Mad Wombat

A moderately liberal Democraticly-themed blog

The Debt Ceiling isn’t about “risk” for Republicans

I was reading an article on the debt ceiling on (surprise, surprise) Politico, when I came across this passage and just rolled my eyes:

To the vast majority of House Republicans, it is far riskier long term to pile up new debt than it is to test the market and economic reaction of default or closing down the government.

No. That’s what they may say, but that isn’t what they actually think, and it hardly takes an economist to figure this out. Is long-term, as in 15 to 20 years plus, debt a problem? Well, if we run trillion dollar deficits every year from now until then, then yes, it can become a problem. Of course, given the 2011 cuts and sequester and the tax hikes that just passed, we’re already on our way to making a dent in that long term deficit. So how does it make sense to threaten to blow up the economy now, and throw us into another recession, in order to prevent something that we have 10 to 20 years to deal with? Especially when doing so will probably make the problems we have to deal with worse, not better, in the long run due to said recession. It doesn’t make sense, and if there is anyone who actually believes that default risk is less than long-term debt risk, they are dangerously ignorant of how the economy, economics, and the budget works. If they were really serious about cutting the deficit, they would sit down with Obama, who is more than willing to hammer out a Grand Bargain still, and come up with something.

And even if the Republicans get their cuts and we don’t default, experience in Spain, Ireland, Greece, and the UK have shown that cutting the budget just leads to further recessions, which results in new deficits now and in the future. Austerity has truly been discredited at this point, yet the Republicans still insist on it.

That’s because this isn’t about “risk.” This is about an ideological opposition to spending and government, regardless of what the spending is for (except for defense, of course), regardless of what the size of the deficit is, and regardless of what the consequences of cutting that spending is (again, except for defense). They feel that since we’ve had several, largely recession-driven, deficits recently that they have the upper hand in arguing that we should cut the deficit. What is hurting their case, however, is that they can’t make the size of cuts that they want without cutting deeply into programs that are actually quite popular. And they learned from the Ryan budget fiasco that if they just make their views known by passing a budget in the House, that they’re going to get hammered for it.

That’s one reason why they want to use the debt ceiling and force negotiations between Obama and republicans that half the nation doesn’t know so that, in their mind, when the plan comes out that guts entitlements and social spending, it will have Obama’s name on it. They could even go so far as still claim it’s “not enough,” vote against it, and hope it passes with mostly democratic votes. That way they can both get what they want and not even have to take the blame for it. This is part of the reason why Obama isn’t playing ball with the debt ceiling this time. However, regardless of what happens with that, he will have to play ball with the budget, although the stakes aren’t quite as high there (remember when government shutdowns were the worst thing ever? Now they’re kind of a second-order crisis compared to what the GOP has come up with now).

However, what is just as disconcerting as all of this is that the press doesn’t call the GOP out on it. They have to know that this really isn’t about the long-term deficit for the GOP. If this is about the deficit and risk, the Republicans are acting completely irrationally. The press, however, still seems to have a problem actually pointing this fact out.

Things we learned from the Fiscal Cliff Deal

So now that the fiscal cliff deal is done, what are some things that we have learned (or reinforced) about how things might work in Washington over the next two years, and perhaps about policy making in general? Here are a few items that have crossed my mind:

1) Creating economic stimulus through the tax code is unwise

This isn’t to say that one can’t do some form of stimulus through taxes, but trying to do stimulus through the tax code, such as the 2% payroll tax cut, is unwise. Tax cuts that were meant to be temporary end up becoming harder and harder to repeal or let expire. In this case, the payroll tax cut faced the double whammy that the GOP didn’t like it because it almost exclusively went to the lower and middle class while many Democrats didn’t like it because they didn’t like the idea of pulling money from Social Security (even though, how it was set up, it didn’t). Even then Obama was still nearly able to keep it as part of the deal.

However, this may not be always the case. The primary case against letting this tax cut expire is that it would further burden the poorest in America, raising taxes on even those who make so little that they don’t pay income taxes. But here is the thing: that argument works regardless of what the economic health of the nation is. This could be 1998 with a booming economy and arguments that letting such a tax cut expire would be hurting the poor would still be valid. This just once again reinforced the danger of trying to do some sort of temporary relief through a tax code in an age where many are reluctant to let taxes go up, and doubly so on the non-rich.

If one wants to use taxes to provide relief, it’s probably better to do some sort of lump stimulus tax check. You can give the same amount of relief but it’s not built into people’s paychecks.

2) Boehner is willing to forgo the Hastart rule if the circumstances are right

For those who are unaware, the Hastart Rule is the rule implemented by Denny Hastart when he was Speaker of the House that said all bills had to be passed by the majority of the majority. In other words, even if a bill had enough votes to pass the House, the leadership won’t bring it up for a vote unless they know that a majority of Republicans will vote for it. One of the questions in the fiscal cliff debate was whether Boehner would allow a vote on a bill if it violated this rule. The answer turned out to be yes.

The big question is: why? Was the fact that we had gone over the cliff the main reason or could Boehner just not hold up a vote after the Senate passed it by an overwhelming 89-8 vote. Some liberals will probably take this as a sign that Obama gave up too much and that Boehner was going to bend anyway, regardless of what the Senate passed, so he just as well have stuck to his guns on the 250k tax level. Maybe they’re right. I suspect they’re not. I think the situation where the Senate overwhelming approved a bill forced Boehner into having no choice but to put it up for a vote.

This also possibly shows a path forward to ending future crises like this as well. Despite their intransigence, the Senate GOP is still clearly less conservative than the House GOP, and if Obama can force Boehner to hold a vote by getting a bill through the Senate with 70 or 80 votes, that may end up being his preferable way to operate. He would likely have to compromise less with the Senate GOP than with the House GOP.

3) Many liberals are a lot more pessimistic about the deals Obama cuts than, well, just about everyone else

It largely happened after stimulus vote. It largely happened after the health care reform vote. It largely happened after the 2010 tax compromise. It largely happened after the 2011 debt ceiling deal, and it largely happened again after the fiscal cliff deal: many liberals were lamenting the compromise struck as a huge loss and massive cave by Obama. Meanwhile, just about everyone else, including Republicans, pretty much admitted that Obama worked the GOP over. The day after the House passed the deal, nearly everyone, except some liberals, were saying it was an unmitigated win for Obama and a disaster for Boehner and the GOP.

Of course, this isn’t the first time this has been the case as the examples I listed above show. Perhaps the only one the GOP would disagree on, at least at the time, was the 2011 debt ceiling compromise, but many of us pragmatists at the time said that Obama actually got the better of the GOP in the deal, and sure enough, the GOP are desperate to undo the very deal that they said consisted of a 98% win.

4) For however weak Boehner is, he still has the most balls in the GOP

The reason I say that is this: He put his speakership on the line to put the fiscal cliff bill up for a vote, and he survived, albeit barely. In face, he likely wouldn’t have survived if anyone else decided they wanted to be speaker. But guess what? No one else in the GOP caucus was brave enough to try to lead the cat herding rabble that is the GOP House of Representatives these days other than John Boehner.

That is not to say Boehner is a good or weak leader. He is not. He is terrible at running the House and can’t control his caucus enough to even pass his own bills which are supposed to strengthen his position. But having said that, he seems like just about the only Republican willing to take on the task of even trying to get something done in the House.

I may add more if I can think of them.

Fiscal Cliff End Games

Oh, here we are again: an economic end game between President Obama and the Republican House of Representatives going down to the wire. Where have we seen this movie before?

Of course a week ago, it looked like we may get a deal to end the fiscal cliff and then…something happened. We aren’t sure what, though I have a few guesses. In any case, negotiations broke down on Monday, Boehner proposed his doomed Plan B that sank without a vote, and then Obama sent everyone home to drink egg nog and eat cookies over the holidays.

So what are the possible end games to this?

Read more of this post

How Romney caught Obama off balance

So the consensus among pretty much everyone: pundits, press, snap polls, focus groups, etc. were all that Romney beat Obama pretty handily at last night’s first presidential debate. But how did he do this? I think there were four key factors that led to Romney being perceived as the winner last night:

  1. Assertiveness
  2. Tossing spaghetti
  3. Two-faced Romney
  4. Narrowing the discussion

I’ll take these one by one, starting with:

Assertiveness

I think this one is a pretty easy one to explain, and pretty obvious to anyone watching. Romney simply refused to have the last word, and stomped all over moderator Jim Lehrer in order to get it. We already knew Romney would have the final, final word in closing arguments, but he bullied Lehrer into having the final say on every question but the last one, when Lehrer basically told them they each had about 90 seconds and Romney went first. However, Lehrer’s lack of assertiveness and control perhaps minimized how much it appeared Romney was stomping on him other than the occasionally “um” and “excuse me”s Lehrer was inserting now and then in a futile attempt to retain control of the debate.

Having the last word on almost everything both gave Romney the appearance of being more assertive (while Obama on more than one occasion actually deferred to Lehrer out of respect so he could move on) as well as allowed him to make a series of assertions which ultimately went unanswered by Obama. This apparently both made Romney look like a stronger leader and gave the appearance that Obama didn’t have an answer to Romney’s accusations.

Tossing spaghetti

I’m using this term to try to keep this blog post PG, but the essence of this one is that Governor Romney was throwing so many lies and distortions at President Obama that Obama had to pick and choose which ones to respond to if he wanted to have any time left to respond about his own record and plans.

One attack that stood out to me that sounded effective, but becomes rather absurd once you think about it, was the accusation that 3% of the small businesses not covered by Obama’s tax cuts employ one quarter of the workforce. Now, just taken on it’s face, this would make it sound like Obama’s plan has a pretty significant hole in it. But then you think on it: How can 3% of small businesses employ 50% the number of employees as 100% of the large businesses – that’s the claim Romney is making. I know there are a lot of small businesses, but if you look at the claim that way, the claim becomes patently absurd. And it’s absurd because there are a lot of businesses that are anything but “small” in the number of their employees but who classify themselves as small businesses for tax purposes.

The second pretty big absurdity is that Romney provided two items he could cut from the budget to reduce the deficit: Obamacare and PBS. The problem is that getting rid of Obamacare actually increases the deficit per the CBO, and PBS is something like 1/100th of 1% of the entire budget. We could save more money by building one less submarine a year in all likelihood.

And as a prime example of spaghetti tossing, there was a moment where Romney threw out several whoppers all at once: that there are no tax breaks for moving jobs overseas, that 50% of the green companies Obama has invested in have failed, and that states will effectively meet the needs of the poor and elderly by having complete control over Medicaid dollars (many states don’t do it now with the flexibility they currently have) and then…Lehrer ended the segment and they went off to the next topic. Three significant whoppers end up going unchallenged because both Romney can’t not have the last word and he is just throwing everything out there in hopes some of it sticks.

Two-faced Romney

We now have a new phenomena in this election: not only do we have a fantasy Obama, but we now have a fantasy Romney too. Romney spent much of his time at the debate pretending to be a candidate that he’s never been during the campaign, partly to make himself look moderate and partly to disarm Obama’s most likely attacks against him.

Romney started by insisting that he needed to give middle class and small business tax relief – which is fine – but then asserted that his plan would be revenue neutral. When challenged on this, Romney’s ultimate answer was to say that no one can accuse him of wanting to raise the deficit by cutting taxes because he will refuse to do so, whatever his tax plan says notwithstanding.

This was Romney’s first attempt to disable Obama’s attack on him of being just like Bush, by insisting that the math in his plan adds up, and even if it somehow doesn’t, then he’ll toss it out and do something else because, by god, you have his word he won’t increase the deficit by raising taxes.

His next attempt was on the deficit, when he attacked the president for not adopting the Simpson-Bowles plan, and then proceeded to attack Obama – and Simpson-Bowles – by saying that we shouldn’t increase taxes. So he’s insisting that Obama should have adopted a plan that he says was the wrong plan! But name dropping Simpson-Bowles makes Romney look like he may be willing to compromise on the deficit when he has no intention of doing so. Romney also said things like he’ll “probably” have to get rid of the oil subsidies in order for his tax cuts to be deficit neutral, but he never actually commits to the idea.

Perhaps one of Romney’s biggest attempts to disarm Obama’s attacks was his sudden embrace of government regulations. I was pretty stunned with Romney came out with this:

Regulation is essential. You can’t have a free market work if you don’t have regulation. As a businessperson, I had to have — I need to know the regulations. I needed them there. You couldn’t have people opening up banks in their — in their garage and making loans. I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work. Every free economy has good regulation.

This statement is diametrically opposed to pretty much the very concept of Romney’s campaign that government is too big and needs to be eliminated wherever possible. He then extended this further by saying that he actually agrees with most of Dodd-Frank (despite wanting to repeal all of it), and cites Romneycare as a solution to healthcare, even though it’s exactly the same as Obamacare, which he wants to repeal because it over-regulates. He also made similar claims about not wanting to cut education funding (despite saying he would earlier in the campaign) among other things. He almost literally made up a new campaign at the debate in order to appear to moderate voters and to thwart Obama’s attacks against him. I think this is where Obama was probably caught most off guard.

I made a remark early in the debate that the theme seemed to be “we agree,” and while that wore off some by the end, I think it’s still apt. “we agree” was a major theme by Romney. He tried to give the appearance that he agreed with all the popular things Obama has done or is proposing, while attacking everything else. I think a big part of the strategy here was to narrow the gap between himself and Obama so it becomes less of an ideological big ideas battle and to turn the election into something like “Hey, I actually like all the popular stuff Obama is doing, so you don’t have to worry about that. As a result, it’s safe to vote for me to go in a new direction on everything else.”

Narrowing the discussion

While we had discussion in the debate about broad policies, especially where Romney wanted to attack Obama, when Romney was on defense, he tried to change the discussion from broad ideals to narrow policy decisions or parts of laws.

With taxes, Romney turned a discussion about whether the rich should pay their fair share into a discussion about how much taxes 3% of small businesses would pay. With Dodd-Frank, he turned a discussion about the general theme of regulating banks – and regulation in general – into a discussion about a single, specific provision in the bill (which I think also caught Obama off guard as I don’t think he was prepared to talk about the law to that degree of granularity). With Obamacare, he turned a broad discussion about health care in this country into a quibble over the Medicare board.

This had the double-edged effect of making Romney look knowledgeable by talking about specific portions of laws or policies (when Obama wasn’t prepared to do so, at least not on those specific items), while simultaneously deflecting the discussion away from broader differences about the role of government and how policies should be implemented that were likely to be more damaging to him.

So what can Obama do to correct this?

Obama has the advantage next time of knowing largely what Romney’s tactics may be now and the fact that the next debate is a town hall debate, which will be more traditional answer-rebuttal format and the final debate will be on Obama’s perceived strength of foreign policy, and where Romney will likely have less of an opportunity to use the same tricks he used above (perhaps other than bullying the moderator again).

However, Obama is facing a conundrum in that, at least the CNN focus group last night didn’t like it when candidates attacked each other, and one of Obama’s lowest ratings came when he insisted that Romney’s tax plan didn’t add up. So perhaps the biggest instance of Obama challenging Romney’s questionable claims was seen as one of his low points of the night, at least by that specific focus group. The other issue Obama faces is the fact that Romney is throwing so much spaghetti at him that if he were to respond to all of it, he would have no time left to talk about his own accomplishments and goals.

I think the format of the town hall will help mitigate some of these problems, but Obama still needs to come up with a way to call out Romney without spending exorbitant about of time having to explain everything. I’m not really sure how one accomplishes that. The one time he tried, Romney just repeatedly responded with “you’re wrong” and at least for the focus group, that seemed to be a sufficient defense for Romney.

I think the other thing Obama can do is perhaps be more assertive and animated. One of the criticisms was that he looked flat or that he didn’t want to be there. I think the town hall format will help with that, as Obama will be able to interact with voters directly, though it will be something he needs to work on for the final debate on foreign policy.

Politico’s Horrible, Terrible Poll

So Politico came out with a “Battleground” poll this morning that shows Romney ahead of Obama 48-47. I can deal with polls like this, but I’m often interested in the internals of such polls, especially when the previous poll done by the same group showed pretty wildly different results.

There were a few wacky things in the polls, but they mainly dealt with crosstabs and not with the topline – for example, the fact that they asked people if they were very/somewhat conservative or liberal with no option to say you were moderate, which is a pretty crappy way to ask that question (about 6% said moderate anyway, and it resulted in the crosstabs saying that 57% of the nation was conservative – a number I’m sure the GOP will run with but is completely wrong).

However, there was one thing that I saw that WOULD make a difference on the top line. Buried deep down on page 113 of their PDF, I saw these results:

  • California: Romney 51%, Obama 43%
  • Florida: Romney 56%, Obama 43%
  • Texas: Romney 51%, Obama 47%
  • New York: Obama 50%, Romney 45%
  • Rest of Country: Obama 48%, Romney 46%

Now, Obviously some of these results are ridiculous. Romney is not ahead in California by any stretch of the imagination, much less by 8%. Romney is not ahead in Florida by 13%, and Obama is not only ahead by 5% in New York (and to be fair to Romney, he’s not up by only 4% in Texas). Given the small sample sizes – 99 for California, 66 for Florida, 68 for Texas, and 70 for New York, most of those would probably be within the margin of error if they were taken on their own.

But not California. The margin of error for a poll of 99 people is probably about 10%. Which means, at worst, to be within the margin of error the result could go out as far as Obama 53 Romney 41, which looks more reasonable. But it’s still off of the RCP average of the state by about 12%. Indeed, there were a couple of polls way back in November that showed that the state might be within 12% but nothing remotely close to that recently. So even if we took California by itself with a 10% margin of error, it’s still a horrible poll of the state.

But then I thought – California’s sample is 99 – that’s 9.9% of the total sample of 1000 people. And the result from California is 31.5% off from the RCP average for the state. That HAS to affect the top line. Add to that that Florida is 6.6% of the sample, with a Romney advantage of 13% (if one takes the RCP average of a tie), and New York, which is 7% of the sample, favors Romney by 20% vs. the RCP average. The one state that helps Romney, Texas, makes up 6.8% of the sample, but only tilts toward Obama by 3% vs. the only poll done in the state since January. That’s actually pretty damn good given that the margin of error would be something around 12% for a sample of that size.

So I thought – what would happen if I “corrected” for these numbers and made them inline with the RCP average. There are some problems with this, of course. One doesn’t know how much off the “rest of the nation” sample might be from reality, and there is really no way to tell because there is no “national poll minus California, New York, Texas, and Florida” floating out there to compare against. But I thought it was a worthy exercise anyway, if for no other reason than to see how much it affected the final result.

And affect it, it did.

First off, after figuring out the actual number of people who responded which way in each breakdown, I found out that while the poll “rounded” to 48-47 Romney, if you go down to one decimal point, it’s actually 47.5% Romney, 47.2% Obama.

Second, here is how each state individually changes the results:

  • California alone added 1.4% to Obama’s percentage while removing 1.6% from Romney’s percentage, a swing of 3% toward Obama, making the average 48.6% to 45.9% Obama (49-46% Obama)
  • Florida alone added 0.2% to Obama’s percentage while removing 0.7% from Romney’s, a swing of 0.9% toward Obama. this would make the average 47.4%-46.8% Obama (tied at 47%)
  • Texas alone took 0.3% away from Obama while taking 0.1% from Romney, a swing of 0.2% toward Romney. This would make the average 47.4%-46.9% Romney (Tied at 47%)
  • New York alone added 0.5% to Obama and took 0.8% away from Romney, a swing of 1.3% to Obama. This would make it 47.7%-46.7% Obama (or 48-47 Obama)
  • All four states together added 1.8% to Obama and took away 3.2% from Romney, a swing of 5% toward Obama. It would make it 49%-44.3% Obama (or 49-44% Obama)

So as you can see, California and New York alone swung 4.3% OF THE OVERALL NATIONAL RESULT toward Romney than it should have if the sample of those states were actually correct. Florida+Texas just threw on an extra 0.7% for Obama. There is no way to know whether there is any similar bias or in which direction in other large states like Ohio, Michigan, or Pennsylvania because they simply did not break them out.

So if someone points to the Political poll as an example Romney taking the lead, just point out to them that it also has Romney ahead 51-43 in California. That should put the end to that discussion.

Oh, and by the way, these Battleground polls are one of the least reliable as rated by fivethirtyeight. It places somewhere between an organization that does internet polling (YouGov) and a polling organization that pretty much literally made their results up (Research 2000).

[Update]

I guess for transparency, I’ll add the raw numbers here:

The “base” Politico poll – that is the poll as it is laid out in the PDF came up with numbers like this. New York was the only one in which there was a question with Romney and “Undecied” both having a half person and one had to round up and one round down, but that’s a difference of 0.1% in the total. All other numbers I’m pretty comfortable being correct:

  • “Rest of Country” breaks down to 334 Obama, 321 Romney, 42 undecided
  • California breaks down to 43 Obama, 50 Romney, 6 Undecided
  • Florida breaks down to 28 Obama, 37 Romney, 1 Undecided
  • Texas breaks down to 32 Obama, 35 Romney, 1 Undecided
  • New York breaks down to 35 Obama, 32 Romney, 3 Undecided.
  • Total sum: 472 Obama, 475 Romney, 53 Undecided

The RCP average in these 4 states (except for Texas, where I took the one recent poll of the state) are the following, rounded to the nearest percent:

  • California: Obama 58%, Romney 34%, Other/Undecided 8%
  • Florida: Obama 45%, romney 45%, Other/Undecided 10%
  • Texas: Romney 50%, Obama 43%, Other/Undecided 7%
  • New York: Obama 58%, Romney 33%, Other/Undecided 9%

Thus the ACTUAL breakdown, as close as I could get them, for those 4 states are:

  • California: Obama 57 (+14), Romney 34 (-16), Undecided 8 (+2)
  • Florida: Obama 30 (+2), Romney 30 (-7), Undecided 6 (+5)
  • Texas: Obama 29 (-3), Romney 34 (-1), Undecided 5 (+4)
  • New York: Obama 40 (+5), Romney 24 (-8), Undecided 6 (+3)
  • Total change: Obama +18, Romney -32, Undecided +14

That shifted the Overall total to: Obama 490, Romney 443, Undecided 67, resulting in the new top line of Obama 49%, Romney 44.3%.

Prepare for the new GOP line: Obama is faking the job numbers

It’s a rather sad state of affairs when one can barely write snark anymore, because there is a real possibility that what you write will actually come true. The latest example of that was the release of the better than expected job numbers on Friday. Republicans can see where this is going. By election day, we’ll be looking at 31 or 32 straight months of job growth, and an unemployment number which is looking more certain to be under 8%, and perhaps even 7.5% (the current trend suggests we could even hit 7% but I’m somewhat doubtful of that). Those numbers would likely give Obama a net reduction in unemployment since he took office, a net gain in private employment, if not a net gain in total employment.

The initial GOP responses were largely nonsensical, ranging from Romney clinging to his “things would still be better without Obama!” argument, which is akin to saying that while the Patriots went 13-3, they would have gone undefeated if only Belichick wasn’t the coach, to Governor McDonnell’s statement that the economy is recovering because of GOP governors and not Obama, which is silly because the recovery is happening in states with Democratic governors, and most of the states lagging behind are the ones headed by Republicans.

Perhaps noticing that these arguments will ultimately fail if the job numbers keep getting better, there is a new emerging GOP tactic: attack the job numbers themselves. And I don’t mean claim that Obama is using the wrong metric, but claim that Obama is “cooking the books” on the employment numbers. You’re already seeing this tactic coming out at places like Fox News and the Washington Times. Expect this meme to start spreading more among conservative circles the better the job numbers get as the year progresses.

Unfortunately, this is a turn of a events I kind of predicted on twitter:

how soon until republicans start claiming that the White House is “cooking the numbers” to make unemployment look better than it is

and I don’t mean claiming we should be using different figures…but actually faking them

Those were from 8:45 in the morning on the day the jobs numbers were released.

And why did I think the discussion might turn that way? Simple, I understand the base assumption under which Republicans are operating: that it is impossible, literally not possible, that Obama’s policies could create jobs. They have so thoroughly convinced themselves of this idea that ANY explanation for better employment numbers is more valid than “what Obama is doing is working.” And we’re seeing that now as Republicans have come up with 3 different rationales for the numbers: 1) the numbers are going up despite Obama, 2) there are other factors which have caused the numbers to go up, namely either the work of GOP governors and/or the tireless work the GOP House has spent trying to ban abortion and destroy Medicare, and 3) arguing that the improved job numbers themselves are a fantasy.

I’m not sure if point #3 will gain enough ground that Romney, or whoever the GOP nominee ultimately is, will use that argument itself, but I think that he and the RNC and their surrogates will saturate the conversation with the insinuation, if not out right claiming, that the jobs numbers are cooked. Why? First off, because it’s going to be hard to argue #2. The numbers just don’t support the claim that better job numbers are found in GOP states. That won’t stop some from claiming it, but eventually they’re going to be called on it, either by Obama or by the press. And it’s hard to claim that a GOP House that has done nothing has influenced anything. Second, while the first line might be the “official” line Romney’s campaign might take, it’s a lousy argument. At what point do people just turn and say to Romney “c’mon man” saying that “things would be better if…”

So, I think the GOP is going to create a concerted effort to create the impression that Obama is cooking the books. I don’t think this method would work, but if it did, it would create the double impression that things aren’t really improving and that Obama is a corrupt politician who is willing to use his power to lie to the American people for the sake of getting elected. Of course, the GOP already believe this, but they would be hoping to convince everyone else of this idea as well. And if things like birtherism and the like have taught us anything, the GOP and it’s base will go to about any lengths and claim just about anything as a means of trying to defeat Obama.

Florida Primary Polling as of January 25th

Note: these numbers might change as new polls are released, but, as of the polls available now, these are the numbers.

Romney definitely appears to have stalled Gingrich’s momentum in Florida, and there are signs that he’s reversing the tides. Whether this is due to Romney going on the attack, Gingrich calling the dogs off a bit at the last debate, or some other factor like Florida people so geting over Gingrich, it’s hard to say:

Right now the 2-week average stands at:

Romney: 36.4%
Gingrich: 32.1%
Santorum: 11.2%
Paul: 8.9%

Which is a 4.3% lead over Gingrich. Romney isn’t back to his pre-South Carolina levels (yet), though recent polls by Rasmussen, InsiderAdvantage, and ARG suggest he may be heading back in that direction. I would think Gingrich’s people see this as well and probably realize that taking the foot off the peddle at the last debate was a mistake, and I fully expect to see the same Newt we saw in South Carolina in the next debate in Florida. Also, Santorum has a downward trend in the state as well. I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if he finished in single digits, or even in 4th at the moment. One would think that would be the end of Santorum’s campaign if that occurred. Paul is, well, Paul. He’s floated from between 8% and 10% ever since the start of January.

Things to note about this 2-week average: It encompasses the entirety of Gingrich’s surge and now apparently stalling. The oldest polls in the average are ones showing Romney with 20+ point leads in Florida, which may be making his average better. Then again, it also includes polls showing Gingrich ahead as well, which doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I’m interested to see how this chart changes over the next couple of days once older polls fall of the 2-week window.

Florida Polling Update: January 23, 2012

Some of you may have remembered that I did electoral college projections back in 2008 and I was thinking of doing it again this year. I thought I would start out by doing some of the GOP primaries. My code as it existed in 2008 isn’t really meant to handle primaries, besides I don’t have a site yet to enter the information in yet anyway. But I can still enter the stuff into a spreadsheet and figure it out, which is what I’m doing here.

I may also use the primaries to test out what might be the best way to present data.  In 2008, I largely did a “weighted average” of all polls, meaning that every poll, no matter how old, had a say in the average, however small that say was. While the general election may not be as volatile as the GOP primary, the primary has shown the pitfalls of that type of calculation as older polls that have a candidate considerably higher or lower than they are now can sometimes skew the poll. Then again, you don’t necessarily want to rely too heavily on polls just released either, I don’t think, so it’s good to have a balance. So I’ll be besting out two lengths of time to try to balance the polls: a 1-week weighted average and a 2-week weighted average. This is using the same algorithm I used in 2008, except I would only take the polls conducted in the last week or last two weeks (exception is if there are fewer than 5 polls available, in which case I take the most recent 5).

Here are the current “projections” based on each of the three calculations:

Weighted average (every poll taken is used):

Romney: 34.8%
Gingrich: 30.4%
Santorum: 12.3%
Paul: 9%

2-week Average (only polls from past two weeks):

Romney: 35.2%
Gingrich: 30.7%
Santorum: 12.2%
Paul: 9%

1-Week Average (only polls from past week)

Gingrich: 33.6%
Romney: 32.9%
Santorum: 12.5%
Paul: 9.2%

Clearly the 1-week average takes into consideration the recent Gingrich momentum, but that also means it’s listening to the immediate polls that are out. Is that good? Well, I suppose the most recent polls are the more accurate description of the race as it is now. However, it also reduces the number of polls available for the average, meaning that outliers can unduly influence the calculations. As a result, I think I’ll rely on my 2-week average for Florida and see how it does.  The history chart for Florida, based on the 2-week average, is below (click on the image for full size):

Why Apple’s jobs aren’t coming back to the US

The New York Times had a long, and very interesting article on why Apple moved pretty much all of their manufacturing business over to China this morning. I definitely urge you to read the whole thing.

There are many interesting things about it. One thing is glaringly clear: what the GOP is advocating as a remedy isn’t addressing the problems at hand.  The solutions to the problems are hard and long term, and even if the US is able to solve the problems we can solve, Apple (and other companies like them) may choose to stay in nations like China anyway.

I’m sure some in the GOP will grab this article as an instrument to try to bash Obama as being out of touch in creating jobs. Doing so will merely prove that they didn’t bother reading the article. There was little to none in the article about burdensome taxes or constraining regulations. The big explanation for why Apple (and others) have moved plants to China and other places overseas: Labor. And I’m not talking about big labor here.

There are two parts to the labor problem where China is beating the United States according to the article. One of them is potentially solvable. However, the other one is much more problematic.

First, the more solvable problem can be summed up by this quote:

Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.

Creating a workforce with more technical workers is certainly something the US can work on, though the US is challenged by the fact that China has so many more workers than we do, and the fact that, in China, taking a step to be such a worker is a step up, while to many in the US, it may be seen as a step down. However, these are potentially problems we can overcome.

Here is the problem: even if the US is able to, one day, compete with China on the size and quality of our technical workforce, there are other factors that may still keep Apple and other companies in China. Here are a few quotes to illustrate why this is the case:

Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

and…

The facility has 230,000 employees, many working six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of Foxconn’s work force lives in company barracks and many workers earn less than $17 a day. When one Apple executive arrived during a shift change, his car was stuck in a river of employees streaming past. “The scale is unimaginable,” he said….

“They could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said Jennifer Rigoni, who was Apple’s worldwide supply demand manager until 2010, but declined to discuss specifics of her work. “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”

and…

For Mr. Cook, the focus on Asia “came down to two things,” said one former high-ranking Apple executive. Factories in Asia “can scale up and down faster” and “Asian supply chains have surpassed what’s in the U.S.” The result is that “we can’t compete at this point,” the executive said.

and…

Mrs. Lin earns a bit less than what Mr. Saragoza was paid by Apple. She speaks fluent English, learned from watching television and in a Chinese university. She and her husband put a quarter of their salaries in the bank every month. They live in a 1,080-square-foot apartment, which they share with their in-laws and son.

Apple may be right in claiming that “labor costs” aren’t the biggest driver in moving jobs from the US to China, but the core problem is still labor. Apple, and companies like them, like having a source of cheap, docile labor that is almost literally willing to live for the company: work 60 to 80 hours a week for barely more than $1 an hour, and able – and willing – to be on call to go to work at a moment’s notice, mainly because they are literally living at the factory.

These are labor practices that the United States swept away 100 years ago, but Apple, and companies like them, are taking advantage of those working conditions in China today. And it’s hard to see the US going back to allowing those working conditions here, and even if we did, how does that improve the lives of every day Americans who would be forced to work almost every waking hour in the factory, at the cost of their family and having a life?

The other problem is the supply-chain problem: Apple moved most of their manufacturing overseas because most of the parts used to build their products were already overseas. Many, many years ago, manufacturing hit a sort of critical mass where enough things were made overseas that it became cheaper, just due to the supply-chain, to move assembly plants overseas, closer to where the parts were made, than to keep them in the US. That’s what Apple realized as well. The problem is, how do you bring those plants back?

Even if you could train workers with the requisite skills, and those workers were willing to work in the same conditions as their Chinese counterparts – those plants are already in China, and they have little incentive to move them back to the US. As the article notes, Apple likes where their facility is because it is literally blocks away from the factories producing the parts for their products. Why should they move back to the US and have to ship those parts back here, even if there are the workers here available to do the work?

Finally, if getting government out of the way is the answer, then why is China kicking our ass in this area? One of the things that makes China so attractive is the fact the government is willing to subsidize much of the work. Note the quote in the article where Apple was looking for pieces of scrap glass to do tests on for their new screen. The Chinese were willing to give them the scrap glass for free. If that wouldn’t be derided as government corporate welfare here, I’m not sure what would. On top of that, it’s the Chinese government, not the free market that produces manufacturing plants just like what Apple needs sitting next door to each other, and hundreds of thousands of people that just happen to be trained just for the jobs Apple and other companies need.

Think of it as a marriage of Socialism and Capitalism. United State’s capitalism is using of China’s socialism to provide them with everything they ever wanted or needed – namely cheap and docile labor and huge economies of scale. It’s a marriage made in heaven, at least for companies like Apple. Companies end up getting the best of both worlds while minimizing the problems with both systems. And it’s the workers in both systems that end up paying the price for this marriage.

January 17, 2012 Politifact Truthfulness Ratings

This week we lose two candidates from the ratings as Michelle Bachmann dropped out of the campaign on January 4th and Jon Huntsman dropped out yesterday. So we’re down to 5 GOP candidates and President Obama on the ratings.

If you aren’t aware of how I calculate these, candidates get awarded 2 points for a “true” rating, 1 point for “mostly true,” 1/2 point for “half true,” -1/2 point for “mostly false,” -1 point for “false,” and -2 points for “pants on fire.” I then divide the total points by the number of ratings to get the Truth Average. The higher the score, the better. A negative score basically means a candidate wouldn’t know the truth if it punched them in the face.

So here are the ratings as of January 17th, with the change from the scores from January 3rd in parentheses:

  1. Barack Obama: 0.58 (-0.01)
  2. Ron Paul: 0.37 (-0.04)
  3. Mitt Romney: 0.28 (-0.05)
  4. Rick Santorum: 0.18 (+0.03)
  5. Rick Perry: 0.00 (-0.01)
  6. Newt Gingrich: -0.33 (+0.05)

Obama’s rating changed for the first time since I’ve been tracking this, mainly thanks due to three “half-true” ratings and one “pants on fire” rating in the past 2 weeks (though I somewhat disagree with giving that rating “pants on fire” considering some of the things that have passed as “half-true” there. I may rate it something like “mostly false” since, yes, Perry says Israel probably would end up receiving funding, but he does say that everyone – including Israel – would “start at zero”). In any case, this is only the 5th “pants on fire” rating for Obama, which is fewer than Romney (9), Perry (12), and Gingrich (8). Paul and Santorum only have 2 and 1, but they have about 1/10th and 1/20th the number of ratings than Obama does as well. He’s also more than 2/10ths of a point ahead of anyone else, and more than double’s his likely general election opponent Romney’s score.

Paul’s spectacular drop is still going on, with this score having fallen by half since the fall. Romney hasn’t fared much better, either. Santorum has actually been doing the best, by far, lately, at least as far as Politifact ratings are concerned. With Bachmann leaving the race, Gingrich remains as the only candidate with a score which is underwater.

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