Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.

New York Times finally gets it

While studying an unemployment graphic by The New York Times back in March, I observed that they (like the rest of the traditional media) were ignoring the fact that the quoted national unemployment statistic (U3) is too limited in its definition. For example, it excludes all the people who’ve simply given up looking for work because there just aren’t any jobs in the area. This makes employment look far better than it really is, and it helps boost the stupid claims that western Europe’s national unemployment rates are far higher than ours. I showed that using the lesser-known U6 Bureau of Labor Statistics measurement of unemployment, which I explain fully in that post, US and Western Europe have very comparable unemployment most of the time.

This month, finally, the NY Times posted a state-by-state interactive graphic that confirms what many bloggers (including me) have been saying for quite some time: unemployment is much worse than many people realize. The new graphic shows the U6 rate in each state, rather than the usual and more limited U3, and for several states the unemployment is actually over 20%. Here’s a non-interactive picture of the map (click for full version):

Some people may think the distinction doesn’t matter and is just semantics, but in the June data, the official rate was 7 points lower than the more accurate U6 rate of 16.5% unemployed nationally. Using the U6 unemployment rate, which used to be the definition of official unemployment until 1994, we can see that we have the worst unemployment since the Great Depression (not since merely the 1980s as the media insisted for a while. Making sure people understand the severity of the situation is the difference between pressure for critical government efforts to save the economy and spur recovery and public pressure to reduce the deficit and debt in the middle of a gigantic recession. The latter has been the worrying trend recently. And once we get out of this mess, U6 versus U3 is the difference between helping Michigan and the Rust Belt states climb out of their semi-permanent hole that existed prior to the recession and continuing with business as usual. 13% in Michigan looks much better than 22% unemployed. The post-recession part may be even more important, in terms of helping Americans in chronic localized recession.

While I laud the Times for their graphic earlier this month, they and others need to begin incorporating the broader definition into their reporting both nationwide and state-by-state. This shouldn’t be swept under the rug had a technicality. The government won’t change the definition back, I’m sure, because it’s like rose-colored glasses for the state of the economy. But the U6 figure is out there every month, and it takes about 5 seconds more to locate on the BLS website. The media just doesn’t want to waste time explaining the distinction to people.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Yet another reason the US Senate sucks

Yeah, I get the need for compromise in 1789 to get the Constitution passed, and I can see how back in the day it made sense to worry that some states would be trampled by others. But that matters less and less these days as the country is far more unified than before, with regional concerns often trumping state-by-state concerns. And thus the Senate serves as an undemocratic obstruction to passing sound policy backed by the country.

Specifically, on health care reform, 40 Republicans elected by 44.2 million voting Americans are able to stall and block 55 Democrats and independents elected by 79.8 million voters, with help from 5 obstructionist Democrats who were elected by a mere 2.5 million voters.

We know the polling data shows overwhelming public support for serious health care reform. We know that 79.8 million Americans voted for 55 US Senators (or their predecessors for the appointees) who support this reform. And yet 40 lousy Republicans concentrated in a decreasing number of states – mostly in the southern United States – backed by half as many voters are able to stall things to the point where health care reform is in danger again.

The US Senate sucks. It’s great when you’re in it, but it’s not so good for the rest of America. And, in my view, it’s getting pretty obsolete.

Originally published at Starboard Broadside

Little Somalia?

The political mess in Guinea-Bissau, a small former Portuguese colony on the coast of West Africa, has gotten to the point where the United Nations found that drug traffickers are leaving due to perpetual instability. When the traffickers leave, it’s pretty much a failed state. Is Guinea-Bissau the next Somalia? There’s an election today, but nobody expects anything useful to happen.

Recent events include (NYT, link above):

First the general was blown up. Then the president was shot dead, the former prime minister was arrested and tortured, a presidential candidate was killed in his villa, and the former defense minister was ambushed and shot on the bridge outside town.

 
So people have pretty much given up there. At least there still is a government.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

More on Unemployment

Yesterday I reminded everyone to check the U6 unemployment, which gives a better picture of the unemployment situation in this country. There’s another reason I forgot to mention, other than that it doesn’t ignore the chronically unemployed.

It’s being said that this is the worst unemployment in 26 years (which goes back to 1983). That’s true if one looks at the official rate over that period (BLS graph):

But the problem is, and I wish the old media would remember this, the official definition of unemployment changed in 1994, to exclude the chronically unemployed (who lack job opportunities in their area), which makes the situation look better. Not only does that mean that a slight decrease in unemployment does not automatically point to recovery (because people could just give up looking for a while and then be excluded), but it also means that the magnitude of the recession is ignored in media reports. Saying that this is the worst unemployment in only 26 years simply isn’t true. Using the U6 from 1994 to present and comparing that to the old official rate before 1994, which used roughly the same definition, we find that this is the highest unemployment since probably as far back as the Great Depression. This is probably the worst in 71 years.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows me only back to 1948, but between 1948 and 1994, the highest unemployment was in 1982, when it reached 10.8% unemployment. Compared to the present (U6) unemployment, 16.4%, it’s evident that you have to go back past 1948 to find a higher unemployment rate than now. So I’m pretty sure that means going all the way back to the Great Depression, when (if I recall correctly) unemployment reached 25% at one point. After a brief recovery, it climbed back to 19% or so in 1938.

But all that is obscured when the old media decides to ignore the 1994 definition change that artificially lowers the official unemployment rate by 7 points in the month of may.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

US Unemployment at 16.4% (U6)

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means today’s labor report is out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for last month. The U6 unemployment rate nationwide hit 16.4% for May 2009.

This is much higher than the normally quoted U3 rate, of course, in case that seems high to you. But as I explained when the February data came out, we should be looking at the U6 to get an accurate understanding of the situation. I encourage you to read that post, if you didn’t before, since understanding the difference between the “official rate” and the U6 rate is critical, in my opinion, to understanding the US economy, especially when we’re not in a recession.

I call the U6 “real” unemployment, just like people talk about “real” wage growth (which accounts for inflation).

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

If he can walk and chew gum…

Or: Why President Obama must deal with the torture issue now

It got really cliche when supporters countered critics of Obama’s bold agenda by saying the president was capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

Even some people in the administration kept saying that. If he can work on Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, and health care all at the same time – since he does have all these people working for him – it seems theoretically possible to do some other things simultaneously as well.

Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, says Obama is focused on “looking forward” and not back, which is supposed to be a good enough explanation for his disinterest in following the law and investigating and prosecuting those in the previous administration who authorized or carried out torture.

If Obama were the only person in charge of doing everything at once, this might be a reasonable thing to say. But he’s not. He’s the head of a gigantic administration (and he could, for that matter, leave it entirely up to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, like he’s supposed to, and not worry about it). That means it’s possible for the administration to be looking forward and back at the same time.

Like Janus, the Roman god of doorways and the namesake of the month of January:
janus

But on a serious note… think about it this way: If people committed crimes in the previous administration (and the evidence is overwhelming that they did), then they should be prosecuted. Because what sort of signal does it send to less-than-honest people in current and future administrations? If we prosecute, it tells people they can’t get away with it just because they’re out of office. If we don’t prosecute, it tells them that laws don’t mean anything because everyone will be ready to move on and “look forward.”

It doesn’t make sense to me that we should just “look forward.” That’s the same argument that Gerald Ford used in pardoning Nixon, and it pissed everyone off and may have cost him the 1976 election. Sure, it’s a distraction and it’s politically draining, but if we don’t hold up the law, does the law mean anything? Why bother writing laws if we never plan on enforcing them?

If we always cower because we don’t want to look like we’re politically motivated in carrying out the law, then it encourages further law-breaking. That’s not a slippery slope argument, it’s just reality. There are bad people out there who want to do illegal things, some of them will break the law anyway, but some of them will be stopped because they know there will be consequences.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been looking at this in a different light, and he also makes these points and others better. Particularly, he suggests that there is a double standard for how the law gets enforced:

Endorsing justice, consequences, and “personal responsibility” for poor black fathers, as Obama does for instance, is moral, upstanding, and honest. Endorsing justice, consequences and “personal responsibility” for your colleagues who are charged with safegaurding the future of hundreds of millions of people is, apparently, mere retribution. What a joke.

 
Our country is based on the rule of law. If we enforce the laws for the poor minorities, we also have to enforce the laws for the powerful, rich white guys. I’d like to see these right-wing nuts stop defending illegal torture and start calling for enforcement of these laws, just as loud as they call for enforcing immigration laws and other such things.

We don’t get to pick and choose.

 
NATE UPDATE: More TNC on moving forward

Here’s what TNC actually thinks about “moving forward”

There’s a bar in the East Village that offers five shots of anything for ten bucks. I’m going there tonight, and taking 10 shots of anything the crowd reccommends. Then I’m going to stand on the street soliciting random women for sex. Should I be arrested I shall have the perfect rejoinder, “Officer, I think we should focus on looking forward.” Should I be slapped, I’ll have the perfect rebuttal, “Baby, I think we really should be focused on looking forward.” Should I succeed and come home, hung-over, and have to face my spouse’s accusing eyes, I shall be armed with the perfect riposte, “This relationship should focus on looking forward.”

 
This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

“CIA official: no proof harsh techniques stopped terror attacks”

Oh? That headline comes from McClatchy DC:

WASHINGTON — The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any “specific imminent attacks,” according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.

That undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials that the use of harsh interrogation tactics including waterboarding, which is widely considered torture, was justified because it headed off terrorist attacks.

 
Unsurprising. Didn’t know it had been found codified yet in an official document. There was a Bush speech in 2006 that explains that a foiled 2002 plot was later identified by torturing KSM in 2003, suggesting that some information was gained but not anything vital or time-sensitive that stopped an attack. The 183 waterboardings just explained to the CIA which plot had been stopped previously by a local arrest of an Al Qaeda agent.

By the way, I skimmed and read parts of the 2005 Bradbury memo, which the McClatchy article above mentions later as citing (and contradicting) the 2004 memo. I didn’t get to that part yet, but I’ll check into it.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.