Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Obama on Poverty (Tuesday LINKS)

Every three or four months I read an article (or book) that changes the way I view an issue.  I would like to say that I am persuaded by hard facts or revelatory interviews, but a lot of times it is little more than a piece of journalism that just "makes sense".  I highly recommend Paul Tough's profile of President Obama's approach to U.S. poverty, entitled "What Does Obama Really Believe In?"  Such a line would be expected from Townhall or Fox News, but in context, it really sums up what Tough is trying to get to.  This is a President that grew up pursuing transformative policies, later promised on the campaign trail, to help those least fortunate, but by the admission of his own advisers, got caught up in "more important things".  Paul Tough's book profiling George Canada "Whatever it Takes" should be a primer on education policy and this long form piece should be read by any American considering how, or whether, we develop policies specifically directed to the urban poor.

In light of our recent discussions, I thought Tough's discussion of the choices made by Obama's economic team when formulating the stimulus were particularly informative:

According to [Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s Analytics], aid that went to wealthier Americans would not be very effective as stimulus: for every dollar that Congress cut from corporate taxes, the G.D.P. would gain 30 cents; making the Bush tax cuts permanent would boost it by 29 cents for every dollar added to the deficit. 

Stimulus measures that gave money to poor and distressed families, on the other hand, would be much more productive: extending unemployment-insurance benefits would boost G.D.P. by $1.64 for every dollar spent. And at the top of Zandi’s list was a temporary boost in the food-stamp program, which he calculated would produce $1.73 in G.D.P. gains for every dollar spent. 

Conservative talk show hosts will often refer to President Obama as the "food-stamp President" due to the dramatic increase in the number of people on food stamps during his Presidency.  While I had previously just accepted that as a consequence of a poor economy, and thought that holding President Obama accountable for a poor economy and increased food-stamp rolls double-dipping, Tough provides a slightly different insight:

And while it is true that the Census Bureau’s official poverty figures have grown steadily worse under Obama, rising to 15.1 percent of Americans under the poverty line in 2010 from 13.2 percent in 2008, those dismal numbers come with a significant caveat. When government statisticians calculate the poverty rate, they include only cash income. And over the last two decades, and especially during the Obama administration, the way the federal government gives aid to poor people has shifted away from cash transfers toward noncash transfers — food stamps, Medicaid subsidies, housing vouchers — none of which are included in a family’s income for the purposes of poverty statistics. If you do count food stamps and other noncash aid, the poverty rate has, according to some calculations, not gone up much at all during the Obama administration, during the worst economic crisis in 70 years.

 Despite this bottom-up approach when targeting stimulus dollars, this Administration's accomplishments on poverty prevention and resolution are slim.  Tough may be personally offended by this failing in light of Obama's commitment to build schools following the Canada method all over the United States, expense not to be considered, yet these programs were left to a backroom bureaucrat once the President was in office.  In response, he receives a damning quote from one of Obama's advisers that seems to sum up the most sticking criticisms of this President: He's all hat, no cattle.

When I asked Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s longtime friend and mentor who is now a senior adviser to the president, about his relative silence on urban poverty, she said that the way the president spoke about poverty as a candidate in Anacostia — as a unique problem specific to one group of Americans — simply wasn’t the right way for him to speak about it as president. A better approach, Jarrett said, was for the president to propose and support a set of broad programs that raised all Americans economically, an approach that she described as inclusive. She added: “I think our chances for successfully helping people move from poverty to the middle class is greater if everyone understands why it is in their best interest that these paths of opportunity are available for everyone. We try to talk about this in a way where everyone understands why it is in their self-interest.” 

Overall, I think this piece is fair.  It frames the issue with the President's own words and gives a report on where he has succeeded and where he has failed.  Piece of journalism like this shape policy. 

LINKS (I have so many!)

A trail derailed in Ellicott City overnight, killing two non-railroad affiliated persons and crushing vehicles in a nearby County-owned parking lot.  

It's hard not to be a little interested by Niall Ferguson's front cover piece on Newsweek entitled "Hit the Road: Barack".  All the same, it is important to also recognize that this is a medium that was compelled to post a woman with a bared breast earlier this Summer in order to rescue the pummeling sales of weekly periodicals.  I would be interested to see if any of my right-leaning friends can find the cover of any Time or Newsweek that took such a strong and publicized position against a Republican sitting President.  I'm not alleging political media bias, but rather the more steady bias of shocking us all into purchase.  I know I read the Ferguson piece.

Electoral Mathematician and dynamo blogger Nate Silver calls Romney's pick of Paul Ryan an "all in" move and characterizes this election as a referendum on whether Republicans can score political victories without compromising.

Over the weekend, Bob Ehrlich, Maryland chairman of the Romney campaign, described the Paul Ryan pick as "a good pick -- but very risky."

I found this article in Investor's Business Daily to provide some valuable insight on why the current state of the economy is not hurting the President as much as one would think.  In its most basic terms - Those that have always liked him are doing well, those that never did aren't.

I've had so much fun with this interactive map put out by the Chronicle of Philanthropy looking at median non-profit contributions and percentage of discretionary income.  You may be interested to know that Laurel, with a median contribution of $3,418.00, is one of the most generous zip codes in our County!

If you pay attention to local news, it was hard not to hear word that Columbia has slipped from No. 2 in the CNN/Money rankings for "Best Places to Live" to No. 8. "I don't even know what it means. No one knows what it means, but it's provocative."  I blame the inexplicable decoupling of Ellicott City, further undermining whatever voodoo science these folks use to give people irrational pride in their sleepy hamlets.  (Am I bitter?  Why do you ask?)

As much as I personally hate talking about political gaffes, Republican Senate Candidate, and current Congressman Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment has taken a life of his own.  No one does outrage like the Republican party...and they are ticked.  The RNC has pulled Akin's funding with the Chairman adding that Akin is no longer invited to the RNC convention next week.  Cannibalism is never pretty.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ wonders how Paul Ryan, and other deficit hawks, can talk about slimming down our budget without talking about Defense Spending.  He uses an analogy to dieting that is worth the click over by itself.  

That's all for today.  REMINDER: Tonight's is our Homeless Ending Happy Hour.  If you have not RSVP'ed already, please do so.  Chef Matt Milani has offered to put out some appetizers for us this afternoon and it is only right to give him an approximate head count.  Similarly, if you RSVP'ed "yes" and are not coming, avoid the bad ju-ju and change your attendee status (unless you've notified me via e-mail).  

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!