors then began trying to establish communication.

A breakthrough came when he was able to indicate yes or no by slightly moving his foot to push a computer device placed there by Laureys’ team.

Then came the spelling of words using his finger and a touch-screen attached to his wheelchair.

“You have to imagine yourself lying in bed wanting to speak and move but unable to do so—while in your head you are OK,” Vanhaudenhuyse said. “It was extremely difficult for him and he showed a lot of anger, which is normal since he was very frustrated,” she said.

The case came to light after Laureys published a study in the journal BMC Neurology this year showing that about four out of ten patients with consciousness disorders are wrongly diagnosed as being a vegetative state.

Go here for the rest of the story.

Oops: 3Q09 GDP Growth Revised Downward to an Annualized 2.8%

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:53 am

A lot of people thought this might be coming:

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 2.8 percent in the third quarter of 2009, (that is, from the second quarter to the third quarter), according to the “second” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the second quarter, real GDP decreased 0.7 percent.

Since the third quarter of last year, the first full quarter of the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) Economy, the economy’s net shrinkage has been 3.1%.

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UPDATE: No matter where you go, the POR Economy follows (sources: 3Q09 advance; prior quarters)–

GDPprivateInvestment1Q08to3Q09

IBD noted that capital is on strike in early March, but as seen above, it really started in the third quarter of last year.

This is why it began when it did.

Today’s release shows that the strike continues to a greater extent than originally estimated. Take away Cash for Clunkers (a +1.6% impact the government crows about), the +0.87% inventory build-up (is it slow sales or perceived increased demand?), the effect of the Homebuyers Credit, and the juice to personal consumption due to increases in government transfer payments, and you’re in negative sustainable GDP territory. Positive GDPs attained in the manner of the third quarter can’t be repeated indefinitely without deadly serious long-term (all too quickly turning into short-term) consequences.

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UPDATE: At the Corner (HT Joe C. via e-mail), Veronica de Rugy weighs in –

In the end, what the numbers are saying is that government spent tons of our money and didn’t get much in terms of true economic growth. When the government stops pumping cash into the system, things are likely to look pretty bad.

UPDATE 2: Talk about lose-lose — Geraghty via Captain Ed at Hot Air says that the revised C4C contribution to GDP growth was only 0.81%.

I think that still puts GDP without the government steroids in negative territory but just barely. And though it’s possible that C4C caused a swing in GDP of 1.6% (i.e., from -0.8% to +0.8%), that was a lot of time, money and effort for not a lot in the way of sustained results.

Lucid Links (112409, Morning)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 8:55 am

I’d have to brush up on the intervening history a bit to be sure of this, but it seems that if this holds, it could turn out to be the most important single Senatorial “No” since Kansas Senator Edmund Ross voted not to convict impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868:

Lieberman112409NoToPubOption

I disagree with Senator Lieberman about 80% of the time, if not more; other than on national security, he usually gets it wrong. On ObamaCare, he still doesn’t get that the problem goes well beyond the fiscal disaster he cites. But I’ll take it, with the hope that other senators who see that statist health care would become a fiscal train wreck that would arrive at the station much more quickly than Social Security’s has will get a grip, slay this monstrosity, and send it to its grave.

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Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford should never have let it get to this point (“SC gov faces 37 charges he broke state ethics laws”). He should have resigned. Everybody but janitor told him so, and the janitor probably left him a note.

We could argue all day about how Democrats have done worse and gotten away with it, and they have. But that’s not the point, and Sanford should know that. There’s still time to resign.

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Speaking of Democratic politicians who have done worse:

American Spectator

Sexual abuse accusations by St. HOPE Academy students against Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson were apparently covered up, possibly with “hush money,” according to a 61-page report issued by congressional investigators.

Failure of school officials to report sexual abuse of minors violates California state law, investigative staff of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) noted in their report on the June firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin.

(Grassley said that) “It seems a lot of people might have been interested in protecting the AmeriCorps program and the Mayor of Sacramento from an IG who was discovering some unpleasant facts.”

* * * *

Sacramento Bee via Miami Herald, where Occam’s Razor says that “possibly” means “almost definitely” –

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson offered to pay $1,000 a month to one of three girls who had accused him of inappropriately touching her while she was involved in his St. HOPE Hood Corps program, the girl told federal agents during their investigation of Johnson’s nonprofit St. HOPE organization last year.

The girl — unnamed in a newly released report by two ranking Congressional Republicans — was interviewed by agents Jeffrey Morales and Wendy Wingers with the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Office of Inspector General during an investigation of St. HOPE’s misuse of $800,000 in federal AmeriCorps grants. Investigators say the girl alleged Johnson had offered to pay her $1,000 a month while she remained in the St. HOPE program, but she refused.

* * * *

Washington Examiner’s Byron York (“White House scrambled to justify AmeriCorps firing after the fact”) –

(Last week) the Obama White House gave the lawmakers a trove of new, previously-withheld documents on the affair. It was a twist on the now-familiar White House late-Friday release of bad news; this time, the new evidence was put out not only at the start of a weekend but also hours too late for inclusion in the report.

The new documents support the Republican investigators’ conclusion that the White House’s explanation for (AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald) Walpin’s dismissal — that it came after the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, unanimously decided that Walpin must go — was in fact a public story cobbled together after Walpin was fired, not before.

* * * *

CNS News:

The acting inspector general of AmeriCorps said he shredded White House documents at the request of an agency press spokeswoman that pertained to the controversial firing of the previous inspector general, who was ousted after investigating a political ally of President Obama.

The e-mail message from agency spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer seemed urgent, as she wrote: “WH documents were sent in error. Can you please destroy them? And can you confirm you receive this e-mail?” Acting IG Kenneth Bach responded 13 minutes later writing, “Confirmed, documents were shredded.”

The email exchanges between Bach and Schmelzer, as well as other documents pertaining to the firing of the AmeriCorps inspector general, were obtained by CNSNews.com through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Saturday’s New York Times report on all of this:

  • Headlines it as a “GOP report.”
  • Does not mention the White House document dump cited by York.
  • Waits until the eighth paragraph to get to the hush money allegations.
  • Breathlessly informed readers that “the acting United States attorney sent a complaint last April to a federal panel saying Mr. Walpin had withheld ‘potentially significant information at the expense of determining the truth.’” The Times “somehow forgot” that Walpin was cleared of those charges in October, and didn’t issue a correction until today (the current web text incorporates the correction, but it wasn’t in what was originally published).

The Associated Press’s one item on the situation has a “Don’t read this, it’s boring” headline (“GOP report: Deal with Sacramento mayor was rushed”), doesn’t refer to Johnson’s sexual harassment until the 11th paragraph, calls it “inappropriate touching,” and avoids using the term “hush money.”

Instapundit’s succinct, dead-on assessment: “When the press can ignore a sex scandal, you know it’s covering for politicians, not covering them.”