Monday Mashup (8/3/09)

August 3, 2009

  • This column of “analysis” courtesy of the AP’s Liz Sidoti tells us the following…

    Obama is approaching (the challenges of his agenda, including health care reform) as he did the (election) in 2008 — at least in style, for top advisers recognize that Obama himself is his presidency’s best asset.

    The strategy comes with a risk of overexposure, a diluting of the Obama “brand” advisers are so careful to protect. Many politicians over the years have had difficulty translating campaign success into governing success.

    Probably most all politicians, I’d imagine…

    So far, it seems that Obama’s postelection campaigning has helped convert his popularity into support for his policies. He successfully lobbied for passage of the economic stimulus only to watch the public grow skeptical of its effects.

    I swear, I just find this stuff people – I honestly don’t look that hard for it (and by the way, this projects that 750,000 “stim” jobs will be added by August – and yes, I know the data is from the White House, but Obama economic adviser Christina Romer will be reporting to Congress regularly, so there’ll be plenty of chances to “call BS” if that is needed).

    And the AP actually even ends up in deeper doo-doo here than in Sidoti’s “watch the public grow skeptical of (the stim’s) effects” horse hockey…

    WASHINGTON (AP) – The success of President Barack Obama’s ambitious agenda _ from health care and climate change to education _ could depend on how quickly he recovers from the sharp drop in support among white voters after criticizing a white policeman’s arrest of a black Harvard scholar.

    Obama’s impromptu comments about the incident could become a defining moment. Nearly immediately after Obama’s remark that police had “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates, his approval rating plummeted among whites, dropping over two days from 53 percent to 46 percent in a poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

    If Obama is to have success with the policy changes he wants, he can’t afford to shed white support. Not to mention the disaster that losing the affections of many in the blue-collar, Reagan Democrat constituency would spell for any re-election campaign.

    Silly me – I never considered a seven-point slide as a “plummet,” but I’m just a filthy, unkempt liberal blogger, so what do I know? And can anyone seriously explain to me why some pundit would care about how a politician’s actions would affect a likely re-election campaign that is three years away???

    (Oh, there goes Obama losing those “disaffected white people” again? Why, whatever shall we do??!!).

    In response to both Sidoti and Loven, this tells us the following (quoting the same Pew poll)…

    While the American public has grown more critical of Obama’s handling of the economy and budget deficit over the last few months, majorities continue to express optimism about his ability to fix the economy and deal with the budget deficit in the long term. As in June and April, more than six-in-ten (63%) say they are optimistic that Obama’s policies will improve the economy, and more than half (55%) say they are optimistic that he can reduce the budget deficit over time. The views of political independents account in part for the disparity between Obama’s sinking approval ratings and the continued optimism that he will succeed. Independents remain largely optimistic, but critical of the way the president is currently dealing with the economy and budget deficit. In contrast, partisans tend to see it just one way – Democrats mostly approve of Obama’s performance and are overwhelmingly optimistic about his policies. Republicans mostly disapprove and are pessimistic.

    Trying to right our economy from the ruinous Bushco reign will be a long, hard slog (like me, I’m sure you heard Obama and most Democrats use words to that effect). Basically, these approval numbers won’t mean much one way or the other for at least a year (with the gubernatorial elections this year and the congressional/gubernatorial ones next year as the best indicators as to whether or not voters believe that the “stim” is working – to be realistic, though, what else could Obama and the congressional Dems have done?).

    And by the mid-terms of 2010 and beyond, the only ones who will still care about the Gates/Crowley dustup are people who probably wouldn’t vote for Obama anyway.

  • I also encountered this somewhat interesting item (only somewhat) from J.D. Mullane’s column in the Bucks County Courier Times yesterday (see, Bucks County’s Journalistic Mistake did some preliminary shopping to try and replace his 1998 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan, and in the process, tells us the following about the “Cash for Clunkers” program, which hopefully will get more money from the Senate shortly, as noted here)…

    According to its Web site, Cash for Clunkers is “a $1 billion government program that helps consumers buy or lease a more environmentally friendly vehicle from a participating dealer when they trade in a less fuel-efficient car or truck. The program is designed to energize the economy; boost auto sales and put safer, cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the nation’s roadways.”

    Fine, fine. I just want a deal. If it makes a few global warmists happy, it’s win-win.

    Under the program, which is modeled on a European plan, the U.S. government will credit a car buyer up to $4,500 toward the car purchase. I checked the Department of Transportation Web site. My clunker qualifies.

    With three kids, I need a minivan. It’s practical. But, under Cash for Clunkers, I cannot get the same vehicle. The 2009 Town and Country does not qualify, since it gets a combined city/highway mileage of just 18 mpg, a measly one more mile per gallon than my present heap.

    However, what does qualify me for $4,500 is either impractical (Toyota Yaris), an ego crusher (“Smart Car”), or both (Prius).

    I’m not sure exactly how J.D. completed the online form here aside from what he tells us, but a cursory review of the vehicle selections tells us that Mullane could have also selected a Saturn VUE Hybrid, which ranks 20th out of the 26 most affordable hybrid SUVs (MSRP $28,160, 32 MPG Hwy, 25 MPG City). It has a 2.4L engine with 172hp, so I’ll admit that it might not have the “jump” Mullane would want, but it would be economical anyway.

    The Chevy Colorado is also available (a 4-door, up to 6 passenger compact pickup, with a standard 2.9 liter, 185-horsepower engine that achieves 18 MPG in the city and 26 mpg on the highway). This is a bit more of a heavy duty vehicle that Mullane could drive anywhere (probably a bumpy ride for the kids, though).

    And if our hero really wants to splurge on price, he could go for the Buick Enclave Minivan ($35-$43K), with its 3.7L engine and 16 City – 21 Highway mileage estimates (notice that the lower the mileage estimates, the more expensive the vehicle).

    Now I don’t know whether or not a buyer would receive a credit or a voucher in the amount of $4500 for each of these vehicles, but I’m merely trying to point out that there is a more diverse selection out there than Mullane would have us believe.

    Oh, and by the way, good luck retiring on that $35,000 “nest egg.”

  • Finally, I came across this column recently from John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News, in which he laments the fact that President Obama is heading to Martha’s Vineyard for a vacation shortly…

    … I wonder if folks newly or recently unemployed (the national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is the highest since 1983, more than a quarter-century ago) forced to cancel family vacations are cheered by Obama headed to The Vineyard.

    It’s an island off the south coast of Cape Cod, an exclusive summer haven for the rich and famous, including the Clintons, David Letterman, actors such as Meg Ryan and Bill Murray, TV network types such as Mike Wallace and Diane Sawyer – in other words, hardly a slice of Americana.

    Those who view Obama as an elitist will have new ammunition.

    Now before I begin, I should note that Baer is a bit more of a “straight shooter” than most; he says at the beginning that, though he’s criticizing Obama, he also tells us that he didn’t appreciate the frequent vacations by Commander Codpiece during wartime either (who, let’s not forget, set a record for the most vacation days while in office, shattering the mark previously set by The Sainted Ronnie R).

    But if there’s one thing I get incredibly tired of reading, it’s someone waxing indignant about Martha’s Vineyard because it’s supposed to be some place where only the hoi poloi congregate.

    That, most definitely, is not true (I should put this post in a place where I can merely recycle it every year, since this comes up every summer). Me, the missus and the young one have visited the island three times, and I can tell you that we most definitely are not likely to be caricatured in a “New Yorker” cartoon anytime soon (well, hopefully not one by Gahan Wilson, anyway).

    There’s the touristy part (Vineyard Haven), the part where middle class families have established themselves over time, including Portuguese and African Americans (Oak Bluffs), the “old money” part of the island (Edgartown), the places where the celebrity enclaves are probably located (Chillmark, West Tisbury, Lambert’s Cove, as well as Chappy), and the section where most of those who fish for an income as well as for recreation congregate (“Menemsha,” where “Jaws” was filmed). There’s a lot more to the island than that, but that’s enough for now.

    And actually, I’d like to think that, because everybody can, for the most part, get along, live their lives and enjoy themselves (no easy feat on and island with virtually no traffic lights – I haven’t been able to find one, anyway), the island is more of a “slice of Americana” than most people, including Baer, will ever realize.

  • The Job “Skinny” On The “Stim”

    July 9, 2009

    unemployedYesterday’s corporate media spin from Michael Gerson tells us the following (from here, with our dutiful right-wing scribe trying to create a metaphor between the stimulus and the Titanic)….

    The jobs report last week opened a long gash beneath the waterline of President Obama’s legislative agenda. Few realize it, but a scramble for lifeboats is about to begin.

    On closer inspection, the economic news, which seemed bad, is even worse. Not only did unemployment rise to 9.5 percent but wages fell, undermining the consumption needed to revive a consumption-driven economy. Unemployment increased among “breadwinners” — married men and women who head households — also making major family purchases more difficult. Recent increases in unemployment benefits and food stamps have helped many Americans pay for food and rent. Jobs, however, are what lead to the purchase of furniture, cars and homes. Paired with a decline in business investment, these trends make a second-half recovery less likely.

    The stimulus package hasn’t been very stimulating — as many economists predicted. Pouring money into the economy through a thirsty sponge of federal programs — the preferred method of Congress — is slow and inefficient. In retrospect, all of the stimulus funds should have been given to individuals directly from the tap.

    (“Many economists”…heh, heh.)

    You know, it takes a particular kind of gall for a Dubya acolyte like Gerson to blame Obama for a rise in unemployment to 9.5 percent and a fall in wages when you consider the following from here, comparing Number 43 to his predecessor, with unemployment at 7.3 percent when Clinton took over from Bush 41 and ending at 4.2 percent when he left, whereas those figures were 4.2 percent when Dubya took over of course, but 6.5 percent and climbing when he left.

    (The linked post above also tells us that real median income increased to almost $6K under Clinton but declined by about $1,200 under President Clueless – and yes, I would like to see better sourcing on those numbers also, but they sound right).

    And it also takes a particular kind of gall for Gerson to criticize Obama on jobs overall, given that Gerson’s old boss was responsible for the lowest job growth in this country since World War II (here).

    But as far as the number of “stim” jobs is concerned, this CNN story tells us the following…

    The figure remains elusive, but Congress provided one of the first peeks this week by reporting that stimulus has funded 21,000 highway and transit jobs as of May 31.

    The number, one of the first counts of actual stimulus-based employment, is based on state reports to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Thousands of indirect jobs — such as the deli employee who prepares lunch for the construction crew or the workers who produce the steel needed for projects — were also created or sustained.

    The White House says the figure is in line with its projection that the $787 billion recovery act has created or saved 150,000 jobs in the administration’s first 100 days. The 150,000 number, which includes direct and indirect positions, is an estimate based on the amount of stimulus funds spent. Each $92,000 of stimulus funds spent translates into one job, according to the White House formula.

    And yes, I know the 150,000 number is only a projection and we’re a long way off from that, and I’m a little hesitant to believe this number from Obama – 600,000 by the summer – but again, let’s give the man the benefit of the doubt for now (he hasn’t even been in office for six full months yet, OK?).

    And here is another consideration as noted in this front page New York Times story today, and that is the fact that the states have doled out a disproportionate amount of job-creating “stim” funds for road work to less populated areas (where it will do less good) than to cities.

    Also, this story in Time Magazine from last month tells us of people who obtained “stim” jobs, including Christian Zimmerman (on track to hire 135 workers for his construction company), John Berger (whose company makes homes more energy-efficient, on track to hire about 300), and Francis Jamiel, who was able to restock his shoe store with “stim” money which has led to a doubling of sales (and this story, although it takes a dim view of the “stim,” nonetheless provides information on how to look for “stim” jobs).

    Finally, this post from Brent Budowsky over at The Hill reminds us that Gerson is cleverer than most (I’ll give him that much) in criticizing Obama on the economy, compared to more rabid GOP partisans such as Ron Christie, John Feehery and Cheri Jacobus who are a lot more open in wishing for a GOP rebound of sorts against a backdrop of further job losses.

    To return to the “sinking ship” metaphor, if this is the only “solution” the Party of No truly has to offer, then they’re “taking on more water” than I thought.

    Update 7/12/09: Here’s more Fix Noise propaganda on Dubya and jobs.

    An Inky/WaPo “Good Government” (Sort Of) Screed

    April 28, 2009

    hiattI have to admit that this was a rather curious editorial from the Inquirer today written by Fred Hiatt (pictured) of the Washington Post, in which he sneaks in a dig at the federal government and “how little many Americans expect of (it),” as well as the fact that approximately 600,000 government jobs will need to be filled in the next four years, according to Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service…

    The opportunity lies not only in the huge number of looming vacancies, but also in two factors driving young people to consider government jobs: excitement about President Obama, and the fact that nobody but the government is hiring. The federal government, old (one-quarter of the workforce is younger than 40, compared with half in the private sector) and often lumbering, has a chance to become younger, nimbler, and more talented.

    I’ll be honest with you – I don’t like Fred Hiatt for reasons that have nothing to do with staffing levels of our government (though the dig I highlighted certainly doesn’t work in his favor).

    I don’t like Fred Hiatt because he’s nothing but a Bush (and Iraq War) apologist (and a pretty damn plain McCain booster, all of which is noted here; hey, if he supported McCain and he were a UPS driver, plumber, or anything else not involving media manipulation, that would have been fine – the problem is that he’s the editorial page editor of The Washington Post, and he advanced his opinions for himself pretty clearly).

    In his column quoting what Stier has to say (Hiatt probably should have just let Stier do the honors instead), both individuals leave it up to Obama to re-energize government, which is a worthy goal (just add it to the multitude of other messes left to our current president by Number 43).

    However, the following should be pointed out from here…

    (Hiatt’s column) has some serious problems, among them, skipping over the fact that the Obama administration has begun to shape its response to the federal workforce crisis. Hiatt only quotes Max Stier (a frequent source of mine), who condemns the administration’s actions to this point. Hiatt doesn’t appear to have spoken to anyone in the Obama administration, and he does not mention Michelle Obama’s visit to the Office of Personnel Management, the president’s challenge to federal employees to come up with ways to improve government, or the fact that Obama’s OPM Director John Berry, is in place, along with almost his entire leadership team, much earlier than his predecessors.

    It should also be noted that, when it comes to funding government agencies, the Obama Administration is operating under a resolution that holds funding for most departments to ’08 levels, as noted here, which definitely impacts hiring.

    That didn’t reduce government expenditures under Dubya, however – far from it; this 2004 post, showing that federal spending increased at its fastest rate in 30 years, projected that Dubya wouldn’t veto legislation, though he did that frequently after the Dems took over Congress in 2006.

    So what have the agencies done in response to utilize their experienced workforce as effectively as possible? As noted from here…

    Officials from (HUD, SSA and USAID)…told us that they have difficulty attracting qualified staff with specialized skills. To address these challenges, the three agencies rely on older workers in different ways. USAID brings back its knowledgeable and skilled retirees as contractors to fill short-term job assignments and to help train and develop the agency’s growing number of newly hired staff. SSA uses complex statistical models to project potential retirements in mission critical occupations and uses these data to develop recruitment efforts targeted at a broad pool of candidates, including older workers. While all three agencies rely on older workers to pass down knowledge and skills to junior staff, HUD officials told us this is the primary way they involve older workers, due in part to the agency’s focus on recruiting entry-level staff.

    …the federal government has historically enjoyed relatively high retention rates, with 40 percent or more of federal employees remaining in the workforce for at least 5 years after becoming eligible (for retirement).

    As noted above, it would have been nice if Hiatt had bothered to talk to someone from the Obama Administration before he wrote this. He is right, though, to point out that the government always benefits from an influx of new talent, as much as that talent can be absorbed given existing staffing and budgetary constraints. However, given this story (somehow, though, I don’t think the scenario has changed since it was written, expect maybe to get worse), I think Hiatt ought to pay more attention to the “graying” of his own business first (and just try referring to your colleagues as “often lumbering,” Fred – I dare you).

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