Recovery summer: Give credit where credit is due

This morning’s news reports included really bad poll numbers for Democrats, including a meager 40% who disapprove of the President’s handling of the economy.   Much of the blame goes to the White House’s alleged “Recovery Summer” – and last week’s employment numbers suggest this was a dismal failure.

But is that really fair?  After all, this summer has seen at least a 35-year high in the number of people running for Congress – which means more canvassers, more consultants, more GOTV callers, and more campaign operatives overall.

Who says the current administration hasn’t created jobs?

Sunday Funnies: The next big debate

With the government health care overhaul being made official tonight, the next big thing will be the financial reform bill, as Democrats try to get back on the American peoples’ good side.  How will they do it?  Maybe by creating a giant (and, in many ways, redundant) oversight agency to police the financial markets.  Sure, it speaks to a problem that happened two years ago, but Wall Street is an easy straw man.

Funny or Die does a good job acting as the White House’s comedy video department – they stick to the message and, frankly, produce hilarious videos.  Here, they use the ghosts of Saturday Night Live presidential impersonators past (with Jim Carrey filling in for the late Phil Hartman as Ronald Reagan) to plug the next overreaching government program.

Roll over, Liberty.

Sunday Funnies: Learning economics doesn’t have to suck

The President’s proposed spending freeze has touched off a debate between Keynesian liberals and free marketers over the role – and capabilities – of government spending.  Perhaps you have seen talking heads bickering about these theories, but the best way to articulate this century-old dichotomy of economic theory is, of course, a rap battle:

What does it say about the state of journalism that this actually outlines economic theories better

He should have sung “Tomorrow”

President Obama is calling for a new stimulus package, this one specifically targeted to create jobs.  Though the President is no doubt a gifted orator, one can’t help but feel like the speech to the Brookings Institution was a little familiar… But where have we heard it before?

Of course, this speech comes on the same day that news broke that $6 million of the last stimulus went to PR work coordinated by firms run by Democratic operative Mark Penn.

Maybe the President should have looked at this speech instead:

Quite an enemies list you’re building there…

Ever heard of  It’s an information site for prospective car customers.  As businesses looking for free publicity often do, they decided to publicly discuss something which was already making news, releasing an analysis of the Cash-for-Clunkers program that put the per-car cost to taxpayers at $24,000.

The dignified. measured response from the White House to mild criticism from an obscure consumer site?  A point-by-point analysis of the analysis… under the headline “Busy Covering Car Sales on Mars, Gets It Wrong (Again) on Cash for Clunkers.”

If you’re scoring at home, Fox News is not an officially approved news organization and is where to buy your Mars rover.  And the White House doesn’t take kindly to made-up numbers… well, usually.

MSNBC + HuffPost = … wait, this can’t be right…

Most of what the content on The Huffington Post.  Same for the shows on MSNBC, except for when Keith Olbermann does sports highlights.  But this article on the Hufftington post by MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan is a great summary for why bailouts, stimulus packages, and other forms of what he calls “corporate communism” are bad and shortsighted:

If you allow weak, outdated players to take control of the government and change the rules so they are protected from the natural competition and reward systems that have created so many innovations in our country, you not only steal from the citizens on behalf of the least worthy but you also doom them by trapping the capital that would be used to generate new innovation and, most tangibly in our current situation, jobs.

Lobbying the government on their own dime

The Washington Times’s Amanda Carpenter reports that GM is encouraging its remaining dealers to contact their Members of Congress.  The message: oppose legislation which would re-open dealerships which have closed as part of the bailout.

Obviously, anyone and everyone should have the right to write their Congressman; and in politics, nothing moves unless it’s pushed, so the idea that GM leadership was encouraging  its employees to contact elected leaders makes sense.   But GM isn’t just any big company, it’s a company that owes its current existence to the Obama Administration and an infusion of public money.

The bailout/sale of GM to the government this spring included the administration forcing out longtime CEO Rick Wagoner and replacing him with someone who promised to “learn about cars.” Perhaps it should not be surprising that an Obama-administration-owned GM has proved to be better at lobbying than making cars.

Catching up with John Galt

From CNN this week came news that the capitalism-themed works of Ayn Rand are in high demand.  As politicians on the right form their messages, this is worth paying attention to.

The only Rand book I’ve read is her most famous volume, Atlas Shrugged.  A 1200-page brick of a book, it was nevertheless a page-turner – and despite the set of beliefs and philosophies behind it, it was first and foremost an extremely well-written story.  Rand’s characters are interesting and her plot is compelling.

That’s exactly why big screen rumors have persisted for years – and there’s no time like now.

The genius of Rand’s social commentary is in its separation of the seemingly synonymous concepts of free market capitalism and “big business.”  She skewers lobbyists for large corporations who seek control of the cogs and wheels of government – in other words, she would have no sympathy for the automakers, banks, or other large companies parading, hat in hand, to Capitol Hill.  In Atlas Shrugged, as is the case today, big businesses are often the first to call for government involvement in the economy because they have the resources and influence to frame the policy.

And there couldn’t be a better way to deliver these messages than through compelling entertainment.  Inside-the-Beltway conservative talking heads just aren’t going to get it done.

And that may be the biggest impediment to a silver screen adaptation for Atlas Shrugged.  Despite a riveting and topical story, its core philosophy isn’t exactly in lockstep with the prevailing Hollywood liberalism.  Don’t get me wrong – there won’t be a conspiracy.  But if I’m a liberal studio executive, and all my friends are liberal studio executives, and most of my political conversations are with other liberals, it won’t take much to convince me that the only audience for Atlas Shrugged would be packs of black-clad anarchical-capitalist “Randroids.”

Perhaps a small, independent studio will take a chance on the product despite the paralyzing group think of industry leaders.  Given the story, that may be more appropriate.

EXCLUSIVE: Preview of tonight’s comments on the stimulus

Okay, maybe President Obama won’t shed the Washington Blue Suit Uniform for Matthew Lesko’s “I want to be the Riddler in Batman III” duds. But Mr. “Free Money for Everyone!” has been paying attention to the legislation passed by President, uh, “Free Money for Everyone!” – and he’s already trying to make money off it, as reported by Mitchell Blatt.

(Of course, Lesko doesn’t report that you can get your own stimulus check from the Bank of Obama.)

More interesting to me will be the tone the President takes tonight. Early reports indicate that the speech will be more forward-looking than his steady drumbeat of sour economic predictions that began before his inauguration; some have called on Obama to sound more positive.

(It will also be interesting to note whether “forward-looking” will mean more jabs at the previous administration; my money is on “yes.”)

From its President, the country sure could use some good news. But politics is about managing expectations – so the more dire the current economic situation appears to be, the more credit Obama can take when the economy ticks back upward in a few years – likely just in time for his re-election.

It’s a little like Groundhog Day (the holiday, not the movie): if during tonight’s speech, the President sees a shadow, it means four more years of campaigning-by-governing.

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Lessons from the Calvin Coolidge Snack Bar: Diet Sprite, the Stimulus, and Creating Demand

I took two economics classes at the University of Massachusetts. One was ECON 103, a course in basic macro economics that taught freshman how to draw basic supply and demand curves. It was taught by a professor in a big lecture hall with smaller sections on Friday mornings (which were mercifully taught in classrooms that were just a few hundred yard from my dorm). I slept through most of it, and if it had been the only economics class I took, I might be shrugging my shoulders right now and saying “Stimulus? Sure, why not.”

The second class I took was in a building named, appropriately, after Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge (a staunch supporter of free market economics) when our dorm’s House Council decided to found a snack bar in the 19th floor lounge. I was one of the nerds involved in House Council – a quasi-governmental body which, up to that point, had focused on putting on educational and social programming that no one cared about and no one went to. We decided to put the tax money we had collected to a better, more productive use by launching a social hub for Coolidge residents. It also taught me a great deal about how business works.

We launched simply in Spring 1998, and sent one of our volunteers out to buy the first run of supplies. She came back with one twelve pack of every type of soda she could find – assuming that we needed variety. We learned that demand didn’t call for a wide variety – people were just happy to have a place in the building where they could get soda cheaper than the vending machines. We also learned that no one likes Diet Sprite. To get rid of the supply, I gamely purchased about eleven of the ten cans our supply director bought (so I can personally attest to how horrible it was – seriously, don’t ever buy Diet Sprite).

Essentially, I subsidized the purchase of a product no one wanted. If we had only looked at raw data about which sodas sold quickest for our next supply run, we might have thought Diet Sprite was selling like hot cakes and bought more. Luckily, we were a tight knit group, so I could express my distaste for Diet Sprite. (Have I mentioned it’s sickeningly sweet? Stay away from Diet Sprite.) What I had done is artificially create demand.

Eleven years later, our economy is lagging and President Barack Obama – in a phrase uttered last week that has been retooled for this week’s speeches and press conferences – is blaming lost demand. People are simply not spending money, so the government will start spending for them.

When I created demand, it was 50 cents per can and I spent my own money. But now, with this stimulus plan, we’re all chipping in.

And this is the problem with any government action under the umbrella of a so-called “stimulus package.” Government doesn’t seem to understand the world of business – which is why President Obama can say, with a straight face, that an entity with a trillion dollar operating deficit “is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life.” (Seriously – he actually said that.)

Since government doesn’t understand business, and doesn’t operate by the same rules, how can we expect government activity to turn the business world around? Maybe Obama is wrong to say doing nothing is not an option. Maybe doing nothing – for a change – would be the best option.

In the meantime, I hope you like Diet Sprite; since no one is buying it, we’re going to buy a whole lot more of it.

NOTE: After some cursory research, it appears “Diet Sprite” is the same product as Sprite Zero. You’re warned.

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