NDN Blog

Morning Roundup

In a recurring theme of this blog, it seems remarkable how on the sidelines of world affairs America sits today.  Tom Friedman hit this point hard on Meet the Press yesterday.  Brent Scowcroft in a Washington Post op-ed lays out a multi-pronged strategy for bringing peace to the Middle East.  While imaginable for the American government, its diplomatic maturity and complexity is unimaginable for the current "yo Blair" administration, one that has a hard time talking to the opposition party in its home country let alone adversaries aboard. 

Where the battle in Lebanon takes us next is hard to know.  Certainly the death of innocents yesterday - whether hezbollah used them as shields or not - has altered the game.  I have been very sympathetic to Israel's actions, believing that it was time to let Iran understand the consequences of their flouting of the international community.  Remember that in the early days of the Lebanon battle Sunni Arab states rallied to Israel's cause, pleased by the bloodying of the Shiite's nose. Perhaps Israel's actions have backfired now, causing a rallying for Hezbollah and the extremists.  But the current rise of Iran and Shiite extremists cannot be tolerated.  This didnt work out as well as it needed to.  Something else must be tried. 

But what is America's role in all this? Can we possibly take on Iranian-backed extremists, given our investment in Iraq's Shiite-led government? Can we suggest the coming to power, through elections, of extremist political parties with militias in Palestine and Lebanon, is a problem given that these elections were brought about with American urging? Can Bush publically state that rising oil prices are fueling global instability and needs to be tackled head on?

At a time of great global turmoil, America sits on the sidelines, without the credibility, resources, imagination or will to make a difference.  And the sidelining of America, in of itself, is contributing to global insecurity and instability. 

For more be sure to read Noah Feldman's excellent essay in yesterday's New York Times, and Henry Kissinger's op-ed in today's Post.   For more on these matters from NDN see here and here. 

An interesting piece on how Jane Harman handled her primary

McJoan from Dailykos has a very good piece on how Cong. Jane Harman successfully handled her recent primary challenge, and the differences with the way Lieberman has handled his.   There are many important lessons here for those trying to master the new politics of our new century. 

Times endorses Lamont

In what is going to be a long-talked about event, this morning the New York Times endorsed Ned Lamont.  The editorial is thought provoking and challenging.  And though I am supporting Joe, I think most of it is dead-on. 

I just got back from an extended trip to California to build support for our mas que un partido campaign, so haven't had a lot of time to blog.  But this editorial demands a robust discussion, and I hope to do my part in the days ahead.  Let's start by reviewing a memo I wrote to Joe some weeks ago, which mirrors a great deal of the advice I had been offering him and his people since last year. 

Slow Lags and Hard Landings

Its friday afternoon here at NDN, which must means its the perfect time to sneak out some bad economic news. And whats this? Indeed, its glum news on wages tip-toeing out of the back door of the Commerce Department. Marketwatch gives a good overview, reporting that these revised figures show that "the growth of employee compensation, already thought to be the slowest in any post-World War II recovery, has been even weaker than previously assumed." And today's figures, while rising, are doing so slower than inflation. As Jared Bernstein writes over at Brad De Long's place, "real compensation (wages plus benefits) has declined, on a yearly basis, for the past four quarters."

Normal economic theory suggests that a mix of rising economic growth and productivity will lead to higher wages and incomes. There has been a debate as to why this isn't happening. Some say, as we said earlier this week, that this is because of underlying changes in the nature of the global economy. Others claim there is simply a lag between growth and wage increases. But one precondition for the lag theory to be right is that the economy must keep growing long enough for the lag to kick. Bad news, then, that this isn't what seems to be happening. Today's GDP figures show that growth more than halved in the second quarter, down to 2.5%. The slowdown was expected, and the growth level is historically respectable. But it has certainly commentators cleverer than I furrowing their brows, and talking darkly of slow downs and recessions. The Economist highlights fears of an economic slowdown combined with inflationary pressures, and as usual hits the nail on the head:

The unexpectedly slow rate of growth comes just as there are reasons to worry about the underlying economy. Consumer spending has remained astonishingly high recently but only because Americans are increasingly willing to borrow, largely on their now-more-valuable homes. Personal-savings rates have been negative since the second quarter of last year. The share of household incomes devoted to servicing debt is at an all-time high.

Whats going to happen? As usual, nobody know. Some seem optimistic. The IMF thinks we're heading for a "soft landing" with lower growth. Others, like the hawkish folks over at the Hamilton Project earlier this week, worry that continuing global imbalances could combine with reckless fiscal management here at home to deliver a hard landing, complete with a slide in the dollar, higher interest rates and lower growth. The only thing that can be said with certain is that whether the economy slows soft or hard, a slowing economy is very unlikey to produce rises in incomes. Could this be the first complete economic cycle since the second world war to see no increase in real incomes at all? Watch this space.

Republicans are the party of...?

It's about that time again. Just before the August recess and Congressional Republicans are trying to get something accomplished. However, when I was reading the Times this morning, I was perplexed. Instead of the usual push for a ban on gay marraige or the triumphant return of the flag burning issue, we have minimum wage on the floor possibly tomorrow.

Says the Times:

"Mr. Boehlert and others have argued that Republican support for an increase in the federal wage is essential to shore up the party’s strength among blue-collar and low-income workers who could decide critical House contests in the Northeast and Midwest.

The willingness of the leadership to relent on a wage vote after months of reluctance illustrates Republican nervousness about the November elections, and a desire to break for the August recess on a politically positive note. Although many states now require higher wage levels, the federal minimum wage has remained at $5.15 an hour since 1997."

A curious realization that $5.15 times 40 times 52 is well below the poverty line. Senator Kennedy nicely illustrates the difference in the party lines here in the Post article covering the bill, asserting "we should be rising above politics" on such important issues.

And this is an important issue. The Economic Policy Instute has a quick snapshot showing that almost 60% of the workforce is covered at the state level by a higher minimum wage. Even at the city level, just two days ago the Chicago City Council voted to up the minimum wage gradually to $10/hour for certain stores in the city.

But turning back to politics, minimum wage simply shows the fracturing of the GOP - a party that quickly raised it's own salary, yet struggles to raise the ceiling for those at the bottom. Certainly not a party willing to rise above politics and do what's right.

Revver

Met a very interesting guy this morning, Steven Starr, the founder and CEO of Revver.  What is Revver? Check it out.  A good place to start is the now famous Extreme Diet Coke and Memtos Experiment.  More on this exciting new idea soon.

House Republicans and Energy Policy: When Will the Politics End?

I woke up this morning in an inexplicably good mood.  Thankfully, all I had to do to remove the bounce from my step and restore my equilibrium was open up a newspaper and read about the House Republican energy bill.  So put on your seatbelt and get ready to leave the reality-based community behind for a liquefied-coal powered ride into the world of desperate Republican politicking.

In contrast to the bi-partisan energy bill moving through the Senate, House Republicans are scurrying to pass a divisive energy bill in the 3 weeks before Congress goes into recess.  The plan may sound familiar, or it may just sound like a broken record, because once again Republicans are trying to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  This time they seem to realize that ripping up ANWR is not going to end our over-dependence on foreign oil.  They must have read the Energy Information Agency report which reveals that at peak production, twenty years from when drilling begins, oil from ANWR would only meet 1%-2% of domestic energy needs.   

In an impressive case of mission creep, House Republicans have given up emphasizing the minimal and far-off economic impact of drilling in ANWR, and are instead arguing that royalties collected from oil companies could be used to finance an “Energy Independence Trust Fund.”  You may remember the idea of an Energy Trust Fund from 2004, when it was at the center of John Kerry’s energy proposal.  House Republicans should try to arrange a photo-op with the junior Senator from Massachusetts to celebrate their slightly belated support for his energy plan.  Perhaps not though, as their trust fund would support greenhouse gas-producing coal and ethanol technology, whereas Kerry’s called for strengthening fuel efficiency, retooling factories and providing incentives to buy hybrid vehicles.  Of course, we could have that trust fund today if Congress would collect reasonable royalties from companies already drilling on federal land and rescind the $2.8 billion dollars in tax cuts and incentives that oil executives admit they don't need.  Just a thought. 

    

NDN in the News

NDN's Joe Garcia is in the Miami Herald today discussing President Bush's sinking approval rating among hispanics

''He's looking for reassurances, his numbers are down everywhere,'' said Joe Garcia, director of NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center and former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation. ``George Bush's mismanagement of the immigration issue has angered their base and the Hispanics they spent so much time cultivating. Clearly they are trying to reconnect with a group they've lost standing with.''

This morning's papers

Simon is off in California this week, so i'll step up and post of few interesting stories from around the media this morning. First up, the Wall St Journal has a new poll. The President inches up to a mighty 39% approval rating. Other indicaters on the economy, iraq and the "right track / wrong track" look positive for the Democrats. And yet, as the paper points out, the party gets its lowest favourability rating for a decade or more, with only 32% viewing the party positively. Clearly, there is work to be done on convincing voters that Democrats are more than an anti-bush protest vote. Beyond the popular wedge issues - minimum wage, stem cells and so forth - there doesn't yet seem to be much traction on the party's alternative agenda. Whatever this might be. 

The Post has an intriguing piece about demography, profiling William Frey, a boffin at Brookings. Frey "has pinpointed three [future] Americas -- the multicultural "melting pot" states, the predominantly white heartlands and the "New Sunbelt" -- that are pulling in young suburbanites." Its worth a read, not least for its claim that ethnic differences will become less important, rather than more over the coming decades. This is deeply counterintuitive, but it makes sense on at least one level. Political scientists tend to believe that many cross-cutting social cleavages - or lots of groups with weak identities - tend to make for more stable social organisations than a few groups with a few very powerful cleavages. (Think about Northern Ireland, for instance.) So as America becomes much more of a mixed race society, perhaps the sharp divide of white, black and hispanic will fade? 

Finally, The rumbles and recriminations from the collapse of the Doha round continue. The consensus seems to be that agricultural interests on both side of the Atlantic are to blame. President Bush gnomically is reported as thinking that the talks are "neither dead nor alive.". Whatever this might mean, Jagdish Bhagwati - a respected and very sane economist- is quoted in the FT as saying that "There is no doubt that Mr Bush remains deeply committed to trade liberalisation and to Doha ... But he cannot afford to make himself hostage to the Democrats before the midterm elections. There can be little doubt he will try to revive Doha after that." Depressing that the issue could be construed in this way, but nice to see someone being optimistic that matters might be revived. And with that thought, let us set about the rest of the day.........

The Millennial Voters

College Democrats of America, the college arm of the Democratic National Committee held their 2006 Convention in St. Louis, Missouri this past weekend. Chairman Dean, Nancy Pelosi, Governor Vilsack and General Wesley Clark were among the many speakers in Missouri, where students received trainings by DNC staffers in voter contact, fundraising, event planning and GOTV. I was lucky enough to attend convention with my fellow Pennsylvania College Democrats.

In 2004 young people truly did “rock the vote”, according to a University of Maryland research institute, CIRCLE, which estimated that “at least 20.9 million 18 to 29-year olds voted on November 2--nearly 4.6 million more than in 2000, when only 16.3 million turned out to vote”. Because of this, candidates in the midterm elections are looking to capture the votes of young people across the country through new media like Facebook and MySpace. Last week, The Washington Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb had a fairly decent article about youth voter turnout in which he said the youth vote is generally left-leaning, but acknowledges that it is not necessarily the Democrats to keep.

In the past, politicians have seemed to overlook the youth vote, complaining that voter turnout for young people has been entirely too low. The 2004 election was a clear indication that 18-20-somethings were ready for elected officials to hear their voices and ideas. Politicians use of such new media like Facebook and text messaging, goes hand in hand with NPI’s toolbox of political ideas for 2006. If politicians begin re-shaping the way they reach out to voters, it is likely that the youth vote will continue to improve in the coming elections. Check out Peter Leyden's article on the Millennial Generation for more information.

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