Good morning, news junkies!
Today is January 15, 2011… Eighty-two years ago, in 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born. Thirty-nine years later, in 1968, the Jeannette Rankin Brigade gathered in DC to protest the Vietnam War (links go to two great photos). At the end of the march, the 88-year old Rankin–on behalf of a delegation of women that included Coretta Scott King–presented to then-House Speaker John McCormack a petition calling for an end to the war (link takes you to another amazing photo).
I dedicate my Saturday offerings this weekend to Dr. King, his family, congresswoman Rankin, and everyone who stood with them in the fight for nonviolence, a movement largely spurred on in the twentieth century by Gandhi and his strategy of nonviolent resistance — satyagraha.
And, with that, I’ll dive right into my current event picks, the first of which takes us to Gandhi’s homeland. From earlier in the week, at the NYT Opinionator: “A Light in India,” in which David Bornstein discusses the exciting new ‘frugal innovation’ of turning rice husks into electricity that is “reliable, eco-friendly and affordable for families that can spend only $2 a month for power.”
Husk Power is bringing electricity AND jobs to poor villagers — what a story! Check it out.
The top story on memeorandum right now is the developments coming out of Tunisia with President Ben Ali fleeing amid protests. Mother Jones‘ Nick Bauman has a helpful primer up which brings the Wikileaks connection into focus: “What’s Happening in Tunisia Explained.” Joe Coscarelli at the VV‘s Runnin’ Scared blog also has a post up called “Tunisia in Turmoil: Where to Learn the Most Quickly“ with some good links to CNN, Salon, and an AOL News piece by Theunis Bates.
Also, saw this story on Runnin’ Scared while I was there — it’s a bizarre headline that I heard yesterday as well: “Pac Man to Get Reality Series…“ I’m a child of the ’80s. I grew up on Pac Man. I really don’t get it. The blogger at VV says suggests that this is the moment “‘reality tv’ jumped the shark.” Funny, I would have said that television jumped the shark with infotainment and reality tv!
And, while we’re on the subject of games–in national political news, looks like the RNC played musical chairs on Friday. “CNN: RNC bounces Steele, taps Wisconsin GOP leader as new chairman.” The NYT has more info on the new head of the RNC, Reince Priebus.
Over at US News & World Report‘s Washington Whispers blog, Paul Bedard has the scoop on Ron Reagan’s upcoming book: “Reagan Son Claims Dad Had Alzheimer’s as President.”
I have a lot of ground to cover from this week, so stay tuned for more after the fold. Read the rest of this entry »
The U.S. economy still shrank in second quarter 2009 but at a much lower pace than was anticipated. That’s a pretty good indicator that the bottom or trough of The Great Recession may be near. Here’s the precise release from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).
Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — decreased at an annual rate of 1.0 percent in the second quarter of 2009, (that is, from the first quarter to the second), according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP decreased 6.4 percent.
While the many recent indicators show the recession is loosing some of its downward momentum, there are few economists ready to sing Happy Days are Here Again. The NYT’s coverage of the statistical release continues to bring up some of the same concerns we’ve discussed here before.
The economy’s long, churning decline leveled off significantly in the second quarter, as stock markets started to recover, corporate profits bounced back, housing markets stabilized and the rampant pace of job losses tapered off. Declines in business investment leveled off, and the economy was aided by big increases in government spending at the federal, state and local levels.
“We’re in a deep hole, and now we’ve got to dig ourselves out of it, which is a very difficult task,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, said.
But consumer spending fell by 1.2 percent as Americans put more than 5 percent of their disposable income into savings. Economists are concerned that consumer spending, which makes up 70 percent of the economy, will not rebound as long as employers keep cutting jobs and trimming wages.
From the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) policy statement earlier today:
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that the economy continues to contract. Job losses, declining equity and housing wealth, and tight credit conditions have weighed on consumer sentiment and spending. Weaker sales prospects and difficulties in obtaining credit have led businesses to cut back on inventories and fixed investment. U.S. exports have slumped as a number of major trading partners have also fallen into recession. Although the near-term economic outlook is weak, the Committee anticipates that policy actions to stabilize financial markets and institutions, together with fiscal and monetary stimulus, will contribute to a gradual resumption of sustainable economic growth.
In light of increasing economic slack here and abroad, the Committee expects that inflation will remain subdued. Moreover, the Committee sees some risk that inflation could persist for a time below rates that best foster economic growth and price stability in the longer term.
In these circumstances, the Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote economic recovery and to preserve price stability. The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and anticipates that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period.
It goes on to state that its goal is to bring long term rates down farther by buying “up to an additional $750 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities”, “$300 billion of longer-term Treasury securities over the next six months” and “agency debt this year by up to $100 billion”. The Fed is aggressively using its balance sheet to inject liquidity into the financial system since the already low fed funds rate target is technically as low as it can get now. The Fed is hinting that we may be looking at the recession’s trough soon. Given the release of today’s 1st Quarter GDP, we can only hope and pray.
From Market Watch:
The central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee said that spending has stabilized and that the pace of the downturn appeared to be somewhat slower. The economy could remain weak in coming month but policy actions and “market forces” were aligned to create a gradual upturn, the statement said.
Fed watchers saw little drama in today’s announcement.
“The only major difference between today’s statement and the previous one on March 18 is that today’s cited the fact that most evidence points to a slowing rate of economic decline. Anyone with two eyes and a brain knows this to be the case,” wrote Josh Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc. in a note to clients.
Economists had expected the policy-setting panel to maintain the status quo. The FOMC kept its target interest rate unchanged at an ultra-low 0%-to-0.25% range.
The economy has fared dismally over the past six months — collapsing by the sharpest rate in more than 50 years. The unemployment rate has spiked and business investment has slowed.