(What’s Left of) Our Economy: America’s China Trade by the (Industry-Specific) Numbers

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Last week, RealityChek analyzed in great industry-by-industry detail new government data illuminating U.S. trade trends for the first half of this year. This week, we’ll see how leading sectors of the American economy have fared versus Chinese competition during that period, and how it compares with their performance during the first half of last year. And we’ll also examine how America’s China trade in these respects compare with the nation’s global trade performance.

As with the global trade data presented last week, the industry categories used are those of the most granular level of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the federal government’s main system for slicing and dicing industry-specific economic data. I like this six-digit level because it draws the greatest number of distinctions between final manufactured products and the parts and components of these products. This distinction is critical because the rapid growth in recent decades of global supply chains (i.e., the rapid growth of American production offshoring) means that a large percentage of U.S. and global trade consists of trade in these manufacturing inputs.

Two other technical notes: First, because trade data for major aerospace products aren’t made public in order to protect corporate information considered proprietary, the six-digit NAICS results in this sector are unreliable, and the five-digit level data are being used. Second, because the release of services trade data lags considerably, these RealityChek reports cover only goods trade (which still comprises the vast majority of U.S. trade flows).

Let’s start with a list of the nation’s top ten goods exports to China for the first half of this year, and how their performance has changed in dollar terms since the first half of 2016:

1. Aerospace: -10.7 percent

2. Autos & light trucks: +26.0 percent

3. Soybeans: +30.6 percent

4. Waste & scrap: +19.2 percent

5. Semiconductors & related devices: -2.7 percent

6. Crude oil & natural gas: +3,250.2 %

7. Plastics materials & resins: +32.3%

8. Semiconductor production machinery: +7.1 percent

9. Pharmaceuticals: +45.2 percent

10. Miscellaneous basic organic chems: +15.7 %

And here’s the list of America’s top ten worldwide goods exports, and how these levels have changed since the first half of 2016:

1. Aerospace: -4.0 percent

2. Petroleum refinery products: +26.1 percent

3. Autos & light trucks: -8.5 percent

4. Special classification provisions: +9.7 percent

5. Semiconductors & related devices: +4.7 percent

6. Miscellaneous auto parts: +1.4 percent

7. Miscellaneous basic organic chemicals: +3.7 percent

8. Pharmaceuticals: +3.9 percent

9. Plastics materials & resins: +6.3 percent

10. Primary smelted non-ferrous metals: +54.0 percent

Both lists contain mainly advanced manufactured products, which is good for the U.S. economy because these sectors are great performers in terms of high wage job creation, innovation, and (historically, anyway) productivity growth. But some important differences between the lists can be seen, too. For example, the year-to-date swings in the China trade flows generally are much greater – both where American exports have risen and where they’ve fallen.

And then there’s the rocket ride taken by American crude oil and gas exports to China. These shipments alone accounted for more than 22 percent of the period’s increase in total U.S. goods exports to China. But how can that pace possibly continue?

Also noteworthy: The big increase in American car and light truck exports to China. Given the PRC’s ambitious plans to become a major automotive production power, (though one whose own output is still dominated by foreign- brand products) how much longer will Beijing remain content to import so many vehicles from abroad?

Speaking of imports, here’s the list of the top ten U.S. goods purchases from China and how they’ve changed between January-to-June, 2016 and January-to-June this year:

1. Broadcast & wireless comm: +26.4%

2. Computers: +7.9 percent

3. Telecomms equipment: +18.2 percent

4. Computer parts: -19.2 percent

5. Games, toys, childrens’ vehicles: +7.1%

6. Printed circuit assemblies: +50.0 percent

7. Audio & video equipment: -15.0 percent

8. Miscellaneous plastics products: +7.1%

9. Institutional furniture: +8.5 percent

10. Metal household furniture: +10.3 percent

And for comparison’s sake, here’s the corresponding list of America’s leading global goods imports:

1. Autos & light trucks: +4.5 percent

2. Crude oil & natural gas: +53.7 percent

3. Pharmaceuticals: +2.3 percent

4. Goods returned from Canada: +4.3 percent

5. Broadcast & wireless communications equipment: +10.3 percent

6. Computers: +6.2 percent

7. Telecomms equip: +8.2 percent

8. Aerospace products: -3.4 percent

9. Petroleum refinery products: +22.2 percent

10. Semiconductors & related devices: -6.4 percent

Unlike the global imports list, the China imports list is entirely comprised of manufactured goods. But they’re hardly all high-value manufactures. Indeed, four of the ten categories consist of relatively simple consumer goods, and three more fall into the consumer electronics area (including that leading broadcast and wireless communications sector, which contains smartphones). The only entry that qualifies as capital- and technology-intensive is telecomms equipment (although the Chinese content of consumer electronics products, and indeed of China’s exports generally, is rising strongly by all accounts).

As with U.S. worldwide trade, however, the big test of America’s competitiveness in China trade consists of the trade balance figures. For mainstream trade theory teaches that products that countries trade most successfully will turn out to be products that countries make most successfully.

So here are the U.S. goods categories running the biggest trade surpluses with China, and how these surpluses have changed between the first six months of last year and the first six months of this year:

1. Aerospace products: -11.58 percent

2. Autos & light trucks: +14.46 percent

3. Waste & scrap: +17.92 percent

4. Crude oil & nat gas: +3,228.07%

5. Plastics materials & resins: +29.94%

6. Semiconductor production machinery: -1.91%

7. Liquid natural gas: +66.25 percent

8. Sawmill products: +24.96 percent

9. Non-poultry meat products: +2.83%

10. Pulp mill products: +6.09 percent

If you agree that advanced manufacturing’s fortunes are central to the U.S. economy’s fortunes, this list is only mildly encouraging, at very best. Yes, the top two categories merit that label, along with plastics materials and resins and semiconductor machinery. But two of those surpluses have shrunk over the past year. And all the other categories are commodities or low-value products. They’re also the categories that saw the greatest trade surplus improvements.

Here are the biggest surplus sectors in America’s worldwide trade:

1. Aerospace products: -2.03 percent

2. Petroleum refinery products: +33.11 percent

3. Plastics materials & resins: +4.73 percent

4. Soybeans: +28.21 percent

5. Other special classification provns: +7.13 percent

6. Corn: +20.26 percent

7. Waste & scrap: -7.82 percent

8. Liquid natural gas: +56.54 percent

9. Semiconductor production machinery: +64.73 percent

10. Non-anthracite coal & natural gases: +223.22 percent

Interestingly, this global list is even more low-value and commodity-heavy than the list of the biggest bilateral China deficit categories. Moreover, here, too, it’s mainly the commodity and lower value products that have seen the biggest improvements in these surpluses.

Finally, let’s examine the biggest deficit categories in America’s trade with China, and how they compare with the global results. First, the China figures and how they’ve changed on a year-to-date basis:

1. Broadcast & wireless communications equipment: +29.14%

2. Computers: +7.56 percent

3. Telecomms equipment: +19.46 percent

4. Computer parts: -20.75 percent

5. Games, toys, children’s vehicles: +7.05%

6. Printed circuit assemblies: +49.77%

7. Audio & video equipment: -15.52%

8. Miscellaneous plastic products: +6.88%

9. Institutional furniture: +8.61 percent

10. Metal household furniture: +10.28%

The biggest total U.S. goods trade deficit categories and their similar increases and decreases?

1. Autos & light trucks: +10.64 percent

2. Crude oil & natural gas: +45.31 percent

3. Goods returned from Canada: +4.25 percent

4. Computers: +1.16 percent

5. Broadcast & wireless communications equipment.: +11.06 percent

6. Telecomms equipment: +19.10 percent

7. Printed circuit assemblies: +47.12 percent

8. Audio & video equipment: -11.50 percent

9. Institutional furniture: +8.56 percent

10. Iron & steel: +76.28 percent

On the value-added scale, the two sets of figures look pretty comparable. But here’s something revealing: Six of the categories appear on both lists, which certainly squares with the idea that the U.S. trade deficit problem is largely a China trade deficit problem. Something else revealing: Tariffs work. Just look at how important iron and steel are on the worldwide deficit list, but don’t even appear on the China deficit. That’s largely because of the steep punitive duties slapped on Chinese steel starting in 2015.

Next up: Which major sectors of America’s goods economy have seen the biggest year-to-date improvement and deterioration on the China goods front, and what do those figures augur for the nation’s economic, industrial, and technological future?

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: NAFTA’s Been a Bust for U.S. Agriculture

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Few beliefs about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are more solidly entrenched than the conviction that the deal has been a slam dunk winner for American farmers. Perhaps the most important believer now? President Trump. Last spring, he acknowledged that he shelved his plan to scrap the agreement after his Agriculture Secretary showed him data indicating that an American withdrawal would hammer many of the states and counties that voted him into the White House.

There’s just one major problem – the data say otherwise. Indeed, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission’s invaluable Trade Dataweb interactive database, American agriculture runs a sizable trade deficit with Canada and Mexico combined, and the gap has ballooned during the deal’s lifetime. Moreover, the statistics make clear that Washington’s trade policies overall have done nothing to bolster the U.S. farm sector’s international fortunes – at best.

The best apples-to-apples (no pun intended!) data date from 1997 – when the U.S. government began using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) as its main tool for slicing and dicing the American economy analytically. And although NAFTA went into effect at the beginning of 1994, the post-1997 figures represent a nearly complete data set.

In 1997, U.S. agriculture ran a trade deficit with its NAFTA partners of just under $877 million. By last year, the shortfall had swollen to nearly $6.77 billion. Mexico has been the big problem; during this period, American farm trade across the southern border deterioriated from a surplus of just under $353 million to a deficit of more $5.83 billion. The U.S. agriculture trade performance with Canada has actually improved, with its deficit shrinking from 1997 to 2016 from $1.22 billion to $940 million. Still, American agriculture is in deficit with its northern neighbor all the same.

But maybe as bad as these numbers are, American farm trade under NAFTA has fared better than American farm trade globally? Unfortunately, there’s no evidence for that proposition, either. Between 1997 and 2016, the U.S. worldwide agriculture trade balance worsened also. But it actually worsened less – with a surplus that shrank from $15.79 billion to $10.79 billion – than the balance with the NAFTA partners.

Surely, however, America’s other free trade agreements have more than compensated for the NAFTA-related losses? If only. According to the Trade Dataweb, in 1997, the United States ran a trade deficit with these countries of $1.99 billion. By 2016, this figure had soared to $8.91 billion. That’s about as bad a record as NAFTA farm trade has compiled.

Of course, American agriculture is a large sector of the economy. (Although it’s not that large: In current dollar value-added terms, it only represented 0.86 percent of the gross domestic product in 2016. Manufacturing, by contrast, comprised 11.71 percent.) Moreover, trade performance has varied greatly by specific crop or product.

For example, between 1997 and 2016, the American corn trade surplus with Mexico skyrocketed more than seven-fold, to just under $2.60 billion. The soybean surplus jumped nearly ten-fold, to $1.02 billion. And major gains have also been recorded in non-poultry meat, poultry, wheat, dried and condensed dairy products, and many other sectors. With Canada, the big U.S. agriculture winners have been mainly fruits and vegetables, as well as wines and spirits.

The big agriculture losers in Mexico trade have been – interestingly – fruits and vegetables, along with liquor and beer. With Canada, sectors with big or big and rapidly rising surpluses have been led by miscellaneous oil seeds products where the deficit has soared more than seven-fold, to $2.27 billion), followed by fish of all kinds (where the trade gap has more than tripled, to $1.34 billion), cattle, and frozen fruits, juices, and vegetables.

Overall, though, the message sent by the data could not be clearer: The idea that NAFTA has been a bonanza for U.S. agriculture needs to be put out to pasture. And far from adopting a “don’t rock the boat” posture, it’s high time for the Trump administration to start identifying fixes.

P.S. I was first alerted to these adverse trends in U.S. farm trade by the excellent research of Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee.

Im-Politic: Was Some Unpopular Speech Just Banned in Boston?

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“Banned in Boston” was a term widely used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to describe the city’s habit of censoring books and plays that a powerful and puritanical group of its leading citizens didn’t happen to like. Yesterday, strong evidence emerged that an even more disturbing set of “Banned in Boston” impulses have staged a comeback: a policy of censoring political speech and the city’s police commissioner, and possibly the rest of its political leadership, doesn’t like.

The story begins with a charge made by John Medlar, an organizer of yesterday’s so-called rally held in Boston yesterday avowedly to support the idea of free speech. I only say “so-called” because rally attendance was pathetically low. In any event, Medlar claims that before the event’s scheduled end at 2 PM local time, “supporters were blocked by counter-protesters and by police from getting to their cordoned-off area….” (This phrasing is from a local radio station report.)

More important, later yesterday afternoon, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans was asked to respond. His own words (as quoted by that same local radio station):  If they [people who want to talk about hate] didn’t get in, that’s a good thing, because their message isn’t what we want to hear.”

There’s definitely some ambiguity here. For example, is Evans saying that he heard that some who wanted to attend the rally just happened to fail to make it through the combination of massed counter-protesters and the heavy police presence stationed in the area to prevent violence (a presence that accomplished this crucial mission far more effectively than its counterpart in Charlottesville, Virginia, the weekend before)? Or is Evans agreeing that the police knowingly prevented rally supporters from reaching the rally site? Obviously, the first possibility would be much more excusable, especially if those wanting to attend the rally failed to make their identities known, than the second.

Yet even if the inevitable confusion surrounding such events was partly or mainly responsible for the inability of some to attend the rally, it’s still justifiable in my view to criticize the Boston police and the orders they may have received. For as I argued last Saturday, free speech can’t truly be protected adequately if protesters or rally-ers can be intimidated from or physically blocked from carrying out their planned activities (provided of course that these activities are peaceful).

As a result, local, state, and/or federal authorities have a legal and Constitutional obligation actively to ensure that these events go on as planned. Otherwise, even the right of unpopular causes to demonstrate despite possible threats their activity might pose to public safety and order (because of disorderly behavior from their opponentsdeeds) can too easily be turned into a hollow right. And this country would take a big step closer to mob rule.

So I propose that the federal government launch a civil rights investigation to find out what actually happened at the Boston Common. Satisfactorily accurate conclusions can’t be drawn based solely on the news coverage, or even on Evans’ statements. But Evans’ own words certainly indicate that his officers and those to whom they report dropped a major free speech ball of some kind here.

Making News: Video Interview on NAFTA and Bannon On-Line – & More!

The video is on-line of my interview last night on RT America‘s “The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann” on President Trump’s efforts to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  Special bonus:  A brief discussion of Stephen K. Bannon’s departure from his White House position and its implications for the future of economic populism.  Click on this link to watch.

In addition, this Lifezette.com post just quoted my views on a new Trump administration effort to fight China’s predatory trade practices.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

Making News: On with Thom Hartmann Tonight re NAFTA – & Maybe Bannon!

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I’m pleased to announce that my appearance on “The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann,” which was cancelled earlier this week due to the flood of political news, has been rescheduled.  And it’s tonight – at 7:15 PM EST.

It’s the same subject – the opening round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – with maybe a little Steve Bannon analysis thrown in!

If you don’t get RT America on your TV, you can watch live at this link.  As usual, for those who can’t tune in, I’ll be posting a link to the video as soon as one’s available.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

Im-Politic: The Politics and Nature of Confederate Monuments May Not be What You Think

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The politics of dealing with the nation’s Confederate monuments has just taken a major and, to me, dismaying and surprising turn with the release of a new poll gauging national attitudes on the issue. At the same time, although I remain convinced that the Confederacy and its ideals should be condemned, and certainly never memorialized in public spaces, the more I learn about these statues and plaques and grave sites, the clearer it becomes that a cookie-cutter approach mustn’t be taken to the issue.

First, the poll. Keeping in mind that surveying public opinion is still much more an art than science, the results of yesterday’s NPR-Marist sounding on the monuments are nothing less than stunning. According to the poll, fully 62 percent of all Americans believe that “statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy should remain as a historical symbol.” Especially discouraging for me, the question’s wording makes clear that the subject isn’t some broad category that could include simple burial sites for ordinary Confederate soldiers, and/or even statues or other monuments to these regulars, many of whom were motivated by a wide variety of considerations on top of racism. Instead, respondents were asked their views of monuments honoring the Confederacy’s leaders – who spearheaded the South’s betrayal of the United States and whose declarations of secession leave no doubt that preserving the racist institution of slavery was their top priority.

Even more bizarre – at least for me: Such sentiments were expressed by 44 percent of Democrats, 31 percent of Americans who described themselves as “Very liberal-Liberal,” and 61 percent of self-styled political independents.

Nor were the regional breakdowns what you’d (I assume) expect: Honoring Confederate leaders in this way was endorsed by majorities throughout the country, including 53 percent in the Northeast, 61 percent in the Midwest, 66 percent in the South, and 61 percent in the West.

But the real shock comes from the racial and ethnic results: Honoring Confederate leaders with memorials was backed by 44 percent of African Americans and 65 percent of Latinos (along with 67 percent of whites). Moreover, African Americans registered the largest percentage of those “unsure” (16 percent).

It’s possible that these results were skewed by the phrasing of the “anti” position: The stated reason for removing the statues was that “they are offensive to some people.” That’s an awfully bland formulation, and I wonder if the numbers would have changed much if the wording was changed to something on the order of “because they staged an armed revolt against the United States” or “because slavery would have remained in place had they prevailed.” But over the last week or so, how many African Americans in particular could remain unaware of these facts? And how many liberal Democrats?

So the poll’s findings seem pretty accurate to me. And the big takeaways from them look like the following: There’s a big divide over these matters between the national (bipartisan) political class and especially the national media on the one hand, and the general public on the other; and much of the (current) elite position on these racial issues contains a huge element of anti-Trump posturing. (And don’t forget – I believe that the president is in the wrong on Confederate memorials, too.)

Second, Confederate monuments can’t all be lumped into the same category, don’t all raise the same questions, and shouldn’t arouse the same emotions. Here’s just one example. I’m sure I haven’t been the only American who’s been amazed to learn that these sites can be found in many locations outside the old Confederacy. They’re even located in my home state, New York. But the story of one of these markers shows how varied they can be.

I’m talking about not only a cemetery with the remains of Confederate veterans that’s located in Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County, an affluent suburb of New York City. I’m also talking about an obelisk that stands over the graves.

The bodies interred at the Mount Hope Cemetery, beneath the obelisk are those of former Confederate soldiers who moved to the area after the conflict in search of economic opportunity. The inscription on the 60-foot monolith refers to them as “heroic dead” and the complex was dedicated in 1897. And according to one source, these veterans “remained proud of their Southern Confederate heritage.”

So for an opponent of honoring these figures, like me, that set off alarm bells. But as I read further, my first inclination to call for the removal of the obelisk changed. To start with, even though the site is owned and the obelisk funded by the United Confederate Veterans, this means that it’s a private piece of land. So since it’s not a publicly owned space, the owners should have the right to maintain it however they wish. Moreover, the site was sold to the Confederate veterans group by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. And this Union group cares for the complex today.

Perhaps most important, a contemporary newspaper account leaves no doubt that the purpose of this particular monument was national reconciliation – a goal no one of good will should oppose provided it’s being sought on the proper basis.

So there are Confederate monuments and there are Confederate monuments. How best to decide their fate? Many voices, including President Trump, believe that the states and/or localities should have the last word – unless the monuments et al are on federal ground. I’m not so sure, partly because it’s a national issue, and partly because policy would likelier become hostage to short-term, and frequently shifting, considerations. Of course, an optimal solution may not be possible, so this outcome might be an acceptable compromise.

One other conceivable option: a presidential commission. Often, these organizations are simply exercises in can-kicking, but some deliberation seems to be exactly what’s needed on the monuments issue now. And its conclusions certainly wouldn’t be ignored – as with the reports of so many other presidential commissions. Best of all, this type of body seems best suited to recognize the variety of Confederate monuments, and propose measures that recognize them adequately – even to the point of case-by-case recommendations.

The big objection to a presidential commission is that it’s not an especially democratic mechanism – although its members would be chosen by a democratically elected leader. Congress could be given a role, too. Especially if its members were well chosen, the result could well be a series of appropriately nuanced decisions that finally, and truly, bring the Civil War to an end.

Making News: John Batchelor China Trade Podcast On-Line – & More!

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I’m pleased to announce that the podcast of my interview last night on John Batchelor’s nationally syndicated radio show is on-line. Click here for a great discussion with John and co-host Gordon G. Chang about the chances of a U.S.-China trade war.

And I’m again grateful for Gordon for soliciting my comments on the subject for his August 14 Daily Beast post.

Also, that same day, my views on China trade issues were featured in a report on Lifezette.com.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Worsening Automotive Recession Drives Down Manufacturing Output

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According to the Federal Reserve’s new industrial production figures, a sharp automotive drop-off in July helped pull real U.S. domestic manufacturing output down on month (by 0.06 percent) for the third time this year. Since May, 2015, sector’s inflation-adjusted production is down 2.33 percent – a period much longer than the two-consecutive-quarter definition of recession. July’s annual automotive real output decrease (4.98 percent) was the biggest since September, 2009’s 7.21 percent. And the sector’s 3.64 percent sequential output fall was its biggest since August, 2015’s 3.82 percent.

The vehicle sector performed even worse. Its year-on-year July constant dollar production plunge (9.20 percent) was its greatest since August, 2009 (12.54 percent). And vehicles’ July monthly after-inflation production slide (5.92 percent) was the steepest since August, 2015’s 6.31 percent. Largely as a result, July’s real vehicles production was the lowest monthly total since October, 2014.

With President Trump postponing his decision on tariffs for the import-battered steel and aluminum sectors, their price-adjusted production remained weak in July. The former’s sequential real production slumped by 1.50 percent, and although the annual figure rose by a strong 5.50 percent, the sector is still nearly 20 percent smaller in real terms than at the last recession’s onset. The latter’s July monthly real output inched down while growing slightly on a year-on-year basis, but this industry remains less than half its size when the recession struck. Indeed, for the entire manufacturing sector, after-inflation production in July was down four percent from the level hit as the recession broke out – back at the end of 2007.

Here are the manufacturing highlights of the Federal Reserve’s new release on July industrial production:

>The worst U.S. real automotive production performance in many years – especially in vehicles – helped pull the nation’s after-inflation manufacturing output down 0.06 percent on month in July. Although small, the sequential decline was the third so far this year.

>Leading the way was an automotive sector that had led manufacturing’s strong rebound from a deep recessionary dive.

>Combined vehicles and parts output sank by 3.64 percent on month in July, its biggest such downturn since August, 2015’s 3.82 percent.

>Year-on-year, constant dollar total automotive output was down in July by 4.98 percent – the worst such deterioration since September, 2009’s 7.21 percent.

>Largely as a result, real automotive production in July hit its lowest level since June, 2015.

>The automotive output drop in turn was led by vehicles. Final price-adjusted production in this sector plunged by 5.92 percent sequentially in July – its worst output month since August, 2015 (6.31 percent).

>The year-on-year figures for vehicles were much worse. Compared with the previous July, they plummeted by 9.20 percent – the biggest such decline since August, 2009 (12.54 percent).

>Largely as a result, as of July, real vehicle output stood at its lowest level since October, 2014.

>The new Fed figures also show that the American steel and aluminum industries continue to pay a price for floods of imports widely thought to benefit from government subsidies – and from the Trump administration’s hesitation to impose tariffs.

>July iron and steel production decreased on month by 1.50 percent in real terms. The 5.50 percent year-on-year result was much better, but was helped by favorable comps.

>Moreover, the steel sector’s real output is still 19.70 percent smaller than at the last recession’s onset – more than eight years ago.

>July primary aluminum production declined on month by 1.02 percent, but advanced by 2.90 percent on year.

>Yet primary aluminum production is down 53.49 percent since the last recession began.

>In fact, since that December, 2007 watershed, U.S. manufacturing’s output is down by four percent – meaning that it still hasn’t recovered from the recession.

Im-Politic: Charlottesville & Trump: A Never-Ending Story?

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And so President Trump has stepped in it once again, and guaranteed that, unless something major changes, self-inflicted wounds will become the hallmarks of his presidency.

Of course, I’m talking about his impromptu remarks at yesterday’s press appearance, in which new, explicit denunciations of racist and anti-semitic hate groups were accompanied by descriptions of some of their individual members present in Charlottesville, Virginia as “very fine people” – along with comments that at least could reasonably be read as establishing a moral equivalence between the marchers and those who came to the region to protest their planned rally.

Among the least defensible:

>The contention that the torchlight marchers last Friday night included “people protesting very quietly the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee”;

>The charge that supporters of removing Confederate memorials are “changing culture” – which closely resembles the specious claim that the memorials were erected to honor the American South’s distinctive “heritage.”

As per the views I expressed on Saturday, I still don’t believe that Mr. Trump is a racist or an anti-semite. I still believe that his behavior mainly reflects a “pathetically mistaken” belief that a big chunk of his largely white, working class base will take offense at overly harsh attacks on bigoted, fringe figures like David Duke and Richard Spencer.

But upon reflection, I’d add that he’s stunningly inarticulate, and terminally – and in many ways childishly – argumentative. And although I’m not concerned that his verbal indiscipline will needlessly spark a war or some other kind of domestic or global crisis, those are worrisome traits in a figure whose every syllable is (understandably) put under a microscope. Nor is much simple common sense visible on the President’s part, or at least not often enough.

After all, how difficult would it have been to draw up sometime over the weekend and deliver on TV a statement along the lines of:

My fellow Americans [or whatever standard presidential speech introductory wording you like]. I loathe the Charlottesville protesters and everything they represent. The neo-Nazis, the white supremacists and their ilk have deliberately associated themselves with historical atrocities and injustices that are not only appalling. They are uniquely evil in nature. It is indeed infuriating to see them openly displaying their perverse and destructive views in our streets and parks and squares. In fact, I am personally infuriated that they keep invoking my name, and portraying my efforts to reinvigorate the ideal of a practical, healthy nationalism as an endorsement of racism and anti-semitism and xenophobia.

But we also must remember something crucial about our democratic values – which of course are values that the hate groups’ evil historical idols have tried to destroy. They demand that even loathsome figures and voices enjoy the freedom to exercise their Constitutional speech rights. So in that respect, attempts to disrupt their activities, or the First Amendment freedoms of other unpopular speakers, must be condemned, too.

Therefore, law-breakers will be prosecuted – whatever their political views and associations.

But much more important, I hope that the vast majority of Americans angered by the disgraceful Charlottesville marchers and their supporters understand, and take to heart, that the best way to counter, and defeat, the hatred they spew is not by joining them in the gutter and resorting to violence – unless it’s a matter of self-defense. The best way is to expose their sick lies with the power of reason. The best way is to remember our love, compassion, and respect for each other, and take every opportunity to show it. The best way is to strengthen our nation’s unity of spirit. And the best way is to fulfill our sacred duty each and every day to keep our great national experiment in self-government a beacon for all of humanity.”

Now the President is reaping the whirlwind. I have no idea whether this latest uproar will simply blow over (as with the Access Hollywood video episode), or become superseded by another headline news development, or will doom Mr. Trump to a single term, or will erode his political support so drastically that his presidency becomes impossible to continue. What does seem certain is that the prospects of a successful Trump presidency, and especially of promises kept to economically struggling middle class and working class Americans, have taken a body blow, and that something on the order of a dramatic display of executive competence, an equally dramatic display of contrition and/or explanatory eloquence – plus a tidal wave of dumb luck – will be needed for even a partial recovery.

Making News: Talking NAFTA on CNBC This Afternoon – & More!

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I’m pleased to announce a bevy of upcoming scheduled media appearances today.

First, negotiations to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) begin today, and at 2 PM EST, I’ll be appearing on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” program to discuss President Trump plans to modify the deal. If you lack access to the network on your TV, you can watch live at CNBC.com.

Second, I’ll be interviewed on the same subject at 7 PM EST on “The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann,” on RT America. Here’s the live on-line viewing option.

And finally (so far!), the topic will turn to China trade tonight when I talk about the president’s new moves to counter Beijing’s predatory practices on the nationally syndicated “John Batchelor Show.”  The segment is slated to begin at 10:15 PM EST, and you can listen live on line here.

As always, for those who can’t tune in to these programs in real time, I’ll be posting links to the videos and the podcast as soon as they’re available. And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.