Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Bush Brings Back Big Government

I wonder how many conservative Republican voters appreciate the irony of this:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The era of big government, if it ever went away, has returned full-throttle under President Bush, who came to office championing “conservative ideas” as an alternative.

A report released on Friday by the Brookings Institution think tank and New York University said the “true size” of the federal work force — which includes employees for federal contractors and grant recipients — grew by more than one million, to 12.1 million, from October 1999 to October 2002.

The increase was linked to the war on terrorism that Bush launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, as well as to growth at the Department of Health and Human Services and other domestic agencies, the report said.

The growth represents a roughly 75 percent rebound from federal work force declines linked to the post-Cold War “peace dividend,” which helped enable former President Bill Clinton to declare in 1996 that “the era of big government is over.”

I can hear some die-hard Texas Republicans saying “Damn, I hated those liberals and their small governments. I’m glad we’ve got a good old-fashioned big-government conservative running things.”


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Democrats Debate, and Gephardt does a little historical revision

There were several decent Bush-bashing moments during the Democratic debate last night. One of my favorites was this one, as quoted in the Washington Post:

“This president is a miserable failure,” Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) said. “It’s incomprehensible to me that we would wind up in this situation without a plan and without international cooperation to get it done.”

Okay, I’m not a Gephardt fan, but I genuinely liked the line “This President is a miserable failure.”

HOWEVER, did anyone else who heard Gephardt say that line find themselves shouting at the radio (tv, or computer): “Then why the hell did you jump on Bush’s bandwagon about Iraq last fall, totally cutting the legs out from under Daschle and the other Democrats that were considering putting up some principled resistance!?!”

Seriously, Daschle and other Democrats were undecided about the Iraq resolution, and were considering asking Bush some tough questions. But in early October 2002, Gephardt and Lieberman both unexpectedly (to other Dems) showed up in the Rose Garden with Bush, saying very publicly that they supported him 100%, and that they would do everything in their power to get Bush’s resolution passed quickly. That action completely undermined the building determination among Dems on the hill to ask some serious questions about the Iraq resolution and Bush’s proposed handling of the Iraq situation. The rest is history.

Lieberman has at least been consistent since then. Yet Gephardt now is acting totally outraged by the way Bush has conducted things in Iraq, saying that he’s had a “miserable” foreign policy – when HE (Gephardt) was one of Bush’s enablers-in-chief last fall.


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The number of jobs in the US shrinks yet again

From today’s BLS release, as reported by the AP:

Layoffs Rose Sharply Last Month, Report Says

WASHINGTON (AP) — The civilian unemployment rate improved marginally last month — sliding down to 6.1 percent — as companies slashed payrolls by 93,000. Friday’s report sent mixed signals about the nation’s overall economic health.

August was the seventh consecutive month of cuts in payrolls, a survey released by the Labor Department showed, indicating continuing weakness in the job market. But the overall seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from 6.2 to 6.1 percent of the labor force, as reflected by a broader survey of U.S. households.

It’s interesting that the divergence between the payroll numbers (falling for 7 months in a row now) and the unemployment rate (roughly constant for the past 5 months) continues with this report.

Since the unemployment RATE is derived by taking the number of people who say they’re unemployed and dividing it by the total number of people in the workforce, there’s one obvious explanation for this divergence: while fewer people are working, fewer people who aren’t working are calling themselves unemployed. In other words, every month more and more non-working people tell the BLS that they’re not actively looking for work.

I don’t think that such a continual fall in the number of non-working people actually looking for work has a precedent in recent US history. Economists call this the “discouraged worker effect.” But one interesting question is whether there could be another explanation for this, other than the (probably sufficient) possibility that people won’t bother looking for work until our current pathetic economic policies are changed.


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Blogs, Dean, and Clark

Today’s Salon piece on the Clark movement plugs three bloggers who are probably familiar to most Angry Bear readers. First, Kos gets a plug:

…Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, a 31-year-old former U.S. Army soldier turned lawyer turned Dean campaign technical consultant. Moulitsas jump-started the Draft Clark Movement earlier this year before finally giving up on Clark after months of waiting for him to declare — and after Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi invited him to work with Dean.

Then it’s Stirling Newberry’s turn:

Stirling Newberry, a 36-year-old computer consultant, is the unofficial theorist of the Clark movement, a regular blogger over at the ClarkSphere, and maintainer of Zuniga’s [Kos’s] old site,

“If you’re annoyed about something in the Dean message, good luck going to Joe Trippi and getting it fixed,” Newberry says. He expresses frequent annoyance with the Dean campaign, which he says rebuffed his offers of help some 18 months ago. “The Clark movement is a movement based on a person with an idea. Wesley Clark has articulated a vision and it’s the job of the Clark movement to put that vision forward in a variety of ways to bring people in and say, ‘We do things a certain way here, and if you do things that way you’ll be welcome and your work will be disseminated to everybody.'”

Then, it’s Matt “To The Point” Stoller’s turn:

“Clarkism is not about an individual,” explains 25-year-old Matthew Stoller, former Kerry volunteer and recent Harvard graduate who runs the ClarkSphere with Newberry. “It’s not Dean for America, it’s leadership for America. It’s not an embrace of the man, it’s an embrace of the ideas he suggests, and an embrace of Clark’s vision is an embrace of what we love about America, what we always felt in our hearts was the America we really wanted to live in … The absence of personality in the Clark movement attracts people who are not interested in personality; they are interested in ideas.

“If you place your faith in an individual,” Stoller continues, “then you are not placing your faith in systems like the rule of law. The Clark people place their faith in systems. That’s why institutional legitimacy is so important to Clark — the institutional legitimacy is about systems, about placing ideas in their legitimate forms, which is institutions. America is the actualization of the Enlightenment through institutions.”

I too am excited about Clark’s potential; whether he belongs at the top or bottom of the Democratic ticket is an open question, but as a Southerner with a distinguished military career, he needs to be on the ticket. Plus, picture this scenario in a debate with Bush (or Cheney):

BUSH (or CHENEY): Mr. Clark your math is fuzzy and the average benefit of our tax cuts is $1,000, and Saddam had a WMD program (even though I never added “program” to the phrase “Weapons of Mass Destruction” until after the Iraq war).

CLARK: That’s “Supreme Allied Commander Clark, Mr. President.”

While Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has a great ring to it, Supreme Allied Commander is even better. Politics aside for a moment, what title is cooler than Supreme Allied Commander? Picture yourself in a social situation trying to strike up a conversation with somene who catches your fancy. He or she says, perhaps deignfully, “I’m a top executive at a Fortune 500 firm. And you?” You reply, “I’m the European Supreme Allied Commander.”


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Don’t Mess With Texas

And Don’t Mess with Democracy. Not normally reading the print edition oif the NYT, I almost missed MoveOn’s first Texas Redistricting Ad in the NYT. MoveOn’s Texas radio and TV ad campaign is also underway, but I can’t find online clips of the ads. If you’ve have a link, let me know and I’ll update this; if you’ve seen the ads, were they any good?


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Doha Update

The World Bank will soon be issuing its Global Economic Prospects 2004: Realizing the Development Promise of the Doha Agenda report, which deals mostly with issues relating to trade. Fortunately for those who, like me, can’t wait to see what’s in the report, some website I’ve never heard of has advance details:

Under the scenario, the World Bank recommends that rich countries should cut tariffs to 10 per cent in agriculture and five per cent in manufacturing while developing countries could reciprocate with tariff cuts to 15 per cent and 10 per cent in agriculture and manufacturing respectively.

Similarly, the bank implores all countries to eliminate agricultural export subsidies, ‘decouple’ domestic subsidies to minimize the trade distortions and eliminate specific tariffs, quota and anti-dumping duties.

The formula, according to the World Bank, “generates gains which amount to about three quarters of those might be possible through full trade liberalization.”

The bank expressed optimism that, if the afore-stated “reforms were implemented progressively over five years to 2010 and accompanied by a realistic productivity response, developing countries would gain nearly $350 billion in additional income by 2015, and rich countries benefit in the order of $170 billion” adding, “there would be 144 million fewer people living below $2 per day by 2015.”


For instance, the GEP 2004 noted, Industrialized countries will benefit by cutting protection and agricultural subsidies, most of which go to large farmers who already make more than the average family in the EU, Japan and US.

“These measures cost the average family in these regions roughly $1,000 a year. Slashing agricultural protection would result in cheaper food and labour-intensive manufactures for consumers in those countries. At the same time it would help raise the incomes of poor farmers in developing countries. In return, rich countries might get greater access to still-protected services markets in middle-income countries,” it stated.


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Do They Really Pay Him for This?

In today’s Media Notes, inexplicably esteemed media critic Howie Kurtz condescendingly writes about Franken and his book:

“… Al Franken, slashing away at the Republicans and the right-wing press for fun and profit.”

…”[Franken] is having fun peddling a book about those he deems liars.”

“…Franken is trying to do for the left what Ann Coulter and Bernard Goldberg (not to mention best-selling authors Rush, Hannity and O’Reilly) have done for the right: Demonize the other side. Slap the conservatives around. Get some good licks in. While Franken’s book is strident, the former Saturday Night Live comic is helped by his sense of humor.”

Not addressed at all, of course, is whether the charges in Franken’s book are true (and whether the listed conservatives really are liars). That would take effort and research, not really Kurtz’s cup of tea.

Instead Kurtz cuts and pastes 510 words from a 1311 word essay by Salon’s Dave Talbot. I’m sure Salon appreciates the plug, but an undergrad who did this in a paper would be lucky to get a D.


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Whitmire Update

Back in Texas, and using the New York Times to respond to allegations of cowardice, Texas State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) has this to say:

“This is not Alamo stuff. This is serious, but it’s no life or death matter.”

And this:

“I don’t perceive what I’m doing as caving. I’m pursuing a different strategy.”

Different? Yes, I suppose capitulation is in fact different–not wise or effective, but different.


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Even the Conservative Dan Drezner

University of Chicago Political Science professor Dan Drezner, a smart guy even if he is conservative, writes in the current issue of The New Republic about Bush’s naked sell-outs on the principles of free trade–when it bolsters his position in swing states:

Evaluating the Bush administration’s international economic policy is the political equivalent of diagnosing a schizophrenic. Every step forward in Robert Zoelllick’s grand strategy for trade liberalization–getting fast-track authority, launching the Doha round of world trade talks–is matched by a blatantly protectionist measure contained in Karl Rove’s master plan for reelection, such as the steel tariffs and the farm bill.

I recommend reading the whole thing (it’s one of TNR’s free articles). If you are still unconvinced by my attempts (here and here) to explain why free trade is a good thing, the read Drezner’s fourth-to-last paragraph particularly carefully. Or if you really don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s Drezner’s conclusion, and I can’t find anything to disagree with:

The most likely outcome for the next 18 months is a policy of “hypocritical liberalization.” The Doha round will proceed, as will the Middle East Free Trade Area. But the administration will take advantage of every exception, escape clause, and loophole at its disposal to protect vital constituencies from the vicissitudes of the global market. This will hurt the broad majority of American consumers and a healthy share of producers that rely on imported raw materials. But hey, there’s a rosy future awaiting West Virginia steelworkers.


P.S. Josh Marshall has a nice take on Bush’s new-found protectionist populism.

P.P.S. It’s really starting to look like there’s an easy way to predict what this administration will do next, at least in terms of domestic policy. It’s not as haphazard as John DiIulio made it out to be (and then retracted). Instead, just comb the history books for any of Herbert Hoover’s domestic policies not yet proposed by the Bush administration. Those are the ones on the horizon.

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