2012 - %3, October

The BLS Employment Figures May Have Been Unfairly Hurting Obama, Not Helping Him

| Sat Oct. 6, 2012 10:03 AM PDT

So I open up my LA Times this morning, and the front page of the business section greets me with this headline:

Steep drop in jobless rate has some Obama foes crying foul

And I thought: This is amazing. One tweet from Jack Welch sets off a wingnut firestorm that actually makes the front page of the Times. The power of these guys to set the news agenda is pretty spectacular.

But there may be an unappreciated irony at work here. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) didn't cook the unemployment books, there's no question that the headline number, which is derived from a telephone survey of households, can be fairly noisy from month to month. There was a big spike upward in September's employment figure, and that could be real or it could be a statistical outlier.

Or there might be a third option: In a little-noticed part of yesterday's report, BLS announced that it had systematically undercounted jobs by 386,000 from April 2011 through March 2012. So maybe it's continued to undercount jobs since then, as Karl Smith suggests here. If so, then not only is the September number accurate, it's making up for an undercount over the past six months. That's the shaded portion under the red line in the chart below, which is a simple trend line that runs through the revised March 2012 figure and extends it through September. It suggests that the September employment number is right where you'd expect it to be if the economy were continuing a steady but modest recovery — which seems like a reasonable bet.

So here's the irony: If BLS really has been undercounting, it means that the jobs picture has looked overly gloomy during the first half of the year, which is exactly when it hurt President Obama the worst. What this means is that the wingnuts might be more than merely wrong. They might have things 180 degrees backward. It's quite possible that far from being unfairly favorable toward Obama, the BLS numbers have been unfairly hurting him. September's spike corrected that, but probably too late to do him very much good.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Where it Counts, There's No Enthusiasm Gap

| Sat Oct. 6, 2012 8:03 AM PDT

Enthusiasm gap? What enthusiasm gap?

President Obama's campaign and Democratic allies raised a record $181 million in September, his campaign manager said today....The Obama campaign manager said the average donation was $53, with 98% of the contributions at $250 or less.

In the end, I wonder if the Republican focus on Super PACs will end up hurting them? Team Blue might be raising a bit less money overall than Team Red, but the Obama campaign is raising more than the Romney campaign. If you're Karl Rove, I suppose you might argue that Super PACs have more freedom to launch nasty (but effective) attack ads than the campaigns themselves, so it's a good thing that a big chunk of conservative money is going to Crossroads GPS and their ilk. If you're Jim Messina, you'll probably argue that, in the end, it's better to have most of your money under central control, where you can use it precisely the way you need to.

I have no idea which is the better argument. Either way, though, Obama certainly doesn't seem to be having any big problem raising money from the folks who supported him in 2008. I continue to think that Mitt Romney lost a real chance to eat into that support when he decided last spring that he had to continue placating the tea partiers instead of immediately moving to the center.

Friday Cat Blogging - 5 October 2012

| Fri Oct. 5, 2012 12:04 PM PDT

In 1912 Marcel Duchamp painted "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2." A century later, I have created a new classic for a new era, "Domino Heading for the Supper Dish No. 2,153." This is a bit of poetic license, though, since she was actually heading toward Marian, who was luring her into the living room with a shopping bag for her to crawl into. But I like my title better, and anyway, there's no telling if Duchamp's nude was really descending a staircase either, is there?

In other news, a team of Japanese researchers have proven that lolcats are good for the economy. The Daily Mail, your go-to site for cute animal journalism, reports that "Through three separate experiments a team of scientists found that people showed higher levels of concentration being shown pictures of puppies or kittens." Tell that to your boss the next time he gives you a hard time about checking out Friday Catblogging in the middle of the workday.

Shocker: Free Birth Control Means Fewer Abortions

| Fri Oct. 5, 2012 11:57 AM PDT

Make sure you're sitting down for this one: Free birth control leads to lower abortion rates and fewer teenage pregnancies.

I know.

That's according to a new study published on Thursday by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. The project gave free birth control to more than 9,000 local women and girls, many of whom were poor or uninsured, and tracked them for two years. There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study group, compared to the 2010 national rate of 34 per 1,000. As for abortions, there were fewer than eight per 1,000 women in the study, compared with the almost 20 per 1,000 nationally.

Mitt Romney's Social Security Plan

| Fri Oct. 5, 2012 11:35 AM PDT

This is nothing new, but a reader points out that Mitt Romney has explicitly endorsed raising the eligibility age for both Social Security and Medicare:

When it comes to Social Security, we will slowly raise the retirement age....We will gradually increase the Medicare eligibility age by one month each year.

The Social Security retirement age is already increasing by statute and will reach 67 in a few years. Apparently Romney wants it to go up to 69 or 70. The actual number he has in mind is unclear (surprise, surprise) but given that he plans to balance Social Security's books solely by raising the retirement age and slowing the growth of benefits for "those with higher incomes," I'd put my money on 70. Slowing benefit growth on high earners just doesn't do enough to let you get away with anything less.

So there you have it. If you're in your 30s or 40s, Mitt Romney thinks you should work until you're 70. That might be OK for bloggers and politicians, but I'm not sure how all the dockworkers and haircutters and grocery clerks are going to feel about that. Especially when you consider that life expectancy for these folks has gone up a paltry 1.3 years in the past three decades. It's the well-off who are living longer, not the lower half of the middle class.

"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: 'Pitch Perfect,' Liam Neeson & Mindy Kaling Edition

| Fri Oct. 5, 2012 11:12 AM PDT

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa Rosenberg & Asawin Suebsaeng, we discuss (scroll down for audio):

Listen here:

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thank you for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast in the iTunes store, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Liberal Conspiracy Is Now Officially Everywhere

| Fri Oct. 5, 2012 10:18 AM PDT

As I was browsing my RSS earlier today I came across a short blurb about former GE chairman Jack Welch. Apparently Neutron Jack has become a truther. Not a 9/11 truther or Kenyan birth truther: he's become, fittingly enough for a guy who got famous for his layoffs, an unemployment truther. "Unbelievable jobs numbers," he tweeted this morning. "These Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers."

I shook my head, figuring Welch had just gone senile or something, and plowed forward. Little did I know that Welch had apparently inspired a movement. Conservatives all over the place smell a rat. Benjy Sarlin has the details here. The wingers have gone from complaining about the liberal media to complaining about liberal Hollywood to complaining about liberal pollsters and now, finally, to complaining about liberal technocrats in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The conspiracy is everywhere.

This is really sad. When do they finally get the intervention they so desperately need?

Mitt Romney's Head Fake to the Center

| Fri Oct. 5, 2012 9:37 AM PDT

I want to second this remark from Ed Kilgore:

Before it becomes a kind of Fact-Made-Fact-By-Repetition, I'd like to challenge the much-assumed idea that in the first presidential debate Mitt Romney "moved to the center" in a real, substantive way. This seems to be the conclusion of many Democrats, many in the MSM, and of those few Republicans who occasionally object to the endless rightward drift of the GOP.

Sure, his rhetoric sounded more moderate. But when you look at the details, nothing changed.

Ed provides chapter and verse in the rest of his post, which is worth a read. But I'd like to add a related thought: relatively speaking, Romney was never all that far to the right in the first place. Sure, he's adopted all the standard positions of the modern tea-party-ized GOP, but during the primaries he was always pretty careful not to go any further than that. On actual policy, he never tried to move to the right of Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry.

What he did do was adopt a "severely conservative" rhetorical style, highlighted by his almost comically harsh attacks on Barack Obama. He was content to let the other candidates offer up redder meat than he did, but he always insisted on making sure that everyone knew his contempt for Obama was second to none. At the time, I figured this was deliberate: he didn't want to take any insane positions that might hurt him in the general election, but he still wanted to do something to show tea party voters that he was one of them in his heart. The way he did that was by never letting five minutes go by without launching yet another over-the-top verbal volley against Obama.

And it was a good strategy! It's easy to ditch attacks like that after the primary is over, and for the most part he has. Ever since spring, Romney's schtick has been an almost sorrowful acknowledgment that Obama is a good man, an honorable man, but in over his head. The harshness is mostly gone, and hardly anyone has even noticed that his attacks on Obama changed course rather abruptly as soon as he became the consensus nominee in April. And since then he's also solidified his standing with the tea party base strongly enough that he can get away with some rhetorical concessions on policy as well. This resonates more strongly with the pundit class, but Ed is right: on substance, Romney hasn't changed a thing. He still won't accept a dime in revenue increases; he still plans to cut taxes substantially on the rich while claiming he's doing no such thing; he still wants to voucherize both Medicare and education spending; he still wants to turn Medicaid over to the states and slash its funding; he still wants to increase the defense budget; he still wants to repeal both Obamacare and Dodd-Frank; and he still claims to be a deficit warrior even as he refuses to provide any details about just how he'd actually cut the deficit.

The new, more bipartisan Romney should be taken for what it is: a campaign stratagem, not a real change. He isn't moving to the center, he's just trying to sound like he's moving to the center. My guess is that it won't work, but given the obsession of the Washington press corps with optics and conflict, it might. You never know.

Event: Climate Change's Sleeper Role in Election 2012

Fri Oct. 5, 2012 9:27 AM PDT

WHAT: Climate Change 2012: Political Albatross or Winning Issue?

WHEN: 9:30a.m.-10:30a.m. Wednesday, October 10

WHERE: The Mott House, 122 Maryland Avenue NE, Washington, DC.

Everybody in Washington knows that climate change is a political dog. But what if everybody is wrong? New polling indicates that Americans are very concerned about heat waves and freak storms, and candidates who advocate meaningful action on climate change can turn it into a winning issue.

That’s the subject for what promises to be a lively debate among pollsters, analysts, campaign operatives, and journalists at the first “Climate Desk Live” breakfast briefing in Washington, DC, hosted by award-wining science journalist Chris Mooney. “Not only do most likely but undecided voters think global warming is happening and caused by humans,” Mooney writes of the poll results, “but 61 percent say it will be an important issue in determining who they vote for.”

The author of four books, including Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, Mooney has joined forces with the Climate Desk—a journalistic consortium of news organizations—to bring a provocative series of speakers on climate and energy before Washington’s policy makers and journalists.

This first event in the series—“Climate Change 2012: Political Albatross or Winning Issue?”—will take place from 9:30a.m.-10:30a.m., next Wednesday, October 10, at the Mott House on Capitol Hill, 122 Maryland Avenue NE, Washington, DC.

Confirmed speakers include Joe Romm of Climate Progress, analyst Betsy Taylor of Breakthrough Strategies and Solutions, and Paul Bledsoe, a Washington-based consultant who was the chief staffer on climate change communications in the Clinton White House.

To RSVP for this space-limited event, email CDL@climatedesk.org (breakfast and coffee provided).

Diplomatic Attacks Are Much Rarer Than They Used to Be

| Fri Oct. 5, 2012 8:55 AM PDT

Adam Serwer has a pretty interesting chart today that accompanies his piece about the history of attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets. Here it is:

There's a very sharp, very sudden dropoff in 1994. Just eyeballing it, it looks like there were an average of about 14 attacks per year from 1970-1993 but only six or so from 1994-2010. Why?

"That follows the trend of terrorism generally," says Erin Miller, a research assistant at START who manages the Global Terrorism Database. "In the early 1990s there's a drop-off worldwide in terrorism against pretty much all target types." Miller cites the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a subsequent wane in leftist terrorism as one possible explanation for the downturn beginning in the mid-1990s.

Maybe! On a broader note, Adam points out that Mitt Romney's tiresome trope about the Benghazi attacks being the result of President Obama's "weakness" is just nonsense. There were lots of attacks during the Reagan administration, and many fewer during the Clinton administration. Attacks rose a bit during the Bush administration, and have been a hair lower during the Obama administration. This is almost certainly due to external factors, not to any particular strength or weakness of the presidents themselves.

Still, it's fair to say that the Obama administration has hardly distinguished itself with its curiously meandering response to the Benghazi attacks. I think they've finally given up on the suggestion that it was all because of a YouTube video, but beyond that there's still a fair amount of confusion about who was behind the attack and what the motivation was. Weakness may not have caused the attacks, but until Obama can get his hands around it, it's going to remain a pretty soft spot for the Romney campaign to poke at.