NDN Blog

Inaction on the Economy, Please

The President is off at Camp David today, trying to figure out how to make the economic situation look better. This comes against a backdrop of some brighter budget deficit figures yesterday. Barring a crunching slowdown the budget deficit should continue to improve over the next year, as one might expect at this point in the economic cycle where tax recipts grow to reflect economic growth. The same is unlikely to be true of trade deficit, where only an economic slowdown, which will lower imports, will make much of a difference. Nonetheless, as the Times writes today, the longer term picture still looks bad. The official figures look bad enough, but if you add in continaution of the tax cuts and scrapping of the AMT - a tax originally deisigned to stop the very rich avoiding paying any tax at all - it looks very, very bad. But we knew most of this before. Normally progressives slap their foreheads and sigh; given figures like this, wouldn't it be good if the President could do more to aid the economy? Perhaps instead we should glance at Paul Krugman's collumn, which mentions the consensus on wages before moving onto the more fraught issue of economic inequality:

I've been studying the long-term history of inequality in the United States. And it's hard to avoid the sense that it matters a lot which political party, or more accurately, which political ideology rules Washington.... It seems likely that government policies have played a big role in America's growing economic polarization -- not just easily measured policies like tax rates for the rich and the level of the minimum wage, but things like the shift in Labor Department policy from protection of worker rights to tacit support for union-busting.

Given this analysis, more Presidential action might not be what the economy needs. Perhaps we might simply ask the President to join his colleagues in the Congress, and do nothing?

Protectionist Hogwash

What is it with Republican and Harley Davidson factories? In January this year Dick Cheney trotted off to one in Kansas to talk about how great the economy was. And yesterday President Bush was in Pennslyvania astride a hog, talking up the benefits of free trade:

"My concern is that this kind of fear of globalization causes a reaction that will cause us to lurch toward protectionism. That's my biggest concern," the president said in a 25-minute interview with USA TODAY. "I am worried that may be where a country that is concerned about the future heads."

The USA Today piece is interesting, containing as it does some sharp words on the President's patchy record on trade. Nonetheless, his remarks are to be welcomed, and mirror almost exactly the sentiments of Treasury Secretary Paulson's speech a week or so back, as quoted in this excellent Post piece on why "openness should begin at home". But what of Harley themselves? It seems the choice of venue has been somewhat controversial. Dean Baker's Beat the Press page at The American Prospect notes the irony that Harley Davidson was the recipient of tarrif protection during the early 1980s. Reagan allowed the protection during the hey-dey of early 80s jap bashing. Protection basically allowed Harley to avoid going bust in the face of competition from much superior Japanese motorcylces. Its a nice debating point. But Baker's none-too-subtle shout out to the wonderous powers of tarrif protection would likely no longer get much of a hearing at Harley's Milwaukee HQ. The manufacturer has spent the last few years badgering the Commerce Department to help them overcome trade barriers, and get a toe hold in the Chinese market.

Intellectual Property: From Sweden, With Love

Wired News features a captivating two-part series following piracy in Sweden. In the first part, we learn about the Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent tracking website that touts some remarkable facts and figures: the site has "an international user base and easily clears 1 million unique visitors a day." In Sweden, it appears the culture of piracy is, well, different. Simply put, "the administrators of the Pirate Bay believe the law is wrong."

The second part offers both sides of the story. It chronicles the entry of Rickard Falkvinge, a man who created the Swedish Pirate Party, into politics, and the role of the mysterious Pirate's Bureau. Marianne Levin, the Swedish representative of the MPAA, also gets to tell her side of the story. Both sides have become accustomed to the others' slandering words.

But this really caught my eye: "Parting with many copyright minimalists in the United States, [Pirate's Bureau] acknowledges that file sharing can do real harm to rights holders." This certainly shifts the debate - in Sweden they're not downloading in dark corners and alleyways, so to speak. They're doing it openly, civilly disobedient to a system they believe is flawed. It has become the job of others to persuade them that pirating is even wrong at all.

Sssshhhh..... don't mention the Democratic landslide......

Can the Democrats take back the House in November? Whisper it quietly, but the new question might soon become "by how much" will we win. So pervasive is the pessimism within the Democratic party, and so mighty is seen to be the tactical superiority of Republican cut and run machine, that commentators are very cautious about predicting a big shift. But, gradually, they are beginning to. Veteran poll watcher Thomas Mann was among the first to do so last month when he wrote that "we could see a national tide in November that will sweep the Democrats back into the majority." In the last few days a few more voices have been added. Yesterday, Chris Cillizza on the excellent Washington Post "The Fix" blog, quoted arguments that ongoing Democratic poll leads allow us to "conclude that a Democratic wave is building that will sweep Republicans out of a House majority in November."

"If you take an average of the last three or four polls, because any one can be an outlier in either direction, you can determine which way the wind is blowing, and whether the wind speed is small, medium, large or extra-large," said [Polster Charlie] Cook. "The last three generics that I have seen have been in the 18 or 19 point range, which is on the high side of extra large. That suggests the probability of large Democratic gains."

Now, in this morning's Post, David Broder reports unheard of GOP weaknesses in the Ohio Governor's race. Another story reports that K Street Lobbyists are hiring Democrats, much in the same way that fund managers re-balance their equity portfolios in anticipation of changes in the market. So why doesn't the story get wider play? Three reasons occur to me. First, the only recent model for a change of leadership is 1994. The lack of either a Democratic Gingrich, or a Gingrich-like agenda, seems to convince analysts that a landslide isn't possible. Second, the almost mythic status of the GOP electoral machine, and the tactical masterminds who drive it, convince people not to be too hasty in writing them off. Finally, Democrats themeslves have a seemingly unshakeable belief in their own innability to promote a coherent, popular message. But perhaps, just perhaps, come November it will turn out that you don't need a Gingrich to win, that the GOP machine is out of gas, and that the Dems have run a more disciplined and organized campaign than anyone noticed.

Wages Stagnant Again.

Another month passes, another set of figures show no rise in real wages. Figures out today from the Bureua of Labor Statistics show that real average weekly earning fell in July. Or, to put it much more tediously and longwindedly:

Real average weekly earnings decreased by 0.1 percent from June to July after seasonal adjustment, according to preliminary data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. A 0.4 percent increase in average hourly earnings was more than offset by a 0.5 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Average weekly hours were unchanged. (PDF)

This is not great news. Wage growth seemed to be picking up in two out of the last three months. Given that yesterday's mild CPI figures seemed to show a slowing in price rises, it might have been hoped that robust wage growth and slowing prices might translate into real wage growth. Instead, we're now 6 for 12: six out of the past twelve monthly statements have shown weekly earnings declining in real terms. With growing concerns about the state of the economy, most apocalyptically from economist Nouriel Roubini, we wonder again if this economic cycle will see no rise in real wages at all.

Taking the "Get these people out of town" Argument to Court

Fed up with federal inaction over immigration, many local towns have started to take their own measures, usually in very unorthodox ways. As the LA Times reports, one town passed an ordinance which "suspends the license of any business that "employs, retains, aids or abets" illegal immigrants; imposes a fine of $1000 per day on any landlord renting property to an illegal immigrant; and declares that all official city business be written in English only."

Some astute lawyers, however, have noticed that this isn't exactly Constitutional (after all, an issue like immigration is under the distinct jurisdiction of the federal government, not local). But we all know how House Republicans wanted to solve the matter, the enforcement-only policy that NDN picked up early. And, as David Broder comments, we all know that the Republicans inability to effectively deal with this issue is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of Latino voters.

Alan Schlesinger is The Third Man

In between Joementum and Nedrenaline, spare a thought for Alan Schlesinger. The President conspicously failed to back him. The rest of his party can't distance themselves quickly enough. He polls in (low) single figures. And now, so goes the conventional wisdom in blog land, he has just had his campaign handed to him by Chris Mathews on Hardball. I'll go out on a limb here and say that Schleisinger actually comes off well. Despite the predictably aggressive questioning about gambling debts and his party dropping him like a dose of the plague, he seeemd calm, straight forward, honest and relatively likeable. If he doesn't get the axe, perhaps he'll pick up a vote in the teens after all?

The Era of Big Government Isn't Over

NDN tentatively peeked its head out of the trench, intrepidly scuttled across ideological lines, and went to a seminar at CATO today. I'd like to write about why the right wing have such nice offices, and the oddity of a libertarian think tank handing out free sandwiches, rather than letting the market prepare lunch. But, as we were notionally there went to see Stephen Slivinski discuss his new book, Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, i'd better write about that. Alongside Slivinski, Robert Novack played the vastly more famous cameo role. Both were withering about Bush, highlighting the Farm (2002), Medicare (2003) and Highways (2005) Acts as particular offenders of reckless fiscal spending. Amidst the general tone of libertarian dispair, the best the chair could say what that voters did have a choice. It just that it was between tax-and-spend Democrats and borrow-and-spend Republicans.

The gist of the two presentations was - whisper it quietly - that with the glorious, exhalted exceptions of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, Republicans don't really believe in cutting Government spending after all. The most striking comment of all came from Novack discussing the political shift following Clinton's 1996 victory. His basic point was that Republicans were faced with a choice, with their '94 agenda stalled and Dole's recent defeat still close at hand. Did they concentrate on building a machine to getting back into office, and ditch their class of '94 principles? Or vice-versa? Karl Rove chose the machine. He, Bush and Dick "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" Cheney went on to win handsomely twice as big government conservatives. One way to interpret this would be to say they did what it took to win. But might another be that that Clinton, so often maligned as leaving little political legacy, rescued the reputation of the state sufficiently to banish talk of starving the beast?

Video in Politics: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Three stories about political video in its various forms.  From the established media format of the political ad, as produced by the DSCC, to the new, potentially viral video of George Allen, to the legally murky status of the 'VNR,' here is how video continues to play an important role in the new politics.  

The DSCC has released a new ad Secure, undercutting Republican rhetoric on homeland security.  Note the alternating examples of debacles abroad: too few troops in Iraq, failure to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, and shortcomings at home: cuts in law enforcement budgets, lax port security, etc.

Republican Senator (and potential 2008 Presidential candidate) George Allen released a much less targeted piece of media yesterday.  At a campaign rally in Southwest VA, Allen singled out S.R. Sidarth, an Indian-American campaign aide to Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb, calling Sidarth "macaca" and offering a sarcastic "welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."  Sidarth was born and raised in Fairfax County, VA and it'll be interesting to see how this "macaca" comment plays in Iowa or in the DSCC's next ad.

The Center for Media and Democracy has released a report on what are called 'video news releases' or VNRs.  VNRs are fake news pieces produced by corporations, and it is illegal to air them without disclosing their source.  The report found 77 examples of local television stations violating this law, triggering an FCC investigation.  The corporations producing these VNRs must be taking cues from the Bush administration, which produced its own fake news stories, until the GAO declared them "illegal covert propaganda."  

Lots of Immigrants. Get Used to It.

New Census Bureau stats on immigrants are  much covered in this morning's news, and take top billing on the front page of the Times. Numbers are up in the usual places. But politically the most intriguing data seems to show that immigrant levels are rising in less expected corners of the country:

Indiana saw a 34 percent increase in the number of immigrants; South Dakota saw a 44 percent rise; Delaware 32 percent; Missouri 31 percent; Colorado 28 percent; and New Hampshire 26 percent. “It’s the continuation of a pattern that we first began to see 10 or 15 years ago,” said Jeff Passel, senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center, who has examined the new census data. “But instead of being confined to areas like the Southeast, it’s beginning to spill over into some Midwestern states, like Indiana and Ohio. It’s even moving up into New England.”

The Bureau lets you play around with the data in various ways here. You never know. If immigration continues rising in New Hampshire at this sort of rate, perhaps the nation's first primary competition will not always be dominated by white, rural libertarians after all. 


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