Wednesday, December 09, 2009

New Hampshire's turn for an Independent?

Looking to both the East and West of the Granite State, there have been a series of successful state-wide Independent candidates. As far back as 1975, Mainers elected their first Independent Governor, James B. Longley. Longley, a center-left Democrat on social issues, left the Democratic Party over fiscal issues. Running as a fiscally-conservative and socially progressive Independent, he struck a chord with more Mainers than either the Republicans or Democrats, and left as his mark a reorganization of the University system. From 1995 to 2003, Mainers again elected an Independent, Angus King, with an eclectic philosophical record but who was perceived as very strong on educational issues, a recurrent issue in Maine politics.

To the West, Vermont sent Jim Jeffords to the U. S. Senate as a Republican three times. But in 2001, Jeffords switched to Independent, and the catalyst was Republican opposition to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Jeffords would strongly represent a civil libertarian position, opposing the ban on gays in the military and the FCC Decency Act (which would eventually be struck down by the Supreme Court), and opposing background checks at gun shows, the flag desecration amendment, and the use of military force in Iraq. On Economic issues, he supported the Balanced Budget Amendment and Free Trade agreements.

To the south of New Hampshire, Independent candidates are polling ahead of Democrats and Republicans in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Ex-Democrat Tim Cahill is running strongly in Massachusetts, with - surprise, surprise - a socially moderate and fiscally conservative approach. In Rhode Island, ex-Senator Lincoln Chaffee, who was targeted by the conservative wing of the GOP, is positioned as a pragmatic independent who is not as 'mean' as the shrill Republican base, but more fiscally responsible than the chaotic Democratic-lead statehouse. And of course in Connecticut, Independent Joe Lieberman felt ostracized by liberal Democrats, and has almost single-handedly prevented a new socialized health program from leaving the Senate.

One must ask: what traits do all of these Independent victories have in common?

First, Fiscal irresponsibility among Democrats.
Second, capture of the Republican Party by an extreme and shrill right wing.
Third, voter rejection of both (1) and (2) above, and falling party identification.
Fourth, Independent candidates who support fiscal responsibility; social tolerance and civil liberties; and who have strong pro-Education platforms.

Which brings us to New Hampshire, and the 2010 Gubernatorial election.

Governor John Lynch's record of fee & tax increases, free-wheeling spending, and fiscal incompetence will go down in history as legendary. Not in recent history has this state seen such deceitful budgeting, nor so many tax and fee increases. Combined with the national Obama juggernaut of staggering deficits and spending, a growing number of Americans from "the middle" - where elections are won - are pushing back against the Democrats irresponsibility.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party will not necessarily benefit from this anger. The Bush years convinced an entire generation of Americans that Republicans, too, stand for big government and big spending. Worse, the histrionics of right-wing media idols like Glenn Beck have painted the GOP as a party of the lunatic fringe.

NH GOP contender Karen Testerman represents the fringe that the public rejects: a co-founder of the Christianist "Cornerstone Policy Research," in 2003 she compared gays and lesbians to "shoplifters and drug addicts," and told the Nashua Telegraph that she would have to "prayerfully assess" her role in the Republican primary. In the second least 'evangelical' state in the union (Vermont being first), Testerman represents everything that most independents and moderate - and many former Republican voters fear most: a religious fringe candidate who will see the Office of Education and the Office of Health and Human Services as a personal crusade to impose theological opinion.

With the Democrats in disarray over the financial meltdown for which they and they alone are responsible, and the Republicans insisting on pandering to a shrill far-right base, New Hampshire and its swelling ranks of Independent voters may well be poised to elect an Independent who represents fiscal sanity, social tolerance, and a strong commitment to both Jobs and Education.

Now...who's stepping up to the plate?

Friday, December 04, 2009

"Good" news on the Unemployment Front? Not even close...

One of the most frustrating aspects of our modern culture is the superficial, misunderstood, and unquestioned reporting of economics statistics by the mainstream media. As an Economics teacher, I am constantly asking my students to 'dig deeper' and uncover the real data under the cliche-ridden news reports, and today was no exception.

This morning the media hailed the apparent reduction in the unemployment rate from 10.2% to 10%. Accepting those figures at face value, headlines all over the web and on the television excitedly asked, "Have we turned the Corner?!"

Much to their chagrin, the answer is a non-negotiable NO.

Here are the facts behind that supposed 'reduction' in Unemployment (all facts easily ascertainable from the report itself, if they would read further than the equivalent of a tweet...)

1) The number of Americans out of work long-term - 27 weeks or more actually ROSE to 5.9 million, the highest number since 1948. Only the very short-term jobless rate (less than 14 weeks) decreased, and that due largely to temporary seasonal retail hires.

2)Of those who found employment, 55% found employment in Temp Hiring Agencies. In other words, these are temporary positions. It does not reflect a new confidence on the part of business calling back workers or expanding; rather it reflects the continued fear that businesses have and their reluctance to hire. Worse, it means that these newly-Temp-hired workers are almost unanimously worse off than they were in their previous jobs, because few (if any) Temp agencies offer benefits such as health insurance or sick days, and they certainly do not offer any long-term job security or comparable wages.

3)The current rate excludes the 9.2 million workers who, threatened with the loss of their home, shut-off of utilities, or lack of basic food and fuel, took jobs at lower paying rates using less-efficient skillsets than they they had before. As soon as someone takes a job - even a part-time, poorly-paying job - they no longer count in the unemployment rate. When these people are added into the rate, however, the total amount of Unemployment plus "Under"employment now exceeds 17% of the American workforce, the highest on record. [note: this statistic was not kept during the Great Depression, which was admittedly worse. That's hardly a consolation, though...]

4)Much has been made by liberals in the past that the poorest families are single-parent headed families headed by women. These same liberals should look at the demographic breakdown of the current unemployment rate, because the numbers border on frightening: In Female Head of Household families - already one of the poorest per-capita groups in America - the unemployment rate has increased to 11.4%.

The only thing to note in this report is the abject failure of both Fiscal Policy and Federal Reserve operations in relieving the current economic meltdown.