Illinois

A Blockbuster Jobs Report

AP Photo/Madelyn Ruggiero
Earlier this morning, Nate Silver argued that 150,000 was President Obama’s “magic number” for job growth, in part, because 150,000 is the dividing line between a bad report—where the economy isn’t growing fast enough to keep up with population—and a decent one, where it is. If the economy could generate that many jobs on a monthly basis, then Obama is on OK footing for the election in November. Today’s report blows that magic number out of the water. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created a whopping 243,000 jobs in January, with upward movement in nearly every sector of the economy, other than the government (public-sector jobs fell, again, by 14,000). What’s more, job growth for the last two months was revised upward, from 100,000 to 157,000 for November, and from 200,000 to 203,000 for December. Unemployment has fallen to 8.3 percent, the lowest it’s been since February 2009. Indeed, for the first time in a long time, all of the indicators are in the right...

Balancing Faith and Contraceptives

Criticisms of President Obama's new birth control policy skip over the benefits for women's health.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues against the Obama administration's laudable decision to require employer-provided health-insurance packages to cover contraception. The new rule, according to Dionne, is a "breach of faith" that the "administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here." Dionne's argument is, however, extremely unconvincing. As an alternative to the Obama administration’s decision, Dionne touts what he calls a compromise. Under Dionne’s proposal, to get coverage for contraceptives, employees would have to pay more for a separate plan to obtain it, but "religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact." The requirement that employers provide written notice before denying people their federally guaranteed statutory rights is, to put it mildly, not an acceptable compromise if you place significant weight on the rights of women at all. Dionne mentions a...

Breaking: Mitt Romney Loves America

In the good old days—I think this lasted until September 11, 2001, but I could be mistaken—political events of all sorts didn't begin with a series of opportunities for both speakers and attendees to make sure everyone understood that they are, in fact, in favor of America. Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy didn't start their debates with the Pledge of Allegiance. Candidates didn't feel the need to stand with hand on heart for the Star Spangled Banner at all 12 campaign events they do every day. And we were spared horror shows like this: The best part is how at the end, just in case anyone missed the point, Romney says, "I love this country." Nothing forced or pandering about that. My question is, where does he stand on Little League and Thanksgiving dinner? What about puppies—is he pro-puppy, or not? America needs to know. You might remember that in Iowa, Romney would recite the words to "America the Beautiful," but I guess now he's feeling confident enough to just let the tunes fly...

Pop Goes Obama

The competition is stiff, but there may be no more abused word in political discourse than “populism.” (“pop·u·lism. A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.”) It came in for a special flogging today, as pundits groped for ways to describe President Obama’s eloquent-but-mishmashy State of the Union address. Even The Hollywood Gossip was asking , “Will Populist Message Help Obama?” The answer is that it certainly could—if he had one. While Obama nodded toward populist themes last night—chiding the irresponsible financial sector, lashing out at the do-nothing Congress, pledging to make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes—you’re hardly on Huey Long terrain when you frame a speech around the military virtues of everyone being in it together, or make a point of quoting Abraham Lincoln saying that “government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.” Certainly, this re-...

Yes We Can ... Watch Something Else

Obama gave his 2012 State of the Union address last night, and all the eyes in the media and political world were tuned in. During the address, 766,681 SOTU-centric tweets were fired off , with 548 coming from inside the chamber. Despite the frenzy that takes over news rooms and congressional offices, the rest of the nation was more likely watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Wizards of Waverly Place . Ever since cable started competing with the networks for the hearts of the American public, ratings for primetime presidential addresses have plummeted, as shown by research conducted by Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernel of Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. Richard Nixon—not known for the most stirring rhetoric outside of defending questionable pet gifts—had 59 percent of households with televisions watch a routine press conference he gave in 1969. In 2010, Obama only had 41 percent of households watch him give the most important presidential...

The Case for Overconfidence

As we watch the Republican primary come down to a contest between (to caricature for a moment) a fight between the flip-flopping, wooden, private equity gazillionaire and the repellent, philandering, pompous influence-peddler, Democrats can't quite figure out who they want to win this race. On one hand, the path to Barack Obama beating Mitt Romney is absolutely clear: he's the candidate of the 1 percent whose lust for power will lead him to say anything to anyone. On the other hand, it's harder to tell what an anti-Newt Gingrich campaign would be like, since there are so many awful things about him to attack. But this makes me wonder: Is this how Republicans felt four years ago? As you'll recall, the 2008 Democratic primaries were pretty hard-fought. And I'm guessing that at least some Republicans looked on and said to themselves, we can't believe our luck. Either we'll face Hillary Clinton, whom we know everyone hates, or we'll face this neophyte black guy from Chicago whose middle...

Politifact Gives Up on Actual Fact-Checking

I’ve written before about Politifact’s approach to fact-checking, which seems to swing between actual consideration of the facts and embarrassing attempts to curry favor with conservatives and establish “credibility.” Last night’s “ fact-check ” of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union falls into the former category. Here’s the line in question from last night’s speech: “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.” Considering the depth of the recession, three million jobs isn’t good enough for a robust recovery, but there’s no doubt that this is a true statement. That, however, didn’t stop Politifact from labeling it “half-true.” Say what? In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs “before our policies were in full effect.” Then he describes the subsequent job increases, essentially taking credit for the job growth. But labor economists tell us...

Insourced

Today's Balance Sheet: Obama tries to bring manufacturing jobs back home. 

As part of an effort to push "insourcing," President Obama is proposing tax incentives for companies that move manufacturing jobs back to the United States. “I don’t want America to be a nation that’s primarily known for financial speculation, and racking up debt and buying stuff from other nations,” Obama said during an announcement yesterday. “I want us to be known for making and selling products all over the world stamped with three proud words, ‘Made in America.’” The U.S. economy added manufacturing jobs for the first time in over a decade the past two years, so the president hopes the incentives will help deepen that trend. The proposal—which would also curtail tax breaks for those who continue to search for cheaper labor abroad—gives a hint of the populist economic message Obama plans to use in his State of the Union address and the general-election campaign. Reviving American manufacturing is a compelling narrative, especially on the campaign trail, but the truth is it's still...

Obama Announces New Chief of Staff

Budget Director Jack Lew will take over for Bill Daley.

President Barack Obama announced Monday that Bill Daley, who has served as his administration's chief of staff for one year, is stepping down. In a statement to the press at the White House, President Obama said that Daley's resignation letter last week took him by surprise and that he initially refused to accept it. "But in the end, the pull of the hometown we both love—a city that's been synonymous with the Daley family for generations—was too great," Obama said, referring to Chicago, where the two men first met. Daley took over as Obama's chief of staff in 2011 after Rahm Emanuel left office to make a successful bid for the Chicago mayor's office. During his year-long tenure, Daley oversaw bitter fights over the American Jobs Act and the budget. Jack Lew, a D.C. veteran who previously served as budget director for President Bill Clinton and deputy director for the Department of State under Hillary Clinton, was recommended by Daley to succeed him at the post. Most recently, Lew...

A Trip Down Memory Lane

As we watch Republicans give a collective "Meh" to their contenders for president, I thought it might be a good time for a trip down memory lane. Four years ago, Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus and delivered what may be his best speech ever. Take a quick gander and remember those heady days: Does it still give you shivers? I always felt that the most compelling thing about Obama's campaign rhetoric was how he brought the listener into his own epic story. Let me revisit what I wrote at the time: But if you were born in the '60s, '70s, or '80s, history probably isn't something you participated in, it's something you watched on television. You watched America's all-volunteer military invade a succession of small countries (Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq...) but never worried about you or your brother going to fight, unless it were by choice. The most significant event of the second half of the 20th century -- the breakup of the Soviet Empire -- happened on television...

Read My Lips: No New Tax Cuts

Yesterday, the House rejected a Senate compromise bill on the payroll tax cut, which is set to expire January 1. In all likelihood, this means that taxes will rise—an average of $40 per paycheck, according to the latest White House press blitz—unless House Speaker John Boehner shores up enough support to pass a two-month extension or brokers a new deal. Although Obama hasn't left Washington for vacation in Hawaii yet, he isn't getting too involved in the imbroglio, having learned the danger of using the bully pulpit with his jobs plan—for Republicans, whose sole aim seems to be to frustrate the president's agenda, any endorsement from Obama amounts to a kiss of death. “It’s like déjà vu all over again. It’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), referring to the 112th Congress’ propensity for stalemate. Waxman is right, but this time it's a bit different. Previous congressional battles over the stimulus, health care, and the jobs plan were rooted in electoral...

Obama Inches Up to 50 Percent Approval

After months of low approval ratings, President Obama’s popularity has begun to trend upwards toward 50 percent. According to the latest survey from ABC News and The Washington Post , Obama has advanced to a 49 percent approval rating. What’s more, he maintains a substanial advantage over Republicans in Congress on who the public trusts to protect the middle-class, 50 to 35 percent. This is almost certainly a product of the recent fights over payroll tax cuts and the unemployment insurance extension, where the president is on the side of most Americans, compared to congressional Republicans, who are pushing forward on a deeply unpopular position. On the economy, his approval rating is 41 percent, but this is an improvement from earlier in the year, when it was near 30 percent. The Washington Post and ABC News aren’t the only ones to document Obama’s rising stock with the public. In their most recent survey of the public, CNN found that 49 percent of the public approves of the...

Latinos Flock to Swing States

One of President Obama’s big advantages in 2012 is the extent to which his demographic coalition is growing at a faster rate than the Republican one. Yes, like almost all Democratic presidential candidates since the 1960s, Barack Obama will lose the white vote by considerable margins, but a larger Latino vote—plus similar margins for turnout and vote share—could offset that. At the moment, according to the latest poll from Univision, two-thirds of Latinos approve of Obama’s job performance. More importantly, the Latino population has grown fastest in the swing states that will prove crucial to the president’s reelection effort. This chart from the Wall Street Journal offers a nice illustration of the fact: Of course, with all of this, it’s important to remember that high Latino turnout is not a given. Indeed, Univision found that 53 percent of Latinos are less enthusiastic about Obama than they were in 2008. A larger electorate might offset this somewhat, but how much is an open...

How President Obama's Economic Message Could Backfire in 2012

If there was anything notable about President Obama’s speech in Osawatomie, Kansas last week, it was the extent to which he attacked economic inequality in the United States, and its deletrious effects on income mobility: [O]ver the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50–50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class. It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle...

Important Election News from Across the Pond

Over the last week, there has been a torrent of stories illustrating the extent to which the Obama re-election team is observing the Republican presidential contest and developing their strategy for the general election season. And while I’m sure that the Obama team has devoted a fair amount of attention to events in the GOP, I’m also sure that they’ve devoted even more time to events across the Atlantic, where—as Carmel Crimmins and Gavin Jones note for Reuters —austerity has pushed Europe to the edge of another recession: With the crisis spreading like wildfire through the currency bloc’s core, pushing up borrowing costs to unsustainable levels, countries are relying more on blunt budget cuts, than time-consuming and difficult structural reforms, to get results. The upshot is ballooning dole queues, shuttered businesses and public services stretched to breaking point. There’s no question that a second European recession would trickle down to the United States and compromise our...

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