After unexpectedly strong economic growth in the third quarter of 2014 (July through September), optimism about the recovery became more widespread. No one expected the figures to be quite as robust in the fourth quarter, leaving us to wonder just how much of a moderating effect we'd see.
The U.S. economy grew by a 2.6% annual pace in the fourth quarter, slowing from a 5.0% pace in the third quarter, according to a preliminary government estimate released by the Commerce Department Friday. Economists polled by MarketWatch predicted GDP would grow by a seasonally adjusted 3.2%.
Consumer spending, which is a main source of economic activity, rose 4.3% following a 3.2% rise in the third quarter. This is the biggest gain since the first quarter of 2006. But growth slowed because of slower business and government spending and higher imports.
When expecting GDP growth above 3%, it's obviously disappointing to see a quarterly tally at 2.6%. Under normal circumstances, 2.6% is relatively "meh," but it stings a little more, not just because of higher expectations, but also because of the quarter that preceded it.
That said, it's worth emphasizing that this is a preliminary tally, which will be revised twice over the next two months. Indeed, let's not forget that the preliminary assessment for the third quarter was 3.9% before it was ultimately revised up to 5%.
In other words, today's report is a litle disappointing, but it's not the final word on the subject.
This week's drama involving the American Family Association and Bryan Fischer was not, surprisingly enough, the result of some outrageous comment from the right-wing activist, at least not directly. Instead, the story began with an announced trip to Israel.
The AFA announced that the organization was taking Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and dozens of RNC members on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. The nine-day excursion is scheduled to begin tomorrow, and at first blush, it may not seem especially controversial. After all, Americans travel to Israel all the time.
The problem, as noted by Israeli and American media alike, is the Republican National Committee's willingness to associate itself with the American Family Association and its notorious, hateful spokesperson, Bryan Fischer. Especially in light of Fischer's record -- he's characterized all non-Christian faiths as "false religions"; he's said minority faiths do not have the right to exercise their religious beliefs in the United States; he's said all immigrants to America should expect to convert to Christianity -- shouldn't the RNC keep its distance?
It was questions like these that led the American Family Association to announce this week that Fischer is no longer the group's official spokesperson. Indeed, the Republican National Committee, after days of silence on its controversial partnership with AFA, told "The Rachel Maddow Show" yesterday:
"We don't agree with Bryan Fischer's comments and are glad the AFA has severed ties with him."
That's the whole statement in its entirety. The problem, of course, is that we also learned yesterday that the Republican National Committee's statement isn't true.
Rachel Maddow reports on the passage in the Senate of a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, a bill President Obama has promised to veto. Completion of the Keystone vote allows the Senate to take up the Clay Hunt Act, previously blocked by Tom Coburn. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on technological solutions being explored to prevent any future instances of drones being flown over the White House grounds or at other high-security Washington, D.C. facilities. watch
Senator Claire McCaskill talks with Rachel Maddow about a new U.S. policy to classify information about how, and how much money is spent in support of the Afghan security force, and what questions she has for the new nominee for Secretary of Defense. watch
Rachel Maddow poses the question, if the presumed Democratic nominee for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton, decides not to run, who would make the next most electable candidate for Democrats to put forward. Rachel has someone in mind. watch
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center, talks with Rachel Maddow about the American Family Association's record of religious bigotry and intolerance that calls to question the RNC's judgment in accepting a trip to Israel with them. watch
* Afghanistan: "Three contractors working with the international coalition in Afghanistan and an Afghan national were killed Thursday in a shootout on the military side of a Kabul airport, a spokesman with the International Security Assistance Force said."
* Change I can believe in: "President Barack Obama doubled down on his State of the Union vision for a new 'middle class economics' on Thursday with an op-ed in The Huffington Post vowing to completely reverse government spending cuts made in 2013. 'My Budget will fully reverse the sequestration cuts for domestic priorities in 2016,' he writes."
* Middle East: "Israel's defense minister said on Thursday that his country had received messages through United Nations channels that Hezbollah did not plan any further action after its missile strike the previous day that killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven."
* ISIS: "The wife of the Japanese journalist being held hostage by ISIS made an impassioned plea for his release Thursday as an apparent deadline passed for a prisoner swap. Rinko Goto, wife of Kenji Goto, said in a statement: 'I fear that this is the last chance for my husband.'"
* Egypt: "Militants struck more than a dozen army and police targets in the restive Sinai Peninsula with simultaneous attacks involving a car bomb and mortar rounds on Thursday, killing at least 25 people, including civilians, officials said."
* Good thinking: "The North Dakota Industrial Commission called Wednesday for better monitoring of pipelines and higher standards for those that cross major bodies of water as crews continue cleaning up two major pipeline spills that affected the state's waterways."
* Dubious secrecy: "[A]s the Obama administration is seeking to declare the long war in Afghanistan officially over, at least from an American standpoint, the move to classify data about the Afghan forces removes one of the most crucial measures for assessing the accomplishments of the international coalition there. And it raises stark questions about the state of the fight against the Taliban, coming after a year in which the Afghan forces took record-high casualties as they battled heavy militant offensives."
We don't yet know what the Supreme Court will do in the King v. Burwell case, but we have a fairly good sense what will happen if the Supreme Court sides with Republicans. In effect, there will be chaos that could do considerable harm to insurers, families, state budgets, the federal budget, hospitals, and low-income children.
It sounds melodramatic, but the fact remains that if the GOP prevails, more Americans will literally go bankrupt and/or die as a result of this ruling.
With this in mind, I couldn't help but find some sardonic humor in the House Republicans' request for information from the Obama administration yesterday.
Senior House Republicans are demanding that the Obama administration reveal its contingency plans in the event that the Supreme Court scraps Obamacare subsidies in three dozen states. [...]
"Specifically, we are examining the extent to which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and other relevant agencies of the federal government, are preparing for the possible consequences of the Supreme Court's decision in the case of King v. Burwell," wrote the lawmakers.
The fact that the GOP lawmakers didn't appreciate the irony was itself unfortunate, but the simple truth is that the underlying question -- what happens if the Supreme Court takes this stupid case seriously and guts the American health care system? -- is one Republicans should be answering, not asking.