Friday, June 05, 2009

Unemployment rate now at 9.4%: What does that say about the stimulus?

Back in January 2009, when the administration-elect was selling its stimulus plan, it released a report authored by Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein. I mentioned the report here. (The link to the report in that post doesn't work anymore but you can find the report here.) I think it's time to see whether we can determine if the stimulus is having the projected effect. The report included an unemployment graph that (almost) allows for this kind of accountability assessment:

There are, however, some fuzzy things about making this comparison:

1) Unemployment numbers come in two varieties: regular and seasonally-adjusted. I don't know whether the projected numbers are regular or seasonally-adjusted, so I don't know which of the actual numbers to use for comparison;

2) I don't know exactly what the projected timeline is. I mean, does the hash mark for "Q1" mean January 1? or does it mean the end of Q1, i.e. March 31? One's comparison could be off by as much as 3 month, given this ambiguity. I would assume that the Q1 hashmark marks the start of Q1, except that the graph projects the effect of the stimulus beginning right at Q1 2009, before the new administration was sworn in, and weeks before a stimulus plan could or would be in place.

3) Since the stimulus plan wasn't signed into law until February 17, 2009, its effect starts later than what is depicted in the graph (unless the Q1 hash mark is supposed to designate the end of Q1).

4) As always the case with projections, maybe projected rate without the stimulus wasn't pessimistic enough and, thus, maybe the stimulus if helping more than we can see.

Given all the fuzziness, I'm not drawing any conclusions yet.

I do note, though, that the current 9.4% is much higher than the projection depicted on this graph, even without the stimulus spending. This table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (the source for the 9.4% number) shows unemployment rates by month since 1999:

The report includes this footnote explaining that the projection in the graph might be too low:
Forecasts of the unemployment rate without the recovery plan vary substantially. Some private forecasters anticipate
unemployment rates as high as 11% in the absence of action.
I appreciate that the report didn't use the scariest prediction available to make the case for the plan, but it's looking like the private forecasters were closer to right.

[Update: I meant to note about the table that the unemployment numbers track relatively well with the projections (sans stim) in the graph until the latest number which is much higher than the projection.]

Airport terminal names

The Minneapolis airport has two distinct terminal buildings. One is the Lindbergh and the other is the H.H. Humphrey. One is the big, main terminal and the other is a little satellite terminal. Lileks today in the Strib discusses a proposal to change these names to Terminal One and Two. I agree with Lileks that it's not a good idea, even though I always have a horrible time remembering which name goes with which terminal. There comes a fork on the freeway to the airport where you're required to know the name of terminal you're going to and every time I have this conversation in my head:

Q: Lindbergh or Humphrey?
A: Dammit, why can't I ever remember this?!
Q: Well, obviously the big terminal is named for the man that the Airport Commission deemed more important. So which one would that be?
A: I don't know the answer to that.
Q: Isn't The Spirit of St. Louis hanging in the lobby of the main terminal above the ATM?
A: That must be the Lindbergh then. Wait, no, I'm sure I saw The Spirit of St. Louis at the Smithsonian. Still, the replica must be a clue. Argggh. I'll just take the first exit. Phew! This is the right one. So the main terminal IS the Lindbergh. Now I'll be able to remember it next time.

If we're going to change the names, I think we should go with Huge-Pain-in-the-Ass Terminal and the Small-Fabulous Terminal. Alternatively: Larry-Craig-Bathroom Terminal and The-Other-One.

Lileks' piece includes a mention of Houston Hobby.

Mankiw on the public health insurance plan

With regard to the issue of whether it makes sense for the federal government to offer a public insurance plan for healthcare, Greg Mankiw makes a really good point, if he's right. He says there's currently nothing that prevents the formation of a nonprofit insurance company. He argues that such a nonprofit would accomplish the same goal (of keeping costs low by eliminating the need to profit) as a public insurance plan. I think this is true in theory, but in practice I imagine it'd be hard to get such a nonprofit off the ground since it would not have the size/volume at startup that it would need to negotiate favorable contracts with providers.

Update 6/5/09 6:30 pm: Ezra Klein weighs in via Twitter:

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Internet Food Association

I've added the Internet Food Association blog to our Links, since we've covered some food territory here. My boy Ezra Klein blogs for them. You'll find food debates (e.g. heated discussion yesterday about whether one should season boiled crab with Old Bay or not), daily food porn pictures, and coverage of Top Chef.

Today, Ezra asks what kitchen gadgets we can do without. I'm a non-gadget cook. I'm with Ezra on the give-me-one-good-knife-and-a-wooden-spoon philosophy.

Toxic Asset Relief Program: DOA

The administration's plan to buy bad debt from banks to help them clear their balance sheets is on indefinite hold due to lack of interest from the banks.

Ezra analyzes what this means: either a) banks would be rendered insolvent if they participated (i.e. the plan wasn't right to achieve its intended purpose of saving banks) or b) banks no longer need the help.

Geography and the Recession

I’m trying to not to actually post Stratfor’s lengthy twice-weekly reports (Geopolitics and Security) because they take so much space but I really liked this one by Peter Zeihan on The Geography of Recession. As a nation, we really are incredibly blessed by Geography: two oceans, terrific ports and a breadbasket served by linked, navigable rivers. Compared to the Geography of Europe, Russia and China, we’re almost too blessed to fail.

re: Wal-Mart

Barry Lin writes in Harper's about Wal-Mart, discussing the downstream effects of Wal-Mart's monopoly power and U.S. antitrust policy.  I always appreciate observations about the full impact/costs of what looks like free market actions.  I'm not sure this article does the best job with the topic.  I need to give it a more careful review.

I know on first reading that he hasn't accurately described the White Cloud trademark situation.  P&G didn't merely forget to maintain a trademark registration; they opted to abandon it and it had been abandoned for many years before Wal-Mart started using it.  Wal-Mart didn't do anything predatory to take ownership of it.  And it's a trademark issue, not a copyright one.  So that kind of sloppiness in the writing makes me suspicious of the rest of the piece, but since we're talking Walmart...

And now for something completely different: Wal-Mart to hire 22,000

NEW YORK ( -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Thursday that it expects to hire more than 22,000 people to staff its new or expanded domestic stores this year.

"During this difficult economic time, we're proud to be able to create quality jobs for thousands of Americans this year," Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart U.S., said in a statement.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Rethug hypocrisy

Just heard a 10 second blurb on the radio from my Sen. Hutchinson complaining about dealership closings and all those poor employees that are being laid off.

Rethugs who do this exhibit blatant hypocrisy based (I suspect) upon dealers who've made contributions. I won't condemn KBH based on such a short blurb but I have my suspicions.

The proper gripe is not tweaking the plan; it is the plan.

Update: my heart goes out to anyone losing a job. My point was consistency.

Saveur--The Texas Issue

is on the stands. Web ed. of recipe listings here.

JalapeƱo Corn Bread recipe here.

Some hopefully helpful Credit Info

From this month’s Texas Bar Journal and the FTC:

Q: How do I order my free report?

A: The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have set up a central website, a toll-free telephone number, and a mailing address through which you can order your free annual report.

To order, visit, call 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The form is on the back of this brochure; or you can print it from Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually. They are providing free annual credit reports only through, 1-877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

You may order your reports from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies at the same time, or you can order your report from each of the companies one at a time. The law allows you to order one free copy of your report from each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies every 12 months.

A Warning About “Imposter” Websites

Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law — Other websites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. In some cases, the “free” product comes with strings attached. For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly “free” service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.

Some “imposter” sites use terms like “free report” in their names; others have URLs that purposely misspell in the hope that you will mistype the name of the official site. Some of these “imposter” sites direct you to other sites that try to sell you something or collect your personal information. and the nationwide consumer reporting companies will not send you an email asking for your personal information. If you get an email, see a pop-up ad, or get a phone call from someone claiming to be from or any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message. It’s probably a scam. Forward any such email to the FTC at

Byron Dorgan: Hero

Byron Dorgan, Republican [Update:  Nope.  He's a Dem.  Thanks Scooter for catching that.] Senator from North Dakota, presciently warned about the dangers of repealing the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999:
I think we will look back in 10 years' time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930's is true in 2010,'' said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota.
This article also gives an honorable mention to Minnesota's Paul Wellstone, may he rest in peace, for opposing the repeal.

As I may have mentioned before, there was bipartisan support for the repeal:
One Republican Senator, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, voted against the legislation. He was joined by seven Democrats: Barbara Boxer of California, Richard H. Bryan of Nevada, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, Mr. Dorgan and Mr. Wellstone.

In the House, 155 Democrats and 207 Republicans voted for the measure, while 51 Democrats, 5 Republicans and 1 independent opposed it. Fifteen members did not vote.

Senator Dorgan now has published a book about the financial crisis that I haven't read yet.

Monday, June 01, 2009

My Dad's S&W .357 Magnum Model 19-3

Pic here.

I took it to the range on Friday with a friend for the first time and it jammed. I've never had a revolver jam before and I was heartbroken. I must have done something wrong and thought I'd bent part of the revolver.

Turns out it wasn't bent but I'd used a brand of ammunition that is known as "dirty." That means that the formula of the gunpowder leaves a lot of residue in the gun after firing.

I asked a guy at the office today who knows a lot more than I about such things. "Oh yeah," he said, "that cheap stuff is made in Serbia and will jam anything." I bought the ammunition just after Dad died well before I really got into this hobby.

I'm still not sure I haven't broken the gun but I checked and my colleague was right about the country of origin. At least I'm feeling better about it not being me.

The other thing I learned after shooting the .357? Don't even think about getting a .44 Magnum (to go with my Marlin .44 Magnum cowboy action rifle); it would break my wrist.

What we owe

Per USA Today (h/t The Atlantic):

That's the biggest leap in the long-term burden on taxpayers since a Medicare prescription drug benefit was added in 2003.

The latest increase raises federal obligations to a record $546,668 per household in 2008, according to the USA Today analysis. That's quadruple what the average U.S. household owes for all mortgages, car loans, credit cards and all other debt combined.

This is from an anlalysis for 2008! Where are we going?

[Ed. note: for some reason I can't cut and paste text so any errors in quotes are mine.]

Bank Robbery in Scooterworld

It wasn't me! I'm not 5'10" and don't have a ski mask or a machine gun. Do have blue eyes, though. I was at the office and have plenty of witnesses to prove it.

But, the bank robbery did happen all of a block and a half from my house. Police in my area advising us to keep doors and windows locked...ya think?

How studly is Austin Wood?

Well, let me tell you.

Per the Austin American Statesman on UT’s 3-2 25 INNING victory the regional over Boston College this weekend:

He [Wood] has never thrown a complete game [he’s a reliever] but logged 13 mind-boggling innings and rendered the Boston College bats silent for 12 1/3 frames. He threw 169 pitches, not the healthiest thing for a 22-year-old arm, but that piece of jelly attached to his left shoulder gave Texas a huge advantage in this regional.

Holy Smokes! 37 batters without a hit. He faced 46 batters and gave up 2, count 'em, 2 hits.