The economy's fourth-quarter spurt sprays a geyser of hope

While most of the folks who got jobbed out of jobs by the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression still are out of work, apparently the piranhas of fiscal destruction no longer are assembled in a deadly squadron.

The Commerce Department said today that the economy grew at a faster-than-expected 5.7 percent pace in the fourth quarter, the quickest in more than six years.

It’s time to preen … just a bit.

But before we all plunge our fists into ice buckets of champagne and fresh shrimp, perhaps it’s premature to have the hors d’oeuvres and alcohol gurgling everywhere. Growth apparently was boosted by a sharp slowdown in the pace of inventory liquidation, a factor that could mask the strength of the economic recovery.

However, before we all jump off the Penn Street bridge, there still is some strength to savor.

Even stripping out inventories, the economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.2 percent, accelerating from the 1.5 percent increase in the third quarter, reflecting relatively strong performance from other segments of the economy.
Keep your fingers crossed while you scan the classified employment ads in the Reading Eagle.

Obama hopes to feed the middle class by multiplying jobs like loaves and fishes

President Obama knows he’s about as popular as a lanced bunion these days, with the State of the Union right now about as vibrant as wilted arugula.
So Obama the flailing president rekindled Obama the swaggering candidate, who some thought could walk on water and barrel roll an F/A-18 Hornet, in his State of the Union address last night — trying to relaunch his brand with Obama 2.0.
He must have hit some pretty chords because Nancy Pelosi kept popping out of her chair behind him like some sort of manic Jack (or Jill) in the Box.
In tone and spirit, Obama returned repeatedly to the themes he campaigned on — a call to end partisanship and special interest influence, and to create a government equal to the spirit of the American people.
But the spirit of the American people is sagging more than the jowls and pecs on The Biggest Loser. American folks, especially the middle class, don’t care about tone anymore. Abstract ideas don’t float the boats they can no longer afford. Concrete details are what will build their confidence in this administration. More precisely, jobs!
Obama knows only too well that above all else Americans are gnashing their bicuspids over unemployment. So he zeroed in on the economy with a laser focus, calling for passage of a jobs bill and a series of other breaks for the middle class and small businesses and vowing to protect the common folk from the dastardly demons on Wall Street.
Granted, rhetoric is nothing but flying spit unless you walk the walk after talking the talk. Obama the rookie prez was cowed by Washington gridlock and partisanship. Now the sophomore prez has to step up, seize the reins and get people back to work.
Yeah, health care reform still remains a big dot on his radar screen. But it no longer is the biggest dot. Jobs are. Besides, Obama seems to keep focusing on the 15 percent who lack health care while the remaining 85 percent are paranoid about health care costs and what reform will further cost them in terms of dollars and less coverage.
One speech doesn’t dramatically change the algebra. His fellow Democrats in Congress likely will get their clocks cleaned this year. And Obama’s highly touted election mantra of change now simply means to some voters that a socialist Big Brother is taking food off their table.

iPad tablet the latest magical Apple of Steve Jobs' eye

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a twice-blessed genius. Not only does he consistently light the pilot on the blue flame of innovative technology that someday may even come served on a bed of lettuce with sauce béarnaise, he markets his new products with all the full-throated majesty Pavarotti once sang arias with.
Jobs settled weeks of rampant speculation today by unveiling the iPad tablet computer before a packed audience of invitation-only disciples, including Al “Mr. Green” Gore, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
Apple’s product announcements are always awaited with near cult-like devotion and the tech geeks today undoubtedly had to drive their fingernails into their palms and wiggle their toes just to prevent themselves from fainting dead away at the sheer excitement of it all. Those techies at the Yerba Buena Center and their iPhone clicks must have sounded like a chorus of lovelorn crickets.
Jobs maxed the hype by modestly proclaiming that “we want to kick off 2010 with a truly revolutionary and magical product. What this device does is extraordinary.”
Apple’s touchscreen tablet computer will act as a sort of missing link between a smartphone and laptop and was designed for consumers who want to take their movies, TV shows, music, games and reading with them, be it around the house or on the go.
The iPad weighs about 1.5 pounds, is 0.5-inch thin, has a 9.7-inch display, runs existing apps from the Apple apps store, is available in 16-gigabyte and 64-gigabyte versions, is lightning fast (“It screams,” Jobs gushed) and should have a battery life of 10 hours. The tablet has the company’s online iTunes Store built into it, as well as YouTube in high definition.
The tablet uses multi-touch finger gestures and swipes like the iPhone, but the iPad’s larger screen requires less swiping to navigate.
The price for the iPad starts at $499 for the 16-gig model. The initial price is likely to drop. Apple sold the first iPhone for $599 but slashed the price to $399 after a few months, upsetting early buyers.
Apple isn’t viewing its iPad as a laptop without a keyboard but rather as a personal media experience. Read into that whatever you wish.
Apple’s iPad comes at a time when e-readers, like Amazon’s Kindle and others from Barnes & Noble and Sony are on the market, with more coming this year from companies such as Samsung and the Hearst Corp.
The iPad is expected to rock the e-reader market by displaying books and newspaper and magazine articles on its color screen. Print media execs are hoping a popular Apple tablet could renew interest in their content while bringing new revenue through subscription plans or iTunes purchases.
Since I’m a working stiff for a media company and I’ve become addicted to a paycheck, I sure as hell could roll with that!
Several uses of the tablet were shown during its unveiling, including e-mail, games, video and reading The New York Times on it. Martin Nisenholtz of The Times, on stage, said that the newspaper’s iPhone app “has been downloaded 3 million times” and that the company wanted to “create something special for the iPad … we think we’ve captured the essence of reading the newspaper” on it.
Very cool. And perhaps only the beginning.

Obama already coming to terms with one term?

Julius Caesar had Plutarch to chronicle his career.
Barack Obama has network talking heads and bloggers to chronicle his.
The president sat down with ABC’s melodramatic Diane Sawyer Monday, I guess playing the part of Samuel Johnson to her James Boswell.
Turning the narrative transition after one year in the White House into an agonized Rubicon, Obama talked tough, exclaiming: “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. You know, there is a tendency in Washington to believe our job description, of elected officials, is to get reelected. That’s not our job description. Our job description is to solve problems and to help people.”
Whatever the definition of his job description, so far our president isn’t up to the job.

Brrrrr, you may catch a chill because Obama plans to announce a three-year spending freeze on discretionary, non-military funds

Someone once said that time marches on, and then some Swiss guy invented the watch to prove it.

A year ago President Obama and the Democrats were giddy with good times, yanking the cork out and letting it flow.

Now the kind of grim expectancy that follows classic moments of horror, such as Massachusetts, has set in.

Man, the Dems have found that a tiny sniffle can turn into a wheeze and your universe suddenly is left in ashes and ruin.
Well, at least they aren’t rolling over and playing dead. After all, without tragedy there can be no comedy. Ask Leno and Conan. So the White House actually is addressing the melancholy topic of its impending demise.
The State of the Union address is coming up Wednesday night and word is the networks still are planning to televise it even though Obama seems totally marginalized.
So the president is mounting a PR offensive that just might rank up with the all prep work for Normandy.
Obama plans to announce a three-year spending freeze on discretionary, non-military funds to blunt the populist backlash to the soaring deficit and $787 billion stimulus bill.
Not only that, but the president is further responding in lavish, heaping quantities.
Today he also outlined a plan to help middle-class families, including a vast increase to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and there’s speculation he’ll even announce a decision on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Obama and the Dems are hoping all of this raises a mighty Hallelujah chorus not only among the faithful who remain but God knows perhaps among a stray independent or Republican or two.

Colts and Saints scrawl their way into this season's Super Bowl script

Football imbues its faithful with the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which ordinary folks can only marvel.
To aficionados, the NFL season seems to be gone in a hiccup every year — moving like a cloud rolling across the moon and leaving only a shadow to chase.
Now only the Super Bowl is left to chase this season, this year’s Game of the Century that will match the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints in two weeks hence.
The Colts won the AFC title Sunday because after a half of too much Rex Ryan and the New York Jets they realized they didn’t dig their shtick. Roused at last from their coma, the Colts rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to beat Jets 30-17 as four-time MVP Peyton Manning threw three touchdown passes.
Manning, an iconic regular season presence, now will gun for his second Super Bowl title and a chance to further burnish his sterling legacy.
The Jets’ vaunted defense turned carcass was totally picked apart by Manning, who was more voracious than a buzzard and conversely the celebrated New York ground game essentially ground to a halt.

The Saints, still playing off the karma of Hurricane Katrina, had their pleas fall on receptive celestial ears. The Minnesota Vikings kept playing hot potato with the football with a bunch of fumbles and Brett Favre threw away the game, as his usual playoff MO, with a howling coyote-ugly interception deep in New Orleans territory at the end of regulation.

Which set the stage for unheralded Garrett Hartley, suspended at the start of the season for using a banned stimulant, to kick a 40-yard field goal in overtime for a Saints’ 31-28 victory for the NFC title Sunday night that had Bourbon Street instantly bubbling.

For Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has remarkably bonded with his adopted city of New Orleans after its immersion into hell, the quest for a Super Bowl became so powerful in him it burst and became a need. Even though Sunday he wasn’t arcing his usual parabolas of perfection and the Saints’ normally high-octane offense wasn’t full throttle on the gas.

For Favre, his Old Man River routine in Minnesota came to a physical and psychological painful conclusion as the Saints battered and bruised him and almost snapped his ankle like a weak tree limb in a storm. But a true old pro, Favre plays with a narrowing of focus like sighting down a rifle barrel and was too myopic to see beyond his own performance until his killer pick hurt his entire franchise.

The Colts and the Saints now will engage in the brawl for it all in the Super Bowl in Miami after the NFL stages a watered-down Pro Bowl this coming Sunday in Miami instead of lush Hawaii.

It will be the first Pro Bowl that the ol’ Zekester will miss in eight years … but yours truly will not miss it.

Clinton busting China over cyber restrictions ignores the fact commies and censorship go together like peanut butter and jelly

OK, Hillary Clinton and China now are flicking snake tongues — whoo-eet! whoo-eet! — at each other.
As you may or may not know, while Conan and NBC were going to war, Secretary of State Clinton picked a fight with the Chinese Thursday by calling them out for their restrictions on the Internet.
Since the Chinese are communists and commies are hard men with harder hearts whose sole mission in life is to maintain their power base by keeping their people as ignorant as a herd of dairy cows by restricting the flow of information, why did Clinton even bother?
So it was hardly a shock today when China denounced her criticism as false and damaging to bilateral ties, labeling it “information imperialism” — a phrase that’s totally Chinese to me.
As a blogger, I actually feel empowered by this catfight. The exchange between Clinton and China suggests the keyboard is mightier than the warhead.
So don’t mess with me, folks.
Clinton said in her speech that a threat against the “free flow of information” on the Internet also threatens “our economy, our government, and our civil society.” Clinton said the U.S. supports Google in defying the Chinese government, and called on China to investigate the sophisticated attack against Google’s network, which the company says originated in mainland China.
Chinese cyber police troll the Web for sensitive content, and many foreign news and social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, are permanently blocked. No wonder I have no friends in China.
Without social media, the only thing those poor folks have in life are Chinese egg rolls.
Actually, China now is anything but poor. China is the top creditor to the United States. The Chinese have so many U.S. Treasury bond holdings they should be singing Yankee Doodle Dandy on the way to the bank.
Since they own our butts, perhaps Clinton should have thought twice before smacking the Chinese on the butt.

John Edwards (finally) admits he's the daddy

Not that it matters all that much to all of us since John Edwards now has about enough chance to be president as Snooki of Jersey Shore reality show infamy.

Nevertheless, Edwards, the former North Carolina senator and Democratic presidential candidate, belatedly has fessed up and admitted he’s indeed the father of a 2-year-old daughter conceived with a former campaign videographer with whom he had an affair.

Apparently, Edwards didn’t suddenly wake up this morning to hear the alarm bell in his conscience ringing. It seems the former aide who pretended to be Hunter’s baby-daddy has written a book and was scheduled to tell all on ABC next week.

Realizing that it might mute the din of criticism to somewhat lower than the sound levels of Metallica, Edwards evidently figured it would be better if the revelation came from him, so he released a statement to NBC’s Today Show this morning

Which made Matt, Meredith and Al almost as excited as their upcoming Winter Olympics (yawn) gig.
Edwards apparently is not speaking publicly today, at least in part because of an ongoing federal investigation into whether campaign money was used to try to cover up the affair. He has denied wrongdoing.
Of course, his credibility now has more holes in it than one of my gym T-shirts.
Just know that when someone refers to the Gospel of John, it wasn’t Edwards with pen in hand.
Speaking of religious writings, when Paul wrote letters to the Corinthians and Galatians, did they ever write back?

The sky doesn't have to be falling on the Democrats if they man up

OK, Republican Scott Brown bowled over Democrat Martha Coakley Tuesday and will plop into Teddy Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat.

And today the Democrats are cackling and screaming while they walk around with eyes looking like fried eggs.

But are all the panicked liberals overreacting?

After all, Coakley was a pea-headed moron as a candidate, with all the impact of a Styrofoam hammer. And the White House snored through the whole campaign.

Does a charismatic candidate turning a hapless opponent into a punching bag equate to a national referendum?

Not necessarily.

The Democrats still can cut a deal to pass the Senate bill on health care reform through the House. Or they can always break up the health care bill into parts, although that likely will drag the whole thing into the spring and summer.

Granted, Brown’s victory constitutes a major hurdle to health care reform. But it can be cleared if the Dems start acting like politicians and not cowards.

Then there is the bigger task of just how to assuage an angry electorate.

Short of giving all the voters pacifiers, the Obama Administration can appease them by making Job 1 the creation of jobs.

Working folks have less time to wallow in their unhappiness.

To rip off Sigmund Freud, employment now is the opium of the masses.

I say unearth Johnny Carson and put him back on Tonight

While the serious among us focus on Haiti, Massachusetts and the Golden Globes, the more superficial among us are all over the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien mess.
Apparently there soon will be a wrap on this late-night mess at NBC, where the suits must have been driven right to the brink of madness.
Evidently Conan is gonna get $40 million (that should soothe the poor guy’s ego) to split to another network while Leno, who hardly walked through his prime time slot like a storm approaching, slinks back to the 11:35 Tonight spot.
This whole circus couldn’t have been messier if Leno and O’Brien had frolicked nude in béarnaise sauce on air.
Of course, the two are born comics and have been making light of the situation.
Quipped Leno: “Conan O’Brien and I won a Golden Globe for Best Late Night Drama. CBS is developing a show about the situation here. It’s called Two Men and a Half-Assessed Network.”