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“Truth About Jobs”: The Good News That The Deranged Right Just Can’t Handle

If anyone had doubts about the madness that has spread through a large part of the American political spectrum, the reaction to Friday’s better-than expected report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should have settled the issue. For the immediate response of many on the right — and we’re not just talking fringe figures — was to cry conspiracy.

Leading the charge of what were quickly dubbed the “B.L.S. truthers” was none other than Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, who posted an assertion on Twitter that the books had been cooked to help President Obama’s re-election campaign. His claim was quickly picked up by right-wing pundits and media personalities.

It was nonsense, of course. Job numbers are prepared by professional civil servants, at an agency that currently has no political appointees. But then maybe Mr. Welch — under whose leadership G.E. reported remarkably smooth earnings growth, with none of the short-term fluctuations you might have expected (fluctuations that reappeared under his successor) — doesn’t know how hard it would be to cook the jobs data.

Furthermore, the methods the bureau uses are public — and anyone familiar with the data understands that they are “noisy,” that especially good (or bad) months will be reported now and then as a simple consequence of statistical randomness. And that in turn means that you shouldn’t put much weight on any one month’s report.

In that case, however, what is the somewhat longer-term trend? Is the U.S. employment picture getting better? Yes, it is.

Some background: the monthly employment report is based on two surveys. One asks a random sample of employers how many people are on their payroll. The other asks a random sample of households whether their members are working or looking for work. And if you look at the trend over the past year or so, both surveys suggest a labor market that is gradually on the mend, with job creation consistently exceeding growth in the working-age population.

On the employer side, the current numbers say that over the past year the economy added 150,000 jobs a month, and revisions will probably push that number up significantly. That’s well above the 90,000 or so added jobs per month that we need to keep up with population. (This number used to be higher, but underlying work force growth has dropped off sharply now that many baby boomers are reaching retirement age.)

Meanwhile, the household survey produces estimates of both the number of Americans employed and the number unemployed, defined as people who are seeking work but don’t currently have a job. The eye-popping number from Friday’s report was a sudden drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, but as I said, you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on one month’s number. The more important point is that unemployment has been on a sustained downward trend.

But isn’t that just because people have given up looking for work, and hence no longer count as unemployed? Actually, no. It’s true that the employment-population ratio — the percentage of adults with jobs — has been more or less flat for the past year. But remember those aging baby boomers: the fraction of American adults who are in their prime working years is falling fast. Once you take the effects of an aging population into account, the numbers show a substantial improvement in the employment picture since the summer of 2011.

None of this should be taken to imply that the situation is good, or to deny that we should be doing better — a shortfall largely due to the scorched-earth tactics of Republicans, who have blocked any and all efforts to accelerate the pace of recovery. (If the American Jobs Act, proposed by the Obama administration last year, had been passed, the unemployment rate would probably be below 7 percent.) The U.S. economy is still far short of where it should be, and the job market has a long way to go before it makes up the ground lost in the Great Recession. But the employment data do suggest an economy that is slowly healing, an economy in which declining consumer debt burdens and a housing revival have finally put us on the road back to full employment.

And that’s the truth that the right can’t handle. The furor over Friday’s report revealed a political movement that is rooting for American failure, so obsessed with taking down Mr. Obama that good news for the nation’s long-suffering workers drives its members into a blind rage. It also revealed a movement that lives in an intellectual bubble, dealing with uncomfortable reality — whether that reality involves polls or economic data — not just by denying the facts, but by spinning wild conspiracy theories.

It is, quite simply, frightening to think that a movement this deranged wields so much political power.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 8, 2012

October 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reproductive Autonomy Is A Privilege”: Why The Culture War Is Crushing Mitt Romney

Watching the GOP lately, I am reminded of an ominous prediction Gerald Ford made almost nine years before he passed away. The former Republican president, who was unabashedly pro-abortion rights, said that if the party kept going down the ultra-conservative line on issues like abortion, it would not be able to elect another Republican president.

“The American people are basically middle-of-the-road moderates,” he told The New York Times.

Here in 2012, Ford’s words are coming back to haunt Mitt Romney. Although this is supposed to be a “jobs” election, the GOP has a side agenda that has nothing to do with the economy: Transforming modern-day American society into the 1950’s TV show Mad Men.

People-pleasing Romney already has to convince American voters that while he’s not worried about the 47 percent, his tax-cuts-for-the-rich economic plan will somehow improve all of America. But the GOP is also asking Romney to win a culture war, and they’ve armed poor Mitt with a water gun.

Take abortion, for example. Once upon a time, Romney was a politically shrewd, pro-abortion-rights Republican who strongly endorsed upholding Roe v. Wade. But to become the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Romney has had to exert Olympian effort to prove how much he loves fertilized eggs — and the anti-abortion-rights shouting on the Right hasn’t made his task any easier.

We have Paul Ryan (I’ll give fertilized eggs the legal and constitutional privileges of personhood!), Rick Santorum (I’ll throw abortion doctors in jail!) and Todd Akin (I am granting women magical powers to make sure their eggs are only fertilized during consensual sex!). And of course, there is the GOP platform, which wants to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Is it any wonder Romney is confused?

Aside from the GOP’s apparent lack of cohesion on the issue, the party’s crackdown on contraception also has no place in a jobs election. But to keep up with the social conservatives in his party, Romney loudly opposes requiring employers to cover contraception, and advocates for stripping federal and some state funds from Planned Parenthood.

In other words, Romney is trying to convince American women that reproductive autonomy is a privilege, not a right.

Is this a good way to get American women — 99 percent of whom use contraception during their reproductive years — fired up about the Romney-Ryan health care plan? Given that a recent CNN poll found that Obama is leading among women voters by 12 percentage points, the answer appears to be no.

Gay marriage is the other issue where the GOP is going above and beyond to support a social agenda that hurts Romney’s electability. A Gallup poll this year found that at least half of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage — a position that President Obama has also taken.

So now, Romney is standing with the fast-depleting 48 percent on the other side of the fence. And sure, some of those Americans undoubtedly support the GOP’s idea that gay marriage shouldn’t be legal, but same-sex couples should get “respect and dignity.” But they aren’t the ones Romney is standing with. Instead he supports anti-gay-rights activists like Sharon Kass, who sends reporters (like me) lengthy emails with provocative statements like: “Being black or female is morally neutral. Having the homosexual disorder is not… while some heterosexual parents have psychological disorders of some type, all homosexual parents have a psychological disorder.”

It’s hard to expect more from Romney than for him to affirm that gay marriage should be left up to the states, and then dropping it. But Romney is actually making it a central campaign issue, tacitly supporting people like Kass and alienating half of America by being on the wrong side of history.

If Romney were running solely on the jobs platform, as he likes to claim he is, we would be in a different election: A recent Rasmussen poll found that 54 percent of Americans trust Romney more on the economy — and that poll was conducted almost a week after Mother Jones published the 47 percent video. And in Wednesday night’s debate, Romney made Obama’s grasp on economic issues look tenuous, at best (even though Romney was also making up facts.)

But at the end of the day, it’s unlikely America will put up with the fringe social values the GOP has loaded on its presidential candidate’s back. And whether or not Romney personally supports these deeply conservative positions is almost beside the point — his knees are shaking and his legs are crumpling to the floor. Just as Ford predicted they would.


By: Dana Liebelson, The Week, October 5, 2012

October 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Campaign’s Moral Hole”: Budgets And Elections Have Moral Consequences

Does our presidential campaign lack a moral core?

The question arises in the wake of last week’s presidential debate. However you analyze it in electoral terms, the exchange between President Obama and Mitt Romney was most striking as a festival of technocratic mush — dueling studies mashed in with competing statistics. In many ways, the encounter offered voters the worst of all worlds: a great deal of indecipherable wonkery and remarkably little clarity about where each would lead the country.

But there are forces working to make the campaign about something more than a suffocating battle to influence tiny slivers of the electorate. One of my favorite pressure groups, Nuns on the Bus, will be launching a five-day tour on Wednesday through the red, blue and purple parts of Ohio.

Who better than a group of women who have consecrated their lives to the Almighty to remind us that our decisions in November have ethical consequences? Those who serve the impoverished, the sick and the dying know rather a lot about what matters — in life, and in elections.

If some of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops often give the impression that they constitute the Republican Party at prayer, the activist nuns often seem like Democrats at the barricades. And it’s quite true that a struggle is on for the political soul of American Catholicism. Those among the faithful who see the abortion issue as trumping all others are in a quarrel with their brethren who place more emphasis on the church’s long-standing commitment to social justice.

Nuns on the Bus, led by Sister Simone Campbell, are very much players in this dialogue, and Sister Simone addressed the Democratic National Convention last month. Yet she was careful in her speech to emphasize that what she has been saying about government’s obligation to the poor — and about the problems with Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget — reflected what the bishops have been saying, too.

She also noted in an interview last week that she had laid down some conditions before she spoke in Charlotte. “I would talk if I could say that I was pro-life, that I could lift up the people who live in poverty and that the Democrats have a big tent,” she said.

The nuns’ message on poverty got some reinforcement in a statement late last month from Cardinal Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. “There are very dark clouds,” they wrote. “Too much rhetoric in the country portrays poor people in a very negative way.”

They argued that the economy is not only failing to “provide sufficient jobs for poor people to earn a decent living to support themselves,” but is also offering fewer “resources for government to do its part for Americans in need.” The situation, they concluded, is “devastating to struggling families throughout the country.”

It’s no accident that the nuns are waging their Ohio campaign against the Ryan budget during the week of the vice presidential debate. One would like to hope that Thursday’s tussle between Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden will be less a parade of numbers and obfuscating talk of “baselines” and concentrate instead on why voters should actually care about what’s in the federal budget.

Sister Simone points to a study from Bread for the World, a genuinely nonpartisan group that advocates on hunger issues, to suggest one useful line of questioning. To make up for the food-stamp cuts in Ryan’s budget, the group found, “every church in the country would have to come up with approximately $50,000 dedicated to feeding people — every year for the next 10 years.” Can government walk away like this? Can we realistically expect our houses of worship to pick up such a tab?

In all the dissections of Obama’s performance in the first debate, not enough attention has been paid to the real problem with his self-presentation: his failure to convey passion for the purposes of government, the requirements of justice and the point of his presidency. “The president,” says Sister Simone, “has gotten disconnected from the people he cares about.”

Nuns on the Bus will no doubt be criticized from the right for intervening in a political campaign, something that doesn’t bother conservatives when religious figures engage on their side. But the nuns’ most important message is to Obama and Biden: Don’t be afraid of reminding voters that budgets and elections have moral consequences. Doing so just might keep debate-watchers from changing the channel.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 7, 2012

October 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Testosterone Effect”: How An Obama Victory Hurts Republican Men

In response to habitual conservative claims that polling firms are cooking the books in Obama’s favor, Jon Chait recently made the case that poll denialism was understandable, even if its reasoning was wrong.

A good deal of what undecided voters who are just now tuning in will learn about Romney is that he’s a loser disdained by fellow Republicans. Conservative rage over this fact may be utterly misplaced, but the sentiment itself is perfectly understandable.

The desire to vote with the winning team–regardless of party affiliation–is even stronger than Chait suggested. An essay in this weekend’s Sunday Review argues that all those discouraged Republican men are going to be even more depressed if Romney loses for psychological, rather than strictly political reasons.

Men who had voted for the losing presidential candidate, John McCain, suffered a big drop in their testosterone after hearing of his defeat. The scientists reported that the male McCain voters “felt significantly more controlled, submissive, unhappy and unpleasant.” The testosterone effect was “as if they directly engaged head-to-head in a contest for dominance” and lost, one researcher told a reporter when the study was published in 2009. The men who voted for Obama fared better. The researchers speculated that there might be an Obama baby boom.

No change, meanwhile, was observed in women’s testosterone levels. This evidence, as the author notes, suggests higher female voting rates may reflect the fact that women don’t let elections affect their self-worth. Pardoxically, it seems, hypercompetitive male behavior has made men less likely to fight for their own teams.


By: Simon van Zuylen-Wood, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 7, 2012

October 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Caught In A Bind”: Taxes Are Certain, But What About Mitt Romney’s Cuts?

Republican Mitt Romney started his campaign calling for big tax cuts, but now he has changed course. He’s warning middle-class families not to raise their hopes too high.

Romney couldn’t have been more emphatic than he was last November at a candidates’ debate in Michigan.

“What I want to do is help the people who’ve been hurt the most, and that’s the middle class,” he said. “And so what I do is focus a substantial tax break on middle-income Americans.”

He put a middle-class tax cut at the top of his priority list: a 20 percent reduction in tax rates across the board.

“Right now, let’s get the job done first that has to be done immediately. Let’s lower the tax rates on middle-income Americans,” he said.

Then, at a debate in Tampa this January, Romney got a little more specific.

“The real question people are gonna ask is, who’s going to help the American people at a time when folks are having real tough times? And that’s why I’ve put forward a plan to eliminate the tax on savings for middle-income Americans,” he said. “Anyone making under $200,000 a year, I would eliminate the tax on interest, dividends and capital gains.”

Shaking Up Tax Plans

But then came Romney’s victory in the primaries, and a new set of goals to meet.

“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said on CNN. “It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

Romney shook up his plans on the tax cuts. He still wanted to lower the tax rates, but now he was more emphatic about the need for tax changes to be revenue-neutral.

In September, he had words of caution for the crowd that filled the gym at a suburban Ohio high school.

“By the way, don’t be expecting a huge cut in taxes, because I’m also going to lower deductions and exemptions,” he said.

In other words, your tax rate might be lower, but your taxable income might be higher. He elaborated in the Wednesday night debate with President Obama.

“I will not, under any circumstances, raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families,” he said.

But he avoided details. He said he would work with Congress, and he quickly moved to talk about another goal: lowering the tax rate for small-business people.

“If we lower that rate, they will be able to hire more people. For me, this is about jobs,” he said.

Will The Tax Cut Stick?

As the campaign goes on, Romney gives the tax cuts more and more to do: Help the middle class, produce more jobs, keep the same amount of money flowing into the government, and more.

At the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, research fellow Michael Strain says Romney has plenty of tax variables he can adjust.

“There are a lot of different levers to pull here. You have the marginal tax rates, you have the amount of income that’s subject to taxation, you have the amount of income that you can deduct from your gross income to calculate your taxable income,” Strain says.

Is a middle-class tax cut possible with everything else? Strain thinks it is.

“In order to do that, you would have to have a specific plan. And we haven’t seen that from Gov. Romney yet,” he says.

But at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, co-director William Gale says Romney is caught in a bind.

“He has made a set of proposals that are jointly impossible to fulfill. And so something has to give,” he says.

It may be that what’s giving — as Romney told the crowd in Ohio — is the middle-class tax cut.


By: Peter Overby, NPR, October 7, 2012

October 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Taxes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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