2012 - %3, June

Obama's Troubles in One Chart

| Fri Jun. 1, 2012 7:12 AM PDT

Not a good morning for Team Obama. The monthly jobs report was weaker than expected. Only 69,000 jobs were created—less than half of the 150,000 expected, and unemployment ticked up to 8.2 percent. This comes at a rather inopportune time for the president (as well as the entire country). He and his advisers are desperately trying to use the pre-summer weeks—before voters slip into their vacations-and-Olympics lull—to define Mitt Romney as a vulture capitalist who was a dud of a governor in Massachusetts. Their goal is to create a deep negative impression of the presumptive GOP nominee as soon as possible so they won't have to start the process again in September. Meanwhile, Romney's aim is somewhat easier: to superglue the president to the lousy economy. And, on that score, the jobs report helps greatly.

To see why Obama is indeed in trouble, one need only look at what had once been one of the White House's favorite charts:

Courtesy of the White HouseCourtesy of the White HouseFor two years, administration officials have been waving this graphic. It clearly shows the hole that Obama inherited and demonstrates that a turnaround did begin soon after he entered office. But take a gander at the three most recent bars. They indicate a steep drop in this turnaround and a disturbing trend. 

Certainly, there can be a debate as to what is stifling jobs creation. Gridlock in Congress caused by GOP obstructionism could be blamed. No doubt, Obama's jobs bill, if passed, would lead to new jobs. But Romney has the easy argument at the moment: it's not working. He doesn't have to define the it.

For many voters, it's the president who needs to do the explaining. The White House did release a statement this morning:

Just like last year at this time, our economy is facing serious headwinds, including the crisis in Europe and a spike in gas prices that hit American families' finances over the past months. It is critical that we continue the President’s economic policies that are helping us dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession. In the American Jobs Act and in the State of the Union Address, the President put forward a number of proposals to create jobs and strengthen the economy, including proposals that would put teachers back in the classroom and cops on the beat, and put our nation’s construction workers back on the job rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure.

And the White House statement added: "As the Administration stresses every month, the monthly employment and unemployment figures can be volatile, and employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report." But that's sort of like telling someone: "Don't think about an elephant." Whoops. You just did.

For Obama to have a chance of reelection, the bars to come on this chart will have to get bigger. At the moment, the White House's Exhibit A is becoming evidence for the other side.

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Scott Walker Aide Wanted Union Foe Michelle Rhee to Counter Teacher Protests, Email Shows

| Fri Jun. 1, 2012 3:32 AM PDT
Former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Days after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker "dropped the bomb" on his state's public employees last year by proposing to cut most of their collective bargaining rights, a top Walker aide suggested bringing controversial school reform advocate and union foe Michelle Rhee to Wisconsin to quell potential teacher protests, according to newly released internal emails.

On February 12, 2011, the day after Walker unveiled his anti-union budget "repair" bill known as Act 10, Walker's communications director Chris Schrimpf told colleagues that he believed teachers would put up a formidable fight over Walker's assault on unions. "It seems from the coverage overall that the teachers are going to be the greatest opposition to this, which makes sense since they are in every community and can talk about 'the kids,'" Schrimpf wrote. "Communicating to them and correcting their message will be key." Schrimpf suggested sending letters to teachers, superintendents, and school boards touting Walker's bill.

In a subsequent email, Schrimpf takes his teacher outreach idea one step further by bringing up Rhee: "I wonder if we should talk to michelle rhee's group, students first. If we could get her to come do something that would give us a lot."

Here's the exchange with Schrimpf's emails, released as part of an open records request:

 

Mitt Romney Knows About Crony Capitalism

| Fri Jun. 1, 2012 3:20 AM PDT

Mitt Romney has been playing the crony capitalism card lately, talking up the Solyndra stimulus-money debacle and falsley accusing the Obama administration of lining the pockets of "friends and family." But it turns out that Romney may need to take a long, hard look in a mirror:

When Romney was governor, the state handed out $4.5 million in loans to two firms run by his campaign donors that have since defaulted, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

The two companies—Acusphere and Spherics Inc.—stiffed the state on nearly $2.1 million in loans provided through the state's Emerging Technology Fund, a $25 million investment program created while Romney was governor in 2003 that benefitted 13 local firms.

Acusphere, a biotechnology firm headed by a Romney campaign donor, got $2 million in 2004 that it was supposed to put toward a $20 million manufacturing facility in Tewksbury, which never became fully operational...

The loans were approved by a seven-person advisory board that included two Romney appointees and three Romney campaign contributors, a Herald review found.

Meanwhile, stimulus funds have actually been remarkably well managed. Michael Grunwald at Time's Swampland blog writes:

The Department of Energy has handled $37 billion in stimulus money, more than its annual budget. Overall, the federal government has distributed over $800 billion in stimulus money. Where are the sweetheart deals? Where are the actual outrages that are provoking outrage? During the debate over the stimulus, experts warned that as much as 5% to 7% of the stimulus could be lost to fraud. But by the end of 2011, independent investigators had documented only $7.2 million in fraud, about 0.001%. As I've written, reasonable people can disagree whether the stimulus was a good thing, but it's definitely been a well-managed thing.

If you want to talk about actual crony capitalism at the federal level, the problem isn't so much a vast conspiracy as it is a magnificently complex web of elected officials who want to keep their own jobs by keeping jobs in their home districts and states. That bland reality makes the real problems with more equitable spending at the federal level even more intractable.

Meanwhile, Romney's broader argument against the stimulus is incoherent. He blasts Obama for job losses during his administration, but under a Romney administration during that same period of economic crisis, with no stimulus money, job losses almost certainly would have been much more severe. There's a time for austerity, and it isn't during a recession.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Jun. 1, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

Total raised by super-PACs (so far): $218 million
Ratio of spending by conservative super-PACs to liberal super-PACs: 7.7 to 1
Total raised by Barack Obama: $217.1 million
Total raised by Mitt Romney: $97.9 million
Total raised by congressional candidates: $639.4 million
Total raised by state candidates: $378.6 million
Sources: Center for Responsive Politics, National Institute for Money in State Politics

quote of the week

"This idea of giving public beatings has been around for a long time…You go back to the Dark Ages when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else—watch this—watch what we do to the guy who did this."
—Frank VanderSloot, CEO of the direct-marketing company Melaleuca, speaking to Politico about the public humilation of being a Romney megadonor.

stat of the week

$1 billion: How much conservative outside groups plan to spend on the 2012 race for the White House, Politico reports. That includes $400 million from organizations connected to the Koch brothers' dark-money efforts.

race of the week

David Dewhurst v. Ted Cruz: Outside groups spent more than $6.4 million ahead of Tuesday's Republican Senate primary between Texas Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and tea partier/former state Solicitor General Cruz. Neither managed to snag more than 50 percent of the vote, so they're headed to a July runoff—and probably a fresh influx of super-PAC cash.

attack ads of the week

A couple of new attack ads released Tuesday by the Romney campaign and Karl Rove's American Crossroads super-PAC lobbed remarkably similar criticisms at Obama's investments in energy companies like Solyndra. The Obama campaign and the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA have also aired curiously overlapping ads. It's illegal for candidates and super-PACs to coordinate their messages, but even if they did, the fines would likely be negligible, and the Federal Election Commission can't even agree on what exactly defines "coordination."

Here's the Romney ad:

And American Crossroads':

more mojo dark money coverage

• Half of Scott Walker's Cash Comes From Out-of-State Dark-Money Donors: GOP heavyweights pour millions into "ground zero for the battle against Obama's liberal agenda."
• Our Nation's Biggest Money Problem of All: There appears to be no stopping the tidal wave of money that's overtaken our political system.
Bye, Bye Buddy: Ex-Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer is dropping out of the presidential race. A look at the political and personal demons that fueled his feisty campaign.
No Disclosure, Please, We're Contractors: A new bill would make it harder to find out about federal contractors' dark-money donations.

more must-reads

• Mystery millions: The source of $55 million doled out by a Koch-connected dark-money group remains unknown. Los Angeles Times
• Then: Obama calls super-PAC donors "threat to democracy." Now: Super-PAC donors mingle at the White House. Sunlight Foundation
• Mitt Romney's billionaire donors expect a big return on their investments. Rolling Stone
• What does John Edwards' not guilty verdict mean for the future of campaign finance? Christian Science Monitor

New York City Should Tax Soda, Not Ban It

| Fri Jun. 1, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

John Cole reacts to the new anti-large-soda ban that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing in New York City:

Stupid, paternalistic, and completely unenforceable. My old platoon sergeant once told me that when it comes to keeping the guys in line, you never make a rule you won't enforce, you never make a rule you can't enforce, and you never make a rule you shouldn't enforce. This new ban fails on at least the first two.

Cole's platoon sergeant gives the same advice parents get. Don't make rules for kids that you can't or won't enforce, and if you do make rules then you'd better stick to them or your kids will just ignore them entirely.

Majiscup - The Papercup & Sleeve Log/FlickrI get the feeling we'll see a lot of that kind of ignoring going on in New York City when this ban goes into effect. As John points out, people can just buy two 16-ounce sodas instead of one 32-ounce soda. So what's next? A ban on the number of sodas you can buy at one time?

Whatever public-health costs the ban may defer could be offset by the costs of attempting to enforce it in the first place. Meanwhile, Bloomberg lends credence to the "nanny state" alarmists who will rightfully hold this up as a bad example of government interfering in the economy.

Rather than banning soda, how about having the government just raise taxes on it? Taxing sugary drinks would put downward pressure on consumption of those drinks without any enforcement, and revenue could be pumped into public health and education efforts, effectively killing two birds with one stone.

The other day George Will said: "Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics." I don't think Bloomberg has fallen quite so low as Trump, but his reckless policies have more dire implications for the people of New York than the birther-bloviations of a reality TV star.

Money can buy a lot of things, but it can't buy common sense.

Erik Kain is guest blogging while Kevin Drum is on vacation.

Mother of All Wars: The Battle to Breastfeed in Uniform

| Fri Jun. 1, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Weapons of mass distraction: Air Force Sgt. Terran Echegoyen McCabe and Staff Sgt. Christina Luna feed their babies in uniform Brynja SigurdardottirWeapons of mass distraction: Air Force Sgt. Terran Echegoyen McCabe and Staff Sgt. Christina Luna feed their babies in uniform. Brynja SigurdardottirThere's the war on women, and there's the war on breastfeeding. Then there's the war on breastfeeding women warriors. That latter struggle broke out earlier this week, when the interwebs discovered a staged photo of two uniformed female Air Force service members offering up camouflage-clad mammaries for their hungry babes. Sgt. Terran Echegoyen McCabe and Staff Sgt. Christina Luna, pictured above, sat for the photo shoot in order to garner attention for Mom2Mom, a network for service-connected mothers at Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane, Washington.

It certainly got attention. "A lot of people are saying it's a disgrace to the uniform," Crystal Scott, the founder of Mom2Mom, told NBC this week. "They're comparing it to urinating and defecating [while in uniform]." Now, a viral debate's busted out over the propriety of Uncle Sam's finest nursing while dressed for battle.

The funny thing is, the military takes a relatively progressive attitude toward service members breastfeeding. Each branch of service allows lactating mothers to defer overseas deployments by 4 to 12 months. And the Air Force even mandated regular break periods and safe spaces for women to breastfeed or pump while on duty, two years before Obamacare required all employers to observe similar provisions.

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North Carolina Wishes Away Climate Change

| Fri Jun. 1, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Shad fishing on the NC coast, circa 1935 to 1940.

Some lawmakers will go to great lengths to deny the reality of climate change. But this week, North Carolina lawmakers reached new heights of denial, proposing a new law that would require estimates of sea level rise to be based only on historical data—not on all the evidence that demonstrates that the seas are rising much faster now thanks to global warming.

The sea level along the coast of North Carolina is expected to rise about a meter by the end of the century. But business interests in the state are worried that grim projections that account for climate-induced sea level rise will make it harder for them to develop along the coast line. So policymakers in the state plan to deal with that issue by writing a law requiring inaccurate projections. No joke, here's what the measure says:

These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of seas-level rise may be extrapolated linearly …

I'll stop here, because Scientific American's Scott Huler, a North Carolina resident, has an epic rant about this that can't be outdone:

It goes on, but there’s the core: North Carolina legislators have decided that the way to make exponential increases in sea level rise – caused by those inconvenient feedback loops we keep hearing about from scientists – go away is to make it against the law to extrapolate exponential; we can only extrapolate along a line predicted by previous sea level rises.
Which, yes, is exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow’s weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west towards us with 60-mph winds and ten inches of rain. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather with gentle breezes towards the east. Don’t use radar and barometers; use the Farmer’s Almanac and what grandpa remembers.

It's not clear when or if this is going to be voted on, but if it passes, the state would continue to develop along the coastline without paying any attention to where the sea will be in 50 or 90 years. Willful ignorance, thy name is North Carolina.