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“Not Very Much”: Without The Economy, What Does Romney Have Left Against Obama?

Last Friday’s new job numbers demonstrate that Barack Obama has started to turn around the economy George W. Bush ran aground.

Don’t get me wrong. A 7.8 percent jobless rate is way too high. And the effective jobless rate which includes part-time workers who want full-time work and Americans who have given up hope of ever finding jobs is even worse.

But there have been 31 straight months of growth in the number of private sector jobs. The unemployment rate is still high but there has been a slow and steady decrease in the jobless rate. The picture is even brighter in the battleground states that will pick the next president. In Iowa, the unemployment rate is only 5.5, and it is 5.7 percent in New Hampshire. The unemployment rate would be even lower if the GOP majority in the House of Representatives had approved the president’s proposed American Jobs Act which would have given state and local governments the funds to rehire hundreds of thousands of the teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees who had lost their jobs in the last few years.

One of the striking things about recent national surveys is that Americans now think that Barack Obama is as capable of handling the economy as Mitt Romney. The Battleground national poll conducted for George Washington University last week shows that there are almost as many voters (47 percent) who think President Obama is the best candidate to handle the economy as there are voters (49 percent) who think Romney is the better man for the job.

Romney’s business credentials were his ace in the hole but he played his hand poorly. The steady increase in employment has certainly helped restore trust in the president’s capacity to nourish the economy but the GOP nominee has undermined his own image as a successful entrepreneur.

Romney is his own worst enemy. The infamous “47 percent” video exposed Romney’s callous disregard for Americans like seniors and veterans who are economically dependent on government benefits. The video clearly had an impact on Romney’s standing. The Battleground survey shows the president with a big advantage (56 percent to 40 percent) over Romney for standing up for the middle class.

If the president does win re-election, I suspect that many pundits will say the 47 percent video was the turning point of the campaign. But I think the real pivot point was during the spring when the Obama campaign exposed what Rick Perry called Romney’s time at Bain Capital a career in “vulture capitalism.” At the time, most Democratic insiders dismissed the anti-Bain preemptive attack ads, but they put Romney on the defensive on the only issue that could help him win the campaign. The president also helped himself when he adopted an aggressive message of economic populism in the fall of 2011 after he finally got frustrated over Republican obstructionism.

Monday, Romney gave a speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute. He has talked about national security a lot lately, and the Romney campaign’s focus on foreign policy may be an admission by Romney that he has lost the edge he had over the president on the economy. Romney’s new emphasis on foreign policy is counterproductive since few voters care about it and because voters give the president good marks for international relations. According to the Battleground poll, few Americans indicate that the wars in the Middle East (4 percent) or terrorism (2 percent) are the most important issues in the campaign. By a margin of 50 percent to 44 percent, voters choose the president as the candidate best able to handle foreign policy.

A story in Politico on Tuesday indicated that the Romney family is pushing the candidate to de-emphasize his anti-Obama economic rhetoric. But if the GOP candidate stops beating up on the president for his economic performance, what does Romney have left? The answer is not very much.

 

By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Distracting Crazy Talk”: Will Bureau Of Labor Statistics Trutherism Backfire?

Well, I had hoped for better news fare, but the BLS Truthers are kind of blotting out the sun at the moment, infecting a lot of people who should know better right along with the crazy people and the stone hacks. I’ll just quote Greg Sargent here on the possibility that this frantic effort–born, I suspect, of over-reaction to the first presidential debate, which had conservatives cackling with insane glee before the first poll came in–could actually backfire. After citing other examples of the “closed conservative information feedback loop,” Greg says this:

This latest — unemployment trutherism — strikes me as having the potential to be a bit more damaging to Romney. It’s very likely that these claims are now going to break through to the nightly news, drawing still more attention to the dropping unemployment rate.

Of course, there’s always the danger that news outlets will cover this stuff in a he-said-she-said manner, reporting on the assertions of the unemployment truthers without calling them out, thus injecting them into the discourse. But that seems unlikely. This is really out there stuff, and hopefully the networks will say so outright. If so, it’s hard to see how it’s helpful to Romney for undecided voters to be treated to the sight of fury and panic about improving economic news among those who want him to be elected president.

On top of that, of course, if the freak-out is about the BLS report distracting attention from Mitt’s Triumphant Vanquishing of the Evil Obama, then the crazy-talk is a much bigger distraction: like turning on the local news and watching the weatherman have a nervous breakdown because his forecast turned out to be wrong.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 5, 2012

October 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Jobs | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“War Against Reality”: Neutron Jack Welch And The Jobless Numbers Conspiracy

Opening yet another front in their endless war against reality, right-wing conspiracy-mongers have moved on from polling data to federal unemployment statistics, apparently because – like the political polls they’ve disputed in recent weeks — the latest jobless number is not sufficiently damaging to President Obama.

Shortly after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its September unemployment numbers on Friday morning, showing that the jobless rate fell last month from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, outraged expressions of doubt began to appear on the Internet.

Nobody cited any substantive evidence to support allegations that the BLS had suddenly “cooked” its data to promote the president’s re-election, of course. Evidence isn’t required or expected in Fox Nation.

What sustained at least momentary interest in this new “truther” flurry, however, was a Twitter effusion from Jack Welch, the former General Electric chairman, who described the BLS number as “unbelievable” and complained that “these Chicago guys will do anything” because Obama “can’t debate.” (He later admitted to Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball, “I have no evidence to prove that [the White House influenced the BLS], ” adding disingenuously that “I just raised the question.”)

Although Welch is superficially a credible figure — indeed, still an idol in certain quarters of American business — he is also a particularly enthusiastic and volatile Romney surrogate. “Neutron Jack,” as he used to be known, admires Romney deeply, perhaps because both have become symbols of “corporate greed, arrogance, and contempt for workers.” His tweet about the BLS was a political expression, not an expert assessment, and invites skepticism. But Welch certainly is familiar with dubious numbers and political manipulation.

Several years after he retired from General Electric in 2001 — where his legendary managerial successes brought him accolades as the “CEO of the century” in the business press — the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation of the company’s accounting practices. What the SEC eventually uncovered were long-running schemes to inflate earnings, reminiscent of Enron.

While nobody held Welch personally accountable, the violations that cost the conglomerate $50 million in fines occurred on the watch of the chief financial officer he had appointed in 1998. Other accounts of questionable business practices at GE date back much further.

More pertinent than GE’s accounting misadventures is Welch’s controversial role in the 2000 election, when he became known as an outspoken supporter of George W. Bush. (Considering the dismal history of the Bush presidency, voters might think twice before taking Welch’s political advice this year.) At the time, GE owned NBC and its cable networks CNBC and MSNBC, and Welch was known to make his presence felt in the studios and newsrooms. Nobody at 30 Rock had the slightest doubt about Welch’s hatred toward President Clinton and the Clinton administration, or about his desire to see Clinton replaced by Bush.

On Election Night, as witnesses later told Rep. Henry Waxman, Welch came into the NBC newsroom while the network’s political staff tried to determine who had won the historically-close contest between Bush and Vice President Al Gore. In what news executives later acknowledged was a serious mistake, they called the election for Bush, following a trend started by Fox News, where a Bush cousin was running election coverage under the watchful eye of former Bush consultant and Fox boss Roger Ailes.

According to Waxman’s findings, Welch blatantly tried to influence the decision by NBC election producers to name Bush the winner, based on Florida numbers that were too preliminary and too close to support that call.

Witnesses said that Welch personally examined the raw election data and told the NBC director of election coverage, Sheldon Gawiser, that he believed Bush had won. When Fox called the election for Bush, Welch could be overheard asking Gawiser why NBC had not yet done the same. Not long after that alleged conversation, NBC announced that Bush had won.

NBC News strongly disputed Waxman’s stated concerns over undue influence by Welch. But an internal evaluation later “recommended that the network [should] sequester the election decision desk and protect its election analysts from “unnecessary interruptions.”

Welch himself dismissed the Waxman investigation as “pure crazy” — which is pretty much how economists and government experts are describing his BLS tweet.

But whatever Welch’s present attitude and past behavior, is there any real reason why he should doubt the BLS jobs data — compiled by a corps of dedicated civil servants (not political appointees), many of whom are Republicans, month after month and decade after decade?

The short answer is no.

But before closing this pointless episode, there is another bit of sordid irony involving a different Romney associate. There was once a White House that sought to manipulate BLS statistics for its own partisan purposes. Before the Watergate scandal toppled him from power, Richard Nixon was constantly frustrated by his inability to exercise political control over the agency’s professional civil servants. In his paranoia, Nixon blamed this “problem” on “the Jews” that he believed were running BLS and their animosity toward him – so he and Charles Colson instructed Fred Malek, one of their political stooges, to ferret out the Jews and get rid of them.

Their anti-Semitic plot failed, Nixon resigned to escape criminal prosecution, Colson went to prison for Watergate offenses, and Malek languished in disgrace. Eventually he recovered his reputation, got rich working for Marriott, and buddied up to the Romneys. Last April, he and his wife hosted a “birthday party” fundraiser in Washington for Ann Romney, at $1,000 a head.

So the Republican accusations about gaming the BLS statistics may simply be another case of projection. Perhaps they think Obama is doing it because they always wanted to.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 5, 2012

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“God Must Be A Kenyan”: Hey Conspiracy Theorists, It’s Showtime!

I assume that several of our house conservatives have been sitting around this morning waiting for this post on the new BLS data so they can trot out their conspiracy theories or note that the “real” unemployment rate is 11 percent. So, go have fun.

I think it’s a little sad to see people so openly rooting against America and against people finding work. That much-discussed Jack Welch tweet was an abomination. As TNR’s Alec MacGillis tweeted back, it’s always nice to see a leading figure of American commerce cheer against his country and its economy. And “BLS cooked-the-numbers” theories are just silly. This monthly gathering of data is a massive job that goes on all month long involving thousands of people and inputs.

The great news about this report and the new jobless rate of 7.8 percent, down below 8 for the first time since Obama took office (how’s that for a stump-speech line?), is that it happened for the right reason: The labor force grew, meaning that more people are out there looking for work, which is a contrast to some previous months when the rate fell because the labor-force participation rate decreased. And the revisions to the last two months, adding 86,000 jobs, is especially heartening.

In substantive terms, it is certainly true that the participation rate is lower than it was in January 2009 by a couple percentage points. And it’s also true that 114,000, the new number, isn’t enough to keep up with the growth in the size of the labor force. So substantively, it’s not a great number.

But we’re in the home stretch of a presidential campaign. So politically, the number is really good for Obama. Just what he needed. God must be a Kenyan.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 5, 2012

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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