Going into this morning, it was tough to know what to expect from the new report on U.S. economic growth. The economy was a bit of a mess in the first quarter (January through March), contracting sharply and unexpectedly, but growth looked impressive in the second quarter (April through June).
And what of the third quarter (July through September)? Most projections pointed to growth of about 3%. As it turns out, it looks like the economy was even stronger than that.
The U.S. economy grew at a 3.5% annual pace in the third quarter, aided by a surge in exports and a big jump in military spending, the government said Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had predicted gross domestic product would expand by a seasonally adjusted 3%. The increase in consumer spending, the main source of U.S. economic activity, slowed to a 1.8% annual pace from 2.5% in the prior quarter. Business investment on equipment, while up 7.2%, also decelerated, as did outlays on housing construction. Yet exports surged 7.8% while imports dropped 1.7%, making trade the biggest contributor to economic growth in the third quarter.
A 10% jump in federal spending, mostly on Pentagon hardware, also bolstered growth. It was the biggest increase in federal spending since 2009, when the Obama administration put in place a huge economic stimulus package.
The overall GDP figure is encouraging, but that part about Pentagon spending points to a potential downside to the new data -- that jump in spending won't continue.
Still, the news looks pretty good overall, and the report reinforces the impression that the economy is growing steadily. Indeed, this is the first time since before the 2008 crash that we've seen growth above 3% in four of the last five quarters.
It's disappointing when initial unemployment claims climb two weeks in a row, but given the overall direction of late, it's hard to feel too discouraged by the new data.
Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits rose slightly in late October, but the level of jobless claims continued to point to an improving labor market in which companies are holding onto the workers they already have while slowly beefing up their staffs. Initial jobless claims climbed by 3,000 to 287,000 in the week ended Oct. 25, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 281,000.
Claims have been under the key 300,000 benchmark for seven straight weeks for the first time since the recession ended. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dipped by 250 to 281,000. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly report and is seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we’ve been 300,000 in 11 of the last 21 weeks.
More than four months after House Republicans announced their historic plan to sue President Obama, the litigation, like so many initiatives from GOP lawmakers, has become a fiasco. Josh Gerstein and Maggie Haberman reported overnight that the Republicans' lawyers have given up on the case -- again.
House Speaker John Boehner's still-unfiled lawsuit against President Barack Obama for exceeding his constitutional power is in more trouble.
For the second time in two months, a major law firm has backed out of an agreement to pursue the case, sources say.
Apparently, the attorneys responsible for the case decided to give up "in recent weeks," but we're just learning about their decision now. Boehner's office wouldn't comment on why they quit the case, though a spokesperson for the Speaker told Politico, "The litigation remains on track, but we are examining the possibility of forgoing outside counsel and handling the litigation directly through the House."
The piece added that some in the D.C. legal community "believe it's possible no suit will ever be filed."
To appreciate the severity of the fiasco, consider this timeline of events:
Dr. Stephanie Teal, of the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, helps Rachel Maddow in the man cave explain to people, like Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, why an IUD is not an ongoing abortion in a woman's body. watch
Tonight on the show, we played tape of Sharron Angle, a Republican Senate candidate from Nevada in 2010, talking about "Second Amendment remedies" if conservatives didn't get the election results they wanted. We also played tape of Joni Ernst, a current Republican Senate candidate from Iowa, saying she is ready to turn to armed violence against the government.
We've since noticed our friends at Fox News saying that we got it wrong and that they intend to correct the record.
Rachel Maddow busts Fox News for trying to find fault with President Obama in gas prices sinking to the lowest they've been in four years after spending considerable effort to blame him when prices were higher. watch
Jamie Perino, owner of Euflor, a marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado, explains to Rachel Maddow how national banking rules prevent legal pot businesses from depositing their money in banks, leaving them with a concerning amount of cash on hand. watch
* White House: "President Barack Obama repeated his message that America needs to support those treating the Ebola outbreak in Africa, saying 'the world owes them a debt of gratitude' -- even as authorities in Maine weighed whether to enforce a quarantine on a nurse there."
* Liberia: "World Health Organization officials on Wednesday said they see 'glimmers of hope' in Liberia, the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic, with strong evidence that the rate of new cases is declining for the first time since the crisis began."
* Kaci Hickox: "The nurse who was quarantined after returning from treating Ebola patients in West Africa has given the State of Maine until Thursday to let her move freely, setting up what could be a test case of whether state quarantines are legal."
* Pentagon: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered Wednesday that all U.S. troops who deploy to West Africa as part of the force assisting in the Ebola virus crisis be put in quarantine-like monitoring for 21 days, even though none are expected to treat patients directly."
* The end of QE3: "An upbeat Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that the economic recovery was chugging along and that it would end its latest-bond buying campaign on schedule at the end of the month. The Fed, in a statement issued after a two-day meeting of its policy-making committee, said the bond-buying program had served its purpose by contributing to stronger job growth."
* What happened to the Antares rocket? "Authorities on Wednesday started investigating what caused an unmanned U.S. supply rocket to explode in a fireball moments after liftoff from a Virginia launch pad, destroying supplies and equipment bound for the International Space Station."
* ISIS: "Watching the news, you could be forgiven for thinking that ISIS is an unstoppable juggernaut, sweeping Iraq and Syria in an unending, unstoppable, terrible blitzkrieg. But you'd be wrong. The truth is that ISIS's momentum is stalled: in both Iraq and Syria, the group is being beaten back at key points."
* Ferguson: "Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the need for 'wholesale change' in the Ferguson, Missouri, police department was 'pretty clear.'"
* The twists and turns of a bizarre story: "The investigator who led the Department of Homeland Security's internal review of the Secret Service's 2012 prostitution scandal quietly resigned in August after he was implicated in his own incident involving a prostitute, according to current and former department officials."
Despite her Beltway reputation, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has "surprisingly partisan" political tendencies. As longtime readers may recall, Rice has a reputation for relative high-mindedness, especially when compared to some of her former Bush/Cheney colleagues, but she's a more aggressive Republican than is generally appreciated.
Today, for example, Rice threw her support to one of the nation's most right-wing U.S. Senate candidates: Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst.
"Joni Ernst has dedicated her life to the service of others, bravely leading troops in Iraq and safely bringing them home to Iowa. Now Iowans have an opportunity to make her the first female combat veteran to ever serve in the U.S. Senate," Rice said in a statement released by Ernst's campaign.
"We need more leaders, like Joni, who understand America's role abroad and the threats posed against us," she added.
That's certainly a nice sentiment, but the notion that Joni Ernst has an admirable understanding of America's role abroad is tough to take seriously.
I can see why such nonsense might endear the far-right candidate to a veteran of the Bush/Cheney team, but it doesn't exactly reflect someone with sound judgment on international affairs.
For that matter, Ernst also argued in a recent debate that "there's no sense" in having members of Congress meet their obligations under the Constitution when it comes to authorizing the use of military force abroad.
And, then, of course, there are Ernst fears about the Agenda 21 conspiracy.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) handling of the Kaci Hickox incident, and the Ebola threat in general, has drawn quite a bit of criticism, but the Republican governor believes he has a trump card. In several recent interviews, Christie has emphasized that his policy obviously has some merit, since it's been endorsed by Dr. Bruce Beutler, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 2011.
A local report out of the Garden State today noted Beutler's thinking on the subject (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
"I favor it, because it's not entirely clear that they can't transmit the disease," Beutler said.... "It may not be absolutely true that those without symptoms can't transmit the disease, because we don't have the numbers to back that up," said Beutler, "It could be people develop significant viremia [where viruses enter the bloodstream and gain access to the rest of the body], and become able to transmit the disease before they have a fever, even. People may have said that without symptoms you can't transmit Ebola. I'm not sure about that being 100 percent true. There's a lot of variation with viruses."
In fact, in a study published online in late September by the New England Journal of Medicine and backed by the World Health Organization, 3,343 confirmed and 667 probable cases of Ebola were analyzed, and nearly 13 percent of the time, those infected with Ebola exhibited no fever at all.
As it turns out, that may not be quite right. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine has actually said largely the opposite. As we noted yesterday, the NEJM, arguably the nation's premier medical journal took the unusual step of intervening in a political debate, questioning the value of Christie's policy, and specifically concluding, "an asymptomatic health care worker returning from treating patients with Ebola, even if he or she were infected, would not be contagious."