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7.20.2004

Now taking bets... 

...on how many young lefty men will be taking part in the Bush twins' live chat on Friday.  I'd love to be the person who screens the questions.  Four words:  Pee-your-pants funny. Thanks to TBogg for the link.

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Just a dumb funny. 

The caption on this picture of Bush & the twins.  (The picture isn't very interesting, it's just the caption.)
President Bush (news - web sites), helps her twin daughters Jenna, center, and Barbara, right, board Marine One as they leave the White House for a trip to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and St. Charles, Mo., Tuesday, July 20, 2004, in Washington. Barbara and Jenna, are making joint appearances with their dad on the campaign trail, for the first time. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(obviously, the emphasis mine)  Also, what up with the grammar in the second sentence?  Is that correct AP style, or is it just me that the comma splices give the willies to?
 
Small things, people.  Small things.

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Yes, Virginia, there are Two Americas 

John Edwards, bless his precious little heart, was right.

The WSJ reports today (on the front page, no less) on the economic recovery. They basically say what Dems have been saying all along: that the tax breaks disproportionately benefitted the wealthy.
With the U.S. economy expanding and the labor market improving, it isn't clear how well the Democrats' message of a divided America will resonate with voters this fall. But many economists believe the economic recovery has indeed taken two tracks...
Um, but if 'Murica is divided, and even you guys will put it on the front page, it'll resonate more. Thanks, WSJ!
Upper-income families, who pay the most in taxes and reaped the largest gains from the tax cuts President Bush championed, drove a surge of consumer spending a year ago that helped to rev up the recovery. Wealthier households also have been big beneficiaries of the stronger stock market, higher corporate profits, bigger dividend payments and the boom in housing.

Lower- and middle-income households have benefited from some of these trends, but not nearly as much. For them, paychecks and day-to-day living expenses have a much bigger effect. Many have been squeezed, with wages under pressure and with gasoline and food prices higher.
Okay, if gasoline and food are two of your biggest expenses as a percent of take-home pay, yep, that's right. The article quotes Bush talking about the child tax credit, and, to be fair, he's right, $2700 does mean a lot more to me than it does to someone who makes over $100k, but number one, I don't have a kid, and number two, if it means that little, why do they want to protect their precious tax cuts? I mean, if the upper crust, George, see money on a different scale from the rest of us, and if it's so much less important, let them freaking do without just a little sliver of it, huh? It'd mean so much more to those of us who aren't your "base."

Moving on.
"To date, the [recovery's] primary beneficiaries have been upper-income households," concludes Dean Maki, a J.P. Morgan Chase (and former Federal Reserve) economist who has studied the ways that changes in wealth affect spending. In research he sent to clients this month, Mr. Maki said, "Two of the main factors supporting spending over the past year, tax cuts and increases in [stock] wealth, have sharply benefited upper income households relative to others."

....

Mr. Maki of J.P. Morgan Chase estimates that in terms of dollars saved, the top 20% of households by income got 77% of the benefit of the 2003 tax cuts, and roughly 50% of the 2001 tax cuts. And of stocks held by households, roughly 75% are owned by the top 20% of those households. That made them prime beneficiaries of last year's stock-market rally, although also big sufferers from the stock carnage from 2000 to 2002.
Oh, poor stockholders. Those people who don't have any stock investments know it hurt a couple years ago and would feel sorry for you, but the good thing about the stock market is that it generally has positive returns over the long run, so really you're fine and they don't, you big, asset-owning babies. (I get company stock grants and purchase some myself, I'm a big, asset-owning baby as well, or I would be if I whined about how my poor stock portfolio went down the toilet. I'm lucky to have any at all and I'll continue to appreciate it, thanks. No whining here.)
The affluent also benefit more from stock dividends, on which the federal income-tax rate was cut last year retroactive to the start of 2003. Total dividend payments have risen 11% to $3 billion since the end of 2002, estimates Berkeley's Mr. Saez. Higher-income households also are larger beneficiaries of the surge in corporate earnings, which helps to drive dividend and stock returns. The level of corporate profits has risen 42% since the last recession, which ended in the final quarter of 2001. Wage and salary income is up just 6.3% in that time.
Ack! Did I read that right??? Just 6.3%? Versus 42% for corporate profits? Wow, well, at least we can buy more of what those companies produce, right?
Average hourly earnings have risen at just a 1.9% annual rate since the job market started improving notably last August. Meanwhile, the consumer-price index -- driven by higher food and gasoline prices -- has risen at a 3.3% annual pace. The average worker's purchasing power, in other words, has declined even as more people have been finding jobs since August.
Oh, guess I was wrong, then.
Weekly earnings for production workers and nonsupervisors at service companies, adjusted for inflation, were down 2.6% in June from a year earlier. This slip might be transitory, and it wasn't anywhere near the drops of 5% to 7.5% registered in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Still, it was the largest decline since 1991, and it is a shift from the late 1990s and even the 2001 recession, when real wages were increasing.
But if you lived on less than $300/week, you'd notice that ten bucks, wouldn't you?
As a result, after rising last year, the University of Michigan's consumer confidence index for lower-income households is off 12% so far this year. Confidence among the affluent is lower as well, but by a smaller 6.7%.
Um, duh?
The recovering job market and an easing of food- and gasoline-price increases could reverse some of today's pressures. But these aren't the only issues hanging over lower-income households. Many are also highly exposed to rising interest rates, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com, because these households were more likely to take out adjustable-rate mortgages to squeeze into an ever-pricier housing market. For those who don't own homes, the chances of buying have become more remote as house prices have soared....Many in this group are also getting squeezed as health-care costs rise and companies seek to shift the burden to workers. From 2000 to 2003, employees' average annual out-of-pocket expenses for family medical premiums rose 49% to $2,412, according to an employer survey by Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Menlo Park, Calif.
Sort of leaves us with a pretty clear choice, doesn't it? If you're an asset-owning baby, go give some moolah.

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Arafat, schmarafat. 

The latest, in which Palestinian PM Qureia quits, and Arafat refuses his resignation,over the unrest following Arafat's appointment (and subsequent removal) of his cousin to head up security forces.
The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, yesterday called on Yasser Arafat to put the people before his own interests amid a growing challenge to the Palestinian leader over corruption and cronyism.
In unusually direct criticism of Mr Arafat from within the Palestinian government, Mr Qureia said he had not withdrawn the resignation letter he submitted at the weekend during a spate of kidnappings, violence and protests in the Gaza strip over high-level corruption and Mr Arafat's appointment of a close relative to a top security job.
The prime minister said that Mr Arafat, who is popularly known as Abu Amr, should recognise that "Palestinian citizens are in deep need".
"Enough, enough," he said. "Put the people's interest first. ... Oh brother Abu Amr, it is time to put the right person in the right place."
Mr Arafat attempted to quell the unrest yesterday by sacking his cousin, Moussa Arafat, two days after he appointed him security chief.

I wonder what would happen in Gaza if Arafat were not the head of the Palestinian government. Would those in his government who criticize him change the tenor of the Palestinian debate? Would corruption be less widespread, and would the first vestiges of a rational solution to the turmoil in Gaza appear? Qureia's rhetoric suggests that possibility. Thoughts?

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This outrages them? 

Linda Ronstadt apparently dedicated a song to Michael Moore and has now been blackballed from Aladdin's casino in Vegas. The freepers can't stop talking about how fat she is, but I'm with Moore, who issued this challenge:
"I have an idea how you can make it up to her -- and to the millions of Americans you have offended," Moore wrote.
"Invite her back and I'll join her in singing America the Beautiful on your stage. Then I will show Fahrenheit 9/11 free of charge to all your guests and anyone else in Las Vegas who wants to see it."

Apparently this isn't a new thing, seeing as how she started doing this on June 30. The reviewer in the Washington Post says:
The biggest excitement of the night, by a long shot, came when Ronstadt then dedicated her encore of "Desperado" to filmmaker Michael Moore, kick-starting a boo-cheer competition throughout the venue that drowned out her singing and left grown-ups in tuxes and evening gowns yelling at each other on their way to the parking lot.
Ooh, classy.

ETA: She didn't "start" doing this on June 30 - she started it whenever the tour started. Oops.

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