Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Springtime for Thomas

Spring is coming, and what is a great way to celebrate spring, than with a good ole fashion Tom and Jerry cartoon. In this case, it is Springtime for Thomas. This 1946 cartoon has Jerry happily ready to be chased by Tom, however Tom is swooning over a cute lady kitty sunny herself by the pool next door. Jerry's evil little devil appears, and provides Jerry with a menage a trios plan on how to break up the romance between Tom and the lady kitty. Springtime is filled with high jinks and disastrous follies. From YouTube:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

RNC Chairman Michael Steele claims gaffes are "all strategic"

I honestly do not know what to say about this latest gaffe by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, except that he claims all the gaffes he has made, ever since he took RNC chairman's job, are all part of a super-secret strategic plan. Of course, this includes the famous bickering between Steele and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, in which Steele apologized to Limbaugh. Here is Steele's quote from an interview with CNN's Don Lemon, via Think Progress:

STEELE: So if I do something, there’s a reason for it. Even, it may look like a mistake, a gaffe. There is a rationale, there’s a logic behind it. […]

Q: There’s a rationale behind Rush, all that stuff?

STEELE: Yup, yup. … I want to see what the landscape looks like. I want to see who yells the loudest. I wanted to know who says they’re with me but really isn’t. … It helps me understand my position on the chess board. It helps me understand, you know, where the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are.

Q: It's all strategic.

STEELE: It’s all strategic.

Here is the video via YouTube:

I'm trying to analyze Steele's quote here, and Steele's logic is beyond me. He claims that by making these gaffes, he is discovering who is friends and enemies are in this great political chessboard, even though the gaffes that he has made has so weakened his position--even to the point of ceding power and leadership of the Republican Party to Rush Limbaugh. It seems like every time Michael Steele opens his mouth, he digs himself into a deeper hole from which he will never get out of. A chessboard strategist, Michael Steele is not. I'm starting to think that Michael Steele couldn't even strategize a tic-tac-toe game. Mikey, if you want a little advice here--keep your mouth shut! This idiotic quote makes you, and the Republican Party, look even pathetic and incompetent in your media-spinning. This is just god awful.

Update: In that same interview, Michael Steele also claimed that "God Will Tell Me If I Should Run For President." From YouTube:

GOP squabbles over creating their own budget

This is a fascinating story from The

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) raised objections to an abbreviated alternative budget "blueprint" released today -- but were told by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) they needed to back the plan, according to several Republican sources.

The argument, coming a week before the full House and Senate are scheduled to vote on the budget, underscores the minority party's woes in a mounting unified opposition to President Obama's $3.6 trillion FY2010 budget proposal.

Ryan, the ranking Republican on the budget committee, plans to introduce a detailed substitute amendment for the Democrats' spending plan next Wednesday -- and still intends to do so.

But he and Cantor were reportedly told by Boehner and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) they needed to move more quickly to counter Democrats' charge they were becoming the "Party of No," according to House GOP staffers.

The 19-page document, prepared by Pence's office, was distributed two days after President Obama criticized Republicans for trashing his detail-crammed 142-page budget outline without producing a credible alternative.

“In his egocentric rush to get on camera, Mike Pence threw the rest of the Conference under the bus, specifically Paul Ryan, whose staff has been working night and day for weeks to develop a substantive budget plan," said a GOP aide heavily involved in budget strategy.

"I hope his camera time was gratifying enough to justify erasing the weeks of hard work by dozens of Republicans to put forth serious ideas," the person added.

So, Representative Paul Ryan was busy creating a detailed Republican budget plan to introduce next Wednesday, but then Ryan's plan was thrown under the bus by House Minority Leader John Boehner and Representative Pence for their own zeal in shifting the Republican Party's image from "Party of No," to a party of...."Screw You?"

This is a huge disaster for the Republican Party.

Ryan was drawing up a detailed budget for the Republicans. The GOP could have presented that budget plan as an alternative to the Obama budget, and we could have had a debate on the details of both plans. That is fine and good for the American people because then they could compare the two budget plans, and the priorities between the two political parties. Instead, Boehner and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence wanted to score some political brownie points against the Obama administration by presenting a cheap PowerPoint presentation as a sad excuse for a Republican budget plan. All because Boehner and Pence are worried about the GOP's image as a "Party of No?" Excuse me, Mr. Boehner, but you have created this GOP "Party of No" after the every House Republican voted against the Obama economic stimulus package. This is a party, where the leadership has been deferred to, not the congressional leaders, or even RNC Chairman Michael Steele, but to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has called for President Barack Obama to fail. This is a party where even the RNC chairman Michael Steele had to apologize to Rush Limbaugh, after Steele made some critical remarks against Limbaugh, calling Limbaugh's rhetoric "incendiary" and "ugly." And it is not just Steele that had to apologize to Limbaugh--Republican congressman Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) apologized to Limbaugh after telling Limbaugh to "back off" from his bombastic rhetoric. The GOP has been creating this image as "The Party of No," since the beginning of this year. And John Boehner thinks that giving a press conference in presenting a non-existent Republican budget will change the GOP's image as a "Party of No" into something else? This after Boehner destroyed a good chance of presenting a real alternative budget, next week, that could have slowly shifted the GOP's image away from this "Party of No?"

How much more stupidity can these Republicans sink into?

Republicans unveil new budget plan--big on spin, but no numbers

I found this story through The Washington Monthly, with the source coming from Talking Points Memo:

Stung by their stereotyping as the "party of no," House Republicans eagerly promoted the unveiling of their alternative to President Obama's budget today -- but when they finished speaking, reporters had one big question: Where's the actual budget? You know, the numbers that show deficit projections and discretionary spending?

There certainly was no hard budgetary data in the attractively designed 18-page packet that the House GOP handed out today, its blue cover emblazoned with an ambitious title: "The Republican Road to Recovery." When Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was asked what his goal for deficit reduction would be -- President Obama aims to halve the nation's spending imbalance within five years -- Boehner responded simply: "To do better [than Obama]."

When pressed further by reporters, Boehner promised that Republicans would release their actual budget within the next few days and pointed a finger back at the president.

After Obama delivered a prime-time speech previewing his budget, Boehner said, "he didn't offer his details until days later."

The lack of any statistical heft in their packet left the House GOP stumbling out of the gate as it worked to re-dub itself as the "party of yes," in the words of No. 3-ranked leader Mike Pence (R-IN). House Republicans unveiled an alternative plan for the foreclosure crisis yesterday, and they are continuing to tout their economic stimulus proposal (along with an erroneous claim that it creates more jobs than Obama's).

You can read the Republican Road to Recovery here.

Let us call this Republican "budget" what it really is--a shiny little marketing gimmick which touts the same, stale, GOP talking points of more tax cuts, oil drilling, and business deregulation. There are no numbers, or even estimates, or even wild-assed guesses as to how much American taxpayer money will the Republicans spend in their own budget, or even where the money will go. Of course, there are lots of numbers in the Republican Road to Recovery on how the congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama's budget will spend us into so much debt like a drunken sailor in a whorehouse. A shiny little marketing brochure, presented by the Republican Party, as a "budget."

Then again, you have to understand what the Republican Party has become--a party bankrupted of any type of ideas or policy issues. This was a party that attempted to push its own extremist ideology down the rest of the country's throat during the eight years of the Bush administration--the Permanent Majority Party! This was a party that trumped ideology over policy, demanded rubber-stamping from its members, and refused to compromise with the Democrats. This was a party that sent this country into a serious economic crisis, a deep recession, created a financial mess, incurred a huge national debt, and has sunk us into two losing wars. And as a result of the GOP's hard shifting to the right, and the terrible economic and foreign policy problems that have occurred because of the conservative extremism, the Republicans were completely stomped in the 2006 and 2008 elections. Now with their ideas overwhelmingly rejected, the GOP has nothing left to present as a policy debate. Instead, the Republicans repackage the same, stale, ideas into new Powerpoint presentations, while giving press conferences to present their same crap under a new coversheet. The Republican Party has traded policy issues for marketing spin, and is hoping that the American public will be ignorant enough not to see through their charade. The GOP has not changed.

They are still the Republican Party of No:

Here is a DailyKos video of Republican Minority Leader John Boehner at a press conference, presenting the Republican Road to Recovery to reporters:

Shantytowns making a comeback

Tents under an overpass in a Fresno rail yard. Homelessness in Fresno has long been fed by the ups and downs in seasonal and subsistence jobs in agriculture, but the recession has cast a wider net and drawn hundreds of newly homeless, from hitchhikers to truck drivers to electricians. Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times.

This is from The New York Times:

FRESNO, Calif. — As the operations manager of an outreach center for the homeless here, Paul Stack is used to seeing people down on their luck. What he had never seen before was people living in tents and lean-tos on the railroad lot across from the center.

“They just popped up about 18 months ago,” Mr. Stack said. “One day it was empty. The next day, there were people living there.”

Like a dozen or so other cities across the nation, Fresno is dealing with an unhappy déjà vu: the arrival of modern-day Hoovervilles, illegal encampments of homeless people that are reminiscent, on a far smaller scale, of Depression-era shantytowns. At his news conference on Tuesday night, President Obama was asked directly about the tent cities and responded by saying that it was “not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours.”

While encampments and street living have always been a part of the landscape in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, these new tent cities have taken root — or grown from smaller enclaves of the homeless as more people lose jobs and housing — in such disparate places as Nashville, Olympia, Wash., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

In Seattle, homeless residents in the city’s 100-person encampment call it Nickelsville, an unflattering reference to the mayor, Greg Nickels. A tent city in Sacramento prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to announce a plan Wednesday to shift the entire 125-person encampment to a nearby fairground. That came after a recent visit by “The Oprah Winfrey Show” set off such a news media stampede that some fed-up homeless people complained of overexposure and said they just wanted to be left alone.

The problem in Fresno is different in that it is both chronic and largely outside the national limelight. Homelessness here has long been fed by the ups and downs in seasonal and subsistence jobs in agriculture, but now the recession has cast a wider net and drawn in hundreds of the newly homeless — from hitchhikers to truck drivers to electricians.

“These are able-bodied folks that did day labor, at minimum wage or better, who were previously able to house themselves based on their income,” said Michael Stoops, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group based in Washington.

The surging number of homeless people in Fresno, a city of 500,000 people, has been a surprise. City officials say they have three major encampments near downtown and smaller settlements along two highways. All told, as many 2,000 people are homeless here, according to Gregory Barfield, the city’s homeless prevention and policy manager, who said that drug use, prostitution and violence were all too common in the encampments.

“That’s all part of that underground economy,” Mr. Barfield said. “It’s what happens when a person is trying to survive.”

He said the city planned to begin “triage” on the encampments in the next several weeks, to determine how many people needed services and permanent housing. “We’re treating it like any other disaster area,” Mr. Barfield said.

Reading this story certainly reminds me of the Hoovervilles during the 1930s Depression-era, although Atrios calls them Bushvilles. I could probably speculate as to why these new shantytowns are popping up--increased unemployment, people losing homes, retirement funds being wiped out, loss of health care, and so on. In reality, Americans are living in a survival mode here. And the shantytowns are the lowest level of survival mode here, where Americans have lost everything and are now living as homeless in tents, or rickety shacks. These new "Bushvilles" are economic disaster areas.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

American households' net worth plummets

This is not surprising, considering how the housing and financial crisis has sent American households' 401K retirement and housing values down significantly. From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The net worth of American households fell by the largest amount in more than a half-century of record keeping during the fourth quarter of last year.

The Federal Reserve said Thursday that household net worth dropped by a record 9 percent from the level in the third quarter.

The decline was the sixth straight quarterly drop in net worth and underscored the battering that families are undergoing in the midst of a steep recession with unemployment surging and the value of their homes and investments plunging.

Net worth represents total assets such as homes and checking accounts minus liabilities like mortgages and credit card debt.

Family net worth had hit an all-time high of $64.36 trillion in the April-June quarter of 2007 but has fallen in every quarter since that time.

The record 9 percent drop in the fourth quarter pushed total net worth down to $51.48 trillion, a level that is 20 percent below the third quarter 2007 peak.

After five straight years of sharp increases in home prices, the housing bubble burst in 2007, sending shockwaves through the financial system as banks were hit with billions of dollars of losses on mortgages and mortgage-backed securities.

It is going to take a very long time for American households to rebuild from these losses--that is, if these households can rebuild.

Chuck Norris wants to become President...of Texas?

Chuck Norris would love to become the next president of Texas.

I found this CNN story via the Washington Monthly:

From CNN's Lauren Kornreich

(CNN) – Actor Chuck Norris has his eyes on the presidency, but not the White House. Norris wrote that he would be interested in becoming the president of Texas, if the state were ever to secede from the Union.

“I may run for president of Texas,” Norris wrote Monday in a column posted at WorldNetDaily. “That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.”

The actor claimed “thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation” and said that if states decide to secede from the union, that Texas would lead the way.

“Anyone who has been around Texas for any length of time knows exactly what we'd do if the going got rough in America,” Norris wrote.

“Let there be no doubt about that.” Norris was a strong supporter of Mike Huckabee’s presidential bid, and he helped to draw attention to the former Arkansas governor’s campaign.

My only analytical comment to Chuck Norris becoming President of Texas is this:

This type of nonsense from Norris brings us back to the Republican Party. Are the Republicans this deranged in wanting Texas to secede from the Union, and make Invasion USA's Chuck Norris its next president? Talk about insanity here.

Then again, maybe that is not such a bad idea after all:

CNBC verses Jon Stewart Part Deux

It appears that the war between CNBC and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart is heating up. Now Mad Money's Jim Cramer and MSNBC's toadie Joe Scarborough want to get into the fight with Jon Stewart, after Stewart ripped CNBC's Rick Santelli. Don't these bobbleheads know that they cannot defeat a genius of satirical comedy as Jon Stewart? I guess not:

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Boehner calls for a government spending freeze

I saw this story on the Rachel Maddow Show, and I'm not sure what to say. Apparently House Minority Leader John Boehner has decided to cope with this nation's 8.1 percent unemployment rate by calling for a government spending freeze:

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, reacted to the rise in unemployment today by calling for a federal government spending freeze.

“Washington Democrats seem more determined than ever to continue pursuing tax hikes and pork-barrel spending increases that are only proving to make matters worse,” said Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement.

“President Obama campaigned against wasteful spending last year and has renewed commitment to fight it now that he is in office. I hope he will follow through on that promise by vetoing this legislation if it passes the Senate and working with House Republicans to enact a spending freeze for the remainder of this fiscal year.”

Boehner is criticizing Senate Democrats as they scramble to find votes to pass a $410 billion spending bill to cover the federal government's expenditures for the rest of the fiscal year. This bill includes "discretionary" spending by around 8 percent, which includes some 8,500 earmarked special projects, worth around $7.7 billion, that have been inserted by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Now here is Rachel talking about Boehner's blunder:

Rachel beautifully sums up the problem with Boehner's spending freeze idea. We have too much supply and not enough demand for goods in this country. The demand side of the economy has come to a halt due to the credit freeze, financial meltdown and the housing crisis. Americans are not buying. And when Americans are not buying, companies cannot keep employees on the payroll, since they can't sell their products. So companies lay off employees--who are also consumers that will cut their own spending on goods, forcing companies to cut payrolls even further of workers, forcing those workers to cut back on their own spending, and the whole mess just continues to snowball into an even bigger pile of crap. There needs to be an interruption in this cycle, and the interruption is the federal government spending. The federal government becomes the demand in hiring American workers for projects, giving American workers the paychecks they need to purchase more stuff--to stimulate the demand side. As Americans purchase more stuff, the supply goes down, causing companies to hire more American workers to produce more supply of goods. However the Republicans want to cut this demand by a spending freeze. "No one but the federal government really has the necessary cash to do a whole lot of buying right now," said Rachel. "In this context, the Republicans are proposing a spending freeze. They are saying the government should stop spending. Also, rather than put your house fire out with water, they are going to switch the liquid in the fire hose to gasoline. Does that seem like a good idea?"

There are days that I wonder if the Republican Party stands for anything, or if they are just opposing the Democrats and President Barack Obama just for spite. This whole idea of a government spending freeze during this severe economic recession is beyond outrageous--almost descending into the realm of incompetent stupidity. The U.S. economy is seriously hurting, and American consumers are broke. So many Americans have lost their jobs, have lost--or are probably losing--their homes, and are struggling to make ends meet. American consumers are not going to pick up spending, and increase demand. Only the federal government has the resources to increase demand and stimulate the economy. And the Republicans want to douse the burning house fire with gasoline.

Of course, this isn't about the U.S. economy here. Again, it is about playing politics. The reason for this Republican spending freeze is to obstruct the $410 billion spending bill because it $31 billion larger than last years bill, and it contains $7.7 billion dollars in earmark spending. Again, the GOP has no policy ideas, except for the same failed tax cut ideas that got us into this mess in the first place under the Bush administration. So the Republicans are latching on to this almost $8 billion in earmark spending, claiming it is too much for the government and are holding up a $410 billion spending bill because of this small earmark spending. It is another example of obstructionism for partisan politics, another example of the GOP's desire to destroy this U.S. economy for their own political gain. It just amazes me.

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Stop! Look! and Hasten!

I haven't done a Road Runner cartoon for a while, so here is the Road Runner, with Wile E. Coyote, in a timeless classic Stop! Look! and Hasten. Watch out for the Burmese Tiger Trap. From YouTube:

Friday, March 06, 2009

Unemployment spikes to 8.1 percent

Graph showing the labor picture in February. From The New York Times.

The job losses continue. From the New York Times:

Another 651,000 jobs disappeared from the American economy in February, the government reported Friday, as the unemployment rate soared to 8.1 percent — its highest level since 1983.

The latest grim scorecard of contraction in the American work place largely destroyed what hopes remained for an economic recovery in the first half of this year, and it added to a growing sense that 2009 is likely a lost cause.

Most economists now assume that the soonest American fortunes can improve is near the end of the year, as the Obama administration’s $787 billion emergency spending program begins to wash through the economy.

Monthly unemployment rate. From MSNBC News.

“The current pace of decline is breathtaking,” said Robert Barbera, chief economist at the research and trading firm ITG. “We are now falling at a near record rate in the postwar period and there’s been no change in the violent downward trajectory.”

Indeed, the monthly snapshot of the national employment picture worsened an already abysmal picture as the government revised upward the number of jobs lost in December and January. The economy has now shed at least 650,000 jobs for three consecutive months, the worst decline in percentage terms over that length of time since 1975.

Since the recession began, the economy has eliminated roughly 4.4 million jobs with more than half of those positions — some 2.6 million — disappearing in the last four months.

The dramatic acceleration has convinced some economists that, far from an ordinary downturn whose ending will see jobs return, the contraction under way reflects a fundamental restructuring of the American economy. In crucial industries — particularly manufacturing, financial services and retail — many companies have opted to abandon whole areas of business.

“These jobs aren’t coming back,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte. “A lot of production either isn’t going to happen at all, or it’s going to happen somewhere other than the United States. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses.”

These jobs aren't coming back! That is scary, when you consider that 4.4 million jobs have been lost since the recession began, with over half of the jobs lost in the last four months. And each of those jobs represents an American consumer, who is cutting back on their spending of goods. Is it no wonder that retailers have been seeing big declines in their sales numbers (Except for Wal-Mart), or that retail profits are plummeting? American consumers do not have money to spend on goods, or have been laid off from their jobs, or are worried that their jobs are in jeopardy. So consumers are cutting back on spending, forcing firms to cut back on production, laying off workers, sending even more consumers to cut back on even more spending. The cycle just keeps repeating itself. Toss in a couple monkey wrenches on subprime mortgages sinking underwater, and declining retirement funds, and the mess just gets even worst.

Consider this interesting detail from MSNBC News:

All told, the number of unemployed people climbed to 12.5 million. In addition, the number of people forced to work part time for "economic reasons" rose by a sharp 787,000 to 8.6 million. That's people who would like to work full time but whose hours were cut back or were unable to find full-time work.

We have 12.5 million unemployed Americans with another 8.6 million working part time for "economic reasons." In other words, these 8.6 million would like to work full time, but are unable to find such work. And I would imagine that the 12.5 million unemployed do not count the number of individuals who have stopped looking for work, or have been dropped by the unemployment rolls.

I don't know what else to say, except that it will probably take more than a year--perhaps two years--to at least stabilize the unemployment picture. There is so many problems that this country faces, with the recession, the financial meltdown, the housing crash, spiraling health care costs, and such. Each problem has an interconnection with the other problems--banks are suffering huge losses due to their gambling with the subprime mortgage investments. Employers are facing increased health care costs in insuring their workers. Americans are cutting back on spending due to increasing interest payments on subprime home mortgages. It is breathtaking in size and scope. The unemployment picture is simply a reflection of how serious these problems are wreaking the U.S. economy. Until these deeper problems are addressed, I do not think you are going to see an improvement in the unemployment picture.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

CNBC verses Jon Stewart

Not only was Stephen Colbert hunkered down in his Doom Bunker, but the Daily Show's Jon Stewart totally rips the CNBC bobble-heads a new one with their own hypocrisy:

Brilliant. Just. Frickin. Brilliant.

The Doom Bunker

This is just too funny. In a parody of Fox News Glenn Beck's The War Room, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert hunkers down in his Doom Bunker:

Time to stock up on the plastic wrap and duck tape!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rove, Miers to testify before House panel on attorney firings

It is about time. From The New York Times:

Updated Karl Rove, the top adviser to former President Bush, and Harriet Miers, a former White House counsel in the previous administration, will give testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in its investigation of the firings of United States attorneys, House leaders announced tonight.

The two will give sworn depositions; the Judiciary Committee reserved the right to ask them to testify in public.

For the moment, the agreement appears to have ended a lengthy standoff between top Bush advisers and Congressional leaders who had tried to compel them to testify under oath. Many of the attorneys’ firings were criticized as political, and the controversy led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Just four days before Mr. Bush left office this year, his most recent White House counsel, Fred Fielding, had advised Mr. Rove that he should continue to resist testifying before Congress. The Bush White House had asserted that Mr. Rove had immunity from having to testify about advice he had given to the president and that these matters were protected under executive privilege.

We will see what happens when Karl Rove sits before the House Judiciary Committee.

Is the Religious Right entering into a leadership vacuum?

I found this Washington Monthly post rather interesting, so I went to the original source story at The Washington Times:

The long-expected resignation of Focus on the Family's James Dobson highlights an open secret among America's roughly 70 million evangelicals: There are no obvious successors to the group of evangelical leaders who created massive organizations or built up media empires in the 1980s and '90s.

Mr. Dobson, 72, who resigned last week as board chairman of one of the country's most influential evangelical organizations, is one of the last of a great generation of evangelical leaders.

Some have died: the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority founder; theologian Carl F.H. Henry; Florida pastor D. James Kennedy; Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright; and Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, who founded L'Abri Fellowship.

Others have either retired or have passed on the bulk of their duties, such as the Rev. Billy Graham, 90; televangelist Pat Robertson, 78; author and activist Tim LaHaye, 83; and Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, 77.

"It's a changing of the guard," said Brian McLaren, 52, cited in 2005 by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.

"There is a possibility the religious right will collapse on itself. Or someone will articulate a new religious center. The evangelical community has been slowly diversifying, and there may not be a center anymore."

For the past 30 years, the Religious Right was able project enormous political power with a combination of presenting a social agenda into the political debate in terms that was favorable to the Religious Right--abortion, gay marriage, intelligent design, and such. The Religious Right also demanded a litmus test concerning those same social issues to also be placed on political officials--either Republicans had to pass the Religious Right's litmus test in order to be elected, or appointed, into office positions. Of course, Democrats would always fail the Religious Right's litmus tests--especially on abortion. This political power came about because individuals like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were able to combine the energy of their foot soldiers with the religious ideology to exert a strong influence within the Republican Party. They got it right on how to mix religion with political power.

That power is now starting to diffuse. First, the old guard of the Religious Right is dying off, with no new replacements to fill the vacuum left behind. Second is that I think that the social issues that have so galvanized the Religious Right are starting to fade in the political debate. The issues of abortion and gay marriage are meaningless in a political debate when Americans are losing jobs and health care. The U.S. economy and the financial crisis were the big issues last November, although gay marriage was a major statewide issue in California with Proposition 8. These social issues can still come back. But for the moment, it is the U.S. economy that is the important issue. Third is this interesting analysis from The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen:

Younger evangelicals are generally less inclined to read from the religious right's hymnal, and anti-gay animus is losing its salience. There's a growing movement among evangelicals to reclaim the mantle and expand the definition of "moral issues" to include things like poverty and global warming.

Younger evangelicals may just be willing to look at such "moral issues," seeking out solutions to poverty and global warming. If this is the case, then what we could be seeing is a diversification of the evangelical movement, as their members seek out their own "moral issues" and causes--be it abortion or global warming. So not only does the Religious Right have a leadership problem, but the movement may also fracture between competing groups. And, of course, all of this is taking place just as the Republican Party is having problems finding their own political voice as they have become a wounded, minority party. A part of the Religious Right will certainly have a serious political influence within the Republican Party. But now we have a leaderless Religious Right movement exerting political influence with a disarrayed Republican Party.

In other words, the blind leading the blind.

NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll shows Obama job approval ratings at an all-time high

Here are some interesting poll numbers from MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - After Barack Obama's first six weeks as president, the American public's attitudes about the two political parties couldn't be more different, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds.

Despite the country's struggling economy and vocal opposition to some of his policies, President Obama's favorability rating is at an all-time high. Two-thirds feel hopeful about his leadership and six in 10 approve of the job he's doing in the White House.

"What is amazing here is how much political capital Obama has spent in the first six weeks," said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "And against that, he stands at the end of this six weeks with as much or more capital in the bank."

It is not surprising that the American people are giving President Obama such high poll numbers. This economic recession started with the previous Bush administration, and the Obama team has been magnificent in placing the blame for the recession on former President George W. Bush. It is brilliant use of the president's bully pulpit, and the American people are giving President Obama a pass on this recession, as they wait to see the details on the president's domestic policies for getting this country out of the economic malaise.

The poll numbers for the Republican Party, however, are not so bright:

By comparison, the Republican Party — which resisted Obama's recently passed stimulus plan and has criticized the spending in his budget — finds its favorability at an all-time low. It also receives most of the blame for the current partisanship in Washington and trails the Democrats by nearly 30 percentage points on the question of which party could best lead the nation out of recession.

The poll numbers here are really reflecting the partisan bickering that took place during the debate on the economic stimulus package. President Obama attempted to reach a bipartisan compromise on the economic stimulus package, met with Republican congressional leaders, and the Republicans snubbed him over the stimulus vote. That is the drama that is being played out from Washington, and it is the drama that the American people perceive. The president appears composed, confident, and bipartisan, while the Republians are reduced to a partisan, bickering, obstructionist group.

But there is more to the story here. According to the NBC/WSJ poll, 68 percent of Americans give a favorable opinion to the president, including 47 percent rating President Obama as "very positive." In addition, 67 percent say that they are more hopeful about his leadership and 60 percent approve of President Obama's job in the White House. Yet the poll numbers show that Americans are not as confident with President Obama's policies, when compared to his popularity--54 percent say that President Obama has the right policies for the country. With the economic stimulus plan so big and complex, Americans may not fully understand the details of the plan and are a little wary of the plan's success. In fact, 57 percent of Americans support President Obama's economic stimulus plan, while 34 percent oppose it.

As for the direction that the country is heading into, 41 percent feel that the country is heading into the right direction--up from 26 percent in January. Americans are feeling a little more optimistic about President Obama's actions during his first month in the White House. They are supportive of the Obama administration's policies--the stimulus plan, the closing of Gitmo, the withdrawal plan of American troops from Iraq. But there is also a wait-and-see attitude with the public here. The American people are willing to give President Obama a "long leash" over whether his policies will help the country:

These high marks for Obama come at a time when Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the economy. Only seven percent say they're satisfied about the state of the economy, which is an all-time low in the poll. What's more, a whopping 76 percent believe the economy still has a ways to go before it hits rock bottom.

Obama, Hart says, "has done a Herculean job in raising the spirits and mood of the American public against what is an economic tsunami."

According to the poll, part of the reason why Obama's numbers remain high despite these economic concerns is that the public doesn't blame the president for the current state of the economy. Eighty-four percent say this is an economy Obama inherited, and two-thirds of those people think he has at least a year before he's responsible for it.

"That's a long leash," McInturff says. "It normally doesn't last that long. But believe me, that's a good place to start."

Yet McInturff cautions that while these numbers suggest a patient public, "Americans are notoriously impatient people."

This is a key point. I'd say that the American people are willing to give President Obama a year to implement his policies, and to see the results of policies effect on the country. They accept that President Obama inherited an economic recession. They are willing to give some time for President Obama to change the direction of the country. But if change doesn't come to a positive effect, then President Obama's poll numbers will start to drop.

This is where the Republican Party comes in. Right now, the Republicans are polling some very bad numbers:

Just 26 percent view the Republican Party positively, which is an all-time low for the party. That's compared with 49 percent who have a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

In addition, a combined 56 percent say the previous Bush administration deserved "almost all" of the blame or a "major part" of the blame for the partisanship in Washington, and a combined 41 percent say the same of congressional Republicans.

By contrast, only 24 percent say that of congressional Democrats and just 11 percent say that of the Obama administration.

Also, the public overwhelmingly believes the GOP's opposition to Obama's policies and programs is based on politics: 56 percent say they're trying to gain political advantage, versus 30 percent who say they're standing up for their principles.

Finally, Americans don't seem to have confidence in the Republican Party when it comes to the economy. By a 48-20 percent margin, they think the Democratic Party would do a better job of getting the country out of the recession.

Republicans, Hart argues, "have been tone deaf to the results of the 2008 election... They never heard the message. They continue to preach the old-time religion."

McInturff, the GOP pollster, agrees. "These are difficult and problematic numbers."

The Republicans are certainly positioning themselves as an opposition party against everything that the Obama administration is proposing. They certainly want President Obama to fail, and are hoping that if the president's economic policies do not succeed in jump-starting the economy, then Americans will take another look at the Republicans and how they stood for their core principles. The Republicans were decimated in the 2006 midterm elections, and the 2008 presidential elections. They lost control of both Congress and the White House. The in-fighting we're seeing in the GOP between conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and RNC chairman Michael Steel is really a power struggle for control of the hard-line conservatives--the 26 percent who still view the Republicans as favorably. This is the start of the rebuilding process for the GOP.

But the Republicans do not have much time for their rebuilding process. At this point, they are playing the obstructionist game to appease their hard-line conservative followers. But they are going to need to reach out to the moderates and independents that have voted Barack Obama and the Democrats into power. Reaching out to moderates and independents will mean that the GOP will have to present new ideas and new political policies that represent real change that the American people have voted for. Unfortunately, the Republicans are still presenting the same, stale policies and ideas for the past eight years of the former Bush administration. We probably have a year before Americans start demanding results of President Obama's economic policies. The Republicans have about a year before they will have to shift their attention away from the hard-core conservatives, and start courting the moderate and independent voters for the upcoming 2010 midterm elections. They are going to need to present political solutions to complex economic problems this nation is facing--depending of whether President Obama's policies really do fail to bring the U.S. economy out of the recession. So there is not much time for the GOP here.

Time to wait and see.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Auto sales down in February

I've been a little busy the past week with other things, so blogging has been a little light. I have found an interesting New York Times story showing that auto sales are still in the dumpster. I'm not surprised. With the credit market being frozen, Americans are still worried about the fate of their jobs, they are not going out to purchase new cars. So the automakers are suffering. From The New York Times:

DETROIT — New vehicle sales in the United States still have not hit the bottom of the freefall that began in late 2007, and results being released Tuesday showed a considerable decline in February after the market appeared to be stabilizing, despite some of the biggest discounts ever offered.

The three largest automakers, including Toyota, each said their sales declined at least 40 percent from February 2008.

Sales were down 53 percent at General Motors, 48 percent at the Ford Motor Company and 40 percent at Toyota.

Honda reported a 38 percent drop, while Nissan said its sales fell 37 percent.

“The February numbers are clearly a step down from where we’d been running the last four months,” said Michael C. DiGiovanni, G.M.’s chief sales analyst. “It’s unsettling to our business. These are obviously unsustainable levels which are causing almost every auto manufacturer across the world to look for government aid.”

G.M., of course, has gotten $13.4 billion from the federal government to help it avoid seeking bankruptcy protection, while Chrysler, which will report its sales later Tuesday, has received $4 billion.

Over all, sales were down about 42 percent on a year-over-year basis, G.M. and Ford estimated. In recent months, sales have been at the lowest level since the early 1980s.

G.M. and Ford both said they expected their second-quarter production to be at least a third lower than the same period in 2008.

Ford’s senior United States economist, Emily Kolinski Morris, said February’s decline was disappointing given that sales had been relatively flat on a month-to-month basis since October.

Auto sales will continue to stay flat, until we get a combination of some type of job growth, a thawing of the credit market, and a reformation of this housing mess we're currently in. The NY Times story reports that consumers are trying to save money by purchasing used cars, rather than buying new. "In February, 27 percent of people who visited a dealership intending to buy a new car instead bought a used one, up from 16 percent in recent months, according to" These consumers have been hurt by the recession, with sinking home values and 401K retirement accounts. They are not going to purchase a new car that will lose 20-30 percent of its value the moment they drive off the lot. And the dealerships know that. According to the NY Times story, "Discounts on Chrysler and Dodge brand models amounted to about 20 percent of their sticker prices, the highest ever recorded." The dealers are begging for consumers to buy their cars. And yet, with the recessionary problems, the tight credit market, and consumer worries on housing, retirement and jobs, the incentives are not working.