A friend who works as a very very high-level consultant writes:
One of the things my shop does is create forecasting models for clients—major firms like [BIG RETAILER] and [BIG FOOD PRODUCER]—you know, people who have to lay out big money on big decisions. We are a consumer of the data produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the sense that we use it as raw material in models. For example, we use periodic U-1, U-2, etc as predictors of forward sales.
Now imagine me, telling [BIG RETAILER] to load up several millions in extra inventory in anticipation of a sales spike in three weeks because BLS says 873,000 people got jobs last month. They would laugh me out of the room before canceling our contract.
If you think there was skepticism about these numbers in the press, you should’ve heard it at my office this morning. We are treating September numbers as an aberration, as, I am sure, is anyone who has to make an actual decision off them.
If the people who have to predict what consumer spending patterns will be like this month don’t believe the numbers, with tens of millions of dollars in sales on the line, why should the rest of us?
Even the self-proclaimed “fact-checkers” in the media can’t save President Obama from his dismal debate performance on Wednesday, but they gave it a try yesterday. Critics pounced on Mitt Romney’s claim that Obamacare would give an unelected board (known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board) decision-making power over what treatments patients can receive. According to the fact-checkers, this assertion was a blatant lie because, well, the Obama administration told them so.
Actually, the way the board will work isn’t clear-cut at this point, contrary to the reassuring promises of the Obama administration and “gotcha!” cries from fact-checkers. Megan McArdle knocks down the argument (read the whole thing) at the Daily Beast today:
Something seemed awfully funny about the jobs numbers this morning and it seems I’m not the only one by a long shot who thought so. Ace of Spades for one. RDQ Economics for another. Suitably Flip for a third. The Weekly Standard for a fourth, which reported that Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, on CNBC this morning, was asked flat out if the numbers had been cooked. (Needless to say, she vigorously denied it.)
The problem is that the monthly jobs report is two separate, unintegrated reports: the payroll survey and the household survey. The latter is traditionally more volatile. The payroll survey reported the 114,000 more jobs, the household survey said total employment increased by 873,000. Both can’t be right; 873,000 would be the biggest monthly job growth in decades. Indeed, it was last reached in 1983 as the economy was rebounding sharply from the recession of 1981-82 and growing at an awesome 9.3 percent on an annual basis. The economy is growing at 1.3 percent this year.
The latest feeler from Iran about negotiating an end to their nuclear standoff with the West appears to have been slapped away rather quickly by the Obama administration. That’s a hopeful sign for those who have worried that a desperate desire to back away from the confrontation would lead Washington to buy into any deal, no matter how bad it might be. The Iranian offer would have required the West to drop the existing sanctions against the country in exchange for minimal concessions that would have allowed Tehran to restart its nuclear push at the drop of a hat. But having fended off Israeli calls for establishing red lines about Iran with such trouble, such an act of craven appeasement from the president isn’t in the cards. At least not in the foreseeable future, that is.
Though they can have few illusions about getting even the most tractable Western negotiators to accept such a bad bargain, the Iranians should be even more confident than ever that the U.S. is uninterested in joining or even condoning an Israeli military strike to take out their nuclear facilities. That’s because the demonstrations this week in Tehran over the collapse of the rial may have had the unintended effect of encouraging both Americans and Israelis to believe that the sanctions are not only working but could conceivably force the Iranian government to give up their nuclear goal or even force a change in regime. Even though such scenarios are far-fetched at best, they may serve to reinforce the Obama administration’s reluctance to go beyond the existing plan. Thus, rather than helping to topple the Islamist regime or even to weaken its nuclear resolve, the demonstrations may actually wind up helping the ayatollahs achieve their nuclear ambition.
When Mitt Romney made his infamous remark about Russia being our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” his inartful sound bite ended up drowning out what he said next, which was an important—and much more nuanced—point. Romney noted that it has begun to matter less how dangerous we perceive nations like Iran or North Korea to be if we can’t take collective diplomatic action and put concerted pressure on them. To do that, we would need to build coalitions at multilateral organizations–something made virtually impossible by Russia’s Security Council veto and their de facto veto over NATO action they don’t like.
While this may not make Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” it does severely hamper exactly the kind of international cooperation that the Obama administration claims to prefer over (the usually straw-man) unilateral action. Put more simply: sanctions can’t prevent war if they don’t exist. I was initially puzzled by the Obama administration’s relentless mockery of Romney’s point, since he was basically defending the Obama administration’s method of international relations. But then it became clear: President Obama has no intention of using multilateral organizations to advance his foreign policy either. And so we led from behind–which means “followed”—France in Libya, a modest intervention that has been something close to a complete disaster, as we have seen in the events since—and the administration’s cover-up of those events. And now the New York Times reports from Turkey:
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made no secret of his religious and, frankly, sectarian agenda. “We will raise a religious generation,” he told parliament. With the military under Erdoğan’s boot—one-in-five Turkish generals are now imprisoned for offenses emanating from Erdoğan’s fevered imagination—the prime minister is now pushing a transformative social agenda even harder.
Last month, Hürriyet Daily News reported that the government was forcing students seeking vocational education to instead enroll in religious academies. Adding insult to injury is the fact that many of the students forced to enter the schools which are, in effect, Sunni indoctrination centers are members of the Alevi religious minority. Just as Pakistani Islamists, for example, target the Ahmadi sect, so too does NATO member Turkey now target its Alevis.
I’ve been off-the-grid in South Carolina for a few days, so I missed this when it originally came out:
For weeks, a manifesto complaining about Iran’s stumbling economy circulated in secret among factories and workshops. Organizers asked for signatures and the pages began to fill up. In the end, some 10,000 names were attached to the petition addressed to Iran’s labor minister in one of the most wide-reaching public outcries over the state of the country’s economy… The rare protest document — described to The Associated Press this week by labor activists and others — suggests growing anxiety among Iran’s vast and potentially powerful working class….
One of the biggest missed opportunities of the George W. Bush administration—thanks in large part to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her policy planning staff—was the decision to ignore the rise of independent trade unions in Iran. Mansour Osanlou’s organization of the Vahid company’s bus drivers in 2005 really was Iran’s Lech Walesa-Gdansk-Solidarity moment. Obama’s team has been little better when it comes to organized labor in places like Iran, remaining silent as the regime’s crackdown accelerates. The Europeans are little better: I’ve had many a meeting with European social democrats and Green Party activists who perform intellectual somersaults to explain why they should not support Iranian workers struggling for the basic rights American workers have for decades, if not more than a century, taken for granted.
This is Obama-bundler Harvey Weinstein’s made-for-TV film about the Osama bin Laden raid, not to be confused with the much-hyped Kathryn Bigelow movie on the same subject (that one is supposed to come out at the end of the year). Weinstein’s film will air on National Geographic Channel on November 4, which many have pointed out is a pretty coincidental date:
A film dramatizing the death of Osama bin Laden is set to debut next month on the National Geographic Channel, two days before the presidential election.
“Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden,” from The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, will air Sunday, Nov. 4, the channel said Thursday. President Barack Obama faces Republican challenger Mitt Romney at the polls two days later.
Weinstein co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign, which has touted bin Laden’s death as an example of the president’s leadership.
President Obama’s supporters have been consoling themselves in the aftermath of his disastrous performance at the presidential debate in Denver by repeating over and over again that debates don’t really matter. If that didn’t work, they would say that the verdict of the people would differ from that of the pundits, although the unanimous opinion of even the left-wing crew at MSNBC and the wishy-washy liberal/establishment types on CNN should have worried them more than anything that was said on Fox News. But today we received the first answers to the question of whether public opinion will be altered to any degree by the debate, and the answers are not what Democrats wanted to hear.
The poll of likely voters in three key swing states taken yesterday by We Ask America shows a remarkable swing in favor of Mitt Romney. Previous surveys by this firm as well as virtually every other pollster in Florida, Virginia and Ohio had shown Obama holding on to a firm lead. But according to the latest numbers, Romney has forged ahead in all three states. The Republican leads Obama by a margin of 49-46 percent in Florida, 48-45 percent in Virginia and 47-46 percent in Ohio. All three results are significant and very good news for the Republicans, but none more so than that in Ohio. Romney’s rebound after a tough few weeks in which his leads in Florida and Virginia had been turned into deficits is clear. Obama’s growing strength in Ohio had been moving it from a swing state to one that was starting to be considered to be firmly in the president’s column. Romney’s post-debate bounce has put it back into play on Real Clear Politics’ Electoral College map.
The confusing but mildly promising jobs report today—stats say an anemic 114,000 jobs were created, but the “household survey” says 873,000 more people found work this month than last—has inspired a back-and-forth frenzy since its announcement at 8:30 this morning. The political question it raises is how much good it will do Barack Obama, reeling from his awful debate performance on Wednesday night.
Two answers suggest themselves. First, it can’t hurt, but it probably won’t help; a really bad jobs report in September did little harm, so there’s scant reason to believe an OK one will turn around his suddenly declining fortunes. Second, the political problem for the president is not the tragedy of life for the unemployed, though it is the most painful fact about the lingering economic malaise. The political problem is the condition of the employed.
We can be thankful that most Obama administration officials have finally abandoned their silly notion that an inane and bigoted film was responsible for the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the well-coordinated assault on several American embassies and consulates. The attacks were premeditated and motivated more by ideology than by grievance.
Perhaps it’s time the Pentagon accept that the same holds true with “Green on Blue” violence or “insider attacks,” in the new Pentagon parlance. (As an aside, it’s always a bad sign when the Pentagon spends more time fighting over what to call American enemies than to defeating them; the amount of time spent during the Iraq war arguing about whether the insurgents were “insurgents,” “anti-Iraqi forces,” “terrorists,” or “jihadists” was downright silly).
Parliamentary democracy makes for strange alliances, and nowhere is this truer than Israel. Minor parties hold disproportionate sway, and the fragmentation of party politics means that even the largest parties rarely even get halfway to the number of Knesset seats they need to form a governing coalition. The other hard and fast rule of Israeli politics is that is that careers are never over; unlikely comebacks are a staple of the country’s political sphere, and often happen more quickly than expected.
But just how quickly Israeli politicians can return from the brink will seemingly be tested this winter en masse in a political experiment that sounds more like the pitch for an Israeli reality TV show than electoral strategy. Arutz Sheva is reporting that Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, and Yair Lapid are strongly considering joining forces now that early Knesset elections appear likely—probably some time in February. Olmert was found guilty on one count in the corruption case against him just last month; Livni lost her Kadima party primary in the spring and resigned from the Knesset five months ago; and Lapid, a former journalist, looked ready to make a serious play for the Knesset in April until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a coalition deal (that promptly fell apart) with Kadima in May. All three were written off—at least for the time being.
I have a feeling more of these types of exchanges will come to light now that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has taken on the case and whistle blowers are stepping up. Jake Tapper reports on an internal State Department email that shows officials rejecting a request for a DC-3 airplane from the Libyan embassy security team in May:
ABC News has obtained an internal State Department email from May 3, 2012, indicating that the State Department denied a request from the security team at the Embassy of Libya to retain a DC-3 airplane in the country to better conduct their duties.
Copied on the email was U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in a terrorist attack on the diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11, 2012, along with three other Americans. That attack has prompted questions about whether the diplomatic personnel in that country were provided with adequate security support.
Desmond Tutu, the outspoken South African Nobel laureate, has long lent his voice to the most virulent criticism of Israel and its policies. Many of the fiercest critics of Israel, however, bend over backwards to deny any animosity toward Jews. Indeed, they could claim they’ve even supped with Noam Chomsky before.
Tutu, however, seems to have let his animosity toward Israel sully him and tarnish the Nobel Prize he wields as a symbol of supposed moral authority. He is a long-time endorser of the Free Gaza movement, the organization which brought us the Gaza “flotilla” and any number of other protests and marches. Greta Berlin, the American co-founder of Free Gaza, recently tweeted, “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Free Gaza has also, according to the Jerusalem Post, claimed that the Jews supported Hitler.
It is telling that our expectations are so low these days that the latest dismal jobs report issued by the U.S. Labor Department is being viewed with some relief. It noted that the economy had added 114,000 jobs in September. That is, we are told, not so bad because that is around the figure most economists projected, even though it is below the total that is generally considered the number needed to account for normal population growth. The drop in the unemployment rate to the lowest point in the Obama presidency should not deceive us, because it is clear that many people have simply given up looking for work during what is the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. Though President Obama may choose to highlight the 24th straight month with job growth since the end of the recession he inherited from his predecessor, with 12.1 million Americans still unemployed, a drop in the number of manufacturing jobs and temporary employment, we may be closer to the next Great Recession than to genuine recovery.
This is hardly the sort of situation that would normally bode well for the re-election of any incumbent president. Yet since President Obama’s poll numbers went up rather than down after an even worse report last month, it would be foolish to assume these discoursing numbers will hurt him. Earlier this week, I referred to Obama as the real Teflon president, since neither the recent revelation about his past use of racial incitement nor the security screw up in Libya (and the subsequent lies about it from the White House) or even a bad economy seemed to be enough to dent his standing in the polls. Yet all it takes to burst a balloon is one sharp jab. After the president’s awful performance in the debate with Mitt Romney on Wednesday, it could be that Americans will start to view the president’s litany of disasters with less equanimity than before.
The situation in Afghanistan is quickly deteriorating, as President Obama has confirmed that U.S. troops will depart “on schedule.” The loss of the Afghan war dates back to December 1, 2009 when President Obama announced a timeline for withdrawal. Telegraphing to enemies how long they must last before you throw in the towel is never wise. The logic that planting firm deadlines would force Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his cronies to take responsibility for the war shows the arrogance of Obama’s Afghanistan team. After all, Afghanistan is not a petulant child, and there are other players in the sandbox beyond the United States and Afghanistan. Afghans are survivors, and all Obama accomplished was convincing them that it was time to pivot away from NATO and into the welcoming hands of Pakistan, Iran, or the Taliban.
Obama should have known better. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a similar mistake when he announced ahead of time, for purely political reasons, a withdrawal date to end Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon. Rather than end Hezbollah’s pretext for war, he simply enabled the terrorist group to expand its claims into the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov, if not the Galilee. What Barak saw as an honorable end to a war turned into a “Mission Accomplished” moment that empowered Hezbollah and led directly to renewed military conflict there just six years later.
The number of jobs increased an anemic 114,000 (with the numbers for both July and August revised upwards). The labor force participation rate barely ticked up, from 63.5 percent to 63.6. That’s still a dismal number. Long-term unemployment (over 27 weeks) edged up to 40.1 percent of the unemployed.
This year has seen an average job growth of 143,000 per month. In 2011 it was 153,000. But the number that will be in the headlines is 7.8 percent.
Yesterday, at the urging of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group which consistently lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and its nuclear program, several congressmen sent a letter to President Obama urging him to extend a sanctions waiver issued after last August’s deadly earthquake allowing Americans to send humanitarian assistance to Iran.
The congressmen may be well-meaning, but the call to extend the sanctions waiver is wrong-headed. Charities in Iran are seldom charitable. Take the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee, for example. While the group may brag about its efforts to provide medical care, blankets, and food support to the poor, charity is not its primary goal. Indeed, just two years ago, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the group’s Lebanon branches as complicit in Hezbollah terrorism.