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Obama to outline state of economy in speech today


Apr 14, 9:09 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is juggling a glass-half-full take on the economy with a determination to not be seen as naive about problems still washing over the business landscape. The president is slated to give an economic speech Tuesday at Georgetown University as his administration nears its symbolic 100-day mark. Aides billed the address as major but acknowledged that it was expected to contain no significant policy announcements.

Rather, they said, the speech would outline the state of the economy when Obama took office in January, steps his administration has taken in its first three months, and what still needs to be done to right troubled sectors, including the housing, banking and financial industries.

“The president wants the opportunity to update the American people on where we are, what we have to do going forward, and lay out the steps that are being taken to help our economy recover,” said presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Hours before the speech, a cold dose of reality came in the form of a report saying retail sales fell unexpectedly in March, decreasing by 1.1 percent. That was the biggest decline in three months and a much weaker showing than the 0.3 percent increase that analysts expected. At the same time, wholesale prices dropped sharply last month as the cost of gasoline and other energy plummeted, fresh evidence that inflation appears to pose little threat to the economy.

Tuesday’s indicators epitomized a continuing problem for government policymakers and ordinary people alike: How to figure out where the economy is headed amid such often contradictory business signals.

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You’ve probably noticed that the debate swirling around the president’s recovery bill has reached new levels of mortal terror and chaos. Even a casual excursion around the liberal tubes and you’ll find posts that read like the worst parts of the Bible. There’s a palpable vibe in many progressive circles that the president is on the brink of an epic fail.

After all, this is one of those do-or-die moments in American history and the panic level is rightly proportional.

But while urgency is appropriate, we’re losing the initiative.

We all have our own ideas about what the recovery bill is supposed to look like. The Republicans are threatening to filibuster, and we can’t trust Harry Reid to stop them. Rush Limbaugh, the very serious leader of the Republican Party and alleged sex tourist, has ordered his dittoheads to blitz the Democrats with angry phone calls. Concurrently, Democrats, liberals and progressives, for all we’ve learned in the last eight years, are losing the framing battle — “stimulus package” sounds like a weird service offered at a porn store and, in that context, a trillion dollar “stimulus package” sounds, you know, painful. Meanwhile, centrist Democrats like Ben Nelson appear to be ransacking the bill. Other Democrats have bugged out of Washington entirely.

We’re looking at fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Forty years of darkness. The dead rising from the grave! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

Come to think of it, some of that Ghostbusters stuff might actually come true if a beefy and expensive recovery bill isn’t passed, and right soon.

So how do we get there?

The first step in getting a handle on all of this mayhem is to understand that this is unprecedented in terms of size, scope and strategy — only rivaled by the New Deal. Then again, for all of the obstacles he faced, FDR didn’t have to negotiate his way through cable news, a hostile press, far-right talk radio, the blogotubes and an army of dittoheads taking their orders from an impotent burnout whose stated goal is the failure of the economy. In other words, while there are very smart economic solutions being pitched by Paul Krugman and others, the price tag, politics, optics, media and discourse are all brand new.

This is massive, this is complicated, this is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

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There’s a killer web graphic that was created back in the post-Republican Convention days while everyone was writing spasmodic, breathless “Obama should [fill in the blank]” blog entries and “Oh crap! We’re gonna lose!” newspaper columns. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, really. The Obama campaign slipped in the polls during Sarah Palin’s very brief golden age — an era of roughly two weeks following the Alaska governor’s successful recitation of a convention speech without, you know, choking on her own vomit.

Very few of us were confident of an Obama victory at the time. After all, previous Democratic nominees had been riding bullet trains to victory in the polls, only to gradually and utterly bonk as the summer segued into autumn. Even candidate Obama was warning us about the Democratic habit of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” Yeah. Anyone who claims to have been absolutely 100 confident of a Barack Obama victory in the first week of September 2008 is either lying or lying.

However, some people were more confident (hopeful, perhaps) than others.

The web graphic is actually a photograph of Barack Obama from his Invesco Field acceptance speech. In it, he’s looking directly into the camera with an expression of fierce determination on his face — his teeth gnashed in an Eastwood snarl, his left hand gesturing as though he’s kung fu fighting his way through an oversized cinderblock made of SlapChop-minced Republican skulls.

The large, white text superimposed at the top reads: “Everyone chill the fuck out.” The text at the bottom exclaims: “I got this!”

Sure enough, two months later, we watched as this liberal African American man with the noble yet politically unusual name “Barack Hussein Obama” defied the odds and won red states like Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana and the commonwealth of Virginia.

Fade out the roaring crowds at Grant Park. Dissolve to late January.

The economy continues to creep nearer to the crumbling ledge of yet another Depression — if it isn’t there already. And yet the Republicans who very nearly shoved us over the ledge are prancing around as if their collective Reaganomics don’t stink.

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