2012 - %3, September

Weird Republican Outrage Watch

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 1:06 PM EDT

Andrew Sullivan just put up a post that happens to include a video of Marco Rubio making a joke a couple of years ago about a blizzard-induced power outage in Washington DC: "The president," he said, "couldn't find anywhere to set up a teleprompter to announce new taxes." It got big yuks from the CPAC crowd.

Anyway, this reminded me of something: Republicans sure have a lot of bizarrely puerile criticisms of President Obama, don't they? I don't mean big policy stuff. I'm not talking about death panels or EPA regulations or Dodd-Frank or any of that. I'm talking about things like this:

  • The endless outrage over his return of a Winston Churchill bust that the British government had loaned to George W. Bush.
  • The never-gets-old tittering over his use of a teleprompter.
  • The talk-radio jihad against the Chevy Volt.
  • The indignation over Michelle Obama's effort to get kids to eat better.

This stuff is just weird. I guess there must have been similarly juvenile stuff that animated liberals back when Bush was president, but what? Pretzel jokes?

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Why Did the Labor Force Shrink So Much in August?

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 12:01 PM EDT

From the LA Times today:

The Labor Department said the jobless rate dropped over the month, to 8.1% from 8.3% in July, but that came as many people dropped out of the labor market. In a nation where the population is growing, a shrinking labor force suggests that many workers are giving up job searches because they are striking out in the employment market or don't see good prospects.

That's what you'd think, all right. And yet, although the number of people not in the labor force shot up by about half a million in August, the number of "discouraged workers" didn't budge. So what caused the labor force shrinkage?

Beats me. But BLS data does suggest one thing: the shrinkage came almost entirely among those with a high school diploma or less. Among that group, the labor force shrank by 637,000. Among those with bachelor's degrees, the labor force grew by 707,000. This is for workers 25 and older, so it has nothing to do with an influx of college students graduating this summer (and I'm using seasonally adjusted figures anyway).

I'm not sure what this means. Maybe it's just noise. Or maybe I'm not reading the data carefully enough — an occupational hazard among us amateurs. Still, something seems a little off here. Why did so many high school grads (and dropouts) leave the labor force?

Quote of the Day: How Does John Kerry Even Know Sarah Palin's Name?

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 10:47 AM EDT

From Sarah Palin, responding to a jab from John Kerry at the Democratic National Convention last night:

I think he diminished himself by even mentioning my name. How does he even know my name? I mean aren’t these guys supposed to be these big wig elites who don’t waste their time on the little people like me — me representing the average American who, yeah I did say in Alaska you can see Russia from our land base and I was making the point that we are strategically located on the globe and when it comes to transportation corridors and resources that are shared and fought over [in] Alaska and I as the governor had known what I was doing in dealing with some international issues that had to do with our resources that could help secure the nation.

Sorry. I couldn't resist. This is just such vintage Palin. Word salad? Check. Palin as victim? Check. Average American? Check. Resentment of those highfalutin elites? Check. It's all there.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in August

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 9:30 AM EDT

The August jobs report is out, and it doesn't have much good news. My usual monthly jobs chart is below: since the economy needs about 90,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth, I subtract 90,000 from the raw jobs figures to show net new job creation. And what this shows is that we're treading water: net job creation in August was basically zero. The initial June and July jobs numbers were also revised downward a bit.

However, in a reversal of last month, when the headline unemployment number went up (from 8.22% to 8.25%) even though more people were working, this month the unemployment number went down (to 8.11%) even though the jobs data was flat. This is because about half a million people dropped out of the labor force. Oddly, though, this is not because they joined the ranks of discouraged workers. In fact, the number of discouraged workers was down a bit. Long-term unemployment was also down. So there are a few small glimmers of good news here. However, when you dig below the surface of the report it mostly stays pretty bleak. Overall, it looks a lot as if net job creation has slowed to nearly nothing in the past five months.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 7, 2012

Fri Sep. 7, 2012 9:17 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. Clayton Clute, a team leader with the 710th Explosives Ordnance Disposal Company on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., searches for simulated pressure plate mines buried in an overgrown field on JBLM Sept. 4 during a weeklong training to prepare the company for a deployment to Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Gaylord.

Word Clouds: Climate Keywords in DNC vs. RNC

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 8:56 AM EDT

We at the Climate Desk plugged a few climate change keywords into word clouds for a side-by-side comparison of how frequently they appear in the two platforms. If a word appears in one and not the other, it's because it isn't used in the latter. For a reference on the sizes, "oil" appears ten times in the GOP platform; "climate change" appears twenty times in the Democratic platform:

Republican:

Tim McDonnellTim McDonnell

Democratic:

Tim McDonnellTim McDonnell

 

To judge a candidate by counting how many times they throw out certain buzzwords is a dangerous strategy. As David Roberts points out, even if President Obama repeated the words "climate change" like a mantra from now until November 6 and won the election, it doesn't mean major cap-and-trade legislation would pass in his second term.

Still, how—and how much—Republicans and Democrats address climate change in their official party platforms can be a telling indication of where their priorities lie. Maybe even more telling is what they don't include: the GOP platform never uses the word "renewables"; the Dems never mention Keystone XL.

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Are Most Revolving-Door Lobbyists Breaking the Law?

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 5:01 AM EDT

A new study picked up by Politico and National Journal this week contained findings that would make any DC journalist drool: About 57 percent of lobbyists who move through the revolving door from Capitol Hill into the private sector fail to adequately report their former government employment as mandated by the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

While that figure suggests that there's some serious K Street law-breaking going on, it doesn't tell the whole story. The study, published by Tim LaPira of James Madison University and H.F. Thomas III of the University of Texas at Austin, overlooked lobbyists who are filing their paperwork correctly, just not on forms the researchers reviewed.

One such lobbyist is William L. Ball, a former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan who worked for several years as a lobbyist for the Loeffler Group. I stumbled upon Ball when trying to find an example of a lobbyist in the wrong. The Center for Responsive Politics, which collects data on lobbyists, told me that Ball repeatedly failed to indicate his former government employment. But when I contacted Ball, he "respectfully" disagreed and sent me copies of his lobbying disclosure forms, which were filled out correctly.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 5:01 AM EDT

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

the money shot

 

 

quote of the week

"At the Democratic convention, you can get a lot of work done just walking down the street."
—Bill Burton, cofounder of the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, on wooing donors at the Democratic National Convention. Speaking on ABC, he warned liberal donors to "be very nervous" about outraising pro-Romney groups. That's basically why Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel decided this week to step down from an honorary position with the Obama campaign to raise funds for Priorities.

 

attack ad of the week

The conservative super-PAC Campaign for American Values is out with a new ad attacking President Obama for supporting gay marriage. In a stilted conversation, a couple decides it won't vote for Obama again because he lacks the values of Mitt Romney. Watch the ad below, and also take a look at these other comically bad anti-gay marriage ads.

 

stat of the week

$75,000: The amount spent by the dark-money Republican Jewish Coalition on an attack ad in the Charlotte Observer ahead of Obama's speech Thursday night at the DNC. The ad, which is slated to run next week in four swing-state Jewish newspapers, hits Democrats for omitting in their 2012 platform the pro-Israel rhetoric they included in 2008. Reportedly at Obama's request, language recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel was reintroduced to the platform in a convention floor voice vote, a contentious move that may have violated party bylaws.

 

chart of the week

The election's 10 weeks away, but spending from outside groups has already eclipsed the $301.6 million spent in 2008. They've spent at least $306.2 million so far this election, but as the Center for Responsive Politics notes, that's a conservative estimate.

 

more mojo dark-money coverage

How Nonprofits Spend Millions on Elections and Call It Public Welfare: It's spending by nonprofits, not super-PACs, that may sway this election.
Americans for Prosperity Chief: We Don't Know If $27 Million in Anti-Obama Ads Has Any Effect: The president of AFP, the conservative group founded by David Koch, also cast doubt on future politically charged ad blitzes.
Karl Rove Jokes About Murdering Rep. Todd Akin: Rove's Crossroads groups intend to spend $200 million to boot Obama out of the White House.

 

more must-reads

• Did a Republican appeals court just make Citizens United even worse? ThinkProgress
• Democrats work behind the scenes at the DNC to compete with the GOP's fundraising advantage. Washington Post
• Democratic strategist Paul Begala rails against super-PACs, while asking donors to give to one supporting Obama. Center for Public Integrity
• 501(c) groups are set to disregard a federal court's order that they disclose donors by today. Reuters

Is Fracking Good for the Environment?

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Is increased production of natural gas from shale deposits good for the environment? At first glance, yes: natural gas releases less CO2 into the atmosphere than coal, so replacing coal-fired electrical plants with gas-fired plants is a win for global warming. And since fracking makes natural gas cheaper, it helps stimulate a switch from coal to gas.

But wait: It turns out you also have to account for leakage. The problem is that natural gas is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right, and when you extract natural gas from shale formations, some of it inevitably leaks out. That's decidedly bad for global warming. But David McCabe, an atmospheric scientist at the Clean Air Task Force, reports that the news is fairly good on this front: "From the best of the collective work, we believe that burning natural gas for electricity produces about 30-50% less greenhouse gas than burning coal, even accounting for the emissions of methane (and carbon dioxide) from producing and transporting the natural gas."

Unfortunately, the story doesn't stop there, and it gets a lot grimmer as you dig deeper. The problem is simple: If you make something cheaper, people will use more of it. In the case of natural gas, this is fine as long as people are using more of it as a substitute for coal. But that accounts for only a small fraction of natural gas usage:

Less than a third of natural gas is used for electrical generation. Cheap gas will mean more consumption by buildings, industry, and perhaps for transportation. In many of these sectors, cheap gas won’t edge out coal or any other fuel. We'll just burn more of it.

So when you make natural gas cheaper, there's a net benefit from the one-third of it that squeezes out coal but a net loss from the two-thirds that simply represents higher consumption of natural gas. What's worse, even in the power generation market there are tradeoffs:

Cheap shale gas will also make electricity cheaper, increasing consumption, which will chip away at the emission reduction from switching from coal to gas…Quantifying all this requires modeling the effect of unconventional gas on energy markets and emissions, which the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently did. Their report predicts that if these gas resources are widely exploited, globally, CO2 emissions in 2035 will only drop by 1.3%.

…In short, if we assume current policies, shale gas is almost a wash for global CO2, and methane will decrease or eliminate any small climate benefits of shale gas. If cheap shale gas crowds out renewables or increases energy demand more than IEA predicts, or methane leaks are worse than we think, cheap shale gas will actually hasten climate emissions, even in the short term (2035).

Via email, McCabe tells me that the most important factor in the IEA model is crowding out: Cheap shale gas will reduce coal usage (good) but will also reduce development of new nuclear, wind, and solar power (bad). So this is your bad climate news for the day—to go along with shrinking Arctic ice, extreme weather, killer droughts, more wildfires, and monsoons increasingly inundating low-lying areas. Natural gas fracking may be good for North Dakota, but the evidence suggests that, in the end, it won't do much of anything to rein in climate change.

However, let's end on a positive note. McCabe (and the IEA) come to their bleak conclusion only "if we assume current policies." But those policies aren't written on stone tablets. The IEA has a longish set of "Golden Rules" that could make fracking a better environmental bet, and McCabe highlights the two most important of them: (1) Eliminate leaks completely from the natural gas production process, and (2) use carbon sequestration to substantially reduce carbon emissions from gas-fired electrical plants. If we really are going to drill, baby, drill—and all the evidence suggests we are—these two things should become our touchstones for doing it responsibly.

GOP Platform Flashback: "Government Must Have a Heart"

| Fri Sep. 7, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Last week, President Obama accused the GOP of time-warping back to the days of "black and white TV." True, the party's policies, especially on women and civil rights, are straight out of the 50s (if not the Middle Ages). But Obama's jab wasn't quite fair to Republicans of the Leave it To Beaver era, whose 1956 platform seems downright progressive when compared with some of the retrograde planks laid out in the 2012 version. The year President Dwight Eisenhower ran for a second term against Adlai Stevenson, the platform sung the praises of unions, called for government to have a "heart as well as a head," and backed the doomed Equal Rights Amendment. Oh, and the 1956 Dems were a lot more agro on labor, and positively chest-thumping when it came to defense. Scroll down to check out how the parties' positions have shifted over the past 50-plus years.

Wikipedia & Library of Congress

 

Image credits: donkey: The Noun Project; elephant: Adrijan Karavdic, from The Noun Project.