Friday, September 03, 2004

Payrolls meet expectations at +144k, unemployment 5.4% 

Nothing in the 100-200k range can't be spun one way or the other. Thus, news within the range of expectations helps Bush by not taking away from his performance at the convention. That the unemployment rate ticks down a notch definitely helps him. The reality is that this is pretty weak stuff for the middle of a recovery. Its a level of job creeation that barely keeps pace with population growth.

Around 2:30am my time on CNNfn, a GOP spokesman (Dylan Glenn) felt confident enough in the payroll number to explicitly cite it in his talking points. He flatly stated that it would act as a "wind at the back" of Bush. Fairly bold move, I thought. 'Course, no one was watching.

Much of the importance of today's employment number stemmed from its release only 10 hours after Bush's speech. This increased the media focus, and magnified the attention on the number as some sort of economic referendum.

The utter unpredictability of these numbers of late has added to the drama. Though there will be other stories, Kerry can still effectively hammer on the "jobs" topic until election day.

I've been of the opinion that last month's number was more important, because it continued a bad trend and prevented any possibility of three solid numbers in a row prior to the election. Today's number was a "push", so perhaps the final employment number in October will get some inordinate attention. Interestingly, the impact of both Florida hurricanes will be reflected in that one number, which might skew it considerably.

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Thursday, September 02, 2004

That Texan wink 

[First, apologies to Internet Explorer users, who may have to scroll down to see this post. I'm trying to correct the problem.]

Surely most of my impressions of President Bush's successful acceptance speech will be covered at length by others. One potentially revealing subtlety I will alert you to is the wink he gave someone after this line (my emph):

Today, the government of a free Afghanistan is fighting terror, Pakistan is capturing terrorist leaders, Saudi Arabia is making raids and arrests, Libya is dismantling its weapons programs, the army of a free Iraq is fighting for freedom, and more than three-quarters of al-Qaida's key members and associates have been detained or killed.

(GWB winks to someone on his left-- probably to a congressman in the know)

After earlier relaying the rumored Osama bin Laden capture (via, plus the largely unexplained market rally... well, let's just say my spidey sense is tingling. Does Bush have a surefire "subject-changer" if tomorrow's job numbers underwhelm, or if ongoing investigations get uncomfortable? I took that wink as a confident "Yes".

Am I reading into things? Sure. It's what I'm good at. There's a better than even chance an announcement will be made within the fortnight.

Update: Having reviewed the video on Fox, I'm either mistaken or the editing on the internet stream is different from what I saw on television (Fox). It's at the very beginning of Part 3. I remember it clearly, and the internet video only returns to GWB after he begins the next sentence. Either they changed the editing (probably throughout) which clipped out the wink, or I've been reading far too many conspiracy theories of late.
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Uncanny Prescience 

When the Dow rockets up a hundred points for no discernible reason, speculation is impossible to contain.

"It's a nice little bounce here -- but why?" said Joe Liro, equity strategist at Stone & McCarthy Research Associates who said it's difficult to put a lot of weight on these daily moves because volumes have been so light.

As you know, there's another huge payroll number coming out tomorrow morning. Even the media is building up its importance, as it is released the morning after GWB's acceptance speech. The report is supposed to be an absolute secret, but last month Billmon suspected that it has been getting leaked:
Over the past six months or so, I've developed a sneaking suspicion that some key economic reports may be leaking out early.

It isn't anything I can prove - just a sense I've had several times recently that the market was uncannily prescient in anticipating numbers, particularly employment numbers, that were not in line with the consensus forecast.

Where the leaks might be coming from - if, indeed, they exist at all - I can't say. I know from my past life as an economics reporter that most of the key numbers are passed to the Federal Reserve a day or two ahead of release, and I seem to recall - though I wouldn't swear by it - that the White House's Council of Economic Advisors gets a heads up as well.

Recall that the market made a big downward move during the last trading hour of the day before July's unemployment report. So what does today's afternoon rally indicate? Perhaps that tomorrow's number will surpass current expectations (+150k/5.5%), despite the mixed data of late. Who knows, really. Last month the market dropped ahead of the July report, but the number was still a genuine surprise, and stocks experienced one of their worst days of the year that Friday.

Of course the rumor mill is buzzing, saying that Osama's bin caught. From

there was also market chatter about the capture of Osama bin Laden, which was reported on the somewhat obscure Web site A Sept 2. report cited U.S. security sources as saying the fugitive had been captured in Pakistan.

What a timely present for the third anniversary of 9/11!

Also, having grown up in the Daytona Beach area I'm very concerned about hurricane Frances. Just looking at a map, you'd think Florida's east coast would get hammered by storms every year. Actually it's exceedingly rare. Threatening hurricanes usually miss to the south and enter the Gulf, or veer up into the North Atlantic. This one, a real monster, looks like it will plough into central Florida and into the heart of the southeast. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the area. Let's hope it weakens or turns.

I'm curious as to whether Bush will make mention of this approaching catastrophe headed for a swing state. Additionally, if the payroll survey disappoints tomorrow, many supply-side apologists will blame Hurricane Charley (though the surveys were almost completely finished before the storm actually hit). But this time it seems Frances could significantly affect next month's numbers. We'll just have to wait and see. If interested, check YRHT tomorrow morning. I'll have amateur commentary right after the "official" release which I'll view on CNBC.
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A witch's brew of Decadence and Decalogues 

There will be some street theater this weekend as New Orleans hosts thirty thousand Southern Baptists and sixty thousand gays and lesbians. Mix it up!
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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Two hour wait for three seconds with Elvis 

I would not describe the moment as magical, but it was nice to shake President Bill Clinton's hand again and get his autograph. He seems to have aged 20 years in the past decade, though he still looks good-- just in an older Robert Redford way. Bubba can motor, too. He really kept the line moving, signing at a blazing clip. I'd forgotten he was left-handed, which enables him to simultaneously sign his name, shake hands, and say thank you. You've got two seconds to say something or move on. No pictures, hugs, or special moments (for most). I'm sure he averaged five seconds per signature.

What a great crowd, though. A perfect Louisiana mosaic, in every way. Even some Republicans were there-- happily, too, I might add. People were having fun in the sweltering heat, sweating, joking, laughing, talking politics... And my gracious did people dress up for the event! I'm talking people in their Sunday best! Young women were dressed to the nines, giggling, applying make up, and squealing with excitement when they saw him in person. The Big Dog still has game, though he didn't take notice, for the most part, unless it was a familiar face or a youngster. When a child approached he'd visibly brighten, stop, and chat for a while. He asked the kids questions, and personalize something in their book. Bill was friendly, but could only spend a few seconds with each person. I thanked him on behalf of friends and family who could not see him this visit. Since it was a rather unremarkable encounter, I thought I'd provide the vignette from '92 about my first meeting with him.

In January of '92, I met Gov. Clinton at a campaign stop in San Antonio. The "event" was in a reception hall in one of the downtown hotels, and it rained that night so only about 50 people were there. Since I'm a political junkie, I'd been following Clinton for six months, but hardly anyone else knew much about him. (That would change drastically in a few short weeks). I was pretty excited to see him, because I'd seen Clinton speak on TV and liked his chances to win. Characteristically, I went to the event underdressed (punk t-shirt, stained coat...). There were some Tsongas Democrats from my school who went as well, but-- especially after the Dukakis experience-- I thought they were crazy, and hung out by myself.

Anyways, Clinton enters from the front doors(?), late, walking quickly towards the stage from the back of the crowd. I happened to be in between him and his goal, so I extended my hand, introduced myself, and told him I was a supporter. He thanked me, gave that earnest, bit-lip "I can listen all day to your important concerns" look. I babbled something about being from Trinity University, and he listened some more, giving me all the time in the world. I complimented him some more, and he thanked me again and made his way to the stage. Now, Bill Clinton is listed at 6'2" (my height) but he utterly dominated me in terms of physical presence. The man is big.

Hillary introduced him, in a very passionate, fiery speech. "We know that if you're going to carry Texas, you've got to carry south Texas!!..." Despite nearly cackling at the ridiculous optimism of the sentiment, I was impressed how driven both of them appeared. You'd never know the attendance was so poor, or that anything was below expectations. Then Bill began his memorized stump speech, and quickly got rolling. With each turn of phrase and welcoming gesture, he drew the small crowd in closer. At first there was only a smattering of applause after some of his lines. But instead of ploughing ahead in frustration, he'd ad lib and encourage the audience: "Go ahead, you can applaud that", he would say. That tactic really worked; a professional, polished move that warmed the atmosphere. Thus, encouraged, the crowd began clapping ouder and louder after each campaign promise. His awesome connectivity from the stump was working, and people started cheering more and more with genuine enthusiasm. He impressed everyone (even the gloomy Tsongists), and most remarkably, he never revealed the slightest disappointment in the paltry crowd.

What makes the episode cool is that, while delivering his speech, he effortlessly wove our conversation into his spiel about rising tuition costs. He improvised: "I bet you that tuition at Trinity University has risen much faster than the rate of inflation..." (Not a risky statement, but still, I was terribly impressed at his skill. Now, unfortunately Trinity is considered something of an ivory tower institution in San Antonio, so I don't think that line won him many votes.) But I was totally charmed.

Improbably, I think there is a very short clip of this event in the "War Room" documentary of Clinton's '92 campaign-- I'll have to cue it up on Netflix and review it again in detail.

As an unrelated side note and preview of an upcoming post, during the wait two different people mentioned that LBJ was either a "creep" or the guy that killed "poor Kennedy". Incendiary stuff, to be sure, but totally unprompted and directly relevant to some books I'm currently reading.
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O Captain! My Captain! 

Rise up--for you the flag is flung--for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths--for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Billmon, are you still at sea? The magnificently important payroll number wil be released the morning after Bush's speech. The last two underwhelming months have set up a HUGE downside risk for Dubya. Your unerring forecast on this matter would be appreciated. Or must we go this alone?
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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Word to the Prez? 

I've got a ticket to get a wristband to wait in line for Clinton's book signing (tomorrow at B & N, Metiaire). It starts at 3pm and he's scheduled to sign a thousand copies.

Any messages you'd like me to pass along to the Big Dog?

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Monday, August 30, 2004

Big Dog to make pawprint 

Wednesday, Bill Clinton will be signing 1000 books at the Metairie Barnes & Noble on Veterans. People can start lining up tomorrow at 9am, according to the store. Wristbands will be distributed the next day at 7am for entrance to the 3pm signing.

So they're expecting people to camp overnight for ten seconds with Elvis and his signature? Goodness.

Here's an excerpt from "My Life" that was reprinted in Da Paper (my emph):

"For more than fifty years, from that first trip, New Orleans has always had a special fascination for me. I love its music, food, people, and spirit. When I was fifteen, my family took a vacation to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and I got to hear Al Hirt, the great trumpeter, in his own club. At first they wouldn't let me in because I was underage. As Mother and I were about to walk away, the doorman told us that Hirt was sitting in his car reading just around the corner, and that only he could let me in. I found him -- in his Bentley, no less -- tapped on the window, and made my case. He got out, took Mother and me into the club, and put us at a table near the front. He and his group played a great set -- it was my first live jazz experience. Al Hirt died while I was President. I wrote his wife and told her the story, expressing my gratitude for a big man's long ago kindness to a boy.

"When I was in high school, I played the tenor saxophone solo on a piece about New Orleans called Crescent City Suite. I always thought I did a better job on it because I played with memories of my first sight of the city. When I was twenty-one, I won a Rhodes scholarship in New Orleans. I think I did well in the interview in part because I felt at home there. When I was a young law professor, Hillary and I had a couple of great trips to New Orleans for conventions, staying at a quaint little hotel in the French Quarter, the Cornstalk. When I was governor of Arkansas, we played in the Sugar Bowl there, losing to Alabama in one of the legendary Bear Bryant's last great victories. At least he was born and grew up in Arkansas! When I ran for President, the people of New Orleans twice gave me overwhelming victory margins, assuring Louisiana's electoral votes for our side.

"Now I have seen most of the world's great cities, but New Orleans will always be special -- for coffee and beignets at the Morning Call on the Mississippi; for the music of Aaron and Charmaine Neville, the old guys at Preservation Hall, and the memory of Al Hirt; for jogging through the French Quarter in the early morning; for amazing meals at a host of terrific restaurants with John Breaux, Sheriff Harry Lee, and my other pals; and most of all, for those first memories of my mother. They are the magnets that keep pulling me down the Mississippi to New Orleans."

Thanks to Mr. Clinton for some fine words about this town. In January of '92, I got to meet and briefly talk with him on the campaign trail. Perhaps I'll describe it in a later post. It's a cute little story, though it can't beat partying with him at a Fais-do-do.
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A deep background 

We've witnessed the lengths the Bush administration will go to stage presidential appearances, as well as their awesome attention to all visual details. The GOP is similarly known for consistently good presentation and stagecraft at their nominating conventions. So, I paid special attention to these things while checking in on the dull convention speeches this afternoon.

They've got this huge screen behind the speakers, with a digital backdrop that appears to be "in motion". Today it showed a massive blue background with huge white stars, like the flag, slowly rising and falling as if in the wind. Initially, it looks new and cool. Then you feel a faint bit of motion-sickness-- or, at least I did. The slow rhythmic background juxtaposed with a stiff Republican focal point made me queasy. I really do think it was the image, though, and not my partisanship.

Apparently, there will be an innovative "theater in the round"-type spectacle scheduled for later-- perhaps for Bush's Thursday acceptance speech. He'll walk out to an island stage in a sea of GOP delegates. Should be another striking visual. But, I must wonder if the much- ballyhooed percentage increase in GOP minority delegates (up to 20%) is going to show through on TV. Will it appear overwhelmingly white, or fairly representative? How will it compare to the highly diverse Democrat delegates? And, most interestingly, how do the powers-that-be WANT it to compare?

Something I'll notice, anyways.

Louisiana boasts, I think, the 3rd highest % of minority state delegates in NYC.
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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Bush's National Guard Service was Heroic 

Only less so than Kerry's:

"I think him going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets"

Now, now George, don't sell yourself short. Heroism has a thousand faces, and your intrepid mug is surely one of them.

The Monk responds to my economics post.
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All the world's a stage... for family therapy 

"By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!" -- Oh, how Poppy loved the national healing that resulted after we liberated the Kuwaiti monarchy.

When fondling Saddam's handgun last year, did Dubya feel like he exorcised a family demon as well? "By God, I got the guy who tried to kill my daddy. And we kicked that Gulf War Syndrome once and for all!"

One wonders: by God, whose ass will we be kicking next decade? Any bets on whether it will be an "ally" we're currently arming? And will the "Iraq syndrome" still afflict us, and need a once and for all treatment?

Most ominously, will Jeb(!) be doing the wartime exulting?

thx to Norbizness for the "Hamlet factor" link.
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