Another Bush in the White House, another flagging stock market, another stumbling economy. And, if the mutterings and whispers from Washington, D.C., are to be believed, the West Wing crowd is engaged in another round of Greenspan grumbling.
NewsMax.com, an obscure far-right Web site (board members include Alexander Haig and Arnaud deBorchgrave), reported on Aug. 7 that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan will announce his retirement by the year’s end. The Web site cites “administration sources” and goes on to say that Bush advisers had “expressed simmering upset with the Fed chairman,” primarily for his perceived coziness with the Clinton-Gore White House, but also for his failure to cut interest rates more swiftly.
The report says that Mr. Greenspan, who is 75, informed the administration of his plans to step down and prodded them to begin looking for his successor–a report that a spokeswoman for the Fed flatly denied.
Mainstream media outlets, for the most part, ignored the story–save for a derisory pickup in TheStreet.com and a very brief mention in the New York Post . Maybe it was the English (“simmering upset”?), or maybe it was justifiable restraint over one more unsubstantiated allegation from another kooky voice on the far right.
But here’s a funny thought: What if the folks from NewsMax.com are on to something?
“Just because we are small and not CNN, it does not mean there are not people who talk to us,” says NewsMax.com chief executive Chris Ruddy. “We’ve been working on this story for months.”
And if it’s a tidy 10 years since George Herbert Walker Bush bitterly blamed Mr. Greenspan for the recession that ushered in the Clinton years, haven’t the last 10 months or so proven that history is quite capable of repeating itself?
In the year since the markets began to dive–and consumer confidence began to slip with it–Mr. Greenspan has been downright aggressive in lowering rates. He’s slashed the Fed rate by a draconian 2.75 points since Mr. Bush took office, from its high of 6.5 percent (which was reached in May 2000, after the Fed raised rates six successive times to slow down a then-overheated tech-driven economy) to its current 3.75 percent.
But one Wall Street economist doing the rounds in Washington reports that top political people in the White House–namely chief of staff Andrew Card–have been complaining, both internally and to others, that Mr. Greenspan hasn’t been cutting rates fast enough to temper the present post-tech slowdown. With midterm elections looming in 2002 and an economic recovery not yet in sight, Mr. Card and company seem to be coming to the realization that it will take more than a $300 rebate check from the Internal Revenue Service to jump-start spending and thus propel a few more Republicans into the Senate and the House of Representatives.
From a political animal like Mr. Card (remember, too, he was a deputy chief of staff during the reign of Bush père ), one might expect a bit of Greenspan tweaking. But he’s not the only one. Greenspan buddy Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has also been making the case for quicker and faster interest-rate cuts, the economist reports. Mr. O’Neill is said to be very concerned about the current bear market in industrial-metals prices and, contrary to Mr. Greenspan’s thinking, believes that lower rates would help firm up commodity prices.
Smartly, President Bush has kept his counsel. Despite Mr. Greenspan’s absorption of a few blows over the pricking of the Nasdaq bubble, his status as an economic oracle remains, for the most part, intact. A White House spokesman would only say: “The Bush administration recognizes that Chairman Greenspan heads an independent agency, and that he does so with an independent voice.” The President also knows full well that his father and his Treasury Secretary, Nicholas Brady, were widely ridiculed for their Greenspan carping.
But this much is also true: The lovefest that characterized Mr. Greenspan’s relationship with the White House during the Clinton-Rubin years is as much a thing of the past as is New Paradigm thinking and Internet-driven productivity revolutions. The economy grew by a negligible 0.7 percent in the second quarter of this year. Layoffs this year have now surpassed500,000, according to Forbes magazine. And the Bush team has already done its part with its tax cut. So the administration could very well be thinking that it might just be better off heading into an election year with a more sympathetic soul like Larry Lindsay, the President’s chief economic adviser, or Treasury Undersecretary John Taylor in control of monetary policy at the Fed.
Will it happen? A Fed spokeswoman said she’d never heard of NewsMax before and called the report “a bogus rumor.” She would not comment further.
Having been reappointed by President Clinton in June 2000, Mr. Greenspan has until 2004 before his latest term is up. By all accounts, he loves his job. But with the economy mired, is it worthwhile for him to stick it out and possibly face another battle with a Bush? As NewsMax.com speculates (and clearly wishes), this might be the time for the chairman to get out while the getting is still good.
Steve Ballmer’s Scary Operating System
For a glimpse of a bald, overfed, baby-boomer C.E.O acting like a beer-fueled frat boy, log on to www.detonate.net/media/dancemonkeyboy.com and watch Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer scream like a banshee and dance a bizarre jig to Gloria Estefan’s “Get on Your Feet.”
The video, which has been shooting around cyberspace, shows Mr. Ballmer at a recent Microsoft conference screeching at the top of his lungs (“C’mon! Get up! Give it up for me! Come on! Woo-oo-oo-oo !”) as he frenetically paces up and around the stage. As the crowd roars, Mr. Ballmer exults, throwing his arms up to the sky and doing a series of half-skips. Whooping louder and louder, he’s sweating and grimacing, out of breath from the effort of it all. Finally, he steps up to the podium and, breathing deeply for a beat, screams: “I have four words for you: I love this company! “
There is no doubt that recent court rulings have given Microsoft a bit more breathing room. The Bush administration’s posture is decidedly more sympathetic, and one-on-one meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney are easy to come by. And the company’s new operating system, XP, is to be launched soon. But somehow, that can’t fully explain the sight of a 45-year-old portly chief executive jumping up and down like a crazed teenager at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, a look of frenzy in his eye.
As the kids say: You’re scaring us.
Asked about the circulating video, a Microsoft spokesperson e-mailed: “MS employees love how excited Steve is about the company and the software industry, we’re glad he’s leading Microsoft.”
Dance, monkeyboy, dance.