Saturday, January 17, 2004

A new site

The Columbia School of Journalism has just launched CampaignDesk, a new website/blog that will track news stories during the upcoming election. They'll comment on poor or unfair stories, do followups, and otherwise act as ombudsman of the media. If this first day's entries are an indication of its worth, it's worthy.

It's still the debt and the jobs

Okay, so I may have misperceived the impact of the recent drop in the value of the dollar against the euro. It turns out that the same folks--in the 1980's called arbitragers, now unnamed but equally amoral--who manipulate the world's currencies have lately stemmed the dollar's decline. The dollar may resume its descent based on fundamentals--the wild US trade imbalance, its massive budget deficits--but currency traders are most attuned to day-to-day hints, hedges and speeches such as those by members of the Federal Reserve Bank and international agencies that are bound to protect their nations' currencies, speeches that have lately caused the traders to predict an upward blip of the dollar against the euro, softening its decline, averting a pre-panic alarm.
But the dollar is bouyed even more solidly by the purchase of American companies' stock and US debt instruments by foreigners, mostly Japanese and Chinese, who own an incredibly huge amount of these securities. They have little long-term interest in America's financial wellbeing, except as it may support their ownership of dollar-based debt and assets.
They're not fools, however. Even though, as holders of trillions of dollars in US currency, treasury notes and corporate stock, they surely don't relish a decline in the value of their holdings, they also don't want to be the last passengers off the Titanic.
If it should occur--as might happen if the US economy continues to waddle through months of unemployment and underemployment--that the dollar is confirmed to be fundamentally weak (that is, truly the currency of a failing national economy, overly beholden to the support of others) these dollar-based-asset holding nations might decide to sell their dollars and debt all at once to beat the decline that they see as inevitable. At that point, all bets are off, and we could well see a global dollar massacre.
It could happen any moment. All it takes is for the world to realize, as the next few months' figures might well reveal, that the potency of the American economy is a borrow-based fiction. Once the first foreign investor sniffs that out, watch out. Time to move to Canada, Sweden or the proverbial desert island and leave the rest of the world to fight over scraps.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Spin, spin, everywhere spin

When reading the news these days, I must remember to bear in mind the motivation of the entity that disseminates it. Faux News, of course, has an ideological bent that renders its "news" tainted, a taint readily discernible. More difficult to remain aware of, however, is the spin that is applied even by so-called "hard news" outlets, such as those that report economic developments.
Take for example, this story from today's Dow Jones wire, reporting the status of inflation as recently reported by the Labor Department.

The "gist" of the story is stated in the opening paragraphs thus:

"The consumer price index rose a scant 0.2% in December, reversing 0.2% decline in November, the Labor Department said Thursday. The closely watched core index, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 0.1%. In annual terms, consumer prices rose 1.9% in 2003, the smallest rate in two years."

An upbeat development, it would seem, until one reads to the final paragraph of the story, where the truly significant statistic--the fact that impacts most Americans--appears.

"In a separate report, the Labor Department said average weekly earnings of U.S. workers, adjusted for inflation, declined 0.6% in December as a 0.2% increase in average hourly earnings was more than offset by a 0.6% decline in average weekly hours and a 0.2% gain in the CPI for urban wage earners and clerical workers. Over the course of 2003, average weekly earnings rose 1.7% on a seasonally adjusted basis."

So, what really happened in December was that there was a tiny uptick in the price of consumer goods (the CPI), an identical increase (0.2%) in average hourly earnings--a wash--but a decrease in workers' weekly earnings because of fewer working hours. The result: A net loss of workers' purchasing power over the last month of 2003. This decline capped a year in which workers' earnings grew a "scant" (to borrow the word from the opening paragraphs of the article) 1.7%, which is actually one-tenth of one percent less than the increase in consumer prices (1.8%) over the year. So the working consumer ended the year with a worse month than the year as a whole, and the year was one in which the worker consumer lost ground against prices for consumer goods.

The upbeat tone of the article can be accounted for by Dow Jones' bias. It's in the business of business, of trading in stocks and commodities, of benefiting from borrowings and investments and of reporting same. If the news is downbeat, its various functions lag. Moral: Read the entire article--including the bottom "graph"--and more than one article, on any subject. Or--don't read anything. Just look around you and see what's happening.

Do you remeber your Al-Gebra?

Not only is the Administration on the lookout for the dreaded Al-manac, now there's an even deadlier source of terror. Enjoy.

Imagine Our Surprise

President Bush, whom we all thought was a sure thing for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, has been Accused of Waging Unnecessary War in Iraq. Of all the unmitigated audacity. It's those irrepressible Kennedys again. They just can't help but poke fun at the kids from Skull & Bones.

Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy said Bush had capitalized on fear from the September 11 attacks to put a "spin on the truth to justify a war that could well become one of the worst blunders in more than two centuries of American foreign policy."

Aw come one, Ed. The president's gotta cowboy up once in a while, open him up a barrel or two of good old down home Texas Whupass. What good is being president if you can't find you some terrists, flush 'em outta their holes, head 'em up and round 'em up and run 'em to ground and such? As long as he takes care of the economy, the enviroment and health care, let's just let him have some fun.

U.S. Soldiers' Suicide Rate Is Up in Iraq

Erik and I were discussing just this afternoon what we perceive to be a decline in readership for this blog. One possibility, we said, might be that an anti-war blog isn't a lot of fun. We'll this damn sure isn't going to help. If we could oppose this war with Michael Jackson jokes, we'd do it, but the truth isn't quite that bizarre. The truth is that The Suicide Rate for U.S. Soldiers' in Iraq Is Up.

Support our Troops: Bring them home from that hellhole.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Comments function fubar

It seems our need comments function isn't working. I checked the site for BlogSpeak, which provides that function, and found the following message:

BlogSpeak is currently down because the bastards that host it decided to suspend my account. I do not know as of yet when this situation will be resolved. If you don't want any JavaScript errors on your pages, take the code off for the time being. Thanks for your patience.

So I guess we'll give it a little time and see what happens. If you want to send a comment in the mean time, use one of the e-mail links (our names) in the left hand column. Thanks.


Monday, January 12, 2004

Bush buck passing

In Southern Iraq, the Shia "Pope"--al Talibani--is demanding popular elections instead of the local caucuses that the US has decided will choose the members of the group that will draft the constitution and proceed to "democracy." He has threatened violence if his call is not heeded, and the US isn't heeding it, so far.

In the north, the Kurds are demanding autonomy, including control over Tikrit and its oil, while the US is demurring, deferring, hoping they can get the hell out of Iraq before the place catches fire--and hoping it won't catch fire until after the November election.

In the central Sunni section the US is hoping to suppress the populace enough to stifle dissent and insurgency until July 1, so that they can announce a relinquishment of political power, with trumpets and CNN coverage, while maintaining the hundred-plus thousands of soldiers on the outskirts of Baghdad to enforce US interests and prohibit anti-US activities.

We, Bush opponents, can only hope that one or all of Bush's plans goes awry, and that it does so far enough before the fall election to reveal what a fraud this invasion and occupation actually is.

Come to the party, NYT

Three months ago (so long ago that the post isn't still available in our archives), I pointed out the likely illegitimacy of the Iraq Coalition Provisional Administration's privatization of the nation's industries, as well as other acts it decreed in furtherance of "economic reform." There was a spate of analyses at the time, including a detailed essay by Naomi Klein, that questioned the legality, under international law, of such broad alterations of the laws of the occupied country, based on the provisions of the Geneva Convention, and otherwise founded in international law.

Now, finally, the NYT has seen the light. It has interviewed a handful of international lawyers and professors who agree with Naomi Klein and (I say this with all humility--not) me.
Soooo--Tribune Bremer has once again screwed up. Any deal the CPA makes now to attract outside investment in Iraq is subject, say these experts, to being rescinded by the duly constituted government of Iraq, should one come into existence.

Would you buy a car from this man? Would you invest your bucks in Iraq? Yeah, maybe, but not while the US is in charge. So much for Bush's plan of bringing economic prosperity to Iraq. Turns out they've got to do it themselves. It's the law.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

It's jobs, stupid

December's numbers are out, and it's clear that whatever impact the tax cuts may have had on GDP and other features of the nation's economic picture, the employment figures reveal that jobs are in the toilet. Not just the pitiful number of jobs created, but the quality of jobs in terms of security and pay and benefits. We're talking about an economy that's adding temp positions and burger-flipping jobs in the stead of solid employment--full-time, responsible, vested and well paid. A large segment of the American workforce has become transient, migrant workers, and the rest of them have no jobs at all.

Yes, the GDP will get another blip-boost when hefty income tax refunds are mailed out to taxpayers, the result of the lower rate that was applied to the last several months of their wages. But that will translate, as did the one-time refunds in May, into retirement of their astounding personal debt or into a brief consumption bounce (of products made in China or Korea however).

And then? A dramatic downward slide of the jobs figures, and personal income figures, through the summer until the November election. And there's nothing Bush can do about it.

I can't wait.