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Michael Ubaldi, April 23, 2004.
If you say our economy "isn't good," you'd better finish with "...as it's going to get." The last several months have been heralds, not sputterings. Numbers are moving up and staying up:
Orders to factories for durable goods, such as cars and machinery, rose a strong 3.4% in March, fresh evidence that the economic recovery is bounding ahead. The sizable increase in durable-goods orders came after an even better 3.8% advance in February, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Durable goods are items expected to last at least three years. The strength in March was broad based and far exceeded the 0.7% increase economists were forecasting. The encouraging news on manufacturing activity in March joins other good economic reports for the month: Retail sales were brisk and the economy, after months of sluggish payrolls growth, added a whopping 308,000 jobs, the most in four years.
Michael Ubaldi, April 20, 2004.
Rasmussen Reports reflects on how our two parties struggle for and win the White House. Funnily enough, the more things change, the more they stay the same:
These [above] trends have something to do with the origins of the current party structure during the Civil War. Republicans were the Union Party. Democrats were the opposition party. In many instances, all that held Democrats together was their dislike of the GOP. That is certainly the case today--Democrats are more united by their dislike of Bush than by their support of Senator Kerry.
Michael Ubaldi, April 16, 2004.
Via Andrew Sullivan, taking the Democratic presidential candidate to task (and precluding any criticism from me for the next several weeks or so):
No flip-flop here: "Senator, I will say this. I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satisfy their felt needs, and you can satisfy those needs with almost any kind of political structure, giving it one name or the other. In this name it is democratic; in others it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist." - John F. Kerry, Congressional Testimony, April 22, 1971.
Michael Ubaldi, April 16, 2004.
In recent months, nearly every financial debate panel's resident grump has predicted a slump in housing. Their finger wagging, thankfully, was in vain:
U.S. housing starts surged ahead of expectations in March, posting their biggest monthly gain since May 2003, a government report showed on Friday. Building permits, an indication of builder confidence, also jumped more than expected on anticipation that mortgage rates not far above four-decade lows would lure still more buyers. Homebuilders broke ground at a seasonally adjusted rate of 2.007 million units last month, a 6.4 percent climb from a revised 1.887 million pace in February, the Commerce Department said. Analysts polled by Reuters were expecting a more modest 1.900 million unit clip.
Michael Ubaldi, April 15, 2004.
James Taranto and the Best of the Web:
John Kerry has been on a tour of college campuses in the Northeastern U.S., and the New York Times reports on an odd comment he made yesterday at the University of Rhode Island:"There are so many young people now who take time out of college to actually go give back to their community locally, but they don't want to be involved in national politics," he added, "because they don't think they're going to get the same reward that they will get just working quietly, locally, and doing something you can measure, and actually get something done.
I make an analogy to foodstuffs: Imagine you have a near-empty gallon-jug of ice cream. If someone asked, you can confidently reply that you have ice cream in the house. But if six friends popped over and wanted ice cream, you'd either serve only a couple or dish out a half-scoop to each. The old ice cream just couldn't go as far as it did when you brought it into the house. And so it goes with the community. It's simple physics and legality that new residents can only move into a city where vacancy is available. If a city is numerically well-populated but is highly represented by the elderly, who can't get out as much as they used to, its volunteer works are left paralyzed by a large demographic that is, in a sense, ethereal: living next door but no longer attending meetings, festivals or helping at church. There, but not there. Only when they pass on can people possibly return to clubs, commissions and pews.
This phenomenon contributes - but only partially, I'm afraid. While the surrounding district is decidedly aged itself, my city is populated by all ages - and young families or singles, who will inevitably replace the elderly, appear to be on the rise. Disconnection from all but one's immediate friends and neighbors is an unfortunate element of urbanization but my city is decidedly suburban. Build-out mercifully prevents us from sprawl.
What we contend with is a decline in participation, as citizens have been led to believe that community involvement is no longer a living necessity nor a social more. Whether the cause is a shift of the public's expectation of all services to come from government rather than the local, private community, brought on by the ill-fated socialism of the Great Society; or simply a devolution of counterculture cynicism, the empty reward of raising young people with expectations of self-centered work and success without residence or commitment; is open to debate.
To be fair, especially to my friend OX, who simply could not pursue a career (or be insulted by Oprah Winfrey at Oscar parties) living far outside of Los Angeles, many younger professionals must relocate to the big cities. But far too many college graduates run for the nearest coastal skyline without a clear strategy or even immediate job prospects. They mistake the size of urbanity for an abundance of opportunity while at the same time designating their smaller hometown - no matter how full of potential - as a blastpad to be left hundreds of miles behind them, never forgotten but never returned to, either. The allure of tending the world's fulcrum keeps many away from the quiet of flyover country. While I confess to much more intellectual interest in grander, world-scale issues, my time is well spent in the places and with the people of the city around me. Needless to say, I don't meet many others my age.
I exchanged e-mails with National Review contributor Stanley Kurtz on the powerful essay by Joseph Epstein entitled "The Perpetual Adolescent." He recommended a book by Alan Ehrenhalt, The Lost City. Mindful of my surroundings today and the future of my country, I'll be picking that up soon. For those of you between eighteen and thirty reading this: for goodness' sake, sign up!
Michael Ubaldi, April 8, 2004.
Andrew Sullivan, spinning so much that NASA ought to hire him as a centrifuge:
This war is for the future against the past, for representative government against a vicious theocratic dictatorship from the Leninist vanguards of the Sadrists. The president needs to tell the people this. His failure to communicate what is actually going on, why we're there, what we're doing, and what the stakes are is the prime current fault of the administration. We need a real speech and a thorough explanation of what is going on. We need an honest, candid, clear war-president. Where is he?
This is a massive and difficult undertaking - it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed - and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran - that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.
Bush said that the Dutch should "think about the Iraqi citizens who don't want people to withdraw because they want to be free."
AH, BUT: Sullivan's posted a Marine's unflinching, inspiring look at a situation no one but the Few and the Proud could tackle - with his own encouragement in the footer. That's easily the most relevant, compelling grasp of Iraq and Fallujah I've read all week. I wouldn't have found it anywhere but the Dish - so a corresponding critique of Kerry can wait. As I say often, I take comfort in the fact that most of us are after the same things in life.
Michael Ubaldi, April 7, 2004.
Yes, I knew that he enjoyed working on and watching the documentary film I hated. And I knew he had some questions about postwar Iraq. But I suppose I was a little taken aback to hear that a friend of mine, a right-leaning individualist who voted for Clinton in 1996 and Bush in 2000, was back in the general electorate free agency - and considering John Kerry as president. Leftists and partisans supporting the Democratic presidential nominee aren't surprising, nor are the unknown number of independents who will eventually cast a vote for the Massachusetts senator. Spelled out over the phone, the news did not need to be haggled over then and there - my friend tells me he reads the site every day and is "still undecided." But what struck me was the one justification he did mention was this: "I think there's the possibility for some misleading to have gone on in regards to Iraq." Now, that in particular is a topic for which my paper trail is pretty long; one can start here or here and work their way back to early summer of 2003. My prevailing question for my friend - and for anyone who isn't necessarily hostile to Bush, simply questioning his entitlement to reelection on foreign policy grounds - is this: how would Kerry be a better Commander-in-Chief? How would he be a different leader in wartime, especially in a war as ideologically and culturally unprecedented as the one we face now?
Yes, I have my loyalties, but the question isn't meant to be loaded. While working, I spent the morning pondering the question myself. At lunch, I heard Rush playing audio segments of John Kerry's morning interview on National Public Radio. I listened and asked out loud, "That isn't John Kerry, is it?" This is what made me incredulous, care of NewsMax:
In an interview broadcast Wednesday morning, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry defended terrorist Shiite imam Moqtada al-Sadr as a "legitimate voice" in Iraq, despite that fact that he's led an uprising that has killed nearly 20 American GIs in the last two days.
The observations and likely actions of Senator Kerry are starkly different than those of President Bush. But are Kerry's better?
[First link in third paragraph corrected.]
Michael Ubaldi, April 5, 2004.
Fox News' audience knows him as "Mister Political." Now you can know him as one of the most respected Washington journalists working on television today: the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz profiles the man Brit Hume turns to for the Capitol Hill latest, Carl Cameron.
Michael Ubaldi, April 2, 2004.
Non-farm payrolls climbed 308,000 in March, helped a bit by the return of workers after a labor dispute at California grocery stores ended, the Labor Department said. This was the biggest gain since April 2000 and well above the 103,000 rise expected on Wall Street.
Payroll growth in previous months was also revised higher, by a total of 86,000 jobs. January's gain was revised from 97,000 to 159,000 while February's was revised to 46,000 from 21,000.
A PREDICTION: If the left can't gain traction by picking apart this resplendent economic news, we should expect to soon hear about depressed neighboorhoods and the homeless.
GOOD NUMBERS: According to Scott Rasmussen, voters preferred Bush to Kerry on the economy - before today's news.
WHAT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SAY: Team Bush trumpets. Team Kerry plays killjoy, hypes the "total lost" figure I mentioned above and makes a passing reference to socialized medicine.
WHAT COMEDY IS SAYING: After September 11th I found the Onion - which, while leftward, is usually admirably good-natured when lampooning either political party - to be a little bit too glib for the gravity of world events. But while I seldom read the paper, I was impressed on this rare occasion. (Title of story is "Bush Address 8.2 Million Unemployed: 'Get a Job'" in case you find this entry after the first week of April, 2004 and wonder what in the world I'm talking about.)
Michael Ubaldi, April 2, 2004.
This does not surprise me in the least:
Computer maker Gateway Inc. (GTW) announced Thursday that it will shutter all of its stores next week, eliminating nearly 40 percent of its work force in a move aimed at breaking out of a three-year slump.
Ten minutes later, father and son pushed back the front doors of Gateway America and sauntered inside to appraise their surroundings. Modern decoration split the high-ceilinged building into dozens of levels, computers and electronics strewn across nearly every conceivable surface. Mazelike. The few walled offices were empty, as salesmen answered phones, pecked at computers or scurried around to and from small flocks of customers. My father and I stood near the doorway for a moment, then wandered into the store to catch someone's attention.
No one noticed us. Five minutes later, we looked at each other and walked straight for a salesman. A dark-haired fellow with black-rimmed glasses was speaking to three people, gesturing to various beige-plated devices. We stood nearby, a few feet from his right flank, staring at him. When he finished his pitch, the man turned away from us and led the group away. My father and I exchanged another round of glances, this time colored by an intricate blend of annoyance and bewilderment.
"Hey, guys?" we turned in unison to see another dark-haired, black-spectacled Gateway salesman. Over the next several hundred milliseconds, I don't remember whose mouth and vocal chords - Dad's or mine - began to mechanically cooperate to form an interrogative like "Yes, we're looking to buy a computer for school - can you help us?" The deeds of that verbal alliance were not to be, cut short by cruel fate.
"Hey, guys?" the salesman said again. "If you'll excuse me, I'd like to demo the model to your left for these folks." He sidestepped; I could have sworn I heard a laugh track ripple as no less than six or seven eager customers suddenly appeared behind him. "Thanks, guys," he said, pushing forward with the crowd as my father and I stumbled backwards.
There are moments when, borne on the noblest of convictions, we are yet served defeat. There are moments when, besides the eventual incrimination of alarms and sprinklers, one could build a large campfire and twirl a pig on a spit in a commercial establishment and not be noticed, much less guided towards purchase, by a paid sales employee. This was one of both of these moments. Ubaldi and son left Gateway America; sans pig, sans spit, sans service and sans computer. Most importantly, sans respect. Before climbing into the car, father chastised son when he turned and saluted the building with his culturally malapropos finger outstretched; and then the two returned home, thanking God in Heaven for Alexander Graham Bell. Muzak was to be a fair price paid for progress.
I got my computer, no thanks to Waitt's storefront dreamchild. Three years later I bought another Gateway - my last from a manufacturer, as I simply build them myself now - so the experience wasn't so traumatic to poison the business relationship. But when I read this:
"From day one, they never properly used the stores," said Stephen Baker, an analyst at NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y. "They always approached it halfheartedly and treated the stores like a stepchild. It came back to bite them."