Mojo - June 2008

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao Explains Rising Unemployment

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 3:39 PM EDT

The Labor Department reported today that the unemployment rate rose from 5.0 percent to 5.5 percent in May, the largest monthly spike in more than two decades. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao's explanation?

"Today's increase in the unemployment rate reflects the fact that unusually large numbers of students and graduates are entering the labor market."

Sounds ridiculous? That's because it kind of is. Here's some sense from Jared Bernstein at EPI:

"An increase in the youth labor force played a role in May's unemployment spike. However, even if we take teenagers out of the data, unemployment still rises from 4.5% to 4.8%, a considerable 0.3% increase, and well above the 4.0% adult rate of one year ago."

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Fox News Isn't Even Trying Anymore

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 12:51 PM EDT

Maybe the Republican Party's struggles are driving Fox News employees to hit the bottle. Because there's no other explanation for this video clip. Make sure to watch the second half, which is arguably worse than the first.

What I love about this is that, while it's conceivable that the Fox News producers mixed their clips up, the host and his guest plow on through like there isn't a problem. Like they aren't literally creating attacks out of thin air.

(H/T Ben Smith, who doesn't need the traffic)

The GOP's (Hilarious) Down Ticket Struggles, Cont'd.

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 12:08 PM EDT

This ought to become a running segment. Yesterday, I highlighted ten races where Republican incumbents are seeing their reelections chances sink. I should have also pointed out that Republicans are having just as hard a time, if not harder, finding challengers to go against incumbents on the Democratic side. In Montana, the winner of the Republican primary and the man who will challenge entrenched Democratic Senator Max Baucus, is an 85-year-old former Green Party candidate who has raised less than $5,000. He formerly ran for president on a plan to remake Congress into a parliament.

At least this guy didn't get the Republican nomination for the Senate race in New Jersey. But the fact that he was once the New Jersey GOP's favored pick is kind of embarrassing.

And then there's the situation in New York's 13th District. That House seat currently belongs to Vito Fossella, the disgraced Republican congressman who is retiring because of a drunk driving arrest and revelations of a long-time affair and secret child. A Republican holds the seat now; it shouldn't be that hard for the GOP to find a viable replacement who can be counted on to keep it, right?

McCain Adviser Phil Gramm in the News Again: Did His Bank Help Wealthy Clients Evade Taxes?

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 10:08 AM EDT

For someone who wants to change Washington, John McCain has surrounded himself with plenty of guys who game the system. His campaign in recent weeks had to boot out a bunch of lobbyists, though his two top campaign aides—Rick Davis and Charles Black—remain in their posts, despite the fact they recently were high-powered lobbyists. Then there's Phil Gramm, a campaign cochairman and economic adviser to McCain. After leaving the US Senate, he became an executive and lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss mega-bank. And as I noted recently, eight years ago, when he chaired the Senate banking committee, he helped create the current subprime meltdown by slyly slipping into a must-pass appropriations measure a bill that completely deregulated certain financial instruments. Isn't that the sort of person you want advising a president and in line to be Treasury secretary?

Gramm is back in the news today. The New York Times reports that federal authorities are investigating UBS to determine whether the bank helped thousands of wealthy Americans hide their assets from the IRS in UBS offshore accounts. Without mentioning that Gramm is a top McCain ally, the paper notes:

The case could turn into an embarrassment for Marcel Rohner, the chief executive of UBS and the former head of its private bank, as well as for Phil Gramm, the former Republican senator from Texas who is now the vice chairman of UBS Securities, the Swiss bank's investment banking arm. It also comes at a difficult time for UBS, which is reeling from $37 billion in bad investments, many of them linked to risky American mortgages.

So it's not too early to ask, What did Phil Gramm know about UBS' offshore practices, and when did he know it? And reporters ought to ask McCain if he has asked Gramm about this investigation. Another query: how long can Gramm remain on McCain's campaign?

John McCain's Top Priorities: Getting Your Vote, Questioning Obama on Iraq, and... Golf?

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 9:35 PM EDT

In anticipation of the general election, the McCain campaign just revamped its website to focus more specifically on his contest with Barack Obama. The front page now has four main tabs that visitors can use to access the rest of the site. They are, in this order: "Decision Center," "General Election," "Obama & Iraq," and "Golf Gear."

Golf gear?

mccain%20golf%20gear.JPG

It's no surprise that John McCain wants you to donate money, and of course he wants you to know what he thinks of his opponent. But what he wants just as much is for you to head out to the green with your buddies, McCain golf pack in tow.

The disdain you may notice in my voice is not because the maverick is trying to sell us something—in the modern campaign, every candidate needs merchandise. It's that he's pushing golf, the classic sport of the leisure class. Even George Bush, historically oblivious to the pain of the common man, claimed recently to have given up golf because he couldn't bear the irony of trying to perfect his swing while troops died in Iraq. "I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf," he said recently in an interview with Politico. "I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal." McCain apparently didn't get the memo...perhaps he was out golfing?

Did Obama Take a Page Out of HRC's Playbook on Jerusalem?

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 8:16 PM EDT

Reuters is reporting angry Palestinian reaction to Barack Obama's statement yesterday at AIPAC that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." In response Mahmoud Abbas told reporters, "This statement is totally rejected," and Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Obama "has closed all doors to peace."

Saying "Jerusalem" and "undivided" in the same sentence is an easy applause line at AIPAC, but we have to remember that when it comes to statements about Jerusalem, syntax is everything. In her official statement on Jerusalem, Hillary Clinton went so far as to use the words "undivided" and "capital" in the same clause: "Hillary Clinton believes that Israel's right to exist ... with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital ... must never be questioned." But as was pointed out to me in April, even Hillary's stronger formulation left some wiggle room:

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10 House Races All Headed in One Direction

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 4:00 PM EDT

Charlie Cook and the folks at the Cook Political Report have changed their ratings on 10 different House races. A Republican is the incumbent in all of them. Guess which direction they're heading:

CA-04 — OPEN (Doolittle) — Solid Republican to Likely Republican
CO-04 — Marilyn Musgrave — Lean Republican to Toss Up
CT-04 — Chris Shays — Lean Republican to Toss Up
IL-10 — Mark Kirk — Lean Republican to Toss Up
NM-02 — OPEN (Pearce) — Likely Republican to Lean Republican
NY-29 — Randy Kuhl — Lean Republican to Toss Up
NC-08 — Robin Hayes — Lean Republican to Toss Up
OH-01 — Steve Chabot — Lean Republican to Toss Up
VA-02 — Thelma Drake — Likely Republican to Lean Republican
WA-08 — Dave Reichert — Lean Republican to Toss Up

And wait till they get some of that sweet Obama money.

Obama Fundraising Advantage Over the Entire GOP Is Huge

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 12:02 PM EDT

Good God. Look at these numbers from Politico:

If each of Obama's donors gave him a modest $250, he'd have $375 million to spend during the two-month general election sprint. That's $186 million a month; $47 million a week.
During the same September to Nov. 4th period, McCain will have about $85 million to spend since he has decided to take taxpayer money to help finance his campaign activities.
The Republican National Committee, which is charged with closing the gap between McCain and Obama, has $40 million in cash. Obama raised almost as much — $31 million – from just his small donors in the month of February. His total for the month, $57 million, exceeded the RNC's cash balance.
Obama has more than 1.5 million donors; McCain has a few hundred thousand. If just a million of Obama's donors sent him the maximum donation, $2,300, he could raise $2.3 billion.

Two quick observations: (1) Obama is going to be able to use that money to make random red states like Kansas and Idaho competitive enough that McCain has to put time, energy, and money into winning them. That's a huge advantage. (2) Obama could have enough money to finance every Democratic congressional race in the country. Certainly every key Senate race. He could essentially buy himself a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate.

More on Good Gov't: Obama Pushing for Change at the DNC

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 11:44 AM EDT

Consistent with Obama's fundraising policy, the Democratic National Committee announced today it will no longer take donations from registered federal lobbyists and PACs. "Our presumptive nominee has pledged not to take donations from Washington lobbyists and from today going forward the DNC makes that pledge as well," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

This is not only a sign that Obama will insist that the standards of his campaign become the standards for the whole Democratic Party (I anticipate fewer attacks on the Republican candidate from liberal-leaning independent 527s this cycle, as well), but also a sign that Obama is really, really confident in his ability to raise all the money he needs. An earlier indication of this confidence: Obama is considering limiting the size of the donations he will accept in the general election.

The Politico says Obama's confidence is justified. See my other post for details.

Obama, McCain Working Together on Good Government Bill

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 11:13 AM EDT

From the Hill:

Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are quietly working together on a good-government bill despite their campaign-trail battle over who is tougher against Washington's special interests.
McCain's Senate office contacted Obama's office Monday night asking to sign on to a bill opening federal government contracts to public scrutiny, according to three knowledgeable sources.
Before the call, Obama had been working on the measure primarily with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), an ardent proponent of eliminating wasteful government spending and an early supporter and longtime Senate ally of McCain's.
After learning that Obama and Coburn were introducing the bill without his backing, McCain's staffers immediately contacted Coburn to express concern and a desire to be named as an original co-sponsor of the update. They then called Obama's office.
Obama staffers were happy to comply with McCain's request to sign on, an Obama adviser said, because they knew support from the two presumptive nominees could propel the legislation to passage in the final months of a packed legislative schedule.

Coburn's reason for why he didn't bring McCain on from the beginning? "I'm not good at politics," he told the Hill. "I never have been." Ha.

Anyway, good for Sens. Obama and McCain. They deserve kudos not just for working together in a time when they are competitors, but also for pushing part of the good government agenda. Now they should tackle the rest of it.