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August 31, 2009

WaPo Asks: Is That a Recovery in Your Pants?

...or are you just happy to see me?

You have to love lamestream journalists. Let's face it - without the evenhanded analysis and perspective the media provide, the American public might get the wrong impression about the economy:

Is there a double standard in how the struggling economy is being portrayed during the Obama presidency vs. the Bush administration?

While the 1% contraction in the economy reported on Friday was seen as a "hopeful sign" by the Times, "crystallizing expectations of a turnaround," actual economic growth of 1.9% during the Bush years was just another "arrow" seen pointing to a recession.

Saturday's lead story by Catherine Rampell and Jack Healy focused on the Gross Domestic Product figure issued by the Commerce Department, showing a 1% contraction in the U.S. economy in the second quarter of 2009. The Times portrayed it in positive terms: "In Hopeful Sign, Output Declines At Slower Pace ...

A slower rate of decline.... now that's real progress! But wait! There's more spin sunshine where that came from!

In fact, Friday's figures mark the first time in years the economy has contracted for four straight quarters. But the Times buried that findings in the 21st of 25 paragraphs: "The economy withered during each of the last four quarters, its longest string of declines in at least 60 years"

As everyone knows, nothing says "prosperity is just around the corner" like the longest string of declining GDPs in 60 years! On the bright side, if a slower decline in GDP is cause for celebration, an actual increase must mean it's time to break out the Dom Perignon and engage in a little retail therapy ....right?

You know, stimulate the economy.

Silly reader. This is why feats of journalism should be left to the professionals:

By contrast, one year ago, the Bush administration released GDP figures showing the economy had grown 1.9% in the second quarter of 2008, a substantial increase from 0.9% in the first quarter of 2008.

Did the Times celebrate that uptick in growth during a Republican administration? Hardly. The headline over Peter Goodman's August 1, 2008 story: "More Arrows Seen Pointing to a Recession."

utrau_index.gif Not to be outdone by the Papir of Record, the WaPo finds a ray of hope lurking in the National Underwear Drawer. Now before we go on, let's stop and make sure we understand the dynamics of the Underwear Index.

1. Because underwear are a necessity, men generally buy new boxers or briefs every year.

2. But when times get hard, the average underwear shopper saves money by deferring the purchase of new u-trau.

3. This causes a decline in the total number of tighty whities sold in America. We'd make a joke about income elasticity here, but we can't duck fast enough.

At this point, alert readers may be scratching their heads and muttering, "OK... but according to the chart, the Underwear Index appears to be going down...

Heh. She said... oh, never mind.

Fear not, gentle readers! This is indeed what normal people might think, but you would be stupid and wrong to draw such an outlandish conclusion. Luckily for us, the Post is about to stun its readership senseless with a virtuoso display of positively Timesian analytical prestidigitation:

The growth in sales of men's underwear began to slow last year as the recession took hold, according to Mintel, another research firm. This year, Mintel expects sales to fall 2.3 percent, the first drop since the company started collecting data in 2003.

But the men's underwear index -- or, conveniently, MUI -- may also have a silver lining. Mintel predicts that next year, men's underwear sales will fall by 0.5 percent, and as with many economic indicators, a slowing of a decline can be welcomed as a step in the right direction.

Well there you go! When underwear sales begin to decline more slowly, can blue skies be far away? This just goes to show that no matter what those pesky economic indicators may say, when a Democrat is in the White House better times are always just around the corner.

Just ask the media.

Posted by Cassandra at August 31, 2009 04:48 AM

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When you're in the tank for your chosen politician as deep as the WaPo (or NYT) is, then it really is no stretch to find the bright side of anything. Mass murder? Fewer people going hungry! Earlier deaths by seniors? Social Security is more solvent! The economy is shrinking? It's shrinking less, good times are just around the corner!

By the same token, every piece of good news on the other side is cause for disaster. They play games with this crap with the medical community all the time. Increasing cancer rates are a CLEAR sign of pollution and carcinogenic horrors around every corner. Never mind that cancer is a disease of HEALTHY populations (since most folks in other countries don't live long enough to get it). Oh, and did you know that the US has a infant mortality rate greater than almost every other industrialized country? Never mind the fact that we count premature births as babies as opposed to other nations that count them as miscarriages.

Posted by: MikeD at August 31, 2009 10:35 AM

Great post! I really like your blog!!

ps. Link Exchange???

Posted by: Steve at August 31, 2009 11:17 AM


Obama stands for Change! He will put an end to the mean spirited, divisive rhetoric he inherited from the last 43 Presidents and usher in a glorious new era where the ignorant and mentally ill (aka, Rethuglicans) will break bread with the Anointy Ones!!!!

All sane people must unite to pass health care reform! I have the utmost respect for the ill-founded and stupid opinions of my political opponents! You have heard me say so over and over again!

Posted by: Barack Obama at August 31, 2009 11:20 AM

Wow. That "gift for the queen" link is amazing. I have to hope that's not really true.

Posted by: Grim at August 31, 2009 11:45 AM

If the WaPo were describing a crashing airplane, it would use those signs to chirp enthusiastically that we were only descending at 8,000 feet per minute rather than at 9,000 feet per minute...

Posted by: BillT at August 31, 2009 12:11 PM

I think that it's parody Grim. IIRC I think the real gift was an iPod with Obama's speaches pre-loaded.

Not much better, though.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 31, 2009 12:23 PM

With the unemployment rate continuing to go up, this story only makes sense if you take into account the rather proverbial crapping in one's pants factor, a loss of job might cause oneself. Other than that, I think most wise observers would just pooh pooh this report...

Posted by: Thingumbob at August 31, 2009 12:24 PM

Posted by: lorenzo at August 31, 2009 01:00 PM

Phooey. It looked okay in preview.

Actually, Grim, the the Obamas gave the Queen an i-pod filled with video footage of her visits to the U.S, a couple of the President's speeches, 40 showtunes (the Queen is a big Broadway buff) AND a rare, first edition Rodgers and Hart songbook (signed by Richard Rodgers), which contains a favorite song ("People Will Say We're in Love") from the 1950s that the Queen and her then fiancee requested often. For those of us who love showtunes, a pretty damn good gift. For those of us who are romantics, perfect.

Posted by: lorenzo at August 31, 2009 01:03 PM


It's getting to where it's hard to tell the parody from the reality. Thank goodness someone came up with a proper gift.

Posted by: Grim at August 31, 2009 01:06 PM

Sorry, Grim :p

I got kind of busy. Here is a list of everything that was on the iPod:


Posted by: Cassandra at August 31, 2009 01:10 PM

I'm not sure about iPods as gifts, no matter what is on them; but a treasured first-edition book is a very nice gift, even for a Queen.

Posted by: Grim at August 31, 2009 01:14 PM

I'm sure glad the economy is slowing its trajectory toward the ground. Now we can afford to pay for more "date-nights" for Michelle and Barack.

Posted by: Frank at August 31, 2009 01:17 PM

It's getting to where it's hard to tell the parody from the reality.

Particularly when you're reading the reading the National Review:~>

Deducing that showtunes might have limited appeal to young boys (among other species) the Obamas gave the PM's sons a bat signed by New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and a signed presidential baseball. [no words on which president]

Posted by: lorenzo at August 31, 2009 01:18 PM

Well Lorenzo, I was joking on the link but it's not as though there hadn't been a big brouhaha about State gifts:



He redeemed himself somewhat when he visited the Queen :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 31, 2009 01:28 PM


I'm with Grim though, it doesn't matter much what is on the iPod. It's still an iPod. The Queen likes showtunes? Great. Get DVDs of the actual Broadway performance made and get them signed by the cast.

The Queen may not be all that tech savvy (or maybe she is) but I'm pretty certain she can get someone to download anything she happens to want from iTunes herself.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 31, 2009 02:19 PM

I suppose that if we ever reached 100% unemployment, the future outlook would be euphoric.

Posted by: RIslander at August 31, 2009 03:49 PM

Regarding the First Family's gifts to the Queen, the Irish, who seem to have their own gift for such things, have the perfect saying - "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Posted by: RIslander at August 31, 2009 03:57 PM

Our media watchdogs, guffaw! I had always thought part of the media's job was to inform people so that they might make choices based on real evidence.

Silly me, it looks like their job is to dis-inform people so they don't revolt against the choices the media wants us to make.

Even their attempt at a new metric, "MUI," is pathetic. A cursory glance will indicate that when you count inflation it's pretty much a constant.

Speaking of which, I wonder what the Women's Underware Index (that's pronounced Woooeee!)looks like? Just doing my part.

Posted by: Allen at August 31, 2009 05:30 PM

The media caused the bad economy by harping on the bad economy mantra and the American consumer fell for it hook, line and sinker. The end result is Obama. http://stopthepresses2.blogspot.com/2009/01/obama-stumbles-tells-truth.html

Posted by: Aresay at August 31, 2009 05:32 PM

I've been reading your most excellent blog for a couple of years now. I read almost every word. I'm never disappointed.

I just now noticed: is that a lemur or a marmoset or something sitting on "Company"?

The depth of wisdom of the WaPo economists is astounding.

"But when times get hard, the average underwear shopper saves money by deferring the purchase of new u-trau."

Have they studied any trends that might be happening in clothes washers, laundromats, &c?

About that "gift to the Queen" ... We have to think about what state gifts are like. What, for example, has Great Britain given us (and by "us" I mean of course, that such gifts are the property of the People - regardless of how many of them Bill Clinton has in his rumpus room).

Consider the Gordon Brown visit. England to America: a pencil holder carved from the timbers of the HMS Gannet - sister ship to the HMS Resolute, "an abandoned British ship discovered by an American vessel and returned to the Queen of England as a token of friendship and goodwill". In 1880, Queen Victoria had a desk made from its timbers, and gave it to President Hayes. That desk now sits in the Oval Office. You may remember the photo of JFK at the desk and his son underneath it.

In return, Obama gave Brown "a DVD set of Hollywood movies, including "Psycho". Which did not play in England - they have a different TV system.

One can only concluse that Obama sent a White House intern to Wal-Mart to "get something for Mr Brown".

"Class" is not an adjective we'd want to use in reference to Mr Obama.

Posted by: ZZMike at August 31, 2009 05:52 PM

Hoping to maintain the same mix of searing social commentary and cutting edge economic insight expected from my frequent sojurns in the Cosmos of VC Comments, I will posit this simple, elegant, and otherwise soon-to-be most endearing proposition: Married men don't buy their own underwear, or socks, and single guys either do without or steal them from the local laundromat.

In fact, research has shown that, except in the most extreme cases, guys don't buy anything that can be worn upon the male human body unless it meets the following criteria: (1)It expresses the wearer's love of a particular sport, sports team, motor vehicle, boat, or extracuricular activity, (2) It includes all of the tour dates of his favorite rock band dating back to 1987, or (3) he has to wear a suit to work and dispatching his wife/girlfriend to pick it up always results the measurements being too big some places and too small/short in others.

So, the question is: Who is buying the underwear that might just rescue this economy?

Underpants gnomes, that's who.

Posted by: spr rdr at August 31, 2009 07:55 PM

It is supposed to be a marmoset, Mike. But you'll have to check with The Armorer to be sure.

Thank you for the kind words. You are all always so nice. Far kinder than I deserve.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 31, 2009 08:37 PM

Cass, I think you are too hard on yourself sometimes...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 31, 2009 10:14 PM

It's those damned Underpants Gnomes, Miss Ladybug :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 31, 2009 10:26 PM


Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 31, 2009 10:33 PM

Although your blog is entertaining it has nothing to do with the grave situation we find ourselves in. This problem has been coming from when Reagan proudly announced that Americas didn't need to make things anymore we could become a service economy through Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, and the parade of congress and senate members of both parties who have systematically sold out the best interest of hard working Americans for international corporations benefit.Heads of state, CEO's of corporations Senators ,Presidents,Prime Ministers have profited handsomely. They have dinner together, they attend the same affairs, they don't argue over party or country or economist system. Things are going very well indeed for them.

Posted by: John at September 9, 2009 06:13 PM

It is supposed to be a marmoset, Mike.

A Geoffroy's marmoset, to be precise.

Although your blog is entertaining it has nothing to do with the grave situation we find ourselves in.

Sometimes the marmoset gets loose and dances on the keyboard.

Posted by: BillT at September 10, 2009 01:29 AM


Posted by: Cassandra at September 10, 2009 02:22 AM