Archive:

September 2012, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Obama's Acceptance Speech was dial-group tested.
While the pundits are generally calling the president’s Thursday night address mediocre, Obama and his advisers had taken great pains to avoid soaring rhetoric that might have been derided as empty.

Indeed, they extensively tested the president’s speech in dial groups, a type of focus group where voters twist dials to register approval or disapproval of specific passages, and say it tested off the charts.  The reaction, they say, was more positive than to Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech in Denver.
What Howard Kurtz is trying to do here — I believe — is reassure the Democratic faithful.

But what Kurtz is also doing, unintentionally — I believe — is telling all of us that the speech was a tested sales pitch, like those we can see on TV, every day.

And we all know enough to be skeptical about those sales pitches, don't we?
- 9:29 AM, 8 September 2012   [link]


Nancy Pelosi Would Say That, Wouldn't She?  But is she telling the truth?
In his new book, The Price of Politics, Bob Woodward writes that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sometimes hit the mute button when President Barack Obama would start giving “uplifting speeches” during conference calls. Pelosi denied the claim, saying that, during those calls, she always cleared the room, listened and took notes.

Woodward said that during Obama’s impromptu speeches, “Pelosi put Obama on mute so that she and [Harry] Reid could work without Obama knowing they had stopped listening.”

“Well, that didn’t happen,” Pelosi said at a POLITICO Playbook breakfast today.
Should we believe Woodward and his anonymous sources, or Pelosi?

It's not an easy call.  Neither has an unblemished record for truth telling, so we can't use their reputations to decide which one is telling the truth.

The story does sound weird, but for that very reason I assume that Woodward has at least two good sources for it.  If I had to choose, I think I would go with Woodward on this one.

(Assume, for the sake of argument, that the story is true.  If so, it provides one more bit of evidence that President Obama is not a good listener, that he did not detect when Pelosi and Reid stopped paying attention to him.

It also tells us something about the attitudes of Pelosi and Reid toward Obama.)
- 8:26 AM, 8 September 2012   [link]


James Pethokoukis Looked At Today's Jobs Report:  He doesn't like it.
This was not the employment report either American workers or the Obama campaign were hoping for.  A huge miss.  It shows the U.S. labor market remains in a deep depression, generating few jobs and little if no income growth.
For those who want the details, Pethokoukis has the numbers, and all the usual graphs.

(Bizarre sidenote:  When I noticed this post on memeorandum, I saw that many had linked to it.  Most were obvious, but one was not, this guest post at the poorly named Moderate Voice.  (The site once made a serious effort to be moderate, but it hasn't been truly moderate for years now.)

The author of the post, one Hart Williams, is certain that the prominence of the Pethokoukis post at memeorandum is the result of a conspiracy.  Mind boggling.

Incidentally, there is nothing particularly partisan about the Pethokoukis post.)
- 4:48 PM, 7 September 2012   [link]


If I Had Known Jennifer Granholm Would Be That Entertaining, I might have watched some of her speech.

The former Michigan governor gained some fans with that performance — but, as far as I can tell, almost all of them are conservatives who found her amusing.

One possible false note:  In the bits that I heard, it sometimes sounded as if she was trying to imitate a black accent.  That almost always sounds both false and patronizing, coming from a white politician.

(Granholm was once taken very seriously, so much so that people on the left were regretting that she could not run for president, having made the elementary mistake of being born in Canada.  I haven't followed her career closely, but she always struck me as the kind of politician who always knows what's fashionable, but not necessarily what's realistic.)
- 4:08 PM, 7 September 2012   [link]


Sean Trende Has Some Plausible Speculations About What the managers of the two conventions were trying to achieve.

Samples:
The more interesting observation, though, is that the Romney camp seems to believe that the Republican brand is a greater danger to a Romney win than Romney himself.   Remember, they vet those speeches.  Christie didn’t sing a song of himself without the Romney team saying they thought it was a good idea.

The data here are a bit scattered, but the Republican Party is still held in lower esteem than the Democrats.  The last CBS News poll, for example, found the GOP with a 35 percent favorable rating vs. a 53 percent unfavorable rating.  For the Democrats it was better: 43 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable.
. . .
While Republicans studiously avoided cultural issues, the Democrats brought them to the forefront of their convention.  The likely reason?  They are concerned about the enthusiasm gap.
Plausible, but not certain.

I think that Romney, who has always been something of a nonpartisan technocrat, may be less comfortable with partisan politics than many other politicians.

And Democrats have been showing us, ever since the McGovern takeover in 1972, that cultural issues really are central for them, that gay marriage, for instance, is more important to many Democrats than economic growth.  Not all Democrats, of course, but many.
- 7:45 AM, 7 September 2012   [link]


What Do Americans Think Of Vice President Biden?   Not much, according to Pew Research.
Asked for their one-word impression of Joe Biden, more people use negative than positive words to describe the vice president.  Many of the negative words disparage Biden’s competence and performance, with idiot, incompetent and clown among the terms used most frequently.
To be fair, the most common word was "good", narrowly beating out "idiot' (43-40).

Recently, I have seen the argument that Obama chose Biden because Obama thought the contrast between the two men would make Obama look better.  That's the cynical explanation.  I am more inclined to the incompetent explanation:  Obama chose Biden because Obama believed Biden would make a good vice president and, if necessary, a good president.

It's possible that there is some truth in both explanations, given Obama's high opinion of Obama.

(Here's the Ryan word cloud, for comparison.)
- 7:18 AM, 7 September 2012   [link]


"Mainstream" Journalists Mostly Agree On Two Things about Bill Clinton's speech to the Democratic convention:

1. It was a great speech.

2. It was filled with facts that aren't actually facts, as "fact checkers" like the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler pointed out.

For example:
The repeated claim that Obama’s budget reduces the deficit by $4 trillion is simply not accurate.

By the administration’s math, you have nearly $3.8 trillion in spending cuts, compared to $1.5 trillion in tax increases (letting the Bush tax cuts expire for high-income Americans).  Presto, $1 of tax increases for every $2.50 of spending cuts.

But virtually no serious budget analyst agreed with this accounting.  The $4 trillion figure, for instance, includes counting some $1 trillion in cuts reached a year ago in budget negotiations with Congress.  So no matter who is the president, the savings are already in the bank.
(By "simply not accurate", Kessler means "false".)

To be fair, the "mainstream" journalists who said it was a great speech are mostly not the same "mainstream" journalists who pointed out the parts of the speech that are "simply not accurate".  But they do read each other's articles, and they sometimes even work for the same news organizations.

That the first group thinks a speech filled with falsehoods is a great speech tells us something about their values — and gives us another reason not to trust their work.

(Paul Gregory has a good discussion of Clinton's false claims on General Motors jobs, claims that you will be hearing over and over again in the campaign.)
- 6:52 AM, 7 September 2012   [link]


Which Two Men Have Done The Most To Build The Republican Party Since World War II?  You might pick Eisenhower or Reagan, two popular two-term presidents.  But, if you look carefully at their times in office, you would have to conclude that the party was weaker when they left office than when they came in.

But you would be right, I think, to look at presidents.  The two men who have done the most to build the Republican party did hold that office — but didn't intend to help the party.

I refer, naturally, to — drum roll — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

For Clinton, his biggest achievement was the 1994 election.  In that election, Republicans won control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

The 1994 U.S. House of Representatives election was held on November 8, 1994, in the middle of President Bill Clinton's first term. As a result of a 54-seat swing in membership from Democrats to Republicans, the Republican Party gained a majority of seats in the United States House of Representatives for the first time since 1954.

And there's much more in that Wikipedia article, though I have to warn some of you that Republicans are likely to find the reading more pleasant than Democrats.

We can't give Clinton all the credit for the Republican gains, of course, but I think it fair to give him most of the credit.  (Oddly enough, many Democrats are fond of the man, in spite of what he did to their party.  I have no explanation for that, so I won't try to guess why they like a man who led them to such a smashing defeat.)

For Obama, his biggest achievement — so far — was the 2010 election.  We have to give him most of the credit, for example, for these Republican gains in the House.

Republicans regained control of the chamber they had lost in the 2006 midterm elections, picking up a net total of 63 seats and erasing the gains Democrats made in 2006 and 2008.  Although the sitting U.S. President's party usually loses seats in a midterm election, the 2010 election resulted in the highest loss of a party in a House midterm election since 1938.[6][7]

And Republicans did very well in state legislatures, where they now hold the highest number of seats since 1928.

(Oddly enough, many Democrats are still fond of Obama, in spite of what he did to their party in 2010.  I have no explanation for that, so I won't try to guess why they like a man who led them to such a smashing defeat.)

Are Republicans grateful to Clinton and Obama?  Not as far as I can tell.   (That may seem small minded, but most Republicans may share my view that each man damaged the nation in his first two years as president.)

Even so, Republicans should at least recognize the help that Clinton and Obama gave their party.  Whether other Republicans share that recognition with their Democratic friends is up to them, of course.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Incidentally, in September, 2008, I predicted that Obama, if elected, would be very very good for the Republican party.   I am immodest enough to say that I think that prediction has held up very well.)
- 3:00 PM, 6 September 2012   [link]


The Breakup:  Here's a fun (and brief) Republican ad.

Will it be effective?  Ask one of the young women — or young men — that it is aimed at for a more informed answer, but I think so.  (And as you can tell from the end, they plan a series of these ads.)
- 7:12 AM, 6 September 2012   [link]


Another Blow To François Hollande:  The French president can't be happy about this poor harvest.
France’s wine producers start harvesting in earnest in September. But particularly bad weather in 2012 means some areas anticipate shortfalls of up to 20%. It is likely to be France’s smallest grape harvest since 1991.
Especially considering how important wine exports are to the French economy.

(Unemployment in France is even higher than it is in the United States.  And Hollande's policies are likely to make it worse, long term.

As usual, I have to add that unemployment statistics are not strictly comparable between countries, because the nations measure unemployment in different ways.  But I believe that, however you measure it, unemployment would be higher in France than in the United States.

For some months I have been wondering whether Sarkozy may have been lucky to lose in the last French presidential election.  It seems nearly certain that the French economy, even with the best policies, will be troubled, for years.)
- 6:29 AM, 6 September 2012   [link]


Vote Fraud At The Democratic Convention?  It sounded that way to me, and to Jonah Goldberg.
The MSM — and many others — have been weeping and moaning over the staged, predictable, nature of the political conventions for decades.  They yearn for the floor flights of yore.  Well, a few minutes ago, they came close to having their wishes answered.  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, the head of the Democratic National Convention, called for a voice vote to amend the platform to fix the language on Israel and God in the platform.  The vote required a two-thirds aye. The first time he couldn’t tell if he got it.  The second time the no votes clearly had it.  The third time: the nos won again.  I’m sitting in the upper decks by the Fox cameras, so I’m in a very good place to hear without being misled by proximity to one faction or another.  It was obvious that the nos had it.  Still, I suppose it’s possible the ayes were in a bare majority.  But there’s simply no way they had a two-thirds majority.   I was sitting with a decidedly non-conservative journalist and he was even more sure than me that the no voters won.
(Emphasis added.  The amendment restored the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and mentions of God.  Both had been in previous Democratic platforms, but were deleted when this platform was written.)

That's the way I heard it, too, though I have to add that I have no idea where the microphone was that I listened to.

This fraudulent vote call was so interesting that I watched the first minutes of CBS tonight to see if they mentioned it.  They didn't.  And I don't expect that the other networks will give this open cheating the coverage it deserves.
- 6:56 PM, 5 September 2012
More:  ABC's Jake Tapper confirms Goldberg's account, as does the Washington Post's Scott Wilson.

Oddly, Wilson leaves out the restoration of "God" to the platform language.  Presumably, he doesn't consider that important.
- 6:47 AM, 6 September 2012   [link]


Eyeing The Tiger:  Football coaches like to prepare for everything, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian brought in a tiger to prepare his players for the game against a team that has a tiger of its own, Louisiana State University.
Well, UW coach Steve Sarkisian turned what would have been mostly another run-of-the-mill football practice into one that will get national attention by arranging to have a live tiger present.

The reason was obvious --- to give the Huskies a little sense of what they face this weekend playing at LSU whose mascot is the famed Mike the Tiger (famous enough to have his own website).
The UW players seem to have taken it well, after they got over the surprise.
- 3:59 PM, 5 September 2012   [link]


Worth Reading:  James Taranto attacks those "fact checkers", and illustrates his argument with some devastating examples.

Here's his summary:
Perhaps the reason other journalists are so deferential toward the "fact checkers" is that these fact checkers, unlike the traditional ones, don't check the facts of journalists but of politicians.  By and large, they aren't actually checking facts but making and asserting judgments about the veracity of politicians' arguments.

The quality of their work is generally quite poor.
When I use the work of a "fact checker", I almost always check their facts — which sometimes turn out to be "facts".

If you think that our fact checkers tend to be harder on Republicans than Democrats, you are probably right.   For example:
PolitiFact assigns "Pants on Fire" or "False" ratings to 39 percent of Republican statements compared to just 12 percent of Democrats since January 2010
- 3:24 PM, 5 September 2012   [link]


Remember That Hill Piece Explaining Why Obama was "forced" to campaign during the Republican convention, breaking with custom?  The Hill claimed, in fact, that both candidates would be "forced" to be "more aggressive".

So, what's Mitt Romney doing this week?   Laying low.
Mitt Romney is spending the week of the Democratic National Convention ensconced in Brownsville, Vt., prepping for the three upcoming presidential debates.
To be fair, Paul Ryan has been campaigning publicly.  But he hasn't spend his time at Charlotte heckling the opposite party's convention, as Vice President Biden threatened to do.  (I assume that was canceled, not because they thought it was wrong, but because they were afraid of another Biden gaffe.)
- 1:22 PM, 5 September 2012   [link]


The New York Times Believes That Barack Obama And Other Democrats Should Talk More About Helping The Poor:  In their lead editorial today, they say:
But why not also talk about the section of the platform that issues a call to "make ending poverty a national priority"?  Granted, the section is only four paragraphs and consists of mostly familiar ideas like raising the minimum wage and expanding low-income tax credits.  But those are four more paragraphs than Mr. Obama has spoken about poverty lately, and the subject is unlikely to come up prominently in Charlotte.
That line from the platform is an astonishing admission.  Democrats controlled both houses of Congress after the 2006 election, and the presidency after the 2008 election.   They still control the Senate and the presidency.  But "ending poverty" has not, they admit, been a "national priority" during those years.  (There were a number of Bush measures intended, among other things, to reduce poverty, notably "No Child Left Behind" and the cuts in taxes for low income families.)

And the Times is right to note that the Democrats, including Obama, have had little to say in recent years about the poor.  (Or the working class, as I noted last December.)

The Times is right, in my opinion, to criticize the Democrats for ignoring the poor, right to ask Obama to speak about them, occasionally, even if it doesn't always fit his campaign's strategy.

(The Times editorial writers would never mention this, so I will:  Many of the proposals over the last half century intended to help the poor, hurt them.  Raising the minimum wage, for example, tends to destroy the entry-level jobs that many of the poor need.

For the record:  I am in favor of policies that help the deserving poor.   And the deserving working class, and the deserving middle class, and the deserving rich.  I am opposed to policies that help the non-deserving, regardless of their current income.)
- 12:50 PM, 5 September 2012   [link]


How Often Has Bill Clinton Succeeded In Saving A Fellow Democrat?  Not very, recently.
President Obama, however, is not the first Democrat for whom President Clinton has served as a surrogate.  Since his election to the presidency 20 years ago, and especially since he retired from office in the midst of scandal 11 years ago, Clinton has a record of being an unreliable and ineffective campaign surrogate.
And they have five prominent examples to support that conclusion.

All five, in my opinion, could have won, given how close the five races were.
- 9:45 AM, 5 September 2012   [link]


Los Angeles Mayor And Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa:  That's probably how our networks described this prominent Latino politician last night, and how they will describe him throughout the convention.

But that description is, shall we say, incomplete.  A better description would be something like this: scandal-plagued Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa.

Scandal-plagued?  Yes, indeed.  His home town paper, the Los Angeles Times, can't avoid mentioning some of his many scandals, or his problems as mayor.
Written off by some after a much-publicized extramarital affair and a scandal over free sports and concert tickets, Villaraigosa has emerged as a major figure in the Democrats' efforts to get out the crucial Latino vote and is again being talked about as a future governor or senator. He's even coyly danced around questions on CNN about a possible White House bid.

But as his national political star rises, the nagging financial crisis at City Hall could complicate that ascent. Back home, key Villaraigosa allies are warning City Hall is on the verge of going broke. Complaints from neighborhood activists over reduced city services are growing louder.
But the Los Angeles Times is an exception.  When I used Google News to search on "Villaraigosa + scandal", I got exactly 10 hits, one of them that article, and most of the others, from my point of view, misses.

That ticket scandal may sound minor — until you learn that some of the tickets were worth thousands of dollars.

And it wasn't just one extramarital affair, it was many.  One of them will remind most of us of John Edwards.
In the wake of extensive media coverage of his affair with Spanish-language television reporter, Mirthala Salinas, Villaraigosa announced that he was separating from his wife, and on June 12, 2007, Corina Villaraigosa filed for dissolution of marriage in Los Angeles Superior Court, citing irreconcilable differences.  Villaraigosa acknowledged on July 3, 2007, that he was in a relationship with Salinas.[83][84]   As a result of the affair, Salinas was suspended by her employer,[85] Telemundo, forcibly relocated to Riverside,[86] after which she resigned.[87]  In a New Yorker profile published shortly before the divorce,  Villaraigosa acknowledged that he and Corina had had difficulties over the course of their marriage.  “In a twenty-year marriage, there are many ups and downs," Villaraigosa said."[3]  The New Yorker also reported that in 1994, while Corina was undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer, Villaraigosa was involved with a friend's wife and Corina filed for dissolution of marriage at that time.[3][80]
For similar behavior, John Edwards became one of the most despised men in America; Antonio Villaraigosa was chosen to be the Democratic convention chairman.

(Some will note that Villaraigosa, like Edwards, is handsome, and that both men have a gift for saying the things that many of our "mainstream" reporters like to hear.  Edwards probably did less damage as an elected official, since he did so little as a senator.)

There's more, including his leadership role in a radical organization, MEChA, in that Wikipedia article.

The Democratic strategists who planned the convention must have known about Villaraigosa's scandals.  So, just as a matter of tactics, why did they choose Villaraigosa, rather than a Latino without those scandals?

The simplest answer is the most likely:  Those planners don't care about his scandals — and they know, from long experience, that our "mainstream" journalists will avoid mentioning Democratic scandals, if they can.

(Thanks to Roger Simon for reminding me of these scandals.  I would, mildly, disagree with his suggestion that Villaraigosa is a "village idiot".  He and John Edwards are disgusting men, but they are not idiots.)
- 7:56 AM, 5 September 2012   [link]


Small Scale Vote Fraud:   Very small scale, but damaging nonetheless.
As Isaac Pollak, an ardent Republican, kissed his wife goodbye before heading out on a business trip to Asia several years ago, he handed her his absentee ballot for the coming presidential election and asked her to mail it.

Bonnie Pollak, a Democrat, weighed her options.  Should she be loyal to her spouse, respect his legal right and mail the ballot?   Or remain faithful to her deeply held beliefs and suppress his vote?

"It was a real dilemma," says Ms. Pollak, 58 years old, a student in a doctoral program in social welfare who lives in Manhattan.  "I decided to do the right thing."

Ms. Pollak threw the ballot away.
They are still married, if you are wondering.

I won't make a big deal out the fact that the perpetrator was the Democrat — but I will remind you, one more time, that mailed ballots are more vulnerable than ballots cast at polling places.
- 1:38 PM, 4 September 2012   [link]


Quotas And Democrats:  Most of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention were chosen by quotas, quotas for sex, quotas for race, and quotas for sexual preference.  (Not all delegates, since the "superdelegates" are mostly chosen by official positions.)

Those quotas have been around so long that most "mainstream" journalists don't even consider them worth discussing, though you can find an exception or two, like this one.  When you do find an article, it is likely to be celebratory.
Former state Rep. Glen Maxey is driving to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in a van dubbed “Priscilla, Queen of the Convention.”

Eight people will travel in the van, decked out in rainbow colors and an 8-foot banner that reads “Gays for Obama,” through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina before reaching their destination.
(If that count of 534 gay, lesbian, et cetera delegates is correct, then they are over represented, relative to their numbers in the population.  The usual estimates are that about 3 percent of the adult population are homosexuals or lesbians.)

I suppose that one reason our "mainstream" journalists don't like discussing the quotas — in "mainstream" outlets — is that even they know that the public mostly doesn't like quotas.
- 12:48 PM, 4 September 2012   [link]


Democrat John Walsh Sounds Sexist To Me:  Even if he did apologize.
Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair John Walsh scrambled to apologize this afternoon hours after a convention kickoff gaffe this morning when he said U.S. Sen. Scott Brown was trying to be an “honorary girl” by folding laundry.
(Will that remark lose the Korean laundry vote?  According to Columbia's Ms. Lee, it might.)

Speaking of laundry, Massachusetts Democrats have more than a little dirty laundry.   In 1991, Charles Flaherty, a Democrat, became speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.   In 1996, he pled guilty to felony tax evasion and resigned.  Flaherty was replaced by Thomas Finneran, a Democrat.  In 1997, Finneran resigned after "pleading guilty to criminal obstruction of justice".  Finneran was replaced by Salvatore DiMasi, a Democrat, who "resigned from this post in January 2009, just six months prior to being indicted on several Federal charges, including conspiracy to defraud the federal government, extortion, mail fraud and wire fraud".  DiMasi was replaced by Robert DeLeo, a Democrat and pork barrel politician, who "became so identified with handing out perks to members that earmarks became known as DeLeo Dollars".

Those familiar with Massachusetts politics could name many other elected Democrats who have had legal and ethical problems.
- 7:45 AM, 4 September 2012   [link]


The Democrats Are Not Assigning The Best Hotels In Charlotte to journalists.
I can’t speak for the delegates or ther foreign dignitaries, but many of the journalists I have spoken with here are appalled at the accommodations in Charlotte to which they were assigned by the DNC.  National Review was assigned to two Knights Inn properties.   Everyone who saw them fled immediately across state lines to an available Marriott in South Carolina rather than stay there.
. . .
It’s not as if the DNC couldn’t have figured out something was wrong with the properties.  TripAdvisor had these recent comments on one of the Knights Inn properties: “wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy,” “scared to death,” and “pimps and prostitutes at night.”
And, no, the Democratic National Committee did not, John Fund says, discriminate against the National Review.  Other news organizations got just as bad assignments.
- 6:52 AM, 4 September 2012   [link]


Muffins And Mitt:  Yesterday, the New York Times published, on its op-ed page, an extraordinary argument against Mitt Romney, an argument that had me, briefly, wondering whether it was intended as a joke.

The author, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, who "teaches writing at Columbia", tells us that her Korean immigrant parents, though faithful to the Republican party ever since they arrived in America, would have trouble backing Romney because:
[Romney] has a charmingly eccentric habit: he eats only the tops of muffins.  His theory is that during the baking process, the butter sinks to the bottom.
And her father was so against waste that he would find that offensive.  (I just find it weird, and doubt very much that the story is true.)  Offensive enough to make him vote for Obama.

Ms. Lee does not mention the immense waste by the Obama administration, part of it paid for by hard-working, legal immigrants like her parents.  Presumably, she thinks they would not notice that waste.

But, from her description of her parents, I think they might, actually.
- 6:27 AM, 4 September 2012   [link]


"Hug A Union Thug?"  The unions realize they have an image problem, but I am not sure this will help.
This Labor Day, unions are trying a mix of celebrity, social media and humor to polish up the labor movement’s image in the eyes of everyday people.

In Charlotte, people will be asked to “hug a union thug” at a CarolinaFest booth sponsored by the North Carolina State AFL-CIO the day before the Democratic National Convention officially begins.
There are some union thugs I wouldn't mind hugging, Carla Katz, for instance, now that she is no longer involved with Jon Corzine.

But most of them?  No thanks.

(A little bit of history:  When the AFL and the CIO combined after World War II, each agreed to get rid of miscreants in their ranks, mostly gangsters in the AFL, and mostly Communists in the CIO.  Neither was entirely successful, but both organizations did improve, for a while.)
- 2:33 PM, 3 September 2012   [link]


Worth Reading:  Former California Assembly speaker Willie Brown explains why California needs pension reform in six paragraphs.

Here's the first (which you'll have to scroll down to find):
As reforms go, the pension deal that Sacramento lawmakers reached last week is just a start to correct the mistakes that former lawmakers, including me, have made over the years.
In the next paragraph, Brown claims that lawmakers will back reform to save their own jobs.  I hope that's true.

(Willie Brown has had a remarkable political career.  I have to admit that I am fond of the man, even though I think he damaged California, net.  I like him because he sometimes says things that are true, as he did in that column.)
- 9:24 AM, 3 September 2012   [link]


Today The Answer Is "Absolutely"  Yesterday, I made the mistake of watching Chris Wallace interview David Axelrod from the Obama campaign.   It was boring because Axelrod simply refused to answer many of the questions, particularly the question about whether we are better off now than we were four years ago.

Over night, the Obama campaign must have realized that dodging the question as they did on that show, and other shows, won't work.  (And telling the truth, that we are not better off, as the Democratic governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, did, really won't work.)

So today, the Obama campaign has stopped dodging the question.
But on CNN’s “Early Start” this morning, anchor John Berman elicited a different response from Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse.

“Brad you’ve been shaking your head, as you’ve been sitting off camera, because we’ve been playing all the sound from the last 24 hours of Democrats being asked ‘are you better off today than you were four years ago?’” Berman noted. “So, I’ll give you the chance to ask the question: Are we better off than we were four years ago?”

“Absolutely,” Woodhouse said.

On the Today Show, NBC’s Natalie Morales asked Obama campaign deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter: “Let me begin by starting with that central question on a lot of people’s minds, and that is are we better off today than we were four years ago when President Obama was elected?”

“Absolutely,” Cutter said. “Let me just walk you through what life was like four years ago.”
You'll notice a certain similarity in those two responses.  I have to admire the message discipline, even though the answer is somewhat detached from mere facts.

That's a nice bit of reporting from Jake Tapper.
- 9:01 AM, 3 September 2012   [link]


"Obama Lies While Accusing the Romney Campaign of Lying"   As documented by the New York Times.  (The reporter who wrote the story may have missed the irony.)
- 8:35 AM, 3 September 2012   [link]


C+ Economic Grade:  That's what Robert Samuelson gives President Obama.

But that C+ grade is an average of two grades.
President Obama’s economic report card is at best mediocre.  I’d give him a C+, while acknowledging that presidents usually don’t much influence the economy.  It’s too big and subject to too many complex forces, from new technologies to global conditions.  Moreover, policy levers are shared with Congress (taxes, spending), the Federal Reserve (financial markets) and regulatory agencies.  Presidents often get blamed or credited for the economy when they don’t deserve either.  But during crises, presidents acquire power.  That’s why Obama will be — and should be — judged on the economy’s performance.

More interesting than my overall grade are its components.  For the first six months, I’d award him an A-; for the rest, a C- or D.  I’d weigh the two grades equally, because he deserves a lot of credit for stopping the economic free-fall when he took office.
Samuelson would probably not agree — entirely — with my interpretation of those two paragraphs:  Obama did well when he was following the Bush policies, but failed when he began following his own policies.

But I think that rough summary isn't too far off, because, as Samuelson goes on to say, many of the policies that Obama followed in those first months were continuations of Bush policies.

What have the purely Obama policies cost us?  Samuelson says no one knows, before giving this rough guesstimate, 25,000 jobs a month.  If that guesstimate is anywhere close to right, then Obama's policies have cost us about 1 million jobs.
- 7:25 AM, 3 September 2012
President Obama is now giving himself an incomplete grade.  (If I recall correctly, a year or so ago, he was giving himself an A-.  Some might suspect that he is an easy grader.)
- 1:05 PM, 4 September2012   [link]


Democrats Preying on Democrats?
A U-Haul truck loaded with equipment for a Monday event featuring Vice President Joe Biden was stolen in Detroit Sunday, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service said.
Well, it did happen in Detroit, so the odds are that the thieves are Democrats.
- 7:03 AM, 3 September 2012   [link]


Something Is Rotten In The State Of New York:  The state has seen a series of scandals involving high-profile Democrats.

For example:
Two groups filed a formal complaint Wednesday asking New York state's ethics enforcement agency to investigate state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's handling of sexual-harassment complaints against a high-ranking lawmaker.

The National Organization for Women and Common Cause, a government transparency group, submitted the formal complaint, calling for a probe into Mr. Silver's approval of a secret $100,000 taxpayer-funded payment to settle accusations by female employees against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
Steven Malanga thinks he knows one reason New York has so many scandals.
How corrupt is the Empire State?  Plenty.  A study this year by the University of Illinois Institute for Government and Public Affairs found that New York leads the country in public corruption, with 2,522 of its officials having been convicted of misdeeds since 1976.

One cause of persistent scandal is the unusual role that taxpayer-funded nonprofits play in New York's political life.  Politically ambitious people use these neighborhood groups as a stepping stone to elected office, and then they place their friends, families and allies in key positions thanks to loose rules governing funding. No surprise that scandal follows.
(Per capita, other states may have beaten New York.)

You can see these non-profits as a return of machine politics.  As was true earlier in New York's history, there are many people who want a personal connection to the government; as has always been true, there are ambitious people who will trade those connections for votes and power.

And as is often the case, those who trade their votes for personal connections get cheated, in time, by the corrupt officials they put in office.

(More here from Jazz Shaw.)
- 5:34 PM, 2 September 2012   [link]


The One-Year Obama Bush Tax Cut Extension:  For some time I have been puzzling over a detail in Obama's current tax cut proposal.  As I am sure you know — Obama talks about it often enough — Obama has proposed getting rid of the lower Bush rate for those couples earning more than $250,000 a year.   (The higher rate would apply only to the part of their taxable income above that figure, and would begin at a lower point for individual filers, as I understand it.)

Everyone else would continue paying the same income tax rates set under the Bush tax cuts — for a year.

It's that very last part that intrigues me.  If those tax cuts for lower income and middle income people are a good thing, why doesn't Obama propose extending them permanently?

There are, as it happens, strong arguments for making taxes more predictable over the next few years, but Obama and his political team have chosen, instead, to leave all of us wondering what our taxes will be, after the election.  (For example, suppose that you are thinking about buying a house.  Wouldn't you prefer to know how much disposable income you will have over the next five years, before you sign the contract?)

I haven't seen any Obama explanation for this one-year limit, so what follows is speculation.

Obama and his team may be hoping to win back the House, and then pass a tax bill that is more redistributional than our current system, that has even more tax breaks for people with low incomes, and even higher rates on those with high incomes.

More likely, I think, is that Obama, assuming he is re-elected, wants to go into a tax showdown with congressional Republicans holding the political high ground.  If the Bush tax cuts expire, he can refuse to sign any tax bill that restores the lower rates for high earners.   All he would need to hold that position is the support of one third of either the House or the Senate.

The showdown would damage our economy, especially if it lasted months, as it might.   But Obama might think that the end result could be a more just America.

(Former speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the new higher rates to start a $1 million for couples.   I think her proposal would be better for the Democrats, politically, than Obama's, and, for that reason, I am glad that he hasn't adopted it.)
- 1:24 PM, 2 September 2012   [link]


There's Been Some Criticism Of The Eastwood/Obama Performance At The Republican National Convention:  But I thought President Obama did okay, better than he usually does, in fact.  (Eastwood, as he almost always does, turned in a solid professional performance.)

(You can watch the two here.)
- 7:49 AM, 2 September 2012   [link]


Hillary Clinton Is Staying Away From The Democratic Convention:   Far away.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as a sitting administration official, does not have any role at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte.  But she seems to gone out of her way to avoid the festivities, as she is traveling this week and next to the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Russia.
She may have made her decision to avoid the convention after getting advice from Bill Clinton, who has a fault or two, but is one of the sharpest American politicians of my life time.

(Technically, the farthest place on the surface of the earth from Charlotte, North Carolina is on the Australian side of the Indian Ocean.  But there doesn't seem to be enough land anywhere near that point for a conference.)
- 8:36 AM, 1 September 2012   [link]