Economic Update

ECONOMIC UPDATE....You will be unsurprised to learn that the fourth quarter of last year sucked:

The U.S. economy shriveled at the end of 2008, shrinking by the most in 26 years....Gross domestic product fell at a seasonally adjusted 3.8% annual rate October through December, the Commerce Department said Friday in the first estimate of fourth-quarter GDP.

....Federal government spending helped the economy....Also preventing the economy from sinking further were inventories, which rose at the end of 2008. On a down note, the inventory increase was likely unintended — the result of companies getting stuck with unwanted merchandise because demand has tailed off in the recession....Inventories increased by $6.2 billion, after going down $29.6 billion in the third quarter and $50.6 billion in the second quarter. Inventories added 1.32 percentage points to GDP in the fourth quarter.

In other words, if not for the unwanted inventory buildup, GDP would have shrunk something like 5.1% or more. Yuck.

Obama Weighs In On Super Bowl

superbowl-43-logo.jpg To follow up on my post arguing that all good liberals ought to support the Steelers this Sunday, I thought I'd bring you the President's thoughts. From a press appearance Thursday:

Q: The Steelers or Cardinals, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I have to say, you know, I wish the Cardinals the best. Kurt Warner is a great story and he's closer to my age than anybody else on the field, but I am a long-time Steelers fan. Mr. Rooney, the owner, was just an extraordinary supporter during the course of the campaign. Franco Harris was campaigning for me in Pittsburgh. So --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Coach signed up with you, too.
THE PRESIDENT: Right, Coach Tomlin was a supporter. So I -- you know, I wish the best to the Cardinals. They've been long-suffering; it's a great Cinderella story. But other than the Bears, the Steelers are probably the team that's closest to my heart.

Our President, by his own admission, doesn't get too high for things. But from what I can tell, the man has Steelers fever. My prediction: Steelers 20, Cardinals 13. (This is your final Super Bowl-related post, I promise. Unless they win, in which case the blog will be covered in drunken exultations. Stillllers Win!!!!1!11)

Army Suicides Reach Historic High

The US Army has announced that the soldier suicide rate has reached an all-time high, surpassing the civilian suicide rate for the first time. At least 128 soldiers—and perhaps as many as 143—took their own lives in 2008. The Associated Press puts this into perspective:

The new suicide figure compares with 115 in 2007 and 102 in 2006 and is the highest since current record-keeping began in 1980. Officials expect the deaths to amount to a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, which is higher than the civilian rate — when adjusted to reflect the Army's younger and male-heavy demographics — for the first time in the same period of record-keeping...
Yearly increases in suicides have been recorded since 2004, when there were 64 — only about half the number now. Officials said they found that the most common factors were soldiers suffering problems with their personal relationships, legal or financial issues and problems on the job.

Army Secretary Peter Geren declined to characterize reasons underlying the growing number of suicides, but assured reporters that "we're committed to doing everything we can to address the problem." Along those lines, the Army is actively recruiting psychologists and psychiatrists to treat soldiers for symptoms associated with severe brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), "the defining injuries of this generation of servicemen," says Bill White, president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a non-profit dedicated to improving care for wounded soldiers.

Heather Havrilesky: Our Crush Is Officially Over!

In Salon this week, my FORMER crush, Heather Havrilesky, pushes me too far in the 'who's more screwed and, therefore, more powerful' debate.

It's on, bee-yotch!

What's her pitiful argument for 'her' team?:

President Obama has chosen a sharp and able-bodied team to head his administration, but if he really wants to yank the country out of its dismal state, I suggest he enlist the help of some expectant mothers, preferably in their third trimester of pregnancy.
Because while Obama may have selected an experienced and savvy collection of specialists to lead this nation out of its hard times, no one on Earth has the ability to tackle big, unwieldy problems quite like a woman in the home stretch of pregnancy. In addition to manufacturing a brand-new human being, a feat of nearly supernatural proportions in and of itself, pregnant women also have an uncanny knack for grabbing the most daunting task by the throat, wrestling it to the floor and smashing its face into the carpet until it yells "Mother!"
Take it from me, now seven months pregnant with my second child. Despite my growing resemblance to Jabba the Hutt, I've entered a frenzied state of activity, conquering every task I encounter, big or small, with the focus and determination of a speed-addled jihadist. Each day, I find myself interrupting my furious scrubbing of the stovetop to empty out the fridge, call the plumber, e-mail my boss and complete a 2,000-word treatise on the use of fashion to highlight socioeconomic differences on "Gossip Girl." Those who know me well are astounded by my sudden transformation from sullen sloth to Highly Effective Person. Instead of daydreaming or procrastinating or turning the screw (some favorite hobbies during non-gestational periods), I'm in a constant state of getting things done, whether it's trawling eBay for a replica of the 18-year-old teddy bear my husband lost on an errand with my 2-year-old daughter ("Some guy kidnap Andy the Bear!"—those plaintive words haunt my vivid, pregnant-lady dreams each night) or typing out a five-page letter to my local congresswoman regarding the inefficient traffic patterns in my neighborhood."

Husband? Did that heifer say "husband?" In conjunction with "running an errand?"

Those of us who are parenting alone, for whatever reason, and for however long, might just beg to differ with her 'most powerful' choice.

Dick Armey Proves Feminism Is Dead

Man, how right is his first name?

Check out his exchange with Joan Walsh (an old pal and former boss).

Last year, I wrote an article explaining how former Republican Senator Phil Gramm had helped grease the way to the subprime meltdown in 2000 when he was chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Gramm wouldn't talk to me for the article. At the time, he was a close adviser to presidential candidate John McCain, and his past support of financial deregulation and his subsequent work as a lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss banking giant, became a campaign issue. Neither McCain nor Gramm addressd these matters publicly. And then Gramm generated further controversy when he dismissed Americans worried about the economy as "whiners." After that, McCain distanced himself from Gramm, who faded from the campaign trail.

Now, Gramm is back--at least to defend himself. Last week, he spoke at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The subject of his talk: was deregulation responsible for the current financial disaster? The real subject: was Gramm responsible for the current financial disaster? Mother Jones and the American News Project filmed Gramm, and I was able to pose a couple of questions to him. See what happened below in a video that was edited by Tay Wiles.

Paul McCartney to Headline Coachella

mojo-photo-coachellamccartney.jpg

Hey, look at that, Goldenvoice has finally announced the lineup for America's Favorite Music Festival and Hipster Haircut Showcase, and it turns out all these random rumors about Britney Spears and Katy Perry were just red herrings (thank God) since all the while they were negotiating with none other than Sir Paul. The former Beatle will headline Friday night at the 3-day event set for April 17-19, and he told the LA Times that he's "really excited to get out there and rock." Neat, but the Times seems a little skeptical about the whole idea, saying it's a bit of a gamble:

Booking the former Beatle, who is listed in the record books as the most successful musician in pop history, would be the safest choice imaginable for most music festivals. But the internationally respected Coachella festival, which is set for April 17-19, has been pulling in crowds of more than 140,000 fans by taking an edgier path with alt-rock heroes you would hear on a college town's pirate radio station. … What remains to be seen is whether the choice will cost the festival credibility with its core clientele: young fans who are more likely to listen to the White Stripes than the "White Album" and who are far more familiar with Rage Against the Machine than "Band on the Run."

Hey, actually, some of us not-so-young fans were really annoyed with the Rage crowd too. Also on the bill are a couple festival veterans, including The Cure (2004), The Killers (2004) and Morrissey (1999), as well as the finally-reunited My Bloody Valentine (on Cure day, natch). Your ridiculously-named DJ is especially excited about Buraka Som Sistema, TV on the Radio, Friendly Fires, Leonard Cohen, and having margaritas in the hot tub. Full lineup after the jump.

A Good Time To Be Rich

A GOOD TIME TO BE RICH....Here's the latest 2006 income data for the Fortunate 400:

The nation's top 400 taxpayers made more than $263 million on average in 2006, as the stock market was rallying, but paid income taxes at the lowest rate in the 15 years that the Internal Revenue Service has tracked such data, according to figures released Thursday.

....In constant dollars, the average income of the top 400 taxpayers nearly quadrupled from 1992....Meanwhile, the group's average income tax rate [] fell to 17.2% in 2006 from 18.2% the prior year. That's down from a high of 29.9% in 1995.

Just for the record, my federal income tax rate is higher than 17.2%. And yours, probably. So maybe the quarter billionaire crowd can afford a wee bit more too?

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Wind Employs More Americans Than Coal

wind.jpgThe wind energy industry is growing quickly and now employs more people than the coal industry. A report released this week by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) finds that 85,000 people work in wind, up from 50,000 a year ago. Todd Woody at Fortune's Green Wombat points out that 81,000 people work in the coal industry and notes, "Those figures are from a 2007 U.S. Department of Energy report but coal employment has remained steady in recent years though it's down by nearly 50% since 1986."

While there is growing demand for wind as an alternative energy source, and the industry is responding in kind—wind power generating capacity increased by 50% in 2008—it is not insulated from the broader economic slowdown. The AWEA reports that by the end of 2008 "financing for new projects and orders for turbine components slowed to a trickle and layoffs began to hit the wind turbine manufacturing sector." Notes AWEA CEO Denise Bode, granted with a vested interest:

"The U.S. wind energy industry's performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo, ready to deliver on the President's call to double renewable energy production in three years. At the same time, it is clear that the economic and financial downturn have begun to take a serious toll on new wind development. We are already seeing layoffs in the area where wind's promise is greatest for our economy: the wind power manufacturing sector. Quick action in the stimulus bill is vital to restore the industry's momentum and create jobs as we help make our country more secure and leave a more stable climate for our children."

So it's probably good for the wind industry that the House just passed Obama's stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which, as the Congressional Quarterly noted, "includes $20 billion for the renewable-energy sector, including a three-year extension of the tax credit for producing electricity from wind." Needless to say, the investors are watching.

 

[Update: As commenters have pointed out, it seems I've fallen pray to a bit of an apples/oranges comparison here: The job figures for the coal sector only counted miners, while those for wind were all-inclusive. However, the trajectory for each industry remains clear: Coal is shedding jobs while wind is growing quickly.]

[Late update: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar—"Windmills off the East Coast could generate enough electricity to replace most, if not all, the coal-fired power plants in the United States."]


Photo used under Creative Commons license