Recommended reading today: Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris' New York Times blog in which he interviews several White House photographers during the Bush administration. One comes up with this nugget after President Bush's farewell speech to the nation:
And I turned to one of my editors -- First I said, "Oh, my God." And he said, "What?" And I said, "You've got to see this picture of Bush. This is really stunning." And I flipped it over to him to process and his first reaction was, "Wow." And I said, "If he wasn't just back there behind that door crying, I don't know what that look on his face is." Because he just looks absolutely devastated as he comes through this door after essentially ending his eight year presidency. And it's just really striking. He just looks absolutely devastated.
(h/t: Nick Young)(2 Comments)
The scariest hours in the day are the one before the stock market opens and the one after it closes. That's when companies announce their layoffs. Today was no exception. Home Depot slashed 7,000 jobs. Caterpillar is whacking 20,000. Caterpillar -- is it worth mentioning? -- had record sales last year and made a profit of $3.6 billion dollars, which counts for nothing in today's economy. Heads must roll.
These days, we'll take optimism wherever we can find it. It's been a tough search today but we found a little today in Caterpillar chairman Jim Owens' assessment of what's ahead:
"We are optimistic that economic conditions in the United States will stabilize later in the year and may show some signs of recovery."
Granted, the next sentence was the announcement that 20,000 people would lose their jobs, but when's the last time you heard someone say there may be some recovery later this year?
The CNBC anchor this morning made a big deal about that, noting that Owens is usually a pessimistic guy "who nailed the recession."
Really? This was his comment one year ago:
I think I'm considerably more optimistic than the mood here in Davos," CEO James Owens said Friday.... Owens said he expects "either a mild recession or a soft landing" on tap for the U.S. economy.... Issues surrounding subprime mortgages "have been with us for a while," and the correction in the wake of the housing bubble is already under way, Owens said.... Owens said he expects to see "a bit of decoupling" between the world economy and the United States, pointing to extremely strong growth in the Middle East, Russia, and other emerging economies, where the commodity boom has fostered strong balance sheets.
Two months later -- March 2008 -- he was described as "a financial whiz" because he claimed the U.S. was already in recession, which it was.
"The U.S. economy is probably in recession now but will likely have real growth this year of around 0.5 percent, so very very slow growth and probably a couple of quarters of negative growth," Owens said.
Update 10:02 a.m. - These additional layoffs were announced today:
The consumer confidence survey will be released on Wednesday. We're all on the edge of our seats.
Update 3:56 p.m. - The post stock-market-close layoffs:
Texas Instruments - 3,400 jobs
The governor is making one of his rare visits to Minnesota Public Radio today (in the old days, Midday was able to get a sitting governor to come in once a month).
This is the pre-game show for the big bomb that he'll deliver on Tuesday when he announces cuts in the state budget. He had an article in yesterday's Star Tribune op-ed section. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to read it. Besides, everything I've heard coming out of the Capitol up to now, I've heard a thousand times before. The DFLers are saying the usual things the DFL says, the GOP is saying the usual things the GOP says, and the governor has been saying the usual things the governor says.
Despite the initial talk of bipartisanship at the Capitol, both sides are girding, obviously, for a last-week-of-the-session "solution" to what ails us. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine who occupies a position of some power in a state agency told me they're already preparing for a special session.
So I'm live-blogging and let me know if you hear anything new. Anywhere.
11:07 a.m. Gary asks for a sneak preview. "There's nothing surprising in it," the governor said, noting it'll have to change in a few weeks since the February forecast will change things, and the state doesn't know how the bailout package is going to shake out. "It'll be a good start," he said.
11:09 a.m. - The governor says the two-year budget since Gov. Elmer Andersen has increased 19 percent on average. "That is not sustainable," he said. He says the world is not the same as 20 years ago and Minnesota needs to look at that landscape. It needs to find out where our competitive advantage is, he said.
11:11 a.m. - Why no tax increases? "Even Barack Obama isn't threatening to raise taxes now," the governor said.
11:12 a.m. - The governor didn't answer Gary's question about whether he'll veto any tax increase or whether there's room for negotiation, saying only that Minnesota has become less competitive for business.
11:13 a.m. - Does cutting corporate taxes send the wrong message to people who are going to be losing services? Gov. Pawlenty said it's a move for the future and business has said Minnesota is too expensive to do business in. He talks about publicly subsidized health care programs (note: He needs to begin making a distinction here on what he's talking about. MinnesotaCare, is a publicly subsidized health care program which is paid for by a tax on health care providers. The governor has regularly used a surplus in the fund to balance the budget)
Q: What can local governments expect (local government aid?)
A: Less money. "That's just a function of the budget crisis."
Q: How can Minnesota keep good educators here?
A: Our school system is outdated. The governor will propose a 5-percent increase in the general education formula and a 2-percent increase in the per-pupil formula. But it will be tied to performance.
Q: Will most school districts end up with more money?
A: Yes. Schools will be required to use Q-comp
During a discussion about business, the governor said, "If we don't get serious about making this a better place for business.... we're going to be in deeper trouble."
This brings up a question we've kicked around before: Why would a business want to do business here? It's cold, for one thing. What is it about Minnesota, under any scenario, that makes it a place businesses -- big businesses with lots of jobs -- would want to reside?
Q: What's your timetable for tuition caps for higher education?
A: "We should force the systems to not force whatever challenge they face onto the students," the governor said. He said the schools will "squeal about it." He said there should be a pay freeze for higher education employees. Beyond that, he didn't answer the question from the caller.
This just in... related to the economy:
Hennepin County Medical Center will eliminate almost 100 jobs by the end of February. The medical center is also freezing capital spending that does not have a binding contract to purchase or construct in place. Approximately 80 percent of the jobs to be eliminated are currently vacant, but the remainder of the cuts will be a combination of layoffs and reduced hours.
The cuts are necessary to deal with the governor's unallotment reduction of $73 million in state Health and Human Services funding announced Dec. 19. Of that, more than 15 percent - $12 million - comes directly from funding to support care and teaching at Hennepin County Medical Center, including a $5 million cut to Medical Assistance supplemental payments for providing care to the poor, and a $7 million reduction in medical education payments to help offset the costs of training residents and medical students. When combined with the $7 million lost due to rate reductions and rebasing delays approved during the 2008 legislative session, the total loss in state funding is $19 million for 2008 and 2009.
-- News release from Hennepin County Medical Center
Q: How has accounting "gimmicks" you used in 2003 affect us today?
A: As a percent, the deficit was comparable to what we're facing now. A big chunk of '03 was spending "cuts." Many people refer to cuts as a lack of a spending increase. "If you listen to my critics, you'd think we took a blow-torch to the budget." He says the reality is we only slowed increases.
Let's hit the Wayback Machine on that one:
"Tim Pawlenty has taken a chainsaw to that budget, and trimmed off all of the waste in the Minnesota budget. He is truly one of the rising stars in our party," he said.
That was the head of the king-making "Club for Growth" during the Republican National Convention in 2004. The governor did nothing to indicate that he really didn't cut the budget but only cut the rate of spending increases.
Q: What happens to the people who'll be cut off from programs.
A: In some cases they'll be shifted to other programs, but not always. The governor says they'll be dropped but that's the way it is.
Q: Any hope the federal government will be able to control health care costs?
A: We've made some progress in Minnesota. The essence of it is you can't have people going to consume health care without knowing the cost, and then submitting the bill.
From the comments section, a small business owner writes:
Being able to write off a 6001 lb pickup or SUV in 1 year instead of 3-5 years is absolutely no help to a business owner who is laying off employees and has seen traffic and business drop 50% in the last 3 months. Tax cuts have been a proven failure since Reagan came up with this nonsense 30 years ago. The Republicans need to come up with a new mantra, this one is worn out and no one is buying it any more. this state has coasted on investments made in the 60's, 70's and 80's and now we are paying the price.
11:46 p.m. - The governor says the transportation taxes increase and the increase in the sales tax for outdoors program didn't involve him. He says critics shouldn't be clamoring for tax increases because the taxes have increased.
Q: Even food shelves are having difficulty taking care of people coming through the door, and people need social service programs more than ever. People can't get jobs or if they can get them, they don't pay enough. What about child care assistance programs?
A: There's a whole array of "really good programs," the governor said, "and the need always exceeds the resources." He says the obligation is first to balance the budget and then provide for people in need, and then provide for the future. "Our listeners have to come to understand the magnitude of the challenge we face. It would be nice to keep things the way it is, but we can't."
Aside: I was just looking to see if the governor's bodyguard is around. Didn't see him, but someone must be driving the big, black Suburban that's parked out back. In the Ventura days, the guy used to sit right outside the studio, as if a would-be assassin would bust in at any moment.
Q: It's disturbing to see non-profits laying off workers on top of cuts in health and human services. Where are the funds going to come from and how are people to be served?
A: To some degree, they won't and some people won't be served. "We have to prioritize. The world and the economy has changed and it's changed dramatically. You cannot expect the government to carry on as it was."
Aside: Politicians, and not just Pawlenty, are telling us, basically, that some people are going to have to suffer and suffer a lot. That said, how will we be expected to change? The kids stay in the home longer? Parents moving in with kids more often? We're really talking about a cultural change in America now and nobody wants to acknowledge it. There really is no hope on the way and that's the reality of the lack of confidence by Americans. The feeling is that America's best days are behind it, and you will have a lower standard of living. Isn't that today's message?
Q: When will you announce whether you'll see re-election?
A: In the coming months. (Well, yeah, that's rather obvious since the election is in "the coming months.")
Two stories related football deaths in the heat are in the news today:
Does it ever seem to you like you've heard all the news before about the state budget quagmire? Much of the talk surrounding the present situation focuses on "the future." So it seems like a good time to go into the News Cut Wayback Machine. Setting: Fourth Monday in January 2003.
Here's the MPR newscast scripts from that date:
* * * *
House DFLers are calling a Republican budget balancing plan too harsh to the state's most vulnerable. The House is scheduled to begin debate today
* * * *
Governor Pawlenty continued his tour of greater Minnesota today to promote tax-free zones. Pawlenty and members of the Minnesota House have offered the plan as a way to stimulate business and job creation. Pawlenty told an audience in Luverne that tax-free zones are the "mother of all economic development incentives." He says a particular area or collaboration of counties would be encouraged to come together and develop regional or theme-based tax-free zones.
* * * *
Senate Republicans are proposing a two-year pay freeze for all public sector employees in Minnesota to help reduce the state deficit. They say keeping salaries constant could produce one billion dollars or more in savings. The plan would affect state workers as well as employees in cities, counties, school districts and universities. State allowances to all government entities would be reduced to account for the lack of pay raises. By the Senate GOP's estimate, Minnesota has 350-thousand public sector employees. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna says a freeze is a more compassionate way to cut costs than layoffs. But he won't guarantee that everyone would keep their job.
* * * *
Governor Pawlenty says he'd prefer to continue full subsidies for Minnesota's ethanol industry -- but the state's budget crisis will force tough choices. The governor spoke in Luverne yesterday. His short-term deficit reduction plan includes a proposal to eliminate almost 27 (m) million dollars in subsidies to ethanol plants. But Pawlenty says most ethanol facilities will continue to be profitable even without the subsidies. On a tour to support his plan for out-state tax-free zones, Pawlenty said he's open to the legislature reinstating some of the ethanol subsidy reductions in his budget proposal -- as long as lawmakers find the money to solve the budget deficit somewhere else.(6 Comments)