Politics: National Security

Gates: Can’t Hold Pakistan Accountable if They Didn’t Know About bin Laden

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May 18, 2011, 10:04 a.m.

Ari­zona Re­pub­lic en­dorsed Gov. Jan Brew­er (R). “No, Jan Brew­er is not the most ar­tic­u­late gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate. But she is a savvy, de­term­ined stu­dent of Ari­zona polit­ics who has faced down hard times, both per­son­ally and polit­ic­ally. … She is the right per­son for the job now” (10/11).

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

It’s ON

Fed­er­al Dis­trict Court judge Susan Bolton ruled 10/8 the Nat’l Im­mig­ra­tion Law Cen­ter’s law­suit “seek­ing to over­turn” AZ’s im­mig­ra­tion law “could go for­ward, des­pite ef­forts by” Brew­er “and sev­er­al sher­iffs to have the suit thrown out.” But Bolton “dis­missed some por­tions of the suit” in­clud­ing the NILC’s “claim that the law would re­strict im­mig­rants’ rights to travel and to use a for­eign lan­guage” (Lacey, New York Times, 10/8).

You’re The Best, No You Are

Ex-AL tire plant su­per­visor Lilly Led­bet­ter en­dorsed AG Terry God­dard (D) “dur­ing an event billed as ‘Wo­men for God­dard.’”

Led­bet­ter: “I know how far the state here is get­ting be­hind. It’s so crit­ic­al we ex­er­cise our vote and get the cor­rect people in of­fice.”

God­dard: “We are sin­gu­larly honored by your pres­ence and what you ac­com­plished. It has been my priv­ilege in my life to be as­so­ci­ated with some very power­ful and sig­ni­fic­ant wo­men. And it’s made a great dif­fer­ence to me, start­ing with my Mom” (New­ton, Ari­zona Re­pub­lic, 10/8).

She’s A Lady

Crit­ics say God­dard wife Mon­ica God­dard “plays too large a role in her hus­band’s cam­paign, … but the wo­man her­self says she doesn’t pay too much at­ten­tion to the cri­ti­cism, and that she in­volves her­self in his sched­ule to help him main­tain a work-life bal­ance.”

M. God­dard: “It was hurt­ful to have some­body say that. But my main de­cision-mak­ing in the cam­paign … has been just try­ing to fig­ure out the sched­ule so that we see Terry a reas­on­able amount of time, so we know what’s hap­pen­ing, and let­ting me do whatever I can to help.”

M. God­dard “said she has strong feel­ings about is­sues af­fect­ing chil­dren and edu­ca­tion, and likes to of­fer her in­put.”

M. God­dard: “I don’t get to make the de­cisions. But I do weigh in. And I do it with the cam­paign rather than the can­did­ate, be­cause I know how dis­rupt­ive that can be” (Ari­zona Re­pub­lic, 10/10).

When Mark Twain pop­ular­ized the fam­ous line at­trib­uted to Brit­ish Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Dis­raeli about lies com­ing in three vari­et­ies, “lies, damned lies, and stat­ist­ics,” a lot of people prob­ably as­sumed that they were both think­ing about polit­ics and/or eco­nom­ics. But even people try­ing their best to ex­am­ine an is­sue or situ­ation ob­ject­ively can in­ter­pret the same num­bers dif­fer­ently, put­ting dif­fer­ing weights on dif­fer­ing factors.

Re­cent eco­nom­ic data are open to sub­stan­tial in­ter­pret­a­tion — the up­wardly re­vised 3 per­cent in­crease in gross do­mest­ic product, for ex­ample, and the un­em­ploy­ment rate, drop­ping in five of the last six months and re­main­ing steady at 8.3 per­cent in Feb­ru­ary. Yes, the eco­nomy grew by 3 per­cent in the fourth quarter of last year. But al­most two-thirds (1.9 per­cent) of that growth was cre­ated by busi­nesses re­plen­ish­ing and build­ing in­vent­or­ies, something un­likely to hap­pen this quarter. Un­usu­ally mild weath­er may also be a factor. Stat­ist­ics are ad­jus­ted sea­son­ally, but a mild winter can “bring for­ward” some eco­nom­ic activ­ity, steal­ing from the next quarter. Though the un­em­ploy­ment num­bers have been good, the labor-par­ti­cip­a­tion rate has dropped. Few­er people 16 or older are work­ing or act­ively seek­ing jobs. Since Decem­ber 2007, the per­cent­age look­ing for work dropped from 66 to 63.7. Wells Fargo Se­cur­it­ies eco­nom­ics unit re­por­ted on March 6 that the rate is the “low­est since 1983 when wo­men were still in­creas­ing in their par­ti­cip­a­tion in the work­force.” The Wells Fargo re­port con­tin­ued: “If the cur­rent labor-force par­ti­cip­a­tion rate was equal to the av­er­age dur­ing the pre­vi­ous busi­ness cycle — 66.1 per­cent — the un­em­ploy­ment rate would cur­rently stand at 11.6 per­cent. This sug­gests that the of­fi­cial un­em­ploy­ment rate does not fully cap­ture the sever­ity of job­less­ness in this cycle.”

The eco­nomy is get­ting bet­ter, but re­cent im­prove­ments may not be quite as im­press­ive upon closer ex­am­in­a­tion. Cut­backs in spend­ing and em­ploy­ment by loc­al, state, and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments pro­duced eco­nom­ic head­winds. Rising oil and gas­ol­ine prices, and the European debt crisis and re­ces­sion, por­tend plenty of dark clouds on the ho­ri­zon.

The con­sensus of the 55 top eco­nom­ists sur­veyed this month by Blue Chip Eco­nom­ic In­dic­at­ors pro­jects the eco­nomy to grow at 2.1 per­cent this quarter. It is ex­pec­ted to rise 2.2 per­cent in the second quarter and 2.4 per­cent in the third quarter, lead­ing in­to the elec­tion. These are not hor­rible levels of growth, but they are very tep­id. The fore­cast is for un­em­ploy­ment to re­main at 8.3 per­cent for both the first and second quar­ters. It should im­prove by one-tenth of a per­cent­age point to 8.2 per­cent for the third quarter. That is cer­tainly bet­ter for Pres­id­ent Obama than most of last year’s 9 per­cent was, but it isn’t likely to come down much this year.

Some say that the dir­ec­tion is more im­port­ant than the level; when un­em­ploy­ment is rising, people who have jobs fear that they or those close to them may lose theirs. When the job­less level drops, people feel re­lief and are more up­beat. A re­l­at­ively stat­ic and el­ev­ated level means that anxi­ety re­mains con­stant. In short, if the eco­nom­ists’ con­sensus is right, anxi­ety levels may re­main about the same.

Cit­ig­roup’s To­bi­as Levkovich re­cently wrote, “One thing to watch care­fully is the price of en­ergy and spe­cific­ally oil and gas­ol­ine prices.” Citi’s chief U.S. equity strategist ad­ded that “gas­ol­ine prices his­tor­ic­ally have provided a roughly six-month lead on con­sumer con­fid­ence and the re­cent up­tick does not bode well for the sum­mer months, with some sug­gest­ing per-gal­lon prices could go above $4.00.”

Fri­day’s un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures are cer­tainly open to vari­ous in­ter­pret­a­tions. Vir­tu­ally all agree that the eco­nomy is look­ing bet­ter. How much bet­ter? Just how mean­ing­ful are the num­bers that show im­prove­ment? This is sub­ject to widely dif­fer­ing in­ter­pret­a­tions. But this isn’t just aca­dem­ic quib­bling; the tra­ject­ory of the U.S. eco­nomy is the most im­port­ant single factor in wheth­er Obama is reelec­ted. If the eco­nomy isn’t turn­ing around, it will be a cudgel that Re­pub­lic­ans will use to beat Obama, as well as any Demo­crat who comes with­in reach. If the eco­nomy is turn­ing around in a mean­ing­ful way, Re­pub­lic­ans have to fig­ure out what their “Plan B” will be: How do they beat Obama (and Demo­crats) on oth­er is­sues?

Un­der­stand­ably, much of the at­ten­tion to Fri­day’s re­ports fo­cused on the 227,000 new jobs cre­ated in Feb­ru­ary and on the up­ward re­vi­sions to the Decem­ber and Janu­ary num­bers. Some­what less fo­cus was on the job­less rate, which had dropped for five straight months be­fore lev­el­ing off in Feb­ru­ary. Put­ting aside that the un­em­ploy­ment rate is de­rived from sep­ar­ate sur­veys of es­tab­lish­ments and house­holds, which tends to make it a bit er­rat­ic, it still is the single-most-watched eco­nom­ic num­ber. But eco­nom­ists are also watch­ing care­fully something else: the labor-par­ti­cip­a­tion rate.

In short, things are im­prov­ing, but maybe not as much as people be­lieve.

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