Mr. Blow says “Don’t Mess With Big Bird,” and that when Mitt Romney threatened PBS and “Sesame Street” in the presidential debate, he insulted a national treasure. Mr. Nocera has a question in “Jobs Report: Cooked or Correct?” He says the latest government employment report, a month from Election Day, created quite a stir. Ms. Collins , in “Of Hooters, Zombies and Senators,” says this is truly an election year to remember. Aside from Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, attention must be paid to the races for U.S. Senate. Here’s Mr. Blow:
Mitt Romney’s Big Bird swipe during Wednesday’s debate raised some hackles: PBS’s, many on social media and mine.
Romney told the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer:
“I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”
Those are fighting words.
Social media, and others, exploded in Big Bird’s defense.
PBS itself issued a tersely worded statement on Thursday, saying:
“Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation. We think it is important to set the record straight and let the facts speak for themselves.”
Exactly! What they said!
Big Bird is the man. He’s 8 feet tall. He can sing and roller skate and ride a unicycle and dance. Can you do that, Mr. Romney? I’m not talking about your fox trot away from the facts. I’m talking about real dancing.
Since 1969, Big Bird has been the king of the block on “Sesame Street.” When I was a child, he and his friends taught me the alphabet and the colors and how to do simple math.
Do you know how to do simple math, Mr. Romney? Maybe you and the Countess Von Backward could exchange numbers.
Big Bird and his friends also showed me what it meant to resolve conflicts with kindness and accept people’s differences and look out for the less fortunate. Do you know anything about looking out for the less fortunate, Mr. Romney? Or do you think they’re all grouches scrounging around in trash cans?
I know that you told Fox News this week that you were “completely wrong” for making that now infamous 47 percent comment, but probably only after you realized that it was a drag on your poll numbers. Your initial response was to defend it as “inelegantly stated” but essentially correct. That’s not good, sir. Character matters. Big Bird wouldn’t have played it that way. Do you really believe that Pennsylvania Avenue is that far away from Sesame Street? It shouldn’t be.
Let me make it simple for you, Mr. Romney. I’m down with Big Bird. You pick on him, you answer to me.
And, for me, it’s bigger than Big Bird. It’s almost impossible to overstate how instrumental PBS has been in my development and instruction.
We were poor. My mother couldn’t afford day care, and I didn’t go to preschool. My great-uncle took care of me all day. I could watch one hour of television: PBS.
When I was preparing for college and took the ACT, there were harder reading passages toward the back of the test. Many had scientific themes — themes we hadn’t covered at my tiny high school in my rural town. But I could follow the passages’ meanings because I had watched innumerable nature shows on PBS.
I never went to art or design school. In college, I was an English major before switching to mass communications. Still, I went on to become the design director of The New York Times and the art director of National Geographic magazine.
That was, in part, because I had a natural gift for it (thanks mom and dad and whatever gods there may be), but it’s also because I spent endless hours watching art programs on PBS. (Bob Ross, with his awesome Afro, snow-capped mountains and “magic white,” will live on forever in my memory.)
I don’t really expect Mitt Romney to understand the value of something like PBS to people, like me, who grew up in poor, rural areas and went to small schools. These are places with no museums or preschools or after-school educational programs. There wasn’t money for travel or to pay tutors.
I honestly don’t know where I would be in the world without PBS.
As PBS pointed out:
“Over the course of a year, 91 percent of all U.S. television households tune in to their local PBS station. In fact, our service is watched by 81 percent of all children between the ages of 2-8. Each day, the American public receives an enduring and daily return on investment that is heard, seen, read and experienced in public media broadcasts, apps, podcasts and online — all for the cost of about $1.35 per person per year.”
PBS is a national treasure, and Big Bird is our golden — um, whatever kind of bird he is.
I’m sure that Mittens can do away with the deficit that Republicans have the vapors over unless they’re in power by cutting the $444 million in funding that PBS gets. After all, they’ve been gunning for PBS for about 30 years now… Here’s Mr. Nocera:
“Unbelievable job numbers,” tweeted Jack Welch, the iconic former boss of General Electric on Friday morning, moments after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its September jobs figures. “These Chicago guys will do anything,” he continued. “Can’t debate so change numbers.”
The jobs numbers, unquestionably, gave a boost to the Obama campaign, still reeling from the president’s poor debate performance. While the bureau’s survey of businesses showed a ho-hum rise of 114,000 in nonfarm employment, the unemployment rate had somehow dropped from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent, far exceeding expectations. Thus, a month before the election, and for the first time in Obama’s presidency, unemployment was under 8 percent.
Welch smelled conspiracy. And he wasn’t alone. “Total data manipulation,” tweeted a writer at Zerohedge, a financial news blog. “Such a farce.” Fox News spent much of Friday morning piling on.
It’s worth pointing out that the last time anyone accused the Bureau of Labor Statistics of being politically motivated was when Richard Nixon did so in 1971. Upset that the bureau was releasing figures showing higher unemployment during his re-election campaign, he asked his hatchet man, Charles Colson, to investigate the bureau’s top officials, including its chief, Julius Shiskin.
So Point No. 1: the idea that a handful of career bureaucrats, their jobs secure no matter who is in the White House, would manipulate the unemployment data to help President Obama, is ludicrous. Jack Welch knows it, too; when I called him Friday afternoon, he quickly backpedaled. “I’m not accusing anybody of anything,” he protested. But he went on to add that everything he’s seen suggests that the economy remains in the doldrums, and it just didn’t seem possible that the unemployment rate could have dropped so drastically, and so quickly.
Hence, Point No. 2: there is, indeed, something a little strange about the way the country derives its employment statistics. It turns out that the statistics the bureau releases each month are generated by two different reports. One, called the establishment report, is a survey of businesses. That’s where the 114,000 additional jobs comes from.
The second is a survey of 55,000 households, where people are asked about their employment status. Extrapolating from the survey, the bureau concluded that an additional 873,000 people had found work in September. It is that number that brought the unemployment rate from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent.
When I asked a bureau spokeswoman why there was such divergence between the two numbers, she said she had no idea. “The reports are totally separate,” she said.
When I put the same question to economists, they shrugged. Maybe it was because an additional 582,000 Americans were working part time, which doesn’t show up in payroll statistics. Maybe it was because of increased government employment. For some unexplained reason, there is always an uptick in September. (“Maybe it has something to do with going back to school,” said Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics, who quickly added, “I’m just guessing here.”) In any case, it wasn’t anything economists hadn’t seen before. Sometimes the two surveys delink, though over the long term they tend to reinforce each other. In the short term, however, the household survey is considered the more volatile — and less reliable — of the two numbers.
Which leads to Point No. 3: there is something truly absurd about having the presidential race hinge on the unemployment rate. Even putting aside the reliability of the short-term numbers, the harsh reality is that no president has much control over the economy. That is especially true of President Obama, whose every effort to boost the economy these past two years has been stymied by Republicans. Again and again, they have shown that they would rather see the country suffer than do anything that might help Obama’s re-election.
There is rough justice in the way things are playing out. Having spent the last year wrongly blaming the president for high unemployment, Republicans can only stand by helplessly as the unemployment rate goes down at the worst possible moment for them. Fox News scoured the data Friday, looking for signs that the economy wasn’t improving. They found some: high unemployment for African-Americans, for instance, and fewer manufacturing jobs.
But the data were largely overwhelmed by positive signals. In its revised figures for July and August, for instance, the bureau said that more jobs had been created than it originally estimated. People with only high school degrees were finding jobs. The number of people who had been out of work for six months or more was at its lowest point in three years.
Whether the Republicans like it or not, the economy is slowing getting better.
Awful, isn’t it?
Well, it sure seems to be a burr under the Republicans’ saddles… Here’s Ms. Collins:
Today, let’s take a look at debates that do not involve Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. You can thank me later.
I am talking about the races for the United States Senate, people. Attention must be paid! And, as a reward, we can also discuss a new campaign ad featuring zombies.
There are 33 Senate contests this year, although voters in some of the states may not have noticed there’s anything going on. In Texas, for instance, Paul Sadler, a Democrat, has had a tough time getting any attention in his battle against the Tea Party fan favorite Ted Cruz. Except, perhaps, when he called Cruz a “troll” in their first debate.
In Utah, Scott Howell, a Democrat, has been arguing that if the 78-year-old Senator Orrin Hatch wins, he might “die before his term is through.” Suggesting a longtime incumbent is over the hill is a venerable election technique, but you really are supposed to be a little more delicate about it. Howell also proposed having 29 debates. The fact that Hatch agreed to only two was, he claimed, proof of the senator’s fading stamina.
Nobody in Massachusetts could have missed the fact that there’s a Senate race going on. In their last debate, Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren sounded like two angry squirrels trapped in a small closet. A high point came when the candidates were asked to name their ideal Supreme Court justice. “That’s a great question!” said Brown brightly, in what appeared to be a stall for time. He came up with Antonin Scalia. Then, after boos from the audience, Brown added more names, until he had picked about half the current court, from John Roberts to Sonia Sotomayor.
Meanwhile, in Nebraska, the Democrat Bob Kerrey began his debate remarks with: “First of all, let me assure you that I’m still Bob Kerrey.” This seemed to be a bad sign.
There are actually about only a dozen Senate races in which there is serious suspense about who’s going to win. To the Republicans’ dismay, many of them are in states that were supposed to be a lock for the G.O.P.
Tea Party pressure produced several terrible candidates. We have all heard about Todd Akin in Missouri, who claimed after a recent debate that Senator Claire McCaskill wasn’t sufficiently “ladylike.” Since then, Akin has doubled down on a claim that doctors frequently perform abortions on women who aren’t pregnant.
In others, the Republicans found awful candidates without any help from the far right.
Senator Bill Nelson in Florida received the gift of Representative Connie Mack IV as his Republican opponent, and promptly unveiled an ad calling Mack “a promoter for Hooters with a history of barroom brawling, altercation and road rage.” Mack’s fortunes seem to have been sliding ever since. Recently, while he was greeting voters at a Donut Hole cafe, one elderly couple asked him to get them a menu.
Some Democratic candidates are also turning out to be stronger than anticipated — like Arizona’s Richard Carmona, a Hispanic physician who served as surgeon general under President George W. Bush. Carmona is a Vietnam combat veteran who worked as a SWAT team leader for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. “In 1992,” his campaign biography reports, “he rappelled from a helicopter to rescue a paramedic stranded on a mountainside when their medevac helicopter crashed during a snowstorm, inspiring a made-for-TV movie.”
Let that be a lesson. If the Democrats in Texas had just nominated a Hispanic Vietnam combat veteran who saved crash victims and inspired a TV movie, they wouldn’t have to depend on debates to get some attention.
The race where the Democrats are getting a nasty surprise is in Connecticut, where Representative Chris Murphy is having a tough time against the Republican Linda McMahon, the former professional wrestling mogul. McMahon has spent a record $70 million of her own money over the past three years trying to convince voters that what Connecticut really needs is a senator who knows how to create jobs in a simulated sport awash in violence, sexism and steroid abuse.
Improbable candidates who don’t have $70 million to blanket their state in ads can always just cobble something really weird together, put it up on the Web and hope it goes viral.
Last time around, Carly Fiorina, who was running for Senate in California, created a sensation with “Demon Sheep,” featuring an actor wearing a sheep mask with glowing red eyes.
Now John Dennis, the Republican opponent of the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has a new California sheep-themed conversation-starter. It portrays Pelosi as the leader of a cult of zombies, preparing a lamb for sacrifice. Then Dennis breaks in, saves the lamb, calls one of the zombies “Dude,” and denounces Pelosi for supporting the indefinite detention of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists.
Not your typical Republican. Dennis ran against Pelosi before and got 15 percent of the vote. But I feel the zombie ad could well push him up into the 20s.