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Donald Trump speaks to media at a press conference before a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., August 19, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty)

Trump wants to tell you about the 'real' unemployment rate

08/21/15 10:11AM

On the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a report on monthly U.S. job totals and the nation's unemployment rate. In the most recent report, the rate was 5.3% -- its lowest point in more than seven years, and far from its peak of 10% in 2009.
In Republican circles, this poses a bit of a problem. President Obama and his agenda are supposed to be causing an economic nightmare of historic proportions, with "job creators" crying over their balance sheets when they're not being dragged into the streets for their ritual tar-and-feathering. With job creation improving so much, so quickly, conservatives find themselves looking for new ways to talk about the issue.
For some, conspiracy theories are a convenient crutch -- that rascally White House, the argument goes, must be manipulating the data to fool everyone -- while other Republicans make the case that there's a difference between the unemployment rate and the real unemployment rate.
Consider GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's comments to Time magazine this week:
"We have a real unemployment rate that's probably 21%. It's not 6. It's not 5.2 and 5.5. Our real unemployment rate -- in fact, I saw a chart the other day, our real unemployment -- because you have ninety million people that aren't working. Ninety-three million to be exact. If you start adding it up, our real unemployment rate is 42%."
Note, over the course of a few seconds, Trump said the "real unemployment rate" doubled from 21% to 42%. That escalated quickly.
We're left with two very different sets of numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Labor Department have official data that shows a rate of 5.3%. On the other hand, Donald Trump "saw a chart the other day" and came up with 42%.
I'd ordinarily just shrug this off as Trump being Trump, but with so many conservatives looking for ways to question good news, it's worth pausing to appreciate what they're trying to say.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks during the National Right to Life convention, July 10, 2015, in New Orleans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/AP)

Can Rubio's biography trump Rubio's agenda?

08/21/15 09:28AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) traveled to Detroit yesterday, where he delivered remarks on his tax plan -- a key component of his presidential campaign. Bloomberg Politics had a good summary of the Florida Republican's pitch:
Rubio's plan slashes the corporate tax rate and scrap taxes on dividends, estates and capital gains. It also creates a $2,500 child tax credit and replace the standard deduction and personal exemption with a refundable personal credit. It's not clear how the plan, co-authored by Senator Mike Lee and released earlier this year, a Utah Republican, would be paid for. Democrats say it would increase the deficit.
When dealing with tax plans from Republican presidential candidates, it's best to think about the proposals in terms of degrees of radicalism. Sen. Rand Paul's approach to tax policy, for example, is ... how do I put this gently ... not normal. The Kentucky Republican has a plan that would effectively dismantle much of the federal government and its operations.
By this standard, Rubio's approach seems almost moderate. It even expands some middle-class tax credits, which helps reinforce the impression that the plan isn't completely stacked in favor of the wealthy.
That said, the rich would make out like bandits under Rubio's vision of tax policy. The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities published an analysis in March of the Rubio/Lee package, which concluded the plan is "outrageously" tilted "in favor of the country's highest-income people." The "big losers" under the plan, the CBPP added, "would be the working-poor people who feed and bathe the elderly, care for preschoolers, clean offices, and perform other essential tasks. The big winners would be the country's highest-income 400 filers, at a cost of much higher deficits."
It may not be quite as radical as what some of his 2016 rivals are recommending, but Rubio's plan is far to the right of anything proposed by George W. Bush, John McCain, or even Mitt Romney.
But as a matter of politics, the far-right Floridian believes he can overcome these details. In fact, by some measures, Rubio seems to think the substance isn't nearly as important as his biography, which as Jon Chait noted yesterday, is apparently supposed to trump policy.
In this July 14, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks during a campaign event in Las Vegas. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Walker struggles to win over his own constituents

08/21/15 08:42AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's Republican presidential campaign isn't quite where it wanted to be at this point in the process. The far-right governor entered the race as a top-tier contender, a credible choice for the GOP nomination, and a clear favorite to win the Iowa caucuses.
But as August nears its end, Walker's standing isn't nearly as strong as many expected and his once-dominant position in Iowa has slipped, thanks largely to a certain New York real-estate developer.
Walker could really use some good news. Yesterday, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, he received the opposite.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker still leads the GOP presidential primary field in his home state, but his job approval level has dipped and he trails Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton in a head-to-head matchup here, a new poll from the Marquette University Law School shows.
So far, Walker's presidential run is proving no gift to his standing at home.
The Marquette poll, generally considered the best source for Wisconsin surveys, is a bit of a disaster for Walker. It shows, for example, the governor's approval rating dipping to 39% less than a year after his successful re-election campaign. He leads the GOP's 2016 field, but only 25% of Wisconsin Republicans -- a group that should arguably represent Walker's ardent base -- choose their own governor as their preferred presidential candidate.
All of which leads us to the gut-punch: in a head-to-head match-up against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, Scott Walker trails by double digits -- 52% to 42% -- in his own state. A PPP poll released in the spring showed Walker trailing Clinton in Wisconsin by nine points, suggesting things aren't getting any better for the governor among the voters who know him best.
As if that weren't quite enough, the Marquette poll shows Jeb Bush more competitive against Clinton -- again, in Wisconsin -- than Walker (Bush only trails by five).
It creates an awkward dynamic for Walker and his national campaign. If a GOP voter asks, "Why should I vote you if you're losing in your own state?" there's no easy answer to the question.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Tom Cotton puts bad information to good use

08/21/15 08:00AM

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) issued a press release yesterday afternoon with a provocative headline, no doubt intended to raise eyebrows: "Cotton Statement on the Revelation that Iran will be Permitted to Inspect its Own Nuclear Facilities." It quoted the far-right freshman saying:
"Allowing Iran to inspect its own nuclear facilities is reckless and illustrates yet again that this deal is little more than a dangerous list of concessions made by the United States.... This revelation should be the last straw for any undecided Members of Congress. [...]
"Entrusting Iran to verify itself turns what is a bad deal into a farcical one. And the only ones laughing are the ayatollahs."
Well, not the only ones. Anyone who read Cotton's press release who's also aware of reality probably got a chuckle, too.
All of this stems from an Associated Press report from Wednesday that, at least initially, claimed Iran had struck a side deal with the IAEA about Iranians inspecting its own nuclear site. The problem is the AP article turned out to include several key errors -- an issue that became even more alarming when key paragraphs went missing from the AP piece without explanation.
Some news consumers may not remember this, but we saw similar dynamics unfold in 2002 and 2003 -- someone would leak misleading information related to national security to major news outlets; the news outlets would publish mistaken reports; and war proponents would exploit those reports to further an ideological cause.
Referencing the AP's flawed report this week, Borzou Daragahi, a reporter based in the Middle East, said the press is "starting dangerous fires."
And in Tom Cotton's case, politicians desperate to derail diplomatic solutions -- and a little too eager to start yet another war in the Middle East -- are only too glad to fan those flames.

Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.20.15

08/20/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Egypt: "A large bomb exploded early Thursday near a national security building in the Shubra neighborhood of Cairo, wounding at least six people including at least one police officer, Egyptian security officials said."
* The Korean Peninsula: "North Korea fired a projectile towards a South Korean loudspeaker that has been blaring anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts -- and South Korea fired back, officials said. Seoul's Defense Ministry said in a statement that the South Korean military responded by firing 'tens' of 155mm artillery rounds."
* Political tumult in Greece: "Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned on Thursday, calling snap elections in his economically embattled nation in a bid to combat dissent within his own party's ranks."
* Missouri: "A black 18-year-old fleeing from officers serving a search warrant at a home in a crime-troubled section of St. Louis was shot and killed Wednesday by police after he pointed a gun at them, the city's police chief said."
* Two brothers from South Boston ambushed and badly beat an older homeless man because he's Hispanic. It's a gut-wrenching story, with an unfortunate political twist: "One of the brothers said he was inspired in part by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump."
* California: "Global warming caused by human emissions has most likely intensified the drought in California by roughly 15 to 20 percent, scientists said Thursday, warning that future dry spells in the state are almost certain to be worse than this one as the world continues to heat up."
* On a related note: "For planet Earth, no other month was as hot as this past July in records that date back to the late 1800s, NOAA says. And the globe is well on its way to having its hottest year on record."
John Kasich

Kasich identifies a new target: teachers' lounges

08/20/15 04:19PM

While watching the race for the Republican nomination, it's quite common to hear some pretty conservative rhetoric about education. Some candidates want to eliminate public schools altogether. One candidate wants teachers to be punched in the face.
But as Politico reported, John Kasich broke unexpected ground yesterday with a whole new area of concern.
While some Republicans have called for abolishing the federal Education Department, Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday set his sights on a smaller target: the teacher's lounge.
As the Ohio Republican explained it, he believes school teachers congregate and, while talking among themselves, express concerns to one another about lost benefits and pay cuts.
And Kasich apparently sees this as a problem -- not the threat of lost benefits and pay cuts, but rather, the fact that teachers have these "negative" conversations, driven by "the unions."
"If I were, not president, if I were king in America, I would abolish all teachers' lounges where they sit together and worry about 'woe is us'," the GOP presidential candidate said.
World powers pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria on July 14, 2015. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Pool/AP)

Hopes slipping away for opponents of Iran deal

08/20/15 12:50PM

If congressional Republicans have any chance at all of derailing the international nuclear agreement with Iran, they're going to need quite a few Democrats -- or more specifically, red-state Democrats who are most inclined to break party ranks.
That strategy is already unraveling. This week, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) of Indiana, one of Congress' most conservative Democrats, announced his support for the diplomatic solution. This morning, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri, widely seen as an on-the-fence member, also backed the deal. The Kansas City Star published the senator's endorsement.
"I've spent weeks digging into the details of this agreement. And I've had extensive conversations with both those countries who are part of the negotiated agreement, and those countries currently holding Iran's sanctioned money.
"It is clear to me that there is no certainty that Iran's resources will be withheld from them if America rejects the agreement. Instead, I believe it likely that the sanctions regime would fray and nothing would be worse than Iran getting an influx of resources without any agreement in place to limit their ability to get a nuclear weapon."
McCaskill is convinced that it is "more dangerous to Israel, America and our allies to walk away in the face of unified world-wide support" for the agreement.
At this point, the arithmetic is hard to ignore. As we've discussed, congressional Republicans, no matter how intense their zeal, cannot kill the policy on their own. GOP lawmakers will need no less than 44 House Democrats and 13 Senate Democrats to partner with far-right members to crush the international agreement.
As of now, the grand total of Senate Dems opposed to the deal is two, while in the House, there are 12 Democrats siding with Republicans.
Are there enough undecided Democrats remaining to possibly tilt the scales in the right's favor? Not really.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.20.15

08/20/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* A new Quinnipiac poll shows Vice President Biden doing about as well as Hillary Clinton against leading Republicans in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
* According to a newly released invitation, Jeb Bush will headline a fundraising event in Texas this fall along with his former president brother and former president father. The "I am my own man" rhetoric from the spring seems almost quaint now.
* Steve Deace, an influential conservative Iowa radio host, announced his support yesterday for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign. "In my view, he's what we've been waiting for," Deace told his audience. "He's an end to the false choice between principles and electability."
* Jeb Bush, campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday, made his most direct criticisms of Donald Trump to date.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Ben Carson is apparently willing to make deadly drone strikes over American soil, targeting undocumented immigrants along the border.
* Hillary Clinton's campaign released a new television ad yesterday, emphasizing her focus on economic inequality. "When you see that you've got CEO's making 300 times what the average worker's making, you know the deck is stacked in favor of those at the top," Clinton says in the spot.
Asa Hutchinson, right, is applauded by his wife Susan and others as early vote totals are announced inLittle Rock, Ark., Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

Arkansas reluctant to give up on Medicaid benefits

08/20/15 11:21AM

When the Affordable Care Act was first approved, the law's Republican critics made a series of predictions about failure and catastrophe. Just about every one of those predictions turned out to be wrong.
But in fairness, there is one thing GOP officials said that turned out to be correct. The right argued -- it was more a fear than a predication -- that once "Obamacare" was in place, and American families and consumers came to rely on the system's benefits, it would be awfully difficult, if not impossible, for Republicans to simply take those benefits away. And five years later, that sounds about right.
In Arkansas, for example, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), soon after taking office earlier this year, had to decide whether to scrap the state's Medicaid-expansion policy. The Republican was vague on the issue during his 2014 campaign, but in January, Hutchinson announced he wanted to see the policy remain in place, at least for a while, to prevent public suffering.
Yesterday, as the Arkansas News reported, the governor suggested he's prepared to make the policy permanent.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday he is open to continuing to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion if the federal government grants the state increased flexibility in shaping its health-care programs.
"As governor, I will accept the continued expansion dollars from the federal government if we can achieve the (Medicaid) waivers that are needed," Hutchinson told a joint meeting of the Health Reform Legislative Task Force and the Governor's Advisory Council on Medicaid Reform.
In fairness, the governor has a whole bunch of ideas about how to make the policy as conservative as possible, but there's no getting around the fact that Hutchinson has no interest in scrapping Arkansas' Medicaid expansion.
"We're a compassionate state. We're not going to leave 220,000 without some recourse, without some access to care," he said.
Exactly. That's the point.