Coming back to the comfort zone. At least inflation is behaving as economic theory suggests it should in the face of a slowing economy, in which unemployment is rising and interest rates falling. The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures this morning have put the published headline rate for the year at 2.5 per cent. While the adjusted CPI measures that the Reserve Bank uses as its guide at 4.4% (the weighted mean) and 3.9% (the trimmed mean) are still above the upper target of 3%, both are lower than they were in the December quarter. That leaves the way open for the Bank to again reduce official interest rates

World inflation round-up. In Spain they are worrying about the dreaded deflation. As unemployment hits the 15.5 per cent mark, prices are going down. Last month’s drop in retail prices might have been only 0.1 per cent but Spain is the first of the 16 nations using the Euro to record a negative inflation rate. It is the first negative figure since the country began collecting such figures in 1961 and there is an uneasiness that the downward trend might be the start of a deflationary spiral.

In Britain the “d” for deflation is also being used after figures overnight showed the retail price index falling in March for the first time in nearly 50 years. Since reaching a peak of 5 per cent last September, the British RPI has fallen sharply with lower prices and lower interest rates driving down mortgage payments while gas and heating fuel prices have added to the downward pressure on prices. The Financial Times of London reports that many economists expect RPI to remain negative for an extended period.

However, economists and the Bank of England, the paper says, are more concerned about the slowing rate of the consumer price index — which excludes some variables including mortgage interest payments. The CPI is showing more resilience than many had expected and in March was at 2.9 per cent, down from 3.2 per cent in February but still well above the Bank’s 2 per cent target. Falling energy bills and food prices in the month helped pull inflation down.

The headline as modern poetry: “Ezra Pounded By Andy Suit”. New York Times columnist Stanley Fish, the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University, in Miami, and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has given that headline “Ezra Pounded By Andy Suit” from the New York Post of 7 April his award as the best headline of the new year. It appeared above a story about Ezra Merkin, an associate of Bernie Madoff’s who has been charged with pocketing money he was supposed to have invested. The good professor’s reasoning:

… the literal meaning is easily accessible: Ezra Merkin is being pounded by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. But the headline is a pun (obvious to some, hidden from many) on the name of a famous mid-20th- century poet, Ezra Pound.

And that’s not all. Pound is notorious for an anti-Semitism that is rooted in a hatred of usury, the practice of lending money often at unconscionable rates of interest. Usurers, Pound charged in his Canto XLV, don’t produce anything or engage in honest, redemptive work or create beauty: “With usura hath no man a house of good stone . . . no picture is made to endure nor to live with/but it is made to sell and sell quickly.” And then to sell again and again, in an endless sequence based on nothing but speculation; it is in essence a “mega-Ponzi scheme.” In usury and also in capitalism itself “corpses are set to banquet” and there is no “clear demarcation” between the real and the fictional. Things are not things, but “futures,” and derivatives and derivatives of derivatives. The practices of usury, Pound thunders, are “against nature” and make everything barren: “Usura slayeth the child in the womb.”

Are the headline writers bringing Pound in to indict the excesses of capitalism? Are they suggesting that Jews, in the person of Merkin and Madoff, are the villains? Or are Madoff and Merkin victims of the anti-Semitism Pound professed and others keep alive today? This headline keeps on giving, although exactly what it gives is a matter of debate — as is the case with all modern poetry.

So the next time you are inclined to sling off at your local tabloid, just remember Stanley Fish and the tangle of allusions that can lurk behind a simple headline.

For my part I still dip my lid to “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR” as perhaps the greatest headline of all time and I see it has been chosen by publisher HarperCollins as the title of a new book containing a selection of the best from The Post.

The gander caught. This President Obama bloke is made of sterner stuff than many of us realised, he really does appear to be practising what he preached. As a candidate, Barack Obama made quite a big thing of abandoning the common Washington practice of letting lobbyists for interest groups slip in to the top jobs of the administration in charge of the areas they had long tried to influence. The Democrats who in general applauded the new Obama principle, thought only about the justice of preventing big business interests getting their hands on the levers of power. It did not occur to those on the left that those who were paid advocates for public interests would be disqualified in the same fashion as those who lobbied for moneyed interests.

But under Barack Obama what is good for the goose is being extended to Democrat ganders. The New York Times reports that a coalition of nonprofit groups has started a campaign to exempt lobbyists for charitable and social welfare organizations that have tax-free status from the “no lobbyist will be appointed” policy. So far they are making no progress.

“It’s painful,” said the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod. “There are a lot of good people out there who are philosophically simpatico with us and are very skilled and would be very valuable to us.” But, he said, “you can’t have carve-outs for lobbyists you like and exclude those that you don’t. It would be very hard for people to understand that distinction. This is one of those cases where we’ve had to sacrifice the help of a lot of very valuable people.”

The Obama lobbying policy bans anyone who was a registered lobbyist from working for any executive agency they had lobbied in the past two years or in any other agency on an issue they had lobbied on in that time. As a practical matter, the Times says, the order meant that most registered lobbyists could not take jobs in their areas of expertise.

And still we wait for a US Senate result. It is nearer six months than five that the United States went to the polls to elect a new President, all the members of its House of Representatives and one third of its Senators, yet the final results are still not in. The Senate ballot for the state of Minnesota is still being disputed in the courts. After many counts and recounts, the Democrat candidate, Al Franken, beat the Republican Norm Coleman by 312 votes but Coleman, not surprisingly given the closeness of the result, appealed to the State Supreme Court. A decision is expected shortly but a further appeal to a Federal Court seems likely whatever the result.

$US4 trillion of losses- is that good or bad? If you needed evidence that the losses caused by this world financial crisis are so large that normal people cannot comprehend them, then the BBC World Service presenter provided it when asking the BBC economics correspondent last night whether the $4 trillion estimate of bank losses was good news or bad.

Hoons on dunes! And you thought hoons had to use cars to practice their loutish behaviour. Not so. The Melbourne Herald Sun reports senseless hoons on pushbikes recently smashed a window of TV legend Bert Newton’s car as his terrified wife Patti sat inside.

Over on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula it is not hoons with pedal power causing problems but hoons in dunes. Cockle Beach resident Jo. Peters wants to see Premier Mike Rann’s proposed “seize and crush” hoon legislation cover trail and quad bikes after another horrific Easter when bikes again ripped up primary dunes along sections of the coast.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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