Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
From jobless claims to housing starts, nearly all signs of economic activity this week pointed skyward.
Briefly, the Index of Leading Indicators rose for the third straight month in October. Consumer prices that gauge inflation were flat. And American businesses have boosted inventories for the first time in six months. Analysts say those results all point to growing confidence in the economic recovery.
On the flip side, America's ballooning trade deficit remains a source of concern. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan this week warned that "creeping protectionism" could jeopardize efforts to reduce that deficit. New tariffs on imports of Chinese textiles, for example, could harm U.S. grain exports.
To eliminate retaliatory trade practices, the Bush administration is intent on creating massive free trade zones. But even that idea has some strident critics.
Police in riot gear clashed this week with hundreds of demonstrators who were protesting talks aimed at creating the world's largest free trade zone. Protesters allege the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas would send thousands of U.S. jobs to other countries, exploit cheap labor and drain natural resources. At least seven demonstrators were arrested in the fracas, which delayed a peaceful protest march organized by the nation's unions.
Police used batons mostly to push back the protesters, many of whom sported surgical masks or bandanas on their faces. Officers also displayed stun guns and used a spray that smelled of rotten eggs.
Even before the clash in the streets, negotiators at the trade talks hit a roadblock. Canada and Chile objected to a proposal from Brazil and the U.S. that reportedly would have scaled back the free trade region. As originally proposed, the 34-nation FTA would eliminate or reduce trade barriers among all nations in the Western Hemisphere, except Cuba.