Friday, February 06, 2004

Short memories

Tenet's sales pitch about the quality of intelligence (measured by the contents of his prewar "estimate" against the now-available evidence "on the ground") simply places in starker relief the need to inquire into the "policy-makers'" use of intelligence rather than its gathering. Besides the obvious misuse by Cheney, Rumsfeld and, most notably, Bush in their public pronouncements, two particular items come to mind, items I'm shocked that I forgot (and so far too have the pundits).

The first was buried in the news during the weeks before the much-hyped appearance by Colin Powell at the UN where he presented a dog-and-pony show to spur the Security Council into voting for an invasion-justifying resolution. The UN inpsectors were on the ground, dutifully chasing from site to site in their white vans, coming up empty, while Blix was complaining to anyone who'd listen that the US wasn't sharing with the inspectors the information that it claimed it had to prove Saddam's noncompliance. Finally, a few days before Powell's UN appearance, the US gave Blix a verbal report of selected sites (I recall that Blix was appalled at such a lax, unorthodox procedure). The conclusion many drew from this sequence was that the US either was unsure of its intelligence or was witholding it so that the inspectors would fail, allowing the US to attack.
The second item followed shortly thereafter, when the inspectors hopped into their vans to follow the leads the US finally handed over. One lead, to a supposed weapons factory in the north of Iraq, turned out to be a crumbling village. Others were equally false, so much so that one of the inspectors called the US intelligence, "garbage."
During all of this time, Scott Ritter, a former US Marine and weapons inspector, was telling us (although the news outlets wouldn't listen) that which we now know: The the WMD Iraq had once possessed had been destroyed or discovered in the weapons inspection regime in the nineties.
If I were Tenet I'd be pissed off too. Bush and his buddies ignored and purposely witheld the caveats and uncertainties in the CIA's estimate in their inexorable march to war and now, as before, they're making him the fallguy.

For another (and a more fluent) presentation of this position, check out this essay in Time Online.

It's the jobs, stupid

Two much-anticipated Labor Department numbers that I just heard on TV. The first is the increase in the number of jobs in the month of January: 112,000. The second is the upward revision of the dismal number of new jobs from December: from 1,000 to 12,000. Both announcements were disappointing to those who believed that Bush's tax-cutting "economic stimulus" would translate into job creation.
The 112,000 figure for January fell 60,000 short of the prediction of forecasters, and was 40,000 short of the number of new jobs needed merely to keep pace with the number of new workers entering the labor force each month. There will of course be some trumpeting of the 112,000 figure as being the highest in many months, but those months were awful. In fact, the figure demonstrates that the stimulus has translated into increased profits for companies and increased money in the hands of the rich, but not into real recovery for the workers, i.e., jobs. (In addition, of course, the figures for workers' real income shows them losing against inflation, as is noted in the immediately preceding post.)
The second figure, the upward revision of December's new-jobs figure to 12,000 confirms how dreadful that month really was for new employment. It was thought that the revision might be substantial, that the 1,000 figure was way off the mark. But no, we're now certain, December was indeed terrible, as was the 47,000 figure for the preceding month.
These two announcements gave rise, immediately, to an upward spurt in the cost of a euro against the dollar. The traders know what Bush apologists still deny: That the "recovery" of the US economy is hype, and the GDP increases are due to consumer borrowing and warmaking. Classic smoke and mirrors.

Speaking of Numbers ...

Speaking of numbers, is it my imagination, or has it been a couple of days since the number of US ... kids ... solidiers ... killed in Iraq has gone up? And if so, what should one suppose this might portend?

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Behind the numbers

The following brief analysis from the ForexNews ("foreign exchange") website puts into perspective the jobs/income/recovery picture as it relates to the common worker. Not a pretty picture.

"Are Payrolls or GDP the Anomaly?" by Jes Black
A general rule of thumb in economics, known as Okun's Law, states that a 1% increase in GDP leads to a 0.4% increase in employment. But the primary flaw is that changes in productivity undermine this relationship because output depends on both the amount of inputs used and the level of technology.

Moreover, when economists like Okun peered into the economy in the 1980s and 1990s a not so subtle shift was already taking place towards a global economy driven by finance and technology. Inflation has since grown quiescent while growth can be manufactured through lower borrowing costs. Yet the real economy seems to suffer since the shift from selling tangible goods to a service economy has resulted in exploding deficits and jobs outsourcing recently estimated at 500,000. Real growth has in fact been substituted for financial growth and the effects they have on employment are now noticeable.

Slow Recovery in Payrolls

Tomorrow's labor report is expected to show a sharp 165k-175k gain in payrolls, which is hardly surprising following the anemic December report and the strong advance in Q3 and Q4 GDP. This would complement the increase in the household survey while rising payrolls and record-setting gains in GDP will likely be heralded as the missing link in the recovery story. But since many of the jobs created so far have been in lower wage service sector, ambiguous self-employment and government jobs the actual benefit to the economy may be less significant.

The unemployment rate is expected to remain steady at 5.7% in January. But the real unemployment rate would be higher if it were adjusted for decreases in both hours per worker and labor force participation. Since each of these factors contributes to falling output, because of rising productivity last year's second half surge in US growth is the anomaly, not the jobs picture.

In fact, much of the second half recovery was financed through record homeowner refinancings, tax cuts and deficit spending. But for a US-centric global economy saturated with overcapacity, a slow, steady rise in employment and balanced GDP growth is the most logical path as the world struggles to find a more sustainable means of consuming domestic production.

October Surprise?

This is just the latest of the predictions that Osama will be captured before the November election. We know that Bush is capable of anything, and we know that Reagan plotted with the Iranians to delay release of the hostages until after he defeated Carter. So, why will Osama's election-eve capture be a surprise?

Is Knight-Ridder piling on?

Bush's leadership is in question, says this august wire service piece. It details Bush's recent reversals, citing polls that show that Kerry's more trusted than Bush as a leader. Fun reading.

I'm baaack--and Tenet's in a groove.

Okay, after weeks (seems like years) of hassling about a switchover to cable hookup from DSL, I'm finally in business bigtime. My posts will accordingly be potent, incisive and, most tellingly, constant. Starting with my observations about Tenet's speech today at Georgetown (one of my alma maters, BTW).
This guy's a stump-speaker, no doubt. Actually, a car salesman, presenting a tick-list of items with flair and verve. His bottom line (a phrase he used repeatedly): The pre-war assessment ("Estimate") by his minions was right on, or close enough, including his concession that there was no evidence of an "imminent threat" to the US from any of this.
It will take some time to sort through his assertions, but for me the bottom line is this. It wasn't the fault of the intelligence community that we ended up with egg on our face and blood on our hands. It's absolutely clear that the fault lies with Bush/Cheney, that they'd made up their minds to take over Iraq and weren't going to be swayed by the equivocations and uncertainties of the intelligence professionals' report.
Thus, the task of any new inquiry into the "intelligence failure" should include the misuse of intelligence by the politicians, not just lapses in the gathering and presentation of data by the spooks.
After all, it was Bush who launched this war. It's his desk where the buck stops.

All That Arises

Please see John’s comment to Let me get this straight... on Monday. He’s got it right.

Congress is corrupt, and I’ll add gutless. But then what if I added a corrupt and gutless congress is exactly what a corrupt and gutless populace deserves? Are we not made for television? This week, the American people are much more interested in discussing Janet Jackson's Jubblies than the unremitting meltdown of the economy or the high crimes of our literally unbelievable president.

"Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
--William Shakespeare Julius Caesar I.ii.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Hardly a liberal rag

BusinessWeek lambastes Bush's budget, spelling out in detail the fallacies of its assumptions and projections. The article's title says it all: "Lies, damned lies and Bush's budget."

Monday, February 02, 2004

Let me get this straight...

The Administration's "war on terr'r" includes attacking any group that we pronounce to be a "terrorist organization," even if the group's alleged terrorist activities aren't directed against the US? Are our soldiers supposed to die in such a cause? Where is the constitutional requirement of a declaration of war? Where will such a policy end? What have we (including the Congress) wrought?