Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

An Unemployment Report that’s Not Too Bad

Looking on the bright side, it’s good news for the US labor market that the unemployment rate was unchanged, at 6.1%, according to the data released today by the BLS. In fact, payrolls even grew by 57,000. This wasn’t enough to match the average of 100,000 or so new people that enter the work force each month in the US, and obviously wasn’t enough to make a dent in the net job losses of over 3 million people over the past 3 years… but at least it was net job creation for the American economy, for the first time in 8 months. This report was better than the average expectation among economists as reported by, which was for payrolls to shrink slightly.

On the not-so-bright side, it’s a bit unfortunate that a stable unemployment rate at 6.1% is “good news.” And, as I pointed out yesterday, we’re in the middle of what is supposed to be a high-growth period for the US economy.


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Plaming On… with the Devil’s Advocate

As AB noted below, Digby’s point about the Plame affair being (partly, at least) about the media itself is a good one. Maybe the media will indeed keep the story going, simply because they get to talk about themselves.

But I also think that in order to answer the question that I posed even further below about whether the Plame affair will die quietly or not, we also need to take a guess at the CIA’s motivation for bringing this business into the public spotlight in the first place. Why does that matter? Because depending on what you think the CIA is trying to accomplish, you may believe that the CIA has only just begun to make life difficult for the Bush administration.

Some of the best discussion that I’ve seen about the Plame affair has been on Brad DeLong’s blog. Among numerous other insightful discussions about this business DeLong makes the following point:

I agree with [Jack Balkin] that the “CIA” has declared bureaucratic war on the White House staff. But it’s not clear to me that his explanation is sufficient — the “you pushed us, we’ll push you back” explanation. At this level, the “CIA” is the Director of Central Intelligence and his deputies, and they are as much the personal courtiers of George W. Bush as they are representatives of the career bureaucracy of the Agency. They would have had every incentive to find an alternative resolution than the one they have chosen: to try to deprive the president of the services of his trusted aides and to mire the White House in scandal is not likely to make George W. Bush happy to see them or eager to listen to them in the future.

If the CIA has really decided to blow up the Bush administration, then they won’t let the story die, and we can probably expect the scandal to widen.

But let me continue to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment. One alternative and plausible theory that DeLong mentions is that Tenet was worried about losing his job – and now, of course, there’s no way that Bush can fire him. That story would imply that the CIA may well be done. They’ve accomplished their goal, and don’t care if the story dies at this point.

Alternatively, we could just go with the most obvious reason for the CIA’s “outing” of the bad Bushies. Isn’t it possible that the CIA was simply tired of being kicked around by Rove, et al? What better way to get the White House to behave than to send them a stern reminder that the CIA is a veteran fighter in the inside-the-Beltway ring? I find it plausible that the CIA was genuinely angry about Plame’s cover being blown (on top of using Tenet as a scapegoat for the 16 words), and so they want the White House to know that they can’t do that sort of thing. If that’s their motivation, then they’ve certainly succeeded, and have no further incentive to damage Bush. They figure that Bush will probably just lick his wounds, refocus on his reelection, and avoid any more embarrassing battles with the CIA over the next 13 months.

Mind you, I’m not convinced that the Plame affair will quietly die – and I certainly hope that it doesn’t. But I do think that the future course of this business is far from obvious. Other opinions are welcome…


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More People Reading Angry Bear

That’s my favorite possible explanation for this story, from the front page of today’s New York Times:

The public’s confidence in President Bush’s ability to deal wisely with an international crisis has slid sharply over the past five months, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll has found. And a clear majority are also uneasy about his ability to make the right decisions on the nation’s economy.

Over all, the poll found, Americans are for the first time more critical than not of Mr. Bush’s ability to handle both foreign and domestic problems, and a majority say the president does not share their priorities. Thirteen months before the 2004 election, a solid majority of Americans say the country is seriously on the wrong track, a classic danger sign for incumbents, and only about half of Americans approve of Mr. Bush’s overall job performance.

It’s gratifying to see that more and more people are realizing that our criticisms of this administration are exactly right. It’s also gratifying to see that, at least sometimes, the universe works the way it should, and that bad, short-sighted, and venal policies do indeed carry serious long-term costs for the policy makers.


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Plame On!

Recently, Kash expressed some concern that “this disgusting episode of political payback and security manipulation will quickly fade away with little long-term repercussions on the Bush presidency?” I haven’t disagreed with my esteemed co-blogger yet, and I’m not quite doing so now. But Digby raises an interesting point that I think has merit:

This is one time the media starlets are not going to be baby birds and sit in their nests waiting for the masticated RNC faxfacts to be dropped into their willing little beaks. In their minds this one is about something very, very important.

It’s about them.

Count me as cautiously optimistic.


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Shocking Hostility from the Arab World

The report released yesterday that found that the Arab world hates the US was nothing short of… absolutely obvious. I would have been happy to tell the State Department months ago that “Hostility toward America has reached shocking levels,” and that “what is required is not merely tactical adaptation but strategic, and radical, transformation.” Plus, I’m sure I would have been a bargain compared to the funding that the panel of experts required.

However, I probably would not have come up with this priceless line, from the panel’s chair (as quoted in the Guardian): “You know, Woody Allen said 90% of life is just showing up,” said Edward P Djerejian, an Arab specialist, former ambassador and White House spokesman, who led the group. “In the Arab world, the US just doesn’t show up.”

“And when the US does show up,” he could have added, “they shoot.”


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The Plame Affair

It looks like things are settling down regarding the Plame affair. The wheels have slowly begun grinding on an FBI investigation that will probably take months, Bush’s buddies are in charge of the investigation, the White House is effectively holding Congressional Republicans in line to stifle calls for an independent investigation, fallout from the affair seems to be quite contained, and the story has dropped out of the headlines in many media outlets.

Even a day or two ago I thought that we’d find out pretty quickly who leaked, that they’d be fired, and that Bush would suffer a noticeable (though probably not enormous) dent in his reputation. The rampant hypocrisy and arrogance that lead to this episode would have to have some sort of effect on the Bush presidency, wouldn’t it?

But now I’m starting to consider another scenario: what if we don’t find out who leaked? What if the investigation takes months, and doesn’t ever uncover the leaker? Is it possible that this disgusting episode of political payback and security manipulation will quickly fade away with little long-term repercussions on the Bush presidency?


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Are We Booming Yet?

This week’s initial unemployment claims were up a bit to 399,000, suggesting that tomorrow’s unemployment report may not look too good. There have been a few other worrying signs about the economy lately: manufacturing activity may have begun slowing again a bit, and consumer confidence is falling, not rising.

We’re supposed to be in the midst of a couple of high-growth quarters right now, with many economists’ forecasts in the 4%-5% range for economic growth in the third and fourth quarters of 2003. Business spending is indeed up strongly compared to a year ago, but otherwise the preliminary data sure doesn’t paint a picture of a very strong economy.

I wonder if we’re starting to see a reversal of the pattern that has kept the US economy going over the past couple of years. In 2001, 2002, and early 2003, strong consumer spending made up for weak business spending. I’m starting to have the hunch that the second half of 2003 and 2004 will feature the opposite pattern – strong business spending with weak consumer spending, as consumers worry more and more about their debt and their jobs.

We’ll know a little more tomorrow morning with the unemployment report…


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Clark Interview

Josh Marshall interviewed Gen. Clark yesterday and the entire interview is available here. Here’s a sample, but there’s much more and it’s worth reading:

And this administration comes in with an ideology that blocks its ability to see, articulate, and resolve those problems. It’s an ideology that’s a sharpened sort of right-wing Republican party ideology. It has no real intellectual base to it. It’s just the ideology of a party. By intellectual base, I’m talking first, trickle-down economics. No reputable economist stands up and says, “Trickle down economics reallyworks.” Because we know the marginal propensity to consume of people who are making $100,000 a year and less is much higher than the marginal propensity to consume of people who are making $350,000 a year and more.

So therefore when you say you’re going to give money to the rich so they’ll make jobs for the poor — that’s not a very efficient way of producing jobs in the American economy.


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Rush Limbaugh’s a Big Fat Idiot

Many of you probably have seen his comment from Sunday:

“I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”

Get it? McNabb’s success, and presumably Michael Vick’s stellar play last year, was all a part of the giant liberal media conspiracy.

Here’s McNabb’s reply:

“He said what he said. … I’m sure he’s not the only one that feels that way but it’s somewhat shocking to actually hear that on national TV. An apology would do no good because he obviously thought about it before he said it.”

Which I think, if you parse it, basically translates to “Limbaugh’s an idiot and so is ESPN for hiring him, but if I got upset everything some idiot said something stupid about minorities on TV there’d be no time for practice.” Here’s Limbaugh’s magnanimous response:

“All this has become the tempest that it is because I must have been right about something. If I wasn’t right, there wouldn’t be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sports writer community.”

Philadelphia won 23-10 over the 2-1 Bills. Rush is a jackass, and so is anyone who takes anything he says seriously.


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