2012 - %3, January

Santorum Has a Manufacturing Problem

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 2:11 PM EST
Sen. Rick Santorum

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' December jobs report is full of encouraging news, unless you're running for president and your name isn't Barack Obama. Released on Friday morning, the report shows that the private sector added 200,000 jobs in December, while the unemployment rate fell from 9 percent to 8.5 percent (caveat alert: that's due, in part, to the millions of discouraged workers who've stopped looking for work, and no longer factor into the count). That's on top of recent Labor Department data showing that the number of Americans applying for initial unemployment claims is dropping.  

Also buried amid the cheery news: the country's long-left-for-dead manufacturing sector is making a serious comeback, adding 23,000 jobs in December. As the New York Times' Floyd Norris reports, that's reflective of a larger trend.

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In Praise of Soulless Chain Bookstores

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 1:43 PM EST

Why did Barnes & Noble, a seller of physical books, decide to get into the business of selling e-book readers? Matt Yglesias muses:

There's no real mystery about this. The physical book retailing industry is in structural decline driven by technological changes. Insofar as physical bookstore survive, they'll survive because (some) people have warm/fuzzy/nostalgic feelings about bookstores. But that implies a future, if there is one, for the sort of neighborhood independent bookshops that people have warm/fuzzy/nostalgic feelings about, not soulless chains. Barnes & Noble the organism doesn't want to die, so it makes a desperate effort to launch a new book-related businesses—the design and manufucter of e-readers—that it has no particular expertise in. All very understandable....

This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but I think this deserves some pushback from a child of suburbia. See, the whole idea of warm and fuzzy neighborhood bookstores strikes me as very much an urban one. That's not to say they didn't exist outside of cities before the rise of the chains. Of course they did. When I was growing up, my family mostly patronized the Garden Grove Book Shop and were quite friendly with Irv, its owner. It doesn't exist anymore, of course, and although that's unfortunate on one level, it's not really a great loss on another. You see, the Garden Grove Book Shop was pretty small. That's not because it was a specialty store, it's just because it was small. So the selection was limited, and if you needed something they didn't have you had to order it. It would then show up a couple of weeks later. And while we might have hung around to chew the fat with Irv while we were there, his shop didn't have any espresso machines or comfy chairs or anything like that. It had shelves with books in them.

Well, now Garden Grove and its surrounding area has a bunch of Barnes & Noble outlets. And guess what? Soulless or not, they're just way better. They have a bigger selection of books, they're open to 11 pm, bestsellers are discounted, and comfy chairs abound. If you're older than me, you might still have some nostalgic feelings about neighborhood bookstores, but even then probably not much. And if you're my age or younger, you probably barely care at all.

Big cities have either (a) big neighborhood bookstores or (b) lots of little bookstores. That can be pretty nice, and I understand the attraction. But suburbia never had that. For us, Barnes & Noble has been great. If it dies, it's not going to be because of nostalgia for small bookstores, it's going to be because too many people prefer Amazon.com.

And that's the point at which I'll start getting nostalgic too. I don't really care that my book browsing no longer takes place in small, cramped neighborhood bookstores, but I do like to browse — and while Amazon is doing everything it can to make books browsable online, it's not the same. So if B&N goes under, there will literally be almost no place left in my neck of the woods to just walk around and look for a good book. This makes me, child of suburbia that I am, a big fan of soulless chains.

Does Huntsman Believe He's in Crazytown?

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 1:01 PM EST

This morning, before Jon Huntsman spoke at a conference of college students in Concord, New Hampshire, the former Republican Utah governor took a few questions from a pack of ravenous reporters. (He could use all the free press he can get). And I managed to get in a question, asking the former US ambassador to China whether he believes his fellow contenders for the GOP presidential nomination are a wee bit too conservative for many American voters. Here's the exchange:

Do you think the Republican field overall is just too far to the right for most American voters?

We're in the pre-season. We're in the silly season. And I say we've got a lot of voters out there who hunger not for political theatrics but for real ideas and real solutions—not sound bites, not red meat, but real solutions and ideas. Ultimately, that's where our conversation must go

But is that a yes?

You know the cycles of politics as well as anybody. You hear the pre-season. You hear certain rhetoric. And then you move into the post-season, and there's a different level of rhetoric. I say, I don't follow those rules. I say, you square with the American people from Day One. Let them know who you are. They might not like everything you're talking about. But I'm not going to vary. I'm not going to shift through the course of the campaign. I'm going to lay out what I think is doable and live with the consequences.

Mr. Huntsman was raised a polite boy. The candidate was essentially saying that the others are now pandering to right-wing voters, but he won't. Which pretty much explains why he's been struggling in the polls, and, despite practically moving to New Hampshire, has yet (according to those surveys) to catch fire among the Live-Free-or-Die GOPers here.

During his talk to the students, Huntsman came across as smart, affable, and slightly goofy. Unlike, say, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Ron Paul, he displayed no hatred for anyone: not liberals, not gays, not the government. And he was rather heartfelt when he responded to a despicable ad supposedly posted by a Ron Paul supporter attacking Huntsman as a pro-Chinese Manchurian candidate and citing his adoption of daughters in China and India as evidence of his secret agenda. Huntsman did compare the GOP primary race to a "circus." But he's not an angry fellow. His dominant emotional theme seemed to be disappointment. He's sad the economy isn't growing faster and that people don't trust elected officials. He only minimally assailed Barack Obama.

Huntsman is the odd man out this year. And he keeps prompting the obvious question: what's he doing here?

Adam Serwer on Bloggingheads: Sanctum Santorum Edition

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 12:44 PM EST

Business Insider's Michael Brendan Dougherty and I discuss the Iowa Caucus, the GOP's flawed process for determining which candidates are sufficiently conservative, and Rick Santorum's scary foreign policy:

One thing I wish I had said in reference to Islamist parties winning elections in the Middle East post-Arab Spring is that I genuinely do think that religious fundamentalism loses favor over time in a free marketplace of ideas. But the opposite can occur when the state actively sustains religious extremism.

It's Romney!

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 12:30 PM EST

Adam Sorensen reports on the latest Time/CNN poll from South Carolina:

The poll, which surveyed likely primary voters on Wednesday and Thursday, found Romney commanding 37% support, a 17-point gain since early December. He’s not the only one carrying momentum out of Iowa’s photo finish. Rick Santorum has surged 15 points to 19%, picking up the largest chunk of Newt Gingrich’s shattered coalition.

....The largest remaining threat to Romney is a conservative bloc coalesced behind one candidate. As of Friday, that simply isn’t happening. Romney is getting his share of born-again Christians (35%), Tea Party supporters (32%) and self-described conservatives (37%).

If Romney wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and the conservative stronghold of South Carolina, it's really hard to see this race continuing much past February. Right now, the only plausible anti-Romney scenario is for everyone else to drop out quickly and put all their support behind Santorum, but there are two problems with that. First, the other candidates won't do it. The fact is that, among Beltway Republicans, Santorum isn't much better liked than Romney. Second, even if they did, it's hard to see it working in time. Santorum just doesn't have the money or organization to ramp up victories quickly, and in just a few days he's already shown that his ability to verbally self-destruct is very nearly Gingrichian. Even if the race does come down to Romney vs. Santorum, Romney will win pretty easily.

Question: has an "Anybody But ______" movement ever worked in modern history? My memory goes back to ABC — Anybody But Carter — in 1976, and obviously that didn't work. And I can't think of any other example where a clear front-runner was defeated after a few victories by the rest of the field dropping out and coalescing around a single alternative. The collective action problem is simply too hard to resolve in the heat and speed of a modern-day primary.

Republican Climate Hawks Sighted in New Hampshire

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 11:53 AM EST

Hey, did you know there are still some Republicans who believe that climate change is real? There are in New Hampshire! The Climate Desk's James West has video proof below. Enjoy.

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How Rick Santorum Saved Wrestling

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 11:26 AM EST
GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum (artist's rendering).

Rick Santorum's effort in Iowa received a late boost from Jim Gibbons, the much-revered former wrestling coach at Iowa State University, who endorsed the GOP presidential candidate at a Pizza Ranch in Boone on Monday. In a caucus, where voters can be pressured by their peers right up to the minute they cast their votes, these kinds of endorsements tend to carry a lot of weight. But there's another sub-plot to it all: Rick Santorum has sort of a weird fixation with wrestling.

As Mike Newall reported in his excellent 2005 Philadelphia City Paper profile, prior to getting involved in politics, Santorum worked at a law firm, where he once argued in court—successfully—that pro wrestling should be exempt from steroid regulations because it's staged (and therefore not a sport). Jake Tapper flags a 2010 quote from the Philadelphia Inquirer in which Santorum spins his wrestling work in small-government terms: "Pennsylvania was the most pernicious of states when it came to regulation. They made you pay all this money to the boxing [athletic] commission. They used to just rape these guys. You’d have to pay a certain percentage of the gate receipts to have these officials just stand around and watch the match. It was ridiculous." (Emphasis mine.)

And—because three makes a trend—here's a Rick Santorum campaign ad from 2006, which has been making the rounds today. It stars Rick Santorum (obviously), using the spectacle of mostly-naked men wrestling as a metaphor for what's wrong with Washington. (If nothing else, he seems to have anticipated the Chris Lee/Anthony Weiner scandals):

What would Rick Santorum's wrestling name be? We're going with "The Vest."

Chart of the Day: Net Jobs Up in December

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 11:20 AM EST

Today is new jobs day, and my usual chart is below. It shows the number of net new jobs created over the past few years; that is, the number of new jobs above the 90,000 per month needed just to keep up with population growth and tread water. In December, that amounted to 110,000 net new jobs, pushing the headline unemployment rate down to 8.5%. Not bad. Karl Smith has all the internals plus a few more graphs if you want to dive deeper into the data.

Love Letters for Veterans

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 11:20 AM EST

It's not every marriage in which one partner implores the other to justify why, why they still love them. But then, it's not every marriage in which one partner went to war, killed or saw friends/enemies/innocent civilians get killed or witnessed/experienced Christ knows what kind of stress and trauma, and then came home to find the war still happening in their minds and nervous systems, making them agitated, suicidal, maybe violent.

Brannan Vines, founder of the nonprofit Family of a Vet, has a marriage like that, though. Her husband Caleb did two yearlong tours in Iraq, suffered a traumatic brain injury and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, so at the ripe old age of 34 he's dramatically different than the guy Brannan married. He sometimes has no control over being restless, or paranoid, or unbearably pissed off. In moments of lucidity, he asks his wife why the hell she still loves him. In response, she wrote him a love letter. And knowing that an estimated one in five vets has PTSD, she's invited other veterans' families to do the same.

And the results: holy shit. Family of a Vet's "Love Letter Campaign," which kicked off on Veteran's Day and runs until Valentine's Day, has published dozens of letters to soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are insanely moving. They're from wives (and even a mother-in-law) and they're the most unimaginably intimate window into the battles for psychological well-being and readjustment that assail many veterans' families. Or destroy them—not all the relationships in the letters have happy endings.

Steven,

As you left yet again to return to the VA hospital, leaving me alone with our children, I came to understand many things, you will never again be the man that I fell in love with, the father you once were, but you will survive this battle inside yourself.

For this first time in a long time I saw glipses of the man I fell in love with, while it is hard on the kids to see you leave yet again they also have pride in you for facing your demons head on. I pray everyday that this time the VA is able to help you, that this time will bring about a change in you that you will never again try and hurt yourself, that you will remember that we will always love you. I can not walk beside you down this path any longer, it has proven to hard for me and for our children. I want you to remember that although we are not by your side everyday we are your biggest fans chearing you every step of the way, we are not turning our backs on you as so many have done we are instead chosing to walk a differant path. The hypervigalance, anxiety, fighting, sleepless nights, and addictions have worn us all down, and changed us all but thru it all we have always loved you.[...]

Anyone who ever proposes sending soldiers to war should be forced to sit down and read these. You should read them, too. And if you're a family member of a vet, you can submit your own.

Newt: "I'm Not Rich"

| Fri Jan. 6, 2012 11:03 AM EST
Newt and Callista Gingrich

Throw a bunch of desperate and anxious candidates into the crucible of the first primary in the nation, and you will get a stream of whoppers and prevarications. But even though the New Hampshire campaign is not done, we already have a winner in the biggest lie of the week contest. The honors go to Newt Gingrich.

When Gingrich was campaigning in Laconia on Wednesday, a fellow came up to the former House speaker and asked, "Won't you buy a home in the Lakes Region if elected president?" This was a reference to Mitt Romney's house in New Hampshire.

Gingrich replied, "No, I can't afford things like that. I'm not rich."

And his wife Callista quickly added, "We have one home."

Not rich? This past summer, Gingrich had to file the financial-disclosure form required of presidential candidates. It revealed that he has a net worth of at least $6.7 million and that his income was at least $2.6 million in 2010. That's about 65 times the income of the average family of four in the United States. That puts him well into the top 1 percent (about $520,000 a year or more) and close to the top 0.1 percent. He, of course, had that $500,000-plus tab at Tiffany's, and weeks ago was boasting that he pulled in $60,000 a speech. These are the sort of actions that tend to be associated with richness.

If Gingrich does not consider himself wealthy, he's living in a world far different from that of the bottom 99 percent. This is a negative ad that writes itself.

(H/t to Alexandra Moe of NBC News for reporting this much underreported exchange.)