Monday, October 27, 2003

...the (much improved) New York Times....

--Andrew Sullivan, 10/24/03

I can see why Andy feels that way -- yesterday Joel Brinkley of the Times rewrote Bush administration talking points for this article telling us that the glass is far more than half full in Baghdad:

...When school reopened on Oct. 1, hundreds of parents, afraid for their children, waited out front at the end of the day to walk their children home. Now very few do.

On Friday evening, the American authorities lifted the curfew on Baghdad starting early Sunday morning, saying life here was returning to normal. Across the city on Saturday, numerous Iraqis agreed and provided ample evidence. Streets swarmed with people shopping and socializing. Coffee houses were packed. Families strolled; vendors clogged the sidewalks.

...At the Ratidain state bank, Hussein Salman, an accountant, sat on a bag holding eight million dinars, or $4,000, in small bills. He was waiting to deposit it — something he would have thought twice about before the war.

"It's safer to use banks now because there's more stability," he said. One reason for the stability was the American M1 Abrams tank outside the front door with its gun pointed at the street. Inside, around Mr. Salman, the lobby teemed with three dozen people waiting for a teller. Before the war, "it was never crowded," he said. "Almost nobody came here."

To be sure, significant security problems remain....

Yeah, they sure do.

Here's the latest Times update:

Over 200 Are Wounded at Red Cross and 4 Police Posts

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 27 - A series of blasts shook Baghdad early today, including a suicide attack on the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross and bombings at five Iraqi police stations that punctuated two days of bloody violence in this capital city.

Iraq's police chief and deputy interior minister, Ahmad Ibrahim, said at a news conference that 34 people were killed and 224 were wounded in the attacks. He said 26 of the dead were civilians and eight were police. Sixty-five policemen and 159 civilians were wounded in the blasts, he said....


Today the White House spin points that show up in the Times are economic. They're on view in the paper's lead story (or at least in the headline and lead paragraphs:

Gains in Wages Expected to Give Economy a Lift

On balance this story says the glass is half full, and quite possibly on its way to overflowing. The headline did what it was supposed to do: Bob Edwards, introducing Cokie Roberts on NPR this morning, cited the story as a suggestion that prosperity really might be just around the corner.

But read the fine print:

The wage gains have not been enough to overcome the economy's problems, however. Many families still have less income than they did a year ago because companies have reduced their workers' hours, and health care costs have risen rapidly. But economists say that the wage raises have provided a buffer....

So workers don't really have more money -- they just have more money than they would have had if they had less money. Following me so far?

And, as a sidebar chart points out, overall income would still be down if not for the effects of mini-windfalls that won't be repeated, such as mortgage refinancings and the recent tax cut (many parents got checks over the summer).

And not everyone's doing well:

"What seems to be happening is that companies that are staying in business want to hold onto the people they have," Stephen R. Sleigh, director of strategic resources at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which has negotiated annual pay increases of more than 3 percent on most recent contracts. "It's a very unusual labor market right now."...

SAS, a software maker based in Cary, N.C., has reduced the amount of money it pays to employees from its profit-sharing plan as business has weakened in the last two years. But SAS has increased salaries 4 to 5 percent a year on average, with most of the raises going to the employees whom executives fear losing the most, said Jeff Chambers, vice president of human resources at the company, which employs 5,000 people in this country.

"We've made money available to people who have the magic — the critical performers in the critical roles," Mr. Chambers said.

So some people get fired, and life sucks for those people, but hey -- wage increases are (barely) over inflation if you "have the magic"!

And, of course:

Over all, workers at the very bottom of the income distribution are among the only ones whose hourly wages have trailed inflation recently.


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