Saturday, February 21, 2004

Ibogaine is back in the news, which some of you might remember as the potent mildly hallucinogenic stimulant on which Hunter Thompson alleged Ed Muskie was hopped up during the 1972 Democratic primary campaign.

Apparently, ibogaine has been found useful in treating drug addiction, and the Journal of the American Medical Association agrees.

Never had ibogaine, but I have read . Don't be fooled by Hunter's drug swilling persona and Ralph Steadman's tripped out illustrations, this is some of the best writing on American political campaigns ever. Period. (It's so good it helped me land my political operative wife).

Huge container ships steam into this port every day loaded with clothes and shoes, furniture and video games, electronics and aircraft parts made in Asia.

On their return trip, those same ships often cross the Pacific half empty, bearing chemicals, meat, grain and engines and routinely stuffed with hay or scrap paper.

"This is what the nation's trade imbalance really looks like," said Mark Knudsen, the deputy director of the Port of Seattle. "We've got so much empty cargo space, it pays to ship over hay for Chinese animals, or scrap paper to be recycled into packaging for Barbie dolls."

John MacArthur interviewed stevedores for his seminal book, The Selling of Free Trade and found much the same thing.

America may no longer be a manufacturing dynamo, but that scrap paper recycling promises to be a real growth industry.
Friday, February 20, 2004

This NYT article on the state of manufacturing jobs made me rather nostalgic. No, not for "boxgate" and the theatrics of China trade political economy, but for 1980s Wendy's ads:

The administration's desparation on the issue of jobs and manufacturing is not even funny anymore. It's pathetic. Earlier this week, the Council of Economic Advisors' Greg Mankiw waxed philosophic on the nature of manufacturing, echoing earlier pronouncements in the ERP:

"When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, is it providing a service or combining inputs to manufacture a product?"

Would a hamburger by any other name taste but as sweet?

The statistical classification for manufacturing activities is admittedly not-so-lucidly defined as enterprises "engaged in the mechanical, physical or chemical transformation of materials, substances or components into new products."

Um, yeah. When they start trying to pass off minimum wage earning burger flippers as phantom manufacturing jobs, you know they are in deep (political) trouble, and we are all in deep trouble.

Check this pretty little picture:

The solid line represents the US manufacturing trade balance (the amount we export less the amount we export), which has been in deficit pretty steadily since the early 1980s. The dashed line represents the US current account deficit, which is edging up over 5% these days, a threshold where many economic studies show is the breaking point for a major financial crisis. As this picture shows, the current account deficit is driven almost entirely by the deficit in manufacturing (looking at the rest of trade, our trade surplus in services--which has been shrinking, too, in recent years--and our surplus in agricultural exports--aided by our dismal agricultural policy that is impoverishing much of the world--roughly pay the bill for American oil imports).

Those manufactured goods--and I don't mean the hamburgers--that we no longer make, but instead import from China, are driving our country to financial ruin. It's no wonder the Bush administration wants to hide the fact.
TELL NADER NO: Don't Run in '04

Email him here:

South Africa, that is:

"Measured by progress made towards a just and peaceful world order, 2003 is thankfully over and best forgotten. Especially depressing was the spectacle of the richest, most scientifically advanced human beings on the planet lapse into a kind of high-tech barbarism. It was a year that saw the world's only superpower, on an increasingly unhinged score-settling mission, lose its democratic compass and all but opt out of the human family."
Thursday, February 19, 2004

Well, on a lot of what is written here, anyway. I don't expect to make any habit of this.

In the latest issue of American Conservative, Buchanan takes on war monger and military-industrial shill Richard Perle for his latest screed, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.

While a serious global threat that must be faced, international terrorism does not warrant the response of permanent war that Perle and other scions in the Bush administration's inner circles want to bring us. The book purports itself as a manual for victory in the war against terror, a crusade to rid the planet of 'evil.'

Buchanan responds:

"But no nation can “end evil.” Evil has existed since Cain rose up against his brother Abel and slew him. A propensity to evil can be found in every human heart. And if God accepts the existence of evil, how do Frum and Perle propose to “end” it? Nor can any nation “win the war on terror.” Terrorism is simply a term for the murder of non-combatants for political ends."

To paraphrase Buchanan, a sentiment with which all liberals would agree, the hawkish inner circle of the Bush administration is delusional, radical and exhibiting self-destructive tendencies. Yes, that much we all knew. But how strange to hear it from Buchanan's lips.

DeLong and Maxspeak are keeping the blogosphere up to date on the inside baseball facts of Bush's "Jobs-gate."

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is keeping us abreast of Scott McClellan's desparate hand waving on the issue.

Between the WMDs, the National Guard story, and now "Jobs-gate" the Bush campaign is looking at a three-theater war.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004

My dad, proud Prius driver and avowed enemy of the petro-industrial complex, sent me this:

I sh@# you not, this car runs on air. It has zero pollution (from operation), has a top speed of 110 km/hr (about 68 mph), and a tank of fuel (compressed ambient air) costs $2. Oh, and the MSRP ranges from $8-10,000.

Look out Detroit, Houston, Riyadh, Baghdad, etc.

Adios Dr. Dean.

What now? Pundits are pondering the potential of a Dean-Edwards alliance, which might really throw a spanner in the works of John Kerry's campaign, but I doubt it.

Maxspeak thinks the demise of Dean may liberate some erstwhile Kucinich supporters who had heretofore opted for Dean out of pragmatism (the oxymoron of pragmatic Kucinich supporters aside).

Despite the close results in WI, the two way horse race is a figment of the media's imagination and need for a horse race story. Look at the exit poll results:

45% of Edwards voters were Republicans (Wisconsin has open primaries), which goes a long way to explain Edwards' mushrooming numbers in Tuesday's primary (as opposed to Edwards reigniting a Democratic base).

Granted even these Republican-bloated results creates a psychological effect that will boost Edwards supporters in upcoming Super Tuesday states and will spur a wave of fundraising in the coming days, his performance with Democrats does not bode well for future contests that are not open primaries (like most of those on Super Tuesday). But more importantly, the close result provides the media a hook with which to spin stories about a resurgent Edwards.

It's all good, though. The more the contest for the Democrat's nominee is dragged out, the more Democratic voters will be invigorated and the more earned media exposure Democrat candidates will get bashing Bush.

**UPDATE--Correction: I was a bit hasty in claiming that none of the Super Tuesday states are open primaries. I have it on good authority from a political hack friend that 7 of the ten states on Super Tuesday have primaries open to Dems and Independents but not registered Republicans, while the other three are open only to registered Democrats.

Now Arnold wants to convert the California State Capitol into a smoking club:

"The governor's spokeswoman, Terri Carbaugh, explained that Mr. Schwarzenegger wants to create an informal meeting and schmoozing area where he can smoke cigars with lawmakers and other power brokers."

Oh good, that's all the government needs is Arnold to be making policy with his cronies in smoke-filled rooms.

Johnny Cash has been departed for less than 6 months, and already people want to cash in on his fame.

'Ring of Fire' for a hemorrhoids commercial?

Oy vey.

who shall herein be known as Rufus, has a new blog (what he likes to call a livejournal). It doesn't have anything to do with economics or politics, but it does offer an invaluable glimpse inside one of Seattle's most creative minds.

Here is one of Rufus' observations:

"Gillian Welch's new CD, Soul Journey, is really not as bad as it sounds."


"The world's languages are disappearing at a "catastrophic" rate that makes the extinction of plant and animal species seem sedate, linguists told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle.

"It is difficult to overstate the importance to science of documenting endangered languages," said David Harrison, an expert in Siberian languages at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. "Each language that vanishes without being documented leaves an enormous gap in our understanding of some of the many complex structures the human mind is capable of producing."

What's at stake? Languages contain "complex cognitive structures not found elsewhere. They also embody a highly specialised knowledge of the environment - medicinal plants, animal behaviour, weather signs, hunting and gathering techniques - and a rich pre-literate oral tradition."

Some people have argued that the wrold's cultural diversity contains built-in limitations on the progress of globalization.

But what happens when cultural products become traded commodities? Intellectual properties in the form of music, movies, television programming, brand name clothing, etc. as well as the rights of foreign investors to buy telecommunications infrastructure and media outlets are all at the center of the current global trade agenda. One highlight of which the USTR boasts in the recently signed FTA with Australia are the "unprecedented provisions to improve market access for U.S. films and television
programs over a variety of media including cable, satellite, and the Internet."

Prior to this FTA, Australia maintained cultural content rules much like those in Canada to ensure the preservation of their cultural identity amid a tidal wave of English language culture from the US and the UK (special priviliges for the Canadian rules of cultural origin were carved out of NAFTA). Granted that the currently predominant cultures in Australia and Canada represent successful cultural colonization of indigenous peoples in their respective parts of the world, but looking forward the agreement is a harbinger of what is to come should the current language on TRIPs and services trade become part of the WTO or proposed FTAA.

Some market fundamentalists imagine a competitive market where the supply of world cultures meets the demand from individual consumers, neatly allocating cultural resources and cultural consumption based on individuals tastes and preferences. It's cute that people can think this way, but the propagation of cultural products plays by the same rules as any other commercial industry: the power and ability to monopolize distribution channels--which proposed TRIPs and services trade rules aim to ensure--determines market outcomes.

The Center for American Progress has the straight dope.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004

South Africa's Mail & Guardian reports that the AIDS rate for youth (under 20) fell from 22% down to 15% since last November. How did they do it? An aggressive education and outreach programs to provide anti-retroviral drugs.

Of course, provision of AIDS medicine was only made possible through a concerted global campaign waged by civil society groups and despite the best efforts of PhRMA to equivocate on the language of the Doha ministerial declaration.

The NYT reports this morning that Japan, too, is exporting to the world through China. The $124 billion in US imports from China, of course, are not all from Chinese companies (47 percent of Chinese imports are transactions between a multinational and one of its subsidiary companies). American, Japanese, Taiwanese and European based multinationals, who have flooded China with foreign direct investment in recent years, are using China's cheap labor and favorable export environment as a platform for selling to the US.

While American companies have tended to send their higher value-added processes to China, importing intermediate components for assembly in the US (witness Dell), the Japanese are keen on guarding their firm-specific assets in technology and proprietary manufacturing techniques. Japanese workers will still be "designing the main components that distinguish electronic products," the so-called brain jobs." However, the article notes that Chinese engineers are closing the taltent gap, indicative of the offshoring of white-collar jobs in the US that is now sparking blowback in the US.

The NYT quotes a Citigroup analyst in Japan who claims to have the answer to jobs shifting overseas, be it from Japan or the US: "Job creation via deregulation is key." Intereseting position (more on Citigroup here).

Rather than international trade based on classical comparative advantage--that is, where two countries specialize production based on relative efficiency and trade for the good at which they are less efficient--we may be witnessing the beginning of international trade based on absolute advantage, whereby the lowest cost producer will dominate no matter what the relative efficiencies. This would be quite a different world than most advocates of free trade describe, and a world that would call for markedly different approaches to trade policy.

With a college educated labor force in China approaching the size of the total US population, it's plain to see that whatever technical advantage the US economy currently has is likely to erode quite rapidly. Yikes.
Monday, February 16, 2004

South Knox Bubba assesses Bush's accomplishments in honor of President's Day.

I've written before about what kind of global corporate citizen Citigroup has been through the years: laundering money for the Russian mafia, Mexican drug cartels, and Middle East terrorists; underwriting the South African Apartheid regime; spawing financial crises throughout the developing world; lobbying the government to deregulate the financial industry and then rewarding the Treasury Secretary (Robert Rubin) and the number two official at the IMF (Stanley Fischer) with cush executive jobs; and so on.

Now, the WSJ reports, the Bush administration is granting Citigroup monopoly rights for all import-export financing in Iraq.

I'll say it again: Oh Lord.

...despite the best efforts of Bono.

Rock stars. Is there anything they can't do?

The Bush campaign announced late last week that they are ready to get aggressive, and they did on Sunday when Bush waved the flag at the start of the Daytona 500. As most media outlets were quick to point out, the President pro tem's appearance constitutes more than just ceremonial duty, he was courting a key voter demographic demeaningly called "Nascar Dad's".

Here is how the Financial Times describes Nascar Dads:

"The average fan of stock-car racing is a white middle-aged man with an above-average income and more than likely to have children under 18...The sport's origins lie in the south, where drivers once took their souped-up sedan cars around the backroads to bootleg moonshine."

Nascar Dads, as a political prize, are markedly unlike the "soccer mom's" of yore or the "office park dad's" with whom the DNC flirted briefly (and unsucessfully) in 2002. These groups conjured images of hard working parents struggling to raise families in an era of growing economic insecurity for America's middle-income households. They represented a set of policy interests related to kitchen table economic issues and the fragmentation of social space spawned by the suburbanization of the American population, the stagnation of median wages and the increase in hours worked.

Whereas soccer mom's were heralded as national heros deserving ofpublic support for their commitment to work and family, Nascar Dads are a demographic derisively constructed on men's passion for sport and "moonshine" which distracts from the rather daunting anxieties and challenges they face as a socioeconomic class in America today. And thus one can see why Bush would need to woo these people in order to secure re-election. These are the people who have been left behind by Bush's maldistributed tax policies, by the pain of recession and the job-loss recovery, by his efforts to slant the playing field for corporate interests--at the expense of Nascar Dads--at every turn.

The rapacious spread of the Nascar Dad story begs the question of whether the Bush team actually planted this message. By my count, the WP, the NYT, USA Today, the WSJ, and CNN all also ran stories today on this newest entry in America's political lexicon.

Where the national media goes, so too will all other media outlets follow. You can expect a rash of pundits and analysts spewing conventional wisdoms on Nascar Dads in radio talk shows, and the local evening news throughout the country profiling these same Dads. Nascar Dads, as a news item, meshes nicely with the media's desire for political stories wrapped up in sporting metaphors and their desire to distill political discourse to a lowest common denominator (whether accurate or not). Factor in the major commercial/advertising appeal of Nascar, and the story becomes a news trifecta.

While the Nascar Dad label smacks as condascending, if not patently offensive, it does conveniently divert the political dialogue away from debates on specific policy issues and Bush's failures/successes to the Nascar phenomenon and Bush's folksy swagger. I'm wondering whether it could backfire on him, though. As Howard Dean found out, Southerners for some reason don't like to be labeled as slack-jawed red necks. Go figure.

**UPDATE: Charlie Cook of National Journal had this to say:

"But this business about the "NASCAR dad" being the swing voter group of the 2004 election, or any other national election, is one of the dumbest ideas I've heard in my 32 years in and around politics...This is Bush's absolute strongest group, unless you put a Texan qualifier in there. NASCAR dads haven't voted Democratic in a presidential election since Moby Dick was a guppy."

So there goes the Nascar Dads debate.
Sunday, February 15, 2004

The mounting discontent in the american labour market over offshore outsourcing, Prof. DeLong argues, would be diffused if Bush had done his job by enacting a real stimulus rather than his euphamistically titled ("Jobs and Growth") tax giveaway to America's fabulously well-to-do:

"If we had a healthier labor market and stronger aggregate demand there would be little concern about outsourcing"

Come on, Brad. What the Bush tax and the defense mounted by Brad and his ilk for text book free trade have in common, is that they are both supply-side effects. Free trade is good, orthodox trade theory suggests, because it means that goods and services will be supplied at lower cost. But when the jobs go overseas, with lower employment and lower wages for those fortunate enough to work, the US economy suffers on the demand side--even though the goods are cheaper, people can't buy them.

In the mid 1990s, Alan Greenspan marveled that inflation was under control because American workers, fearful of their jobs moving overseas, were too cowed to demand wage increases. In the global open economy, from where is the aggregate demand growth going to come?
Unconventional wisdom on global political economy.

**IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The views expressed herein are my own and in no way relfect the views of my employer or other affiliates. Links to or from other websites of individuals or organizations do not constitute an endorsement of these views. All written material is copyrighted. And no, I don't have an EBay Store.

Union Label

Site Feed

Rants and Raves

More About Me







ARCHIVES: More timeless thoughts from Globalize This!
10/26/2003 - 11/01/2003 11/02/2003 - 11/08/2003 11/09/2003 - 11/15/2003 11/16/2003 - 11/22/2003 11/23/2003 - 11/29/2003 11/30/2003 - 12/06/2003 12/07/2003 - 12/13/2003 12/14/2003 - 12/20/2003 12/21/2003 - 12/27/2003 01/11/2004 - 01/17/2004 01/18/2004 - 01/24/2004 01/25/2004 - 01/31/2004 02/01/2004 - 02/07/2004 02/08/2004 - 02/14/2004 02/15/2004 - 02/21/2004 02/22/2004 - 02/28/2004 02/29/2004 - 03/06/2004 03/07/2004 - 03/13/2004 03/14/2004 - 03/20/2004 03/21/2004 - 03/27/2004 03/28/2004 - 04/03/2004 04/04/2004 - 04/10/2004 04/11/2004 - 04/17/2004 04/18/2004 - 04/24/2004 04/25/2004 - 05/01/2004 05/02/2004 - 05/08/2004 05/09/2004 - 05/15/2004 05/16/2004 - 05/22/2004 05/23/2004 - 05/29/2004 06/06/2004 - 06/12/2004 06/13/2004 - 06/19/2004 06/20/2004 - 06/26/2004 06/27/2004 - 07/03/2004 07/04/2004 - 07/10/2004 07/11/2004 - 07/17/2004 07/18/2004 - 07/24/2004 07/25/2004 - 07/31/2004 08/01/2004 - 08/07/2004 08/08/2004 - 08/14/2004 08/15/2004 - 08/21/2004 08/22/2004 - 08/28/2004 08/29/2004 - 09/04/2004 09/05/2004 - 09/11/2004 09/12/2004 - 09/18/2004 09/19/2004 - 09/25/2004 09/26/2004 - 10/02/2004 10/03/2004 - 10/09/2004 10/10/2004 - 10/16/2004 10/17/2004 - 10/23/2004 10/24/2004 - 10/30/2004 10/31/2004 - 11/06/2004 11/07/2004 - 11/13/2004 11/21/2004 - 11/27/2004 11/28/2004 - 12/04/2004 12/05/2004 - 12/11/2004 01/02/2005 - 01/08/2005 01/09/2005 - 01/15/2005 01/16/2005 - 01/22/2005 01/30/2005 - 02/05/2005 02/06/2005 - 02/12/2005 02/13/2005 - 02/19/2005 02/20/2005 - 02/26/2005 02/27/2005 - 03/05/2005 03/06/2005 - 03/12/2005 03/13/2005 - 03/19/2005 03/20/2005 - 03/26/2005 03/27/2005 - 04/02/2005 04/03/2005 - 04/09/2005 04/10/2005 - 04/16/2005 04/17/2005 - 04/23/2005 04/24/2005 - 04/30/2005 05/01/2005 - 05/07/2005 05/08/2005 - 05/14/2005 05/15/2005 - 05/21/2005 05/22/2005 - 05/28/2005 05/29/2005 - 06/04/2005 06/05/2005 - 06/11/2005 06/12/2005 - 06/18/2005 06/19/2005 - 06/25/2005 06/26/2005 - 07/02/2005

Powered by Blogger