Chasing thunderstorms and hoping to get struck by lightning

When I drove down to my old university last week, I spoke to some of my fellow graduate students who are still in the program. They are worried about what classes they can take next quarter. It is a similar story at Sonoma State University. Both schools are part of the California State University system, which is less prestigious and more affordable than the University of California system and whose budget has suffered cuts repeatedly over the last several years.

Lots of students are looking for classes but lots of teachers are being laid off. As Joseph Stiglitz said on Democracy Now!, “the unusual situation we have today is there are a lot of youth unemployment, but the schools, the universities are being cut back so that they can’t use this time to build up their skills.”

Teaching was my plan, after hitting every recession since the mid-1980s, landing hard each time, and realizing that capitalists are exporting jobs, the jobs I had been raised to understand as “real,” just as fast as they can, with encouragement in the form of tax breaks from the U.S. government.

Job hunting has become like chasing thunderstorms and hoping to be struck by lightning. I’m competing against seemingly hundreds of people with Ph.D.’s even for each job at the community college level. I won’t have my Ph.D. for a few more years yet and I don’t yet have any publication credits to my name.

But I’m past fury at the nonsense in Washington, D.C. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing a paltry $15 billion bill which is apparently part of an $80 billion package that “is still too small.” The politicians are playing politics with the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression, but I suppose we can’t expect any better from the Democrats. Criticism over their ineptitude has come from many quarters; as Law Professor and Television Writer David Feige put it in his open letter to Barack Obama, “To imagine that we could not undo with 60 seats what George Bush accomplished with 53, is a profound statement about the utter ineffectiveness of your high road rhetoric.”

As Paul Krugman put it in response to some out of context quotes from an Obama interview on banker bonuses, “We’re doomed.” The quotes might have been out of context, but as Slate writer Christopher Beam explained, “What Obama doesn’t seem to understand is that, for politicians, outrage can’t be just momentary. It needs to be sustained over time–enhanced, even. If a politician is outraged by something, he must be outraged by it every time anyone brings it up.”

If that’s hard for Obama to comprehend, then it must be completely unreasonable to expect him to grasp that even sustained outrage wouldn’t be enough. Action is needed; instead Krugman has had to repeatedly criticize “fear-mongering on the deficit,” and to argue that “if anything, deficits should be bigger than they are because the government should be doing more than it is to create jobs.”

But for the elites, there just is no emergency. As Bob Herbert wrote,

The folks in the upper-income group are not suffering much, if at all, from the profound reversals in employment brought about by the Great Recession. Those in the middle have been hit hard. The job losses there have been severe and long-lasting. But for those in the lower-income groups, the scale of the employment crisis has been mind-boggling.

Joel Hirschhorn adds that “those at the bottom of the economic system with no political power are experiencing something as bad as the Great Depression, with no end in sight. The numbers are stark:

$150,000 or more
3.2 percent
$100,000 to 149,999
8 percent
$75,000 to $99,999
5 percent
$60,000 to $75,000
6.4 percent
$50,000 to $59,000
7.8 percent
$40,000 to $49,000
9 percent
$30,000 to $39,999
12.2 percent
$20,000 to $29,999
19.7 percent
$12,500 to $20,000
19.1 percent
$12,499 or less
30.8 percent

With an advanced degree, I’m thinking I should be among the upper-income groups. In fact, my situation can be distinguished from the lower-income groups with apparently no prospect for employment at all, only by the massive amount of student loan debt I have amassed to get this far. It shouldn’t be this way. There are a lot of students needing teachers. But for a country whose only hope for the future rests upon an educated workforce, it is clear that they aren’t important either.

Valentine’s Day

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted a status message reading, “Valentine’s day soon…Whoopy f*cking doo!”

She’s married in what sounds like an abusive relationship. Today, she posted

There were rose petals all over the bed with me this morning,then my husband came in with breakfast in bed,then we made passionate love for 2 hours,then we had a romantic bubble bath together,then i woke up!!!YEAH LIKE THAT WOULD HAPPEN!!! As oon as i got out of bed i got in trouble for not putting a stupid f*cking shirt in the wash last night!!!

She’s in Australia (and also appears to have body image issues). Tomorrow will be Valentine’s Day in my part of the world. And of course, I am still alone.

In between all the other reading I’ve been doing, I’ve been reading Yes means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, an anthology edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. The focus of this book is on the notion of (sexual) consent, and what truly constitutes it.

Julia Serano, in her chapter, “Why Nice Guys Finish last,” explains that we view male-female relationships through the prism of predator and prey, a “mindset [which] essentially ensures that men cannot be viewed as legitimate sexual objects, nor can women be viewed as legitimate sexual aggressors.” She writes, “Just as it is difficult for women to navigate their way through the world, given the fact that they are nonconsensually viewed as prey, it is often difficult for men to move through a world in which they are nonconsensually viewed as predators.”

Feminists, it seems, “have discussed how the sexual object/prey stereotype creates a double bind for women in which they can only ever be viewed as either ‘virgins’ or ‘whores,'” but Serano writes of “assholes” as “men who fulfill the men-as-sexual-aggressors stereotype” and of “nice guys” as “the ones who refuse or eschew it.” She writes of her experience as a man before undergoing a sex change:

Sometimes after being hurt by some “asshole,” my female friends would come to me for advice or to be consoled. They came to me because I was a “nice guy.” In their eyes, I was safe. Respectful. Harmless. Sometimes during these post-“asshole” conversations, my friends would go on a tirade about how all men are jerks and cannot be trusted, or they’d ask, “Why can’t I find a guy who will treat me with respect?” Whenever they did this, I would point out that there are lots of guys who are not jerks, who are respectful of women. I’d even name a few. Upon hearing the names I suggested, my friends would invariably say something like “I don’t find him attractive” or “I think of him more as a friend.”

So obviously, genuine “nice guys” are not worthy of consideration. Worse, the narrative that Serano criticizes even effectively denies our existence by relabeling us as jerks in disguise. Serano parenthetically distinguishes us from “the type of man referred to in the feminist blogosphere as a Nice Guy, who is the sort of man who argues that being a ‘nice guy’ entitles him to sex with whomever he wants, thus revealing himself to be merely a closeted ‘asshole.'”

Serano argues that if women want to be liberated from the “virgin/whore” double bind, that they need to liberate men from the “asshole/nice guy” double bind. Last year, I quoted Kay Hymowitz:

The female preference for jerks and “assholes,” as they’re also widely known, lies behind women’s age-old lament, “What happened to all the nice guys?” [From Craigslist, “Recovering Nice Guy’s”] answer: “You did. You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy.” Women, he says, are actually not attracted to men who hold doors for them, give them hinted-for Christmas gifts, or listen to their sorrows. Such a man, our Recovering Nice Guy continues, probably “came to realize that, if he wanted a woman like you, he’d have to act more like the boyfriend that you had. He probably cleaned up his look, started making some money, and generally acted like more of an asshole than he ever wanted to be.”

I have to say, that sounds like Serano’s experience. But for me, it doesn’t matter anymore. You see, since I finished my M.A. in Speech Communication last June, I’ve been unemployed. I’m destitute, which means women won’t be interested in me anyway, and I can’t afford to go out and be overlooked by them anyway.

And my Facebook friend with her body image issues faces a choice between her abusive husband and a life in which, as Kate Harding explains in her chapter, “How Do You Fuck a Fat Woman?” she will be constantly reminded that “rape is a compliment, you stupid whore.”

It would be an understatement to say I haven’t felt fairly treated by women. And while I certainly wouldn’t claim “that being a ‘nice guy’ entitles [me] to sex with whomever [I want],” the point I made last year stands: the human needs we all have for sex and affection are fundamental. That no woman is responsible for seeing me as I am, rather than as a stereotype, means that women as a whole are not responsible for addressing their own role in perpetuating the predator/prey relationship; and as Serano and Hymowitz both point out, this compels men to fulfill the role that women demand of them–to be the “assholes” that women claim to loathe–or, like me, to be left in the cold.

(UPDATE: alternative views here and here.)

A country without war

In my doctoral program, I’m taking all electives this semester, including a class on the Power of Partnership with Riane Eisler and Susan Carter. This class is a class I’ve wanted to take since I first learned it existed.

But it comes at a time in my life in which I don’t perceive much partnership. It doesn’t seem like this society ever wants what I have to offer; it just wants money. That’s hard for me; it is a message that I am an excess person, ideally to be discarded on a rubbish heap as another artifact of the profligate waste our society generates, but meanwhile serving as something for the elite to pridefully be above. For a class assignment, we were to describe examples of the partnership and domination models in a variety of contexts. I wrote:

Since my life is overflowing with examples of domination model everything, I figured I’d start:

  • The nature of any system of exchange (monetary or barter) is to privilege those who are most able to decline a deal.  By enabling some people to hold out for more, such systems magnify advantage.  Hence the ridiculous discrepancy between rich and poor.
  • As part of its national ideology, the United States has, in the phrasing of a Massachusetts colonial governor, held itself as a shining city on the hill, a moral example of human rights and governance.  From this position of self-declared moral supremacy, the United States dictates to societies in the rest of the world what form of governments they should adopt and what rights should be protected.
    • But in advocating so-called “capitalist democracy,” the U.S. recognizes political rights and property rights but not other economic rights.  Hence, it ignores even those rights it recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights beginning with article 23.
    • The preference for property rights leads to advocacy of so-called “free trade.”  But no one explains for whom this trade is “free.”  The ordinary human in the United States cannot buy bargain-rate gasoline in Kuwait or Venezuela, but corporations are free to locate jobs anywhere in the world, especially in places which offer competitive advantages that people in the U.S. have no hope of matching.
    • In an attempt to compete, state and local governments often offer tax advantages and subsidies to corporations.  While welfare for the poor is subject to endless cutbacks, corporate welfare goes unchallenged.
    • The United States now spends more than the entire rest of the world on so-called defense.  By various means, it has spent over a trillion dollars bailing out the financial system.  Beginning with the Reagan administration, the rich have won drastically reduced taxes.  But programs to help people who were misled into accepting subprime mortgages to remain in their homes appear to be more show than substance.  And when it comes to helping the unemployed, all of a sudden, budget deficits are an issue.
    • The Bush administration launched an invasion of Iraq on false pretenses and killed well over one million people.  It launched a war on Afghanistan despite the fact that the 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany.  al Qaeda is a neo-conservative invention; Osama bin Laden didn’t begin to use the name until after 9/11, but the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (where fewer than 100 al Qaeda forces are present) combine with support for Israel’s brutal repression of Palestinians to create an al Qaeda where none previously existed, particularly in Iraq, and now in the latest country where this war has expanded, Yemen.  But no one who is responsible for these wars and the killing of millions of people faces criminal charges.
    • It is well known both among social scientists and in law enforcement that torture leads subjects to tell so-called interrogators what they think the latter want to hear, that little if any information of value can be obtained in this way.  Torture is a violation of international law.  Again, none of the perpetrators of torture policies face prosecution.  The only “value” of torture is in gaining the acquiescence of a larger group of people.
    • For all its pretense to be a “peace loving” nation, the United States has had its military deployed on killing expeditions somewhere, somehow in all but sixteen calendar years of its existence.  It has hundreds of military bases–colonies, actually–around the world.  It is the only country ever to have actually used nuclear weapons and is one of two countries (the other is Russia) which retain massive stocks of nuclear arms.  Its client in the Middle East, Israel, has about 200 nuclear weapons.  Yet it presumes to dictate to Iran, which has no nuclear weapons (but might want to preserve the option to develop them) and has never attacked any other country, whether it may enrich uranium.
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has made farms in Mexico and Central America economically untenable.  But when impoverished people come north seeking work, the U.S. calls them “illegal” and seeks to erect barriers to make an already dangerous journey more so.  We do this despite our knowledge that it is impossible to secure our borders against “illegal” migration.  But this status quo benefits employers who can exploit an easily intimidated work force both for labor and as leverage against so-called “legal” workers, disempowering all workers.
  • The Federalist Papers (Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky both cite James Madison’s No. 10 specifically, but I see the theme in all of at least the early papers–I haven’t yet read to the end) advocated a system of government intended to protect the minority rights not of any disadvantaged group but the property rights of wealthy white males.  Madison specifically feared class warfare (it would deprive the rich of their property) and believed that the wealthy should rule, that they would be most able to resist corruption.  Madison became the fourth president of the United States.  Another author, John Jay, became the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Federalist Papers are widely considered an authoritative guide to interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.  For all its injustice, we in fact have a system of governance which works in the way it was intended.
  • The courts enforce “law and order.”  It is well-established that “justice” is of secondary concern.  Law is passed by groups consisting overwhelmingly of wealthy white males.  “Order” refers to preservation of the status quo.  Systems of so-called “justice” therefore are heavily tilted against the poor and against other stigmatized groups even before weighing problems of access to legal representation and jury or judges’ bias.

Okay, that’s it for off the top of my head.

One of the things Robert Terrell pointed to was a war on the working class. In Peace and Conflict Studies, a political science textbook, David Barash and Charles Webel explain structural violence:

One commonly understood meaning of violence is that it is physical and readily apparent through observable bodily injury and/or the infliction of pain. But as Galtung notes, it is important to recognize the existence of another form of violence, one that is more indirect and insidious than observable physical violence. This structural violence is typically built into the very structure of social, cultural, and economic institutions. (For example, both ancient Egypt and imperial Rome practiced slavery and were highly despotic, although they were technically in states of negative peace [the absence of war] for long periods of time.)

Structural violence usually has the effect of denying people important rights, such as economic well-being; social political, and sexual equality; a sense of personal fulfillment and self-worth; and so on. When people starve to death, or even go hungry, a kind of violence is taking place. Similarly, when humans suffer from diseases that are preventable, when they are denied decent education, affordable housing, opportunities to work, play, raise a family, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, a kind of violence is occurring, even if no bullets are shot or clubs wielded. A society commits violence against its members when it forcibly stunts their development and undermines their well-being, whether because of religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, or some other social reason. Structural violence is a serious form of social oppression. And it is regrettably widespread and often unacknowledged.

But of course the United States can hardly be considered to be free from war. And the money we’re pouring into wars that cannot be won when there are so many needs at home, and that we have done so for our entire history, says something not just about our national priorities but our national objectives.

Many of us grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school. I personally stopped reciting it when I understood that justice meant equality, realized that “liberty and justice for all” was a sham, and when I came to identify the flag of the United States with a lapel pin on Richard Nixon’s suit. But I have felt alone as my generation and every generation since has regressed from ideals I associated with the 1960s. Most of my generational cohort have found a place for themselves. One of them, Barack Obama, was born two years after me.

But I am a member of the enemy in a fight we didn’t pick. I have tried so hard to find a place for myself. I am now attempting to get a start in my third career. But I have managed to hit every peak in unemployment since 1980. The chart I name after my cat describes a dominant factor in the story of my life:

And so, of course, I am job hunting again. I would add another description of violence to that of Barash and Webel, that of allowing people to know that they are relentlessly under attack. That is the experience of anyone in my position who has looked beyond the facade of national ideology, who has come to recognize the foundational myths of our society.

I drove back to my old university yesterday to follow up with my professors about the letters of reference I need them to submit for my job applications. That’s a sham, too. A reasonable procedure would request such letters only for candidates under serious consideration, but now the hours of time I must invest in seeking work must be matched by several people who must submit these letters not just for me but for everyone else they recommend for every job that we apply for. Terrell told me they have an avalanche of these requests.

Terrell also advised me to look outside the country. Teach English, he advised, in Asia. I don’t want to go to Asia; it would be a very long journey for my cat that I’m frankly afraid to put her through. And I would have to fly back twice a year for Intensives in my doctoral program. But I have also heard of such opportunities in Costa Rica. So I said, maybe Latin America.

But this is impractical. You have to have a great deal of money in a Costa Rican bank to immigrate there. And that’s just it. None of my options are practical. My cat is kind to me, adorable and sweet, but I am reminded of the description of cats playing with their wounded prey rather than killing it outright. The U.S. behaves like one of the latter cats towards me.

I didn’t pick this fight. It began long before I was born and I am tired of fighting it. Costa Rica, perhaps alone amongst countries, disbanded its army (linked page is in Spanish; I rely on Google’s translation, which seems decent). According to the CIA’s World Fact Book,

Since the late 19th century, only two brief periods of violence have marred the country’s democratic development. Although it still maintains a large agricultural sector, Costa Rica has expanded its economy to include strong technology and tourism industries. The standard of living is relatively high. Land ownership is widespread.

That might be idealized. But it is a country without war. The impact of that on my consciousness is profound. I want to live in a country without war, without war against people in other countries, without war against its own people.

I’m looking again at a map I devised suggesting how the country might be broken up. I have lived nearly my entire life in that blue area along the California coast in the U.S. map and in the purplish-colored area in the California map (a screenshot of a Los Angeles Times map of Proposition 8 electoral results), below. Would anyone be with me? For a country without war?

Admiral Janeway’s U3 statistic, take two

I think I’ve got it this time. The U3 statistic I came up with yesterday had no way to account for excluded workers re-entering the work force. I didn’t fully understand how it managed to track the Bureau of Labor Statistics U3 so closely. And it turns out to have seriously understated matters, anyway.

The quandary I’ve faced is trying to figure out how many people would work if the opportunity arose, given population changes and people leaving and re-entering the BLS definition of the labor market. Given that financial conditions have deteriorated for all but the most well off in society, it follows that given a reasonable opportunity, the maximum proportion of the civilian non-institutionalized population that has ever worked, would still be working now. That proportion has grown over time. In 1947, BLS counted 58.29 percent of the population as being in the labor market. It reached 67.10 percent in 1997 while the dot-com boom bubble was still inflating.

I am now applying that percentage to the civilian non-institutionalized population (over 16 years of age) to get an optimum labor market size. I subtract the number of people counted as employed in the household survey results to find a number of unemployed. That divided by the optimum labor market size yields what I will call Admiral Janeway’s U3 statistic from here on out.

This picture is quite a bit different, and being based on a more coherent methodology, I think more accurate. The January unemployment rate comes in as 12.95 percent, down from a peak in December of 13.32 percent. In the annual numbers, 2009’s rate of 11.59 percent considerably exceeds a previous peak of 9.69 percent in 1982.

Caveats from yesterday still apply. This does not account for the portion of the population that the BLS has never counted as part of the labor market but would seek work if they believed opportunity was available. It still does not account for Riane Eisler’s caring workers. It does not account for underemployment, either in a traditional sense of people working part time when they’d prefer to work full time, or in a sense of people working in jobs that do not reflect their talents.

Admiral Janeway seems much happier with this version.

Admiral Janeway’s U3 statistic

After reviewing yesterday’s unemployment report, I went to sleep last night very uneasy.

The unease was for two reasons. First, being unemployed, broke, and isolated, one of my few comforts in life is having my cat, Admiral Janeway, curled up next to me, stretched out across me, or standing on top of me, purring and wanting to be petted. She was hiding elsewhere in the house (the weather was too wretched to be outside) last night and left me bereft and worried.

But Admiral Janeway is actually a very wise cat. I have to attribute a couple A’s I’ve gotten in my academic career, including a course grade for an introductory class in my Ph.D. program to her. She did the work for these grades; I just typed it up.

Last night, she was making damned sure I was uneasy. Because yesterday’s unemployment numbers didn’t make a lot of sense. The government was admitting that a million more jobs had been lost in the course of this recession yet claimed the unemployment rate went down. I highlighted the percent change in people being excluded from the labor force.

Calculating the U3 (headline) unemployment rate is pretty straightforward. All the Bureau of Labor Statistics does is take the number of people it counts as unemployed and divide it by the number of people in the work force. Both of these are manipulated. The U3 number doesn’t count underemployed people (who are working fewer hours than they want). And the BLS excludes discouraged workers who have found the job hunt so futile that they’ve given up searching for work.

These manipulations (among others) serve people in power–the Labor Department is part of the executive branch–by understating unemployment. I’ve long watched the number of people excluded from the work force because I’ve recognized that they were spinning the numbers this way, but hadn’t figured out what to do about it.

And yesterday, the monthly report showed a fairly significant drop in the number of people excluded. What that masked was the rate at which they’d been excluding people throughout the recession. But I’ve got it:

I woke up this morning (Admiral Janeway did eventually rejoin me) realizing that the notion of excluding people from the work force entails some assumptions that a more humane society might challenge:

  • That many people don’t want to work and have the luxury of choosing not to. This is why you would ever consider excluding people from the workforce in the first place. But in fact, Riane Eisler points out in The Real Wealth of Nations that we also exclude and devalue a lot of caring work, such as parenting or caring for relatives. This assumption rationalizes cuts to social programs even where people are working more than full time raising their own children. It means society owes nothing to the unemployed. And indeed wage earners contribute towards unemployment insurance premiums.
  • That many people only work because they have to, for compensation, in an authoritarian hierarchy. Indeed, most jobs are structured this way, so people hate going to work. But conversely, anarchist theory assumes that, and can not function unless people willingly contribute to society, because they are naturally altruistic. There’s evidence for the latter, so we can question why we are structuring our society the way we are.
  • That society has no responsibility to encourage and assist in individual self-development. If work is viewed strictly as an exchange of services for goods or money, then it is socially acceptable that some work should be menial or degrading and that we can assign this work to disadvantaged people whom we can accordingly stigmatize as “working class.” This insulates people higher on the hierarchy from menial tasks and deprives people lower on the hierarchy of opportunity for self-development.

With that, I set about creating a new U3 statistic. For this statistic, I make different assumptions. In my U3 statistic, when people enter the labor force, they don’t leave until they die. In our present society, people leave the work force because:

  • they become disabled, which does not reduce the amount of work needing to be done;
  • because they retire, but if they are truly enjoying their work, they get a good feeling for contributing to society, and they are truly developing themselves as work should do, why would they do this?
  • or because they die, which means both that society need no longer support them and that they can no longer contribute.

I calculate the number by adjusting both the number unemployed the work force size for increases in excluded workers and decreases in civilian non-institutionalized population 16 years of age and over. I only make these adjustments in the directions indicated. I am using the BLS number for unemployed people and assume that neither the labor market nor the number of unemployed is ever smaller than BLS says it is.

(UPDATE: I have concerns about this methodology and have come up with, I think, a better one.)

This U3 still doesn’t adjust for underemployment or properly for discouraged workers. That would be an adjusted U6. And I haven’t even looked at BLS’s methodology for the U6. I believe John Williams has a different methodology for measuring discouraged workers. I haven’t looked at that either. And this U3 certainly doesn’t adjust for Eisler’s caring workers.

Even so, it still shows January unemployment in the double digits, at 10.15 percent (BLS 9.69 percent). The peak came in October, at 10.57 percent (BLS 10.15 percent). In the annual numbers, 2009 unemployment at 10.94 percent (BLS 9.25 percent) just edges out the previous peak in 1982 at 10.92 percent (BLS 9.69 percent). The differences are small, but Admiral Janeway has just curled up in my lap. I’m guessing she approves this as a first step.

Unemployment worse but better?

(UPDATE here)

To say the least, it is counterintuitive when the government admits that job losses in 2009 were far worse than previously reported (this revision was anticipated) but that the unemployment rate has dropped to 9.7 percent. Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge comments:

The January NFP number came in at -20,000, a mere 5k away from Goldman’s -25,000 estimate. Consensus was for +15,000. December, as all prior months, saw an expected major downward revision to -150,000 from -85,000. The January Birth/Death adjustment was for -427K from +25K in December. Despite a deterioration in every metric, the unemployment rate dropped from 10.% to 9.7%, even with a consensus at 10.0%. A glitch in the excel model is further corroborated when one considers that the civilian labor force participation rate actually rose in January from 64.6 to 64.7.

All I can say is they’ve managed to make the numbers come out. Oh yes, and because I still don’t have a job, I don’t really believe it. Durden doesn’t either:

Yet a number that avoids some of the constant fudging by the BLS, the Non-Seasonally Adjusted number, hit a new recent record: instead of 9.7%, this number was 10.6%, a 0.9% increase from December!

The same can be seen in the U-6 data. NSA U-6 is now at a record 18%, even as the seasonally adjusted number declined to 16.5%.

Durden and I are far from alone. The best the Associated Press could say for the report was that “the outlook for jobs remains bleak despite January’s unexpected decline in the unemployment rate, which fell to 9.7 percent from 10 percent in December.” Andrew Leonard at promised “more analysis later today, as we try to figure out why exactly the unemployment rate dropped, even as job losses continued.” That was a half hour after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the numbers. I’m still waiting.

Supposedly, 541,000 more people had jobs in January. That almost makes up for the drop of 589,000 in December. But there’s another graph of the percent change in numbers of people excluded from the labor force I look at that helps me understand this stuff:

So another piece of the story is a spike in the number of people whom the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been excluding from the labor force. There was actually a fairly significant drop last month, but overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been excluding people at a strikingly high rate. 111,000 more people were included in the labor force in January than in December, but with a population decrease of 92,000, that adds up to a drop of 202,000 in the number of people excluded. The population decrease is a fluke (the birth/death adjustment Durden refers to) that has appeared every January and only in January since the recession began (I don’t know before) and the population decrease is actually smaller this time.

Overall, we have about eight million fewer people employed than at the beginning of the recession in December 2007. At this point, I’m paying a lot more attention to what the market looks like from a job hunter’s perspective. That means I–and people around me–discount any good numbers and believe the bad. I started keeping track of the statistics on my own because I just wasn’t believing the spin. I still don’t, and it’s always interesting to take a look over at Shadow Government Statistics; he’ll probably have a comment later today–if I snag it, I’ll update this entry accordingly.

The picture is too weird. There’s been some dichotomous thinking about relief for the unemployed and tackling budget deficits that I think masks a much more nuanced policy.

Paul Krugman’s column raises an interesting question:

To me — and I’m not alone in this — the sudden outbreak of deficit hysteria brings back memories of the groupthink that took hold during the run-up to the Iraq war. Now, as then, dubious allegations, not backed by hard evidence, are being reported as if they have been established beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now, as then, much of the political and media establishments have bought into the notion that we must take drastic action quickly, even though there hasn’t been any new information to justify this sudden urgency. Now, as then, those who challenge the prevailing narrative, no matter how strong their case and no matter how solid their background, are being marginalized.

Krugman insists that “if anything, deficits should be bigger than they are because the government should be doing more than it is to create jobs.” He’s not wrong. As if in response, the AP wrote, “Many economists say businesses are reluctant to add workers because it’s not clear whether the recovery will continue once government stimulus measures, such as tax credits for home buyers, fade this spring.” If the capitalists aren’t hiring, and government isn’t hiring, then who will?

But instead the Labor Department is preparing Congress for a spike in the unemployment rate, saying not to worry. They’re apparently planning to attribute it to people returning to the job market as conditions supposedly improve. I guess that’s why it makes sense to exclude all those people in the first place.

We already know what Obama’s response to high unemployment: “There are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times.” Obama’s team seems far more interested in pretending to tackle budget deficits than in offering anything more than empty platitudes about unemployment. And it has been astonishing to hear, almost every month, about how job losses are slowing and that recovery is just around the corner; as the AP put it this month, “January’s report offers hope that employers may start adding jobs soon.” This narrative surely decreases the pressure on Obama to do anything real about jobs; according to the AP, he said of today’s data, that it is “cause for hope but not celebration.” But only he and his mainstream media enablers seem to believe it. I can’t help but suspect the data has been manipulated.

But Krugman also compared the disinformation now being spread far and wide to that spread in advance of the darling war of neoconservatives: Iraq. I don’t think he realizes what he’s stumbled over. While Obama wants to cut non-defense spending, Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, observes:

This administration hasn’t cut defense spending at all but increased it to record levels, and it looks like for the foreseeable future defense acquisitions are going to continue increasing. What happened [on February 1] was people started to realize, “Hey, this president isn’t bad for the defense industry.”

Indeed he isn’t:

[Defense Secretary Gates] is saying that we need to place a greater priority on the wars that we’re in today and the most likely threats of the future, but that inherently means that other things must be lower priority. If you’re actually going to prioritize things other things, things have to be moved down [the priority list]. We’re not seeing evidence of that in the budget. There aren’t any major weapons systems that are terminated, nothing new, and there’s no real indication of where the department intends to take risks. That is, where’s the department going to do less, or where is the department going to go without something in order to focus resources more on new priorities? We’re not really seeing that in this budget. What that shows is that this rebalancing is not that great of a shift after all.

Assuming Obama succeeds in ramming through health insurance reform, the health insurance industry will benefit from millions of new customers, mandated to purchase lousy insurance they can’t afford. The banking reform legislation that emerges from the Senate is unlikely to be anything like what is needed, both parties are now competing for Wall Street’s support, and for all his lovely rhetoric, Obama supported the bailout from the beginning. Now we’re seeing the interests of the military industrial complex protected at the expense of what’s actually needed to fight a foolish war.

Noam Chomsky interprets the Massachusetts Senator election results to mean that “for the wealthy, [Obama] was not doing enough to enrich them further, while for the poorer sectors, he was doing too much to achieve that end.” I don’t agree with Chomsky that the recent Supreme Court decision will open the floodgates to corporate influence much more than they are already open, but the decision certainly does nothing to restrain that flow (here yet again, Obama offers worthwhile rhetoric that is not matched by deeds). I think this corporate take-over of U.S. politics, whenever and however we might argue it began, dovetails with so-called “centrist Democrats” who are hawks on budget deficits and who are also hawks on so-called “defense” (“Blue Dogs” are explicit in saying so). It’s really starting to look like, far from being an obstacle, Joe Lieberman is the economically disastrous Obama administration‘s number one ally on Capitol Hill.