Unemployment rates

The unemployment rate comes under fire, mainly for number of people it doesn’t count. It doesn’t count discouraged workers, those who having failed to find work, have stopped looking. It doesn’t count underemployment, those who cannot find work at their skill level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains:

The basic concepts involved in identifying the employed and unemployed are quite simple:

  • People with jobs are employed.
  • People who are jobless, looking for jobs, and available for work are unemployed.
  • People who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force.

The survey is designed so that each person age 16 and over who is not in an institution such as a prison or mental hospital or on active duty in the Armed Forces is counted and classified in only one group. The sum of the employed and the unemployed constitutes the civilian labor force. Persons not in the labor force combined with those in the civilian labor force constitute the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years of age and over. Under these concepts, most people are quite easily classified.

Contrary to popular belief, the BLS says it doesn’t use the “number of persons filing claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits under State or Federal Government programs…. [S]ome people are still jobless when their benefits run out, and many more are not eligible at all or delay or never apply for benefits. So, quite clearly, UI information cannot be used as a source for complete information on the number of unemployed.”

Unfortunately, the Census Bureau provides statistics of the civilian noninstitutional population broken down by age–needed to isolate the working age population–only back through the 1990s. That makes it harder to audit the unemployment rate.

My approach to the problem was that whenever the rate of increase in the number of jobs–as measured by the total number employed–drops below the rate of increase in population, there is some real pain out there. I can’t use the labor force as defined above–it doesn’t count discouraged workers. So here’s what I came up with:

It shows a decent inverse correlation between the unemployment rate and the rate of increase of jobs. But it also shows how the unemployment rate understates the problem. For whenever the rate of increase of jobs drops below zero, that means there are fewer jobs than there were before, even with a fairly steady growth in population. This has happened three times since 1980, most recently from 2001-2003. And it is only this year that we may be seeing a rate of increase in the number of jobs that exceeds the rate of increase in population.

Undermining the Pottery Barn analogy: Iraq is not getting better

The trouble with applying the Pottery Barn analogy–referring to the cards informing shoppers that if they break something in the store, they’ll have to buy it–to Iraq is that while the United States bears responsibility for “breaking” Iraq, and the U.S. can’t just throw away a nation like broken ceramics, it presumes the the U.S. can and must fix what it broke. “Fixing” Iraq, however, takes more than glue and the ability to align shards like a jigsaw puzzle.

General George Casey, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, was on the hot seat yesterday, testifying before senators on the readiness of Iraqi troops and the prospects for a U.S. pullout. “[O]nly one battalion of Iraqi soldiers is fully prepared to operate without help from U.S. troops” and insurgents have been retaking towns following U.S. offensives, because Iraqi forces are not prepared to maintain security. Prospects for a U.S. pullout depend on “a referendum on a draft constitution Oct. 15 and elections for a permanent government scheduled for mid-December.”

Casey acknowledged that the political environment could deteriorate further if a majority of Sunni Muslims vote against the constitution next month. The minority sect controlled Iraq under Saddam Hussein, a Sunni who was toppled after the March 2003 U.S. invasion, but Shiites and Kurds have asserted power as the country tries to move toward democratic rule.

“As we’ve look at this, we’ve looked for the constitution to be a national compact, and the perception now is that it’s not, particularly among the Sunni,” Casey said.

[Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld added, “Current indication . . . is that a majority of the Sunnis will vote against it.”

Harsh reaction to Posada decision

According to an InterPress Service story:

“It’s bad enough when the world knows that we’re rendering suspected Islamic terrorists to countries that routinely use terror,” said one [U.S.] State Department official. “But here we have someone who we know is a terrorist, and it’s clear that we’re actively protecting him from facing justice. We have zero credibility.”

“The long and short of it is that we are harbouring a terrorist,” agreed Wayne Smith, who headed the U.S. Interest Section in Havana in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “This is really a total farce.”

Posada’s supporters are now lobbying for his freedom, so he may live out his years with his family in Florida.

Katrina chaos exaggerated

According to the New Zealand Herald:

[S]ome of [the distortions] appears to have been fuelled by an attitude of fear – occasionally bordering on bigotry – towards a poor, desperate, largely black population.

In New Orleans’ whiter, more affluent suburbs, stories spread right after Katrina of marauding gangs of urban looters on the rampage. No such thing ever happened.

Yes, Virginia, the earth is warming

It is not my policy to acknowledge or permit anonymous responses on this blog, but one came in, remarkably claiming that (s)he could derive global cooling from skiing reports. Yes, Virginia, there are fools out there. The following images come straight from my Biology textbook, by David Krogh, entitled Biology: A Guide to the Natural World, 3rd Edition, published in Upper Saddle River, NJ in 2005 by Pearson Education:

United States industrialization occurred in the late 19th Century. British industrialization preceded it by about 50 years.

Henceforth, you will need to be a registered LiveJournal user before you can even bother me with your self-serving denial.

More scientists agree: global warming may be intensifying hurricanes

Reuters is trying to downplay the notion that global warming was specifically responsible for the fury of Katrina and Rita. And truth is, they have a point.

“Global warming, I think, is playing a role in the hurricanes,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

“But a lot of what is going on is natural. What global warming may be doing is making them somewhat more intense,” said Trenberth, a member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Claims that global warming is specifically responsible for the intensity of hurricanes like Katrina and Rita cannot be made with certainty. “‘We have seen unusual seasons in the past and so we understand that we tend to see more strong storms when the Atlantic Ocean temperatures are warmer, which has been the case in the last 10 years or so,’ [James Elsner, professor of geography at Florida State University] said.” But there does seem to be a sense among climatologists that global warming is now manifestly affecting weather patterns. They could all still turn out to be wrong. But having watched the weather somewhat seriously since I was eight years old, I’m inclined to think they’re right–and that they’re right, as of this year.

FactCheck.org doesn’t check intelligence manipulation

In assessing a recent ad calling President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other administration figures liars, FactCheck.org excuses the lies, claiming the statements reflected intelligence community reports. To do so, however, excuses the intelligence manipulation that has also been well-documented.

It is well understood at this point that the Bush administration got the intelligence assessments it wanted. Such assessments are not to be confused with accurate assessments which would have been in the best interest of the nation.

“This is not just about the behavior of a few individuals but about a culture that permitted them to continue trying to skew the intelligence to suit their policy agenda – even after it became clear that we as a government had so badly missed the call on Iraqi WMD,” [Robert Hutchings, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council] said, referring to weapons of mass destruction.

So for FactCheck.org to excuse administration claims on grounds that they were based on intelligence assessments is disingenuous.

Posada extradition unlikely

The Bush administration has declined to aggressively prosecute the case against Luis Posada Carriles, wanted in Venezuela on well-documented terrorism charges.

“We’re 99.9 percent sure the judge is going to grant deferral,” [Matthew Archambeault, a lawyer for Posada] said. “He is very satisfied with our case.”

The government could have made a much stronger case against Posada, calling witnesses to argue that he should be deported to Venezuela, where he holds citizenship. But government lawyers decided instead to close with a short statement and chose not to call witnesses to rebutt the testimony of Joaquin Chaffardet, a Venezuelan lawyer and Posada ally who argued in court that Posada would likely be tortured if he were sent to Venezuela.

Deferral will allow Posada to remain in detention in the United States, avoiding prosecution in Venezuela.

Wilson Center focuses on Avian flu

In the fuss over Avian flu, which could be the next major pandemic, there are two arguments: 1) “‘It is not if it is going to happen. It is when, and where, and how bad,’ said Dr. Michael Osterholm at the first meeting sponsored by the Wilson Center’s new Global Health Initiative on September 19.” 2) If it were going to happen, it would have, already.

It is unclear how much time must pass before the presumption that “this strain, which has killed 55 percent of its known human victims, [will mutate] into a virus easily transmitted by people,” can be considered refuted, so it is hard even to say, “Time will tell.” And the price of being wrongly complacent would be a “pandemic [that] could kill millions and [which] would have staggering global social and economic impacts.”

Surprise! Torture by Army troops widespread

There is the mildly interesting point that we aren’t just looking at National Guard troops as torturers anymore. Most of us probably assumed regular army troops were doing the same thing. And we’ve assumed the abuses that had come to light reflected systemic abuses.

Capt. Ian Fishback, a West Point graduate, . . . witnessed detainees being stripped, deprived of sleep, exposed to the elements and “forced into uncomfortable positions for prolonged periods of time for the express purpose of coercing them into revealing information other than name, rank and service number.”

He protested on numerous occasions, trying to follow the chain of command. It didn’t work. So now he’s gone public, writing to the Senate Armed Services Committee and Human Rights Watch; now the Pentagon has initiated a criminal investigation.

“He’s a very decent, fine young man,” said Col. Dan Zupan, who teaches the rules of war at West Point and was one of Fishback’s mentors. “He doesn’t have an ax to grind. He’s just in search of the truth.”

And we aren’t just looking at inadequate training or civilian prison guards turned loose in a military environment:

If substantiated, the allegations would represent one of the most serious episodes in the mistreatment of detainees by American military personnel since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This is the first time that soldiers in the regular Army have been implicated in widespread abuse. Previous abuse cases have involved misconduct by relatively untrained National Guard and Reserve troops.

The 82nd Airborne is one of the most storied units in the U.S. military. The division has a record of distinguished service stretching for nearly a century, and its members are considered highly trained professionals. Formed during World War I, the division was reactivated during World War II, when its handpicked paratroopers landed behind German lines to prepare for the D-day invasion of Europe.

Based at Ft. Bragg, N.C., it is the largest paratroop force in the world. Its members served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and various brigades have served several tours in Iraq.

In such a unit, evidence of a significant breakdown in discipline would call into question the Army’s contention that previously disclosed abuses did not reflect systemic problems. The misconduct reported by Fishback and the two noncommissioned officers was said to have begun in September 2003 and continued through the following April. The abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred within that period, mainly the fall of 2003, and were publicly revealed in April 2004.

A Capitol Hill aide familiar with the new allegations said they were considered “very credible.”

In their disclosures, Fishback and the sergeants said that detainees feared for their lives and referred to members of the 82nd as the “Murderous Maniacs” because of the level of brutality inflicted on prisoners.