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News Comment
"A View From Across The Pond" an Englishman's personal view of the week's news in the USA -
from Erithacus


16th December 2001 

Stocks fell this week with the Dow Jones index losing 2.4% of its value and the Nasdaq Composite down by 3.4%, the biggest week’s fall since the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Friday, however, saw a small rally which analysts suggested was caused by a mixture of bargain hunting and an improvement in confidence as investors looked at positive economic signals.

The Dow Jones finished at 9811.15, and the Nasdaq ended on 1953.17.

Two major factors influencing this week’s fall in stock prices were worse than expected retail sales figures for November, and earnings warnings from Ciena Corp and Lucent Technologies. The retail sales figures showed a record drop, but some Market analysts believe the dip in stock prices was simply the inevitable result of profit-taking as the Dow Jones index touched the psychologically important 10,000 level and the Nasdaq came up to 2,000. Predictions for next year vary, but the general consensus seems to be that there will be a return to a "bull market". There is considerable caution, however, summed up quite nicely by Jon Brorson, director of equities at Northern Trust (managers of $330 billion of equities), who said, "I am looking for a skinny, runty type of bull rather than a virile, romping, stomping bull."


As the hunt for Osama Bin Laden goes on in Afghanistan and we hear that the last of the al-Qaida fighters are either dead, captured or on the run, I have to wonder whether it is actually in anyone’s interest to find Bin Laden at all. Certainly it seems desirable to bring him to justice, but what then? There seems to be considerable disagreement about what should be done with him, with the British saying they would only hand him to the Americans if there is a guarantee he would not be executed (though what on earth makes the British think they will find him before anyone else?). Any dissident in an American (or British) prison has a fair chance of becoming a "rallying point" for his supporters, and a dead dissident becomes a martyr – particularly if there has been serious international disagreement about his execution. He seems somewhat less of a threat while running or hiding in a hole like a frightened rabbit, and far less likely to cause any real problem.


Also, and perhaps more controversially, is not the very best way to bring people together to give them a "common enemy" to hate and fear? With Bin Laden still out there somewhere, although hopefully powerless, does that not give the majority of the world the common enemy who becomes if not a focus of attention then at the very least a reason for the rest of us to develop a closer unity between our nations?

I see that President Bush is blaming the Democrats in the Senate responsible for November’s jump in the unemployment figures to 5.7%, and the fastest layoff rate for 20 years. In an incredible attack during his radio address, the President said, "More than two months, and more than 700,000 lost jobs ago, I proposed an economic security package. The House of Representatives quickly responded, passing its own legislation to help jump-start the economy. The Senate has failed to act. And while the Senate has failed to do its work, more and more Americans have been thrown out of work."

Surely there can be no doubt that America (among others) needs an effective package to stimulate the economy. But equally, sure any such package needs detailed and effective debate to ensure it has the best possible content and support that will ensure any improvement really is sustainable under any future administration as well as the present one? Or is Bush, like so many other Presidents before him, simply playing politics and using this to score political points?

Finally for this week, I was trawling through the sports reports when I came across news of the ice skating Grand Prix finals in Ontario. At first I thought it was a spelling mistake. Then I checked it on other news sources and found it was in fact completely correct: one of the Russian contestants has the delightful name "Irina Slutskaya".

Then I saw a photo. And as any normal, red-blooded male must surely agree: Who cares what she’s called?


16th December 2001                        


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News Comment is usually updated at the end of each week

Links to previous news comments:

31-March 2001

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