Thursday, February 24, 2005

Feb. 23, 2005

I don’t know about you, but every time I hear an economist tell us that inflation is in check, I do a double take. Again today we hear that consumer prices “edged up a tiny 0.1 percent last month.”

I don’t know what these people are measuring – or smoking – but my household inflation rate has been going up for the last two years, and by whole lot more than 1.2% a year. Every time I have to pull out my wallet these days to pay for one of life’s essentials the bill floors me. Car repairs, groceries, lumber for home repairs, dental bills for mouth repairs, gas and electric – all up. But not up in the statistics. The only device apparently sensitive enough to detect inflation seems to be my battered wallet.

I don’t know why the Consumer Price Index keeps telling us there is no inflation when we consumers out here know otherwise. Maybe they are measuring the wrong things, things people really don’t need to keep the home fires burning. But they are wrong. Inflation is not only back, but we are getting a double whammy. Here’s what I think is up.

Thanks to trade deals that gave away the farm to foreign producers, and off-shoring, US wages have dropped. When wages drop discretionary income disappears first. As wages continued to drop due to job losses, consumers cut back further on their spending and began conserving as much as they could. Lower consumer spending works to push the CPI down in ways that I do not pretend to understand.

Nevertheless, inflation is here and it is showing up in other places, such as the wholesale and producer price indexes. At the same time the CPI appears stable, wholesale prices jumped three times as fast as the CPI, 0.3 percent last month. The news is even worse when overall, or “core inflation” is measured. Last month the core inflation rate jumped 0.8 percent, the biggest increase in more than six years.

As I have said before, thanks to runaway federal deficits, outsourcing, stupid trade deals and our dependence on imported oil the dollar is worth so little today on international markets that even our allies, like South Korea, are talking about dumping the buck as their traditional investment.

Little by little Wall Street is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and that it’s coming from a train carrying Bush’s 900 pound debt chickens home to roost. The DOW tumbled 174 points yesterday, the worst drop since 2003.

There is a price to pay for living beyond ones means. When the government does it that price is paid out of our hides, and our kid’s.

Who can tell how history will treat George W. Bush’s handling of foreign policy. But his domestic fiscal policies will go down in history alongside those of Herbert Hoover.

Celebrity Beat
Government is not the sole practitioner of the art of dumb. Celebrities manage to hold their piece of that low-ground as well. Some of that was on display yesterday as SF Giant’s prize hitter, Barry Bonds, met with reporters. I have to disclose right now that I am NOT a sports fan. Okay? (I heard that... I am not gay either.)

Barry Bond -- a man who’s singular claim to fame is that he can hit a ball really hard with a stick – ranted at reporters because they continue to want to know if he took steroids. Barry does not like the question and so refuses to answer it.

"This is old stuff. It's like watching 'Sanford and Son.' It's almost comical, basically. ... Are you guys jealous, upset, disappointed, what?….. I'm not a child. You repeat those things to children and then eventually they tell you. I don't." "I don't know what cheating is."

The last comment may have come closer to the truth than Bonds’ intended.

Anyway, I am really tired of these guys – and yes, they are all guys who act this way – who are paid salaries so out of whack with their functional IQ’s that it leads them to think they actually excel at an important social skill. Such arrogance might be justified if, during the off-season, Bonds and his fellow athletes did something more with their lives than just shake down kids for autograph money and give each other congratulatory slaps on the ass. You are just ball PLAYERS.. hellooooo. And some of you are doped up ball players to boot -- Barry.

Bert and Ernestine to Marry
Speaking of annoying people, did you hear, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowls are getting hitched. What a pair. Both are as ugly as mud hens. The wedding will look like a Munster family reunion. Even Chuck’s mother refuses to attend -- the same mother that flatly refuses to allow Chuck to become King, unless it’s over her dead body. It would appear that even motherly love has its limits and Chuck has pushed them all.

Jerry Springer could not have produced a more dysfunctional crowd as the royals. But Charles has outdone them all. First he marries the most ditsy, whiney, brooding, spoiled brat that generations of blue-blood inbreeding could produce. Then she embarks on a non-stop, decade-long whine about her miserable gilded cage life, then runs off with a rich Arab and gets herself killed by her new boyfriend’s drunken chauffer. During all this Chucky is sneaking out of his pretty wife’s bed to climb into the sack with a woman who would not find takers at 1.59 A.M at Moe’s bar.

When these two wake up next to each other in the morning, which do you think screams first?

Summers of Discontent

Okay ladies, I think you can let up on Larry Summers now. At the time he said it, I noted it was a dumb thing to say, at least the way he said it. But holy menstrual cycle! The reaction from educated women has been way over the top.

On an university campus, especially Harvard, scholars should be able to talk about anything without fear the thought police will be around to serve them up a good thrashing. At the top of the list of things that should be freely discussed are the very things people don’t want to talk about. Universities are supposed to be free thought zones. Going to a college where it is dangerous to bring up sensitive subjects, like religion, race and sex, is a bit like going to a shrink who does not allow you to talk about what’s really bothering you.

Poor Larry is now so beaten up that he is beginning to sound like a internee at a Red Chinese re-education camp:

"I am determined to set a different tone," Summers said in a statement before taking questions at the standing-room-only session. (You aren't going to hit me again, are you? Can I have my pants back now?)

Anyway, knock it off Ms. Profs. and get back to setting an example of open-minded debate for your students. (Oh, and sorry about that menstrual cycle crack. Opps. I better get out of here before I end up in the dog house with Larry.)

Big Brother Beat
Conservatives like to say that government should stay out of citizen’s lives. But when they get in power they jump right into bed with us – literally. They begin defining what is and is not acceptable sex, rule that it’s alright for states to prohibit the sale of sex toys to adults, want laws passed that say two people of the same sex cannot get hitched or adopt children. And, they won’t even let us die the way we want. Which brings me to this:

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear the Bush administration's challenge to the nation's only right-to-die law, setting the stage for a showdown over whether states may permit doctors to prescribe drugs intended to end patients' lives. The justices will decide whether Oregon's Death With Dignity Act violates federal drug-control laws. The case will be argued during the court's fall term.

Now, even though Oregon voters approved the right-to-die measure twice, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft decided he’d have none of it and vowed to punish doctors who prescribed the medication to dying patients: "I hereby determine that assisting suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose," Ashcroft said.

If helping a terminal person to leave this life in a dignified and comfortable way is “not a legitimate medical purpose,” then why is helping a person into this world during child birth a legitimate medical purpose? But then again, this is the same man who was offended by a pair of 100-year old brass breasts on a statue.

But isn’t the timing interesting now? Oregon’s right-to-die case reaches the court as its own conservative Chief Justice battles terminal cancer. Two other justices have had brushes with cancer as well.

The case will not be heard until next term. By then it is likely the Court will have a new Chief Justice. But having seen such a difficult final exit up close like this may convince the Justices that the government has no business there.

Uncle Bucky Bush Cashes In

What a surprise. A Bush family member has been quietly profiting from the push to provide US troops in Iraq with the armor they were sent there originally lacking.

His name is William H.T. “Bucky” Bush and he is the uncle of the president and former President George H.W. Bush’s little bro. The Iraq war has been a windfall for Uncle Bucky by boosting the earnings to St. Louis-based defense contractor Engineered Support Systems Inc. Bucky Bush, cashed in ESSI stock options last month pocketing a quick half mil. Bucky served on ESSI’s board of directors.

Dan Kreher, vice president of industrial relations for ESSI, said of Bucky, “We've known him for a long time. Having a Bush (on the board) doesn't hurt," said Kreher.

Now, those of us who have covered the Bush family understand that this is business as usual for the clan. Neil Bush was on the board of Silverado Savings and pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from grateful borrowers.. most of whom never repaid their loans. Jeb Bush lobbied for a Miami HMO that bilked Medicare out of hundreds of millions of dollars. George W. Bush was taken care of by his Harken Energy partners after the company “beat out” major oil companies to bag a drilling contract in the Bahrain. (Full details on all those deals and more are HERE.)

Anyway, it’s nice to know that while American boys and girls are dying and being maimed for life in Iraq, that at least one Bush family member is selling them armor.

By Stephen Pizzo

Raconteur at Large

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