September 19, 2010

Marc Ambinder: ‘Media Is Going to Help the Democratic Party’s National Messaging’

width=In a September 15 post-primary item at the Atlantic (“An Epic End to the Primaries: What It Means”), politics editor Marc Ambinder presented seven “different ways to look at the primaries of September 14, 2010.”

His final item reads as follows (bold is mine):

7. The media is going to help the Democratic Party’s national messaging, which is that the GOP is a party full of Christine O’Donnells, a party that wants to take away your Social Security and your right to masturbate. Well, maybe not that last part, but then again, the implicit message of the party is that the GOP is about to elect a slate of hard social rightists to Congress.

The bolded text is an obvious point to anyone with even the most rudimentary powers of observation, but it’s a pretty interesting admission nonetheless. That’s especially true because Ambinder is a bona fide member of the media. Indeed, he’s a self-admitted Journolist member who despite (or perhaps because) of that involvement has a specific assignment involving covering this fall’s elections.

On August 27, CBS announced its 2010 campaign coverage team. Marc Ambinder is on that team (HT Media Bistro):

Chief Political Consultant Marc Ambinder and Political Analyst and Contributor John Dickerson will join a veteran group led by CBS EVENING NEWS Anchor and Managing Editor Katie Couric that includes Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer, Senior Political Correspondent Jeff Greenfield and Correspondents Wyatt Andrews, Sharyl Attkisson, Jan Crawford, Nancy Cordes, Byron Pitts, Bill Plante, Chip Reid, Dean Reynolds and Political Analyst Dan Bartlett. Anthony Mason will once again help break down and analyze election night results for CBS’s viewers.

“This already is one of the most-anticipated midterm elections in a generation, and CBS News is adding exceptional talent to offer our audiences comprehensive coverage in a complex and exciting political environment,” said McManus. “Complementing the award-winning tradition of CBS News with the latest technology, our remarkable team will completely cover all aspects of this pivotal election season.”

Other items in Ambinder’s seven-pointer at the Atlantic give further clues as to where he stands:

3. I understand why some Republicans are trying to point out that Democrats are “crazy” too by noting how they re-nominated Rep. Charles Rangel in NY 15 and kicked out reformist mayor Adrian Fenty in Washington. That dog won’t hunt.

6. Expect an uptick in Democratic enthusiasm and expect several significant races to tighten. People tend to make judgments through the lens of the last major event. If Democrats interpret last night to mean that radical Republicans are threatening to take control, they’re going to be more receptive to the basic party message.

Of course Ambinder’s entitled to his opinions, but facts on the ground appear to be contradicting them:

  • As to his Point 3, the voters in Rangel’s district may or may not be crazy, but at least you can say that 49% of those who cast ballots voted for someone else. If you want evidence of Democratic “craziness,” how about the fact that Rangel got “endorsements and phone calls to voters” from former president Bill Clinton and pretend-Independent Mike Bloomberg?
  • As to Point 6, maybe an enthusiasm uptick is on the way, but it’s missing so far. Two separate items from the Associated Press, which would surely jump on any hint of the real thing happening, demonstrate that it’s not here yet. The AP’s Mark S. Smith, in a report on President Obama’s Saturday speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, specifically cited “polls showing his party facing a wide ‘enthusiasm gap’ with the GOP,” and pollsters’ warnings “that blacks are among the key Democratic groups who right now seem unlikely to turn out in large numbers in November.” In a Sunday morning submission, the AP’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis noted that “in dozens of competitive districts … enthusiasm for the president is at a low; even some of his strongest backers aren’t motivated to go to the polls.”

As if anyone needed further reinforcement, here is a passage from a year-ago post by Jeff Poor at NewsBusters addressing Ambinder’s opinion of Sarah Palin’s qualifications to express an opinion about ObamaCare’s “comparative effectiveness” regime (which was actually enshrined into law as part of the February 2009 stimulus bill nobody read), aka “Death Panels,” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

One left-leaning pundit has questioned if Palin was qualified to interject herself into the debate. Marc Ambinder wrote on the Atlantic Web site on Sept. 8 (that) the media shouldn’t take her Journal op-ed seriously because she doesn’t have the policy “chops” to take on this issue.

“Palin has policy credibility problems. Big ones,” Ambinder wrote. “A few op-eds aren’t going to help her. But if the media treats her as as [sic] a legitimate and influential voice today, she won’t need to do the hard work that will result in her learning more about policy and actually becoming conversant in the issues that she, as a potential presidential candidate, will deal with.”

However, the argument could made that Palin, with a baby with Down Syndrome, does have real-life expertise dealing with the American health care system. And her position as governor of Alaska makes her qualified to give insight into the bureaucratization of any part of the public sector, despite Ambinder’s calls to dismiss her as a serious voice in the health care debate.

That was a great final point by Jeff. Apparently in Ambinder’s world, personal experience with medical challenges and dealing with the medical care delivery system don’t count. Ah, but serving in policy roles that lead to ghoulish ideas like Zeke the Bleak Emanuel’s “complete lives system,” whose priorities for allocating care include “youngest-first, prognosis, save the most lives, lottery, and instrumental value” (i.e., a death panels regime) — that’s great stuff.

Ambinder is indeed correct in his assertion that “The media is going to help the Democratic Party’s national messaging.” It appears pretty likely that he’ll be serving as a willing provider of such assistance, and that his ability to deliver objective commentary as a CBS “Chief Political Consultant” is highly suspect.

The presence of folks like Ambinder at CBS goes a long way towards explaining why it seems likely that most viewers will be getting their election news somewhere else during the next seven weeks.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

The Teen Workplace Disengagement Epidemic

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:50 pm

In July, far more than half weren’t even trying to find work.

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Note: This column was published at Pajamas Media and teased here at BizzyBlog on Friday.

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Probably because it came out on the same day as the monthly Employment Situation Report — not to mention that it was also published on the Friday before a holiday weekend – an “Editor’s Desk” item at Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Labor Statistics entitled “Youth employment and unemployment in July 2010″ got very little attention. It deserved plenty.

The report led with this paragraph:

In July, the employment-population ratio for youth—the proportion of the 16- to 24-year-old civilian noninstitutional population that was employed—was 48.9 percent. This was the lowest July rate on record for the series, which began in 1948. (The month of July typically is the summertime peak in youth employment.)

It’s the first time this ratio has come in below 50%. In the late 1980s, it was almost 70%. This column will concentrate on the lower portion (ages 16-19) of the 16-24 age bracket.

One would expect the employment-population ratio for those in the age 16-19 cohort to be lower, and it is; but you might be surprised by how much. The July 2010 ratio for this subgroup (not seasonally adjusted) was 31.3%. That is also a low since records have been kept, and represents the fourth consecutive year with a record-breaking low. In July 2006, the analogous percentage was 44.9%. From 1948 until 2002, it was only rarely below 50%. The ratio (rounded) reached 60% for a couple of years in the late 1970s and late 1980s.

What in the world is going on here?

One obvious current factor is that those teens who are looking for work aren’t finding it thanks to the economy. Not only have millions of jobs disappeared during the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) economy, but adults (legal citizens and, in many states, illegal immigrants) are also competing for and taking many of the entry-level and even summer jobs that still exist. The July 2010 unemployment rate for teens (again, not seasonally adjusted) was 26.5%, setting a since-1948 July record for the second year in a row, crushing the 24.8% rate in July 2009 (this economy is breaking records all over the place, isn’t it?). Before 2009, no July ever had a teen unemployment rate higher than 22.1%

Perhaps surprisingly, though, it’s not as much a matter of unemployment as it is of disengagement, as this graphic comparing July 1989, the last near-peak July for the teen employment-population ratio, to July 2010:

TeenLaborForceStatsJuly1989and2010

The graphic demonstrates that even if the teen unemployment rate were the same as it was in 1989, the employment-population ratio would get back only 5.2 of the 28.3 points by which it has declined in the past two-plus decades. The obvious comparatives that stick out are the increases of over 5.3 million in the number of teens not in the labor force (9.680 million compared to 4.321 million), and the near doubling of their percentage of the teen population (57.4% vs. 30.4%). Fairly close to six out of every ten teens weren’t even trying to find work in July.

Perhaps it’s a matter of discouragement, as in wanting to work but not actively looking for it because one “knows” there are no jobs out there. To a degree, yes, but not as much as you might think. I looked at July 2006, when the overall unemployment rate in a strong economy was 5%. With roughly the same population as 2010, there were still almost 7.8 million teens not in the labor force. On a population-adjusted basis, that’s well over 2.5 million higher than 1989.

This means, good economy or bad, millions of teens have consciously chose not to try to enter the workforce. Why?

Though it’s hard to pin down their relative importance, I believe that at least the following factors are at play:

  • More demanding high school activities, including sports and music — These have increasing encroached on summertime to the point where many teens could only work for a few weeks at most even if they wanted to.
  • Overprotective parents who don’t want to expose their little darlings to the harsh, cruel world of work — With many teens, if you don’t push, it won’t happen. In many cases, no one’s pushing.
  • Illegal immigration — Why would an employer hire a high school kid with an unproven work ethic when cheap, reliable help is otherwise available? Besides making it harder for teens who are looking for work, other teens don’t bother because they know they won’t get anywhere.
  • Minimum-wage laws — These have caused employers to think twice about taking on summertime and inexperienced help. University professors William Even and David McPherson recently contended that federal minimum wage hikes of the past few years have been responsible for 114,000 fewer teen jobs. I think that’s an underestimate, because minimum-wage hikes also influence decisions to even to try to find work. If you think it’s highly unlikely that any employer out there will pay you $7.25 an hour, or if your friends testing the job market aren’t having success, you probably won’t start looking.
  • Substantial penalties against working teens in college aid calculations — The higher a college-bound or college-attending teen’s earnings (and assets in their name), the higher a family’s Expected Family Contribution will be. This means, all other things being equal, that less financial aid will be available.
  • A plethora of distractions which make it much easier to waste vast amounts of time accomplishing absolutely nothing while still not getting really bored — Video games, fantasy sports leagues, and the like would certainly fit into this category.
  • Unpreparedness for work — This has to do with basic literacy, the ability to follow simple instructions, decorum, and attitude, all of which I have recently been told by several different employers continue to deteriorate, even among those who attend supposedly “good” schools.

Whatever the reasons, on balance I don’t see how increased teen disengagement can be viewed as a favorable development.

At the risk of boring readers with a “When I was young” riff, I’ll note that I got my first summer job at age 16 washing dishes for 48 hours a week at the minimum wage of $1.60 an hour. It was rough, to say the least, but I took two very important things away from the experience: a) a healthy respect for those who do such jobs all year long (while not necessarily wanting to engage in such work for the rest of my life), and b) an appreciation of how difficult it is to keep a business operation working.

How, or even when, will disengaged teens, especially those who eventually move directly into so-called “professional” careers out of school, ever learn or appreciate these lessons?

Author: ‘Great Leap Forward’ Death Toll Was 45 Million; Nick Kristof in 2005: Mao ‘Not All Bad’

MaoA UK Independent item about an unreleased book by historian Frank Dikötter made me think about New York Times columnist NIcholas Kristof. Readers will see why shortly.

Amazon says that Dikötter’s “Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962″ will be released on September 28. The Independent’s Arifa Akbar relays Dikötter’s core conclusion that “At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years.” This is a significantly higher number than the highest previous estimate of Jung Chang, who asserted in her 2005 book, “Mao: The Unknown Story,” that “38 million people were starved and slave-driven to death in 1958-61.” The seven million extra deaths would move Chang’s 2005 total of “more than 70 million” into the neighborhood of 80 million, padding Mao’s lead over Stalin and Hitler as the worst mass murderer in human history.

The Independent’s Akbar also writes that “Mr. Dikötter is the only author to have delved into the Chinese archives since they were reopened four years ago.” If true, this reflects a startling lack of curiosity.

I hope Nick Kristof is just a little curious, and will peruse what Mr. Dikötter has documented when it becomes available. Perhaps it will move him to reach conclusions a bit different from those he reached when he reviewed Chang’s book in October 2005 (bolds are mine):

Finally, there is Mao’s place in history. I agree that Mao was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Mao’s legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. [1] The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea.[2] Indeed, Mao’s entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world’s new economic dragon.[3]

Perhaps the best comparison is with Qinshihuang, the first Qin emperor, who 2,200 years ago unified China, built much of the Great Wall, standardized weights and measures and created a common currency and legal system – but burned books and buried scholars alive. The Qin emperor was as savage and at times as insane as Mao – but his success in integrating and strengthening China laid the groundwork for the next dynasty, the Han, one of the golden eras of Chinese civilization. In the same way, I think, Mao’s ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book – and yet there’s more to the story: Mao also helped lay the groundwork for the rebirth and rise of China after five centuries of slumber.

Just a few notes about Kristof’s assertions:

  • [1] – According to the Independent’s Akbar, Dikötter writes that “a third of all homes in China were destroyed to produce fertiliser and when the nation descended into famine and starvation.” This is “land reform”?
  • [2] – Thanks to China’s one-child policy, 30-40 million more girls than boys have been aborted. And Nick Kristof has the gall to favorably comment on the status of women in China?
  • [3] – Kristof’s highly debatable assertion that “Mao’s entire assault … made it easier” is one of the most horrific “end justifies the means” statements I’ve ever read.

I noted when I posted on Kristof’s 2005 review (“Nicholas Kristof and Mao: He Just, Can’t, Let, Go”) shortly after its appearance that he spent an “inordinate amount of time” quibbling with Chang’s body count. I had forgotten until I went back to the review about just how determined he was to tamp down Chang’s estimate:

Take the great famine from 1958 to 1961. The authors declare that “close to 38 million people died,” and in a footnote they cite a Chinese population analysis of mortality figures in those years. Well, maybe. But there have been many expert estimates in scholarly books and journals of the death toll, ranging widely, and in reality no one really knows for sure – and certainly the mortality data are too crude to inspire confidence. The most meticulous estimates by demographers who have researched the famine toll are mostly lower than this book’s: Judith Banister estimated 30 million; Basil Ashton also came up with 30 million; and Xizhe Peng suggested about 23 million. Simply plucking a high-end estimate out of an article and embracing it as the one true estimate worries me; if that is stretched, then what else is?

Now that Frank Dikötter, based on new, extensive information that was not available to Chang, has come up with an even higher death toll, perhaps Nick Kristof will rethink his skepticism about the Great Leap Forward’s death toll.

It would be nice to think that Kristof might also reconsider his outrageous defense of Mao’s “legacy,” or that former White House Communications person Anita Dunn might decide that Mao isn’t one of her “favorite political philosophers.” Don’t count on either.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: Despite struggles of age, elderly are a ‘blessing for society,’ Pope declares

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 9:19 am

From London:

Sep 18, 2010 / 01:07 pm

The Holy Father visited a home for the elderly in London’s Vauxhall area on Saturday afternoon. In his remarks, Pope Benedict referred to the growing population of elderly in the world as “a blessing for society.” He said that their care should be more a “repayment of a debt of gratitude” than a mere “act of generosity.”

He met with individuals both in the institution’s chapel and the theater. Lauding the Church’s work in respecting and caring for the elderly, he told his audience of residents and caretakers that blessings are bestowed on those who keep the commandment to “honor your father and mother.”

“God wills a proper respect for the dignity and worth, the health and well-being of the elderly and, through her charitable institutions in Britain and beyond, the Church seeks to fulfill the Lord’s command to respect life, regardless of age or circumstances,” he stated.

He spoke of life as “a unique gift from conception until natural death” and said that “it is God’s alone to give and to take.”

These words are a strong witness in the U.K., where the legalization of euthanasia has significant support. …

Go here for the rest of the story.