Friday, February 01, 2008

Grim Statistics Again

Listening to President Bushes State of the Union address to the American people and their representatives duly assembled on January 28, I failed to note that nowhere in his opening paragraphs did he utter the formulaic phrase that most presidents get in early: “The State of the Union is strong.”

Just as well, as more in the radio and television world would probably have switched off their sets earlier than they did.

Of course the evidence was all around that the economy was in trouble. It was so bad that he had to be seen ass taking action to at least stop if not reverse the January trends. And he was not shy about highlighting his participation in the process as he pointed out to his listeners that he had been working with the leadership of both major political parties in the House to devise an emergency “economic stimulus” package. Worth an estimated$150 billion and featuring tax rebates and reductions, that the package was aimed not at calendar 2008 taxes but at 2007 taxes signaled how critical the White House felt the situation had become.

Separately, on January 22nd – ironically the original date for the State of the Union – the Federal Reserve Board, in what can be described only as an extraordinary and emergency conference between its regularly scheduled meetings, lowered both the federal funds (the “overnight”) rate and the discount rate by 75 basis points to 3½ and 4 percent, respectively, the largest drop in the overnight rate in 23 years. Then, a week later at their scheduled January 30th meeting – they lowered the overnight rate an additional 50 basis points to 3 percent.

Underlying these dismal events was the sub-prime lending crisis and the housing market crash. In the weeks before the speech, some of the biggest names among U.S. financial institutions were negotiating (or already had negotiated) with European and Far East competitors seeking, in some cases, billions of dollars to get through the still unfolding sub-prime lending horror. Continuing revelations led some observers to compare this debacle with the 1970s savings and loan crisis.

If that were not enough bad economic news, four days after the speech the Labor Department announced that for the first time in 52 months, the U.S. economy failed to deliver a net increase in jobs – ironically one of the “accomplishments” touted by Bush in the State of the Union

The war-related statistics for January are as grim as ever. In Iraq, 3,450 coalition troops have died from hostile action since March 19, 2003 and another 800 from non-hostile causes. Total U.S. fatalities in Iraq as of January 31 number 3,943. This month saw the first uptick in fatalities in four months – 39 – all U.S. The last time all fatalities in a month were U.S. was December 2005. Total wounded number 28,800. And in an unusual month, the number of wounded reported to date in January were five fewer than the number killed.

The Iraqi government announced that civilian deaths in January continued to decline. But today’s toll gets February off to a bloody start.

In Afghanistan seven U.S. and seven coalition troops dies in January, bring the total since October 8, 2001 to 482 U.S. and 281 coalition fatalities. Total U.S. wounded is 1,472,

And this year, February has 29 days on which people can be killed.

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