NDN Blog

The Economy: "Not Good"

Former British PM John Major tells a very funny story about being with Boris Yeltsin at a press conference. A reporter asks Yeltsin if he could succinctly describe the state of the economy. Yeltsin replied: "Good." The reporter asked if Yeltsin could say a little more? Yeltsin replied: "Not Good."

And so it would appear with the prevailing narrative on the American economy. This narrative has been that "The economy has done well in terms of output and productivity, but people don't really think it has benefited them because of slow job growth, and poor income figures." Now it seems as if even this might be too generous. Yesterday, unusually, the head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put out a statement on recent growth figures. Mr Greenstein, you have the floor:


Today's announcement of a marked slowdown in recent growth follows upon Labor Department figures issued earlier this month showing that job growth has slowed significantly in 2006. These figures contribute to the mounting evidence that the economy has performed relatively poorly during the current recovery. The economy always recovers after a recession, regardless of the policies pursued. But this recovery has been unusual in that economic growth and investment growth are both below the average for recoveries since World War II. And job growth and wage and salary growth are far below average, with the income of the typical non-elderly household failing even to keep pace with inflation. For average Americans, it is not a pretty picture.

Small wonder, then, that we are all talking about Lynn Cheney's steamy bodice rippers, Harold Ford's playboy past, and George Allen's love of gay marriage. Small wonder, indeed.

Wolf Blitzer gets "Great American" points, stands up to Lynn Cheney

There is a tawdry brouhaha going around about whether Jim Webb and / or Lynn Cheney wrote sexually explicit passages in respective books. As Webb said yesterday, its "smear after smear - a desperate but politically extremely clever attempt to make the last weeks of this election about anything other than Iraq and the economy. Be it Penthouse models in Tennessee, gay marriage in Virginia or immigration rows in New Jersey - it all smacks of a coordinated campaign to pivot critical campaign messages away from the Democratic ground.

Nonetheless, while we are on the subject of Ms Cheney, you might have missed a very rare example of a broadcast journalist standing his ground, while clearly in the right but being challenged on the issue of terrorism. Read the trasnscript below, or watch the video over at Think Progress - and play the mental game WWSHD? - or what would Sean Hannity Do?

CHENEY: You made a point last night of a man who had a bookstore in london where radical islamists gathered. Who was in afghanistan when the taliban were there. Who went to pakistan. You know, i think that you might be a little careful before you declare this as a person with clean hands.

WOLF: You are referring to the cnn "broken government" special. This is the one john king reported on last night.

CHENEY: Right there, wolf. Broken government. What kind of stance is that? Here we are. We are a country where we have been mightily challenged over the past six years. We've been through 9/11, we've been through katrina. The president and the vice president inherited a recession. We are in a country where the economy is healthy. That's not broken. This government has acted very well. We have tax cuts responsible for the healthy economy. We are a country that was attacked five years ago. We haven't been attacked since. What this government has done is effective. That's not broken government. So, you know, i shouldn't let media bias surprise me, but i worked at cnn once. I watched a program last night.

WOLF: You worked in cross fire.

CHENEY: And i was troubled.

WOLF: All right. Well that was probably the purpose, to get people to think. To get people to discuss these issues. Because --

CHENEY: well, all right. Wolf, i'm here to talk about my book. But if you want to talk about distortion --

WOLF: we'll talk about your book.

CHENEY: Right, but what is cnn doing? Running terrorist tape of terrorists shooting americans. I mean, i thought duncan hunter asked you a very good question, and you didn't answer it. Do you want us to win?

WOLF: The answer of course is we want the united states to win. We are americans. There's no doubt about that. CHENEY: Then why are you running terrorist propaganda?

WOLF: Well all do respect, this is not terrorist propaganda.

CHENEY: Oh, wolf.

WOLF: This is reporting the news. Which is what we do, we are not partisan.

CHENEY: Where did you get the film?

WOLF: We got the film, look, this is an issue that has been widely discussed. This is an issue we reported on extensively. We make no apology ies for showing that. That was a very carefully-considered decision why we did that. And i think, i think --

CHENEY: well i think it's shocking.

WOLF: If you are a serious journalist, you want to report the news. Sometimes the news is good, sometimes the news isn't so good.

CHENEY: But wolf, there's a difference between news and terrorist propaganda. END

Good for you, Mr Blitzer. Good for you. WWSHD? Who cares? What we should do, though, is borrow a line from Hannity's arsenal - and say simply that it is such defense of journalistic integrity that make Wolf Blitzer, well, a Great American.

Why does no one talk about climate change?

At the risk of cross-posting, I am currently engaged in a spirted debate with the head of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, about the role Climate Change isn't playing in the elections.

My original argument was simple. These elections present a great American climate-change puzzle. Fertile conditions - the energy debate itself, gas prices, progressive Californian policies, Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, overwhelming scientific evidence, and more - should have pushed climate change onto the agenda. They have not. And I claimed, somewhat gingerly, that no one is joining the dots because of the way that Democrats have difficulty talking openly about issues that excite their base........But what sort of progressive politics exist when the Democratic Party doesn't campaign on climate change, but the president of the Christian Coalition and a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals do?

I find the lack leadership on this issue puzzling, and something we as progressives have to begin to deal with in the run-in to 2008. This election is evidence that even threat of planetary catastrophe is not enough to make Americans talk about climate change at election time. It is simply not enough to hope that Al Gore will run, and bring the issue with him. And who is the only politician of stature to consistently mention it? Well, whadayaknow?

Obama sounded like a national candidate, but neither he nor the other speakers who lavished praise on him directly referred to his presidential bid. Obama sketched in a platform that calls for changes in the nation's Iraq policy and improvements in health care, education, climate change and other concerns.

Bottom line. Its so simple. Saving the planet is a winning issue for Democrats. End of story. Lets start behaving like that.

Iraq falls apart. George Allen focusses on Gay Marriage.

Three comment: (1) sometimes the subject to a blog post says it all. (2) what a wretched, sorry administration this has become. (3) I really, really hope Jim Webb wins.

The story is here, and here is the key quote:

In Virginia, the court decision could not have come at a better time for Senator George Allen, a Republican whose campaign for re-election had been thrown off course by allegations that he had used racially insensitive remarks. The Virginia ballot includes a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Mr. Allen supports it; his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, argues that the ban is unnecessary.

On Thursday, Mr. Allen could be found in Roanoke at a rally held by backers of a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage. Victoria Cobb, an organizer of the events, said the New Jersey ruling was giving the cause “a new momentum.”

“It’s an issue that’s going to play a big role in the next 12 days,” Mr. Allen’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, said in an interview.

PA-SEN: Santorum + WWF = WTF???

Normally i wouldn't do anything to give him publicity. But he is 10 points down, and this is so indescribably weird i just can't stop myself. He has already come close to running the most odious ad this cycle, in which he exploits his children for electoral gain. But this is just a whole new level of strangeness. I sent the clip to a friend. His response: "Surely not. Surely this is some kind of brilliant joke? No, it simply can't be real." But, yes, it is:


Two Plausible Ways Forward on Iraq

There are two must read pieces on Iraq in today's papers. The New York Times gives its entire editorial over to "Trying to Contain the Iraq Disaster." It offers a sensible series of steps to change the nation's strategy, involving reaching out to regional powers and beginning a new political a settlement likely based on confederation. The second piece is from Sen. Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb. Its subscription only in the WSJ, so here is long quote: 

Because the current course in Iraq is a losing course, we have to prepare ourselves to make the toughest decisions since the end of the Cold War....The only way to carve out a new path is through bipartisanship.... Political leaders in our country must choose to hang together rather than hang separately. They have every incentive to do so. It is flatly against the security interests of the U.S. to stay the current course. It is also against the political interests of both parties. Republicans don't want to run for the presidency in 2008 with Iraq around their necks. Democrats do not want to assume the presidency in 2009 saddled with a losing war.

Serious members of both parties are prepared to seek a solution. First, there can be no military success in Iraq without a political settlement -- a power-sharing arrangement that gives its major groups incentives to pursue their interests peacefully instead of falling into a cycle of sectarian revenge. What could work is a federalized Iraq, with three or more largely autonomous regional governments to suit the separate interests of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. A central government would administer common concerns, such as defending Iraq's borders and managing its energy infrastructure.

Second, we must have a plan prepared by our military for the redeployment and withdrawal of most U.S. troops over the next 18 months...... Third, we have to ignite the most vigorous regional diplomacy to back up the power-sharing deal among Iraqis and avoid neighbors warring over an Iraqi vacuum...... The Baker-Hamilton commission has a unique opportunity to generate a bipartisan way forward in Iraq. If it comes up with a better plan than the one we propose, we will embrace it. But whatever it does, it cannot kick the can down the road. It must come up with a strategy that allows us to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind -- which is not being done in Washington now.

Both pieces are worth reading in full - and both are a serious contribution to the debate in both parties about what could possibly be done to save some semblance of order from the daily unfolding chaos in the middle east. 

"Stay the Course" out - "A Study in Constant Motion" in

As reported everywhere today, this astounding u-turn from yesterday's press briefing:

Q Is there a change in the administration "stay the course" policy? Bartlett this morning said that wasn't ever the policy.

MR. SNOW: No, the policy -- because the idea of "stay the course" is you've done one thing, you kick back and wait for it. And this has always been a dynamic policy that is aimed at moving forward at all times on a number of fronts. And that would include the international diplomatic front. After all, the Iraq compact is something we worked out with the Iraqis before visiting the Prime Minister in Baghdad earlier this year.

So what you have is not "stay the course," but, in fact, a study in constant motion by the administration and by the Iraqi government, and, frankly, also by the enemy, because there are constant shifts, and you constantly have to adjust to what the other side is doing.

Quite remarkable. Does anyone have the faintest idea what "a study in constant motion" might mean? Google is suggestive, providing links to the phrase including an obscure Michelangelo Antonioni movie, a description of a soccer game, and an advert for a rental home in North Carolina's out banks. It seems more like the description one might find of an impressionist painting, rather than a strategy for military. But given reported blow-ups between Rice and Rumsfeld over the "clear, hold and build" strategy, perhaps the administration has decided that the best strategy is simply one which no one can understand, and thus no one can disagree with?


UPDATE - i enlarged this post for a piece for The Guardian, which you can read here.  

MA-Gov: Best and Worst Political Ads Ever?

We might be behind the curve on this, but the Massachussets Governor's race seems to have both the best and worst of Ads this cycle. Kerry Healey is running an astonishing, shameful negative ad in which she tries to associate Deval Patrick with rapists. Meanwhile Christy Mihos - a wealthy independent candidate - takes the prize for probably the funniest ad i've seen this year. And look carefully about 15 seconds in - you'll see a Kerry Healey look-a-like amongst the group of cartoon politicians.


With Other Options Exhausted, Bush Turns to the Economy

President Bush, not for the first time this cycle, is spending a few days talking up his economic record. He now seems to share with his father the dubious distinction of being the only President since the second world war to disprove the Fair equation, an economic model developed by Yale Economist Ray Fair that usually shows a tight fit between good economic indiciators and electoral results. Since World War II the only presidents to buck the trend have been Bush 41 in 1992, and Bush 43 in 2004. And, if the polls are any indicator, Bush in 2006 also. (See this presentation from Economist Robert Gordon for more details, especially slide 16.) NDN's chosen explanation, shared by most Democrats, is that the Fair equation only breaks down when most voters don't think they are benefiting from economic growth.

In other news this story caught my eye over the weekend.

The secret to managing your finances isn't "rocket science," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told a group of high school seniors Thursday."It's very simple," said the former Wall Street titan whose net worth is estimated at over $700 million. "Make sure you don't spend more than you earn."

If the irony wasn't lost on high school seniors, it certianly shouldn't be lost on voters.

Hispanic Radio in the New Yorker

This week's New Yorker carries a tremendously interesting peek into the world of spanish language radio, one of the fastest growing media segments in America.

“This is why we came to the United States!” he shouts. “To work!” The show’s demographic is broad: the program runs ads for Toyotas, Lasik eye surgery, and Disneyland vacations, as well as for Office Depot and “the perfect diet.” Through KLAX’s owner, Spanish Broadcasting Service, El Cucuy also broadcasts to, among other places, Denver; Seattle; Tulsa; San Francisco; Atlanta; Salt Lake City; Minneapolis; Jackson, Mississippi; Fort Smith, Arkansas; Medford, Oregon; and Greenville, South Carolina.

Note that this doesn't include "the program runs ads for the Democrats." The pieces goes on to talk about how important radio is as a way for the hispanic population learning about life in the US.

Señora Ahumada turned out to be Maria Ahumada, a sixty-year-old Mexican-American who first got involved with the show eleven years ago when, working as the office manager in a law firm, she heard a young woman call in to Almendárez’s show and get bad advice. Though she is not a lawyer, she says that her intervention helped the woman win a two-million-dollar settlement. Ahumada quickly became a regular on the Cucuy show, helping people navigate bureaucracies, communicate with doctors and lawyers, and get answers to their questions

If you can use radio to find a lawyer, you can find out who you should vote for also.

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