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It Really IS the Economy, Stupid

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As I rummaged through my morning paper I eventually reached the business ection. I say "eventually reached" because I have yet to see a daily paper that does not bury the business section. The sports section is usually right there near the top, even though sports news has absolutely no impact on our lives, beyond possibly under-pinning beer and nacho sales.

But I digress.

Once I unearthed the business section I was struck by the single theme of each headlined story:

- Safeway cutting jobs nationwide
- Jeweler Zale to close 23 stores now - 105 by end of this year
- Honda to shut U.S. motorcycle plant
- BMW to shed 5000 jobs
- Dollar hits new low against Euro
- Nationwide home sales hit 13-year low
- Nortel to cut 2,100 jobs, shift 1000 overseas
- Bernanke warns of weak economy

(Well, thank you, Ben. Where would we be without your timely reports on the already painfully obvious.)

There was not a stitch of good economic news in this morning's business section to be found.

While my heart tells me this election should be about the war in Iraq and the mindset that got us into it, my head tells me that the subject better quickly become  the US economy. If it doesn't the war will end anyway. Let me explain.

First, recognition that the economy is not just heading into a one of its normal cyclical downturns. This time is different. And no candidate for the Presidency is worthy of your vote unless he can explain in the clearest and starkest terms how and why it's different this time.

Eight years of spend-borrow, spend-borrow, spend-borrow by, not just government, but by business and consumers alike, has done to our financial infrastructure just what termites do to a home when left to their own devices. The underpinnings of this economy have been hollowed out by abuse of credit, the perversion of financial instruments and a reckless disregard for consequences of all the above.

Which is why when Fed Chief, Ben Bernanke, finally broke the glass on the red EMERGENCY box in his office he found it empty. Inflation is raging like a peat fire, just below the surface. The ground under his very feet is getting too hot to bear. But he can't put the inflationary fires out with the usual Fed extinguisher, higher interest rates. Because. even as inflation consumes the value of the US dollar, business indicators are weak and getting weaker.

To boost a weak economy the Fed's tool of choice is lower interest rates. Bernanke has already cut the Fed Rate down to 3%  and it's done no good. That leaves him a paltry 3 percentage-point bullets left in his gun before he hits the penultimate shot -- 0%. After that he'll have to pay people to borrow money.

I warned a full two years ago that we were heading straight into stagnation -- the worst of inflation joined at the hip with the worst of a weak economy. Prices go up and up. Wages stagnate or even drop -- a vicious cycle -- a self-replicating monster, once loose, takes on an voracious life of its own, consuming businesses, investments, jobs and lives.

The next President will, on inauguration day, be handed the worst domestic economy since Franklin Roosevelt took office in January 1933.  As then the next President will have to deal with a banking industry in full meltdown, a tanking stock market, rising unemployment and the maelstrom of social welfare burdens that inevitably materialize out of such a crisis. A tired nation will turn to Washington for help -- citizens will turn to the next President for help.

Which brings me back to the war in Iraq. Recognition by the Presidential candidates of the true state of the economy would require they end this disasterous war of choice, and to do so as quickly as humanly and tactically possible.

Because there is simply no way we could afford to continue wasting nearly $12 billion a month -- every red dime of which is borrowed money --  to do for Iraqis what we can nolonger afford to do for American taxpayers themselves. (More facts on the cost of the war here.)

Things like:

- Repairing Iraqi infrastructure while America's infrastructure crumbles.

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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