Archive for August, 2011

Rick Perry tosses his Stetson into the ring

Texas Governor Rick Perry just threw a ten gallon hat into the ring for the 2012 presidential rodeo, announcing his candidacy for the White House:

“I declare to you today as a candidate for President of the United States,” Perry told a friendly crowd in South Carolina, host to the nation’s third presidential primary.

Perry enters the race as a serious contender for the nomination, one with the potential to combine establishment support (and the strong fund-raising that comes with it) with the backing of social and fiscal conservatives.

Stylistically reminiscent of another Texas governor who sought the presidency – George W. Bush – Perry’s calling card is Texas’ strong record of job creation during his long tenure in the governor’s mansion. As Perry pointed out in his speech, 40 percent of the nation’s new jobs since June 2009 have been created in Texas.

“It’s time to get America working again,” Perry said, arguing that “Recovery is a meaningless word if the bank has foreclosed on your home.”

While Perry spent some of his speech discussing his own record, he spent most of his time attacking the current occupant of the White House. He criticized Mr. Obama’s “unbridled fixation” on spending and suggested the president’s economic policies have “prolonged our national misery, not alleviated it.”

But amid the euphoria surrounding Perry’s announcement some discouraging words were written about the Perry record. The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Dameron called WSJ readers’ attention to one of Perry’s signature initiatives — the Texas Emerging Technology Fund — which could be a problem area for the governor as he faces increased scrutiny:

The Emerging Technology Fund was created at Mr. Perry’s behest in 2005 to act as a kind of public-sector venture capital firm, largely to provide funding for tech start-ups in Texas. Since then, the fund has committed nearly $200 million of taxpayer money to fund 133 companies. Mr. Perry told a group of CEOs in May that the fund’s “strategic investments are what’s helping us keep groundbreaking innovations in the state.” The governor, together with the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the Texas House, enjoys ultimate decision-making power over the fund’s investments.

Among the companies that the Emerging Technology Fund has invested in is Convergen LifeSciences, Inc. It received a $4.5 million grant last year—the second largest grant in the history of the fund. The founder and executive chairman of Convergen is David G. Nance.

In 2009, when Mr. Nance submitted his application for a $4.5 million Emerging Technology Fund grant for Convergen, he and his partners had invested only $1,000 of their own money into their new company, according to documentation prepared by the governor’s office in February 2010. But over the years, Mr. Nance managed to invest a lot more than $1,000 in Mr. Perry. Texas Ethics Commission records show that Mr. Nance donated $75,000 to Mr. Perry’s campaigns between 2001 and 2006.

The regional panel that reviewed Convergen’s application turned down the company’s $4.5 million request when it presented its proposal on Oct. 7, 2009. But Mr. Nance appealed that decision directly to a statewide advisory committee (of which Mr. Nance was once a member) appointed by Mr. Perry. Just eight days later, on Oct. 15, a subcommittee unanimously recommended approval by the full statewide committee. On Oct. 29, the full advisory committee unanimously recommended the approval of Convergen’s application. When asked why the advisory committee felt comfortable recommending Convergen’s grant, Lucy Nashed, a spokesperson for Mr. Perry, said that the committee “thoroughly vetted the company.”

Another area of concern for some conservatives about Rick Perry is the issue of immigration. At The Washington Times, Kerry Picket posted a reminder that Perry is something less than a border hawk:

In the midst of a number of conservatives believing Governor Rick Perry, Texas Republican, is the GOP’s answer to taking on President Barack Obama, squishy aspects of Mr. Perry’s background are being overlooked. As a border state governor, Mr. Perry signed state immigration law in 2001 known as the Texas DREAM Act. Here is an excerpt from a speech Governor Perry gave during the border summit in August of 2001: (bolding is mine)

As a compassionate state, we know that for our children to succeed, they must not only be healthy, but educated. The future leaders of our two nations are learning their fractions and their ABC’s in classrooms all along this border. Immigrants from around the world are being taught in Texas classrooms, and our history is rich with examples of new citizens who have made great contributions. We must say to every Texas child learning in a Texas classroom, “we don’t care where you come from, but where you are going, and we are going to do everything we can to help you get there.” And that vision must include the children of undocumented workers. That’s why Texas took the national lead in allowing such deserving young minds to attend a Texas college at a resident rate. Those young minds are a part of a new generation of leaders, the doors of higher education must be open to them. The message is simple: educacion es el futuro, y si se puede.

Sound familiar? It should. For those political observers who may not pay too much attention to Texas politics but watch their representatives on Capitol Hill, they may remember that Democrats in the Senate have tried repeatedly and failed to pass the DREAM Act and even after the House passed the legislation in late 2010 during the lame duck session before the Republicans took the majority, Senate Democrats did not find the numbers to overcome a likely filibuster.

House Republicans overwhelmingly voted against the bill (216 to 198), and more Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against the legislation (38) than there were Republicans (8) who voted for it.

If Mr. Perry is serious about 2012, he either believes he can convince Republicans to do a complete 180 on illegal immigration in a way that former President George W. Bush could not or Governor Perry thinks the DREAM Act he signed is completely different than what was being argued about on Capitol Hill these past few years.

If Perry sometimes sounds like a Democrat on immigration, it may be because he started out that way. While being a former Democrat in itself doesn’t tarnish one’s conservative credentials (Ronald Reagan himself switched from the party of the donkey to that of the elephant), we wonder how many Perry supporters know that the governor served as Al Gore’s Texas Campaign Chairman in the 1988 presidential election.

- JP

Democrats, Unions Fall Short in Wisconsin Recall Effort

Democrats came up short Tuesday in their campaign to wrest control of the Wisconsin state senate away from Republicans, as GOP incumbents won four of six recall elections. The vote is a major setback for Democrats, organized labor, and left wing groups who had sought to punish six GOP senators, all allies of Gov. Scott Walker. The left has been furious over the governor’s labor law reform that limited collective bargaining rights for public sector unions.

Most at risk as voting started Tuesday appeared to be three Republicans, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke, all of whom had barely won their races in 2008.

Kapanke and Hopper lost, but Darling won with 54 percent with most of the precincts counted, partly due to her outperforming her 2008 majority in heavily Republican Waukesha County.

In 2008, Darling had won her district by a mere 1,007 out of more than 99,000 votes cast. Her district went narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008.

Three other Republican lawmakers also survived the Democratic recall effort: Sen. Robert Cowles, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf and Sen. Luther Olsen.

With the split in Wisconsin’s Senate at 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats as the day began, a turnover of three would have changed party control.

Next Tuesday there will be recall elections for two Democratic senators, one of whom barely won in 2008.

The state election has national significance in that tens of millions of dollars, most of it from national labor unions and left wing interest groups based in Washington, D.C., was poured into a recall effort that was largely unsuccessful.

The recall results, together with those of the November 2010 midterm elections, seem to indicate that Wisconsin, once considered deep blue, has become a battleground state. Wisconsin, which Barack Obama carried in 2008 with 55 percent of the vote, has been targeted by the president’s reelection campaign as a must win for 2012.

The state will also have one of its U.S. Senate seats in play in 2012 due to the retirement of Sen. Herb Kohl (D). Political forecaster Charlie Cook lists that seat as one of seven toss-ups in races for Senate seats now held by Democrats. Republicans need a net gain of four to win control of the upper house of the U.S. Congress.

- JP

Consumer Confidence Tanks

Rasmussen Report’s Consumer Index, a daily yardstick of consumer confidence, dropped another point Tuesday to bottom out at another two year low. The polling firm says consumer confidence has fallen four points since Standard & Poor downgraded the federal government’s credit rating. But confidence had already dipped to a two-year low the day before the downgrade, so S&P’s action only served to reinforce the underlying trend, not to change perceptions:

Overall, the Rasmussen Consumer Index is down four points from a week ago, down eight points from a month ago and down 2 points from three months ago. Confidence is now just six points above the lowest levels of the post-9/11 era..

Data for these updates is derived from a series of nightly telephone interviews and reported on a three-day rolling average basis. As a result, today’s update is the first based entirely upon interviews collected after the downgrade.

After falling to new lows for three straight days, investor confidence stabilized on Tuesday. The Rasmussen Investor Index regained just one-tenth of a point on Tuesday to 64.8. , investor confidence is down four points from a week ago, down 12 points from a month ago, and down 31 points from three months ago. Investor confidence has not been lower since March 13, 2009.

In a related finding, Rasmussen reports that most consumers do not believe we are headed for a double dip recession. But that news isn’t as good as it may first seem:

A plurality of American adults believed the country entered a recession in November 2007. A majority has believed that the country is in a recession every month from February 2008 until now.

Indeed, despite all the hype from the media and the Obama Administration about a “recovery,” most consumers don’t believe the ailing economy ever managed to climb out of the recession, which makes talk of recovery and a double dip effectively moot.

It’s not just that consumers aren’t buying. May of them are selling, or to be more precise, hocking:

A steady stream of people in need flows through Granters Jewelry & Loan, an El Cerrito pawn shop with a carved carousel horse in the window and a cigar-store Indian in the vestibule.

Two guys hock a guitar for $300 to get rent money. A woman offers up a diamond ring for cash to pay her PG&E bill. A man pawns a laptop for $40 to last until payday. A mother with two toddlers in tow counts out $99 to repay a loan plus interest so she can retrieve a necklace and some rings.

“It’s hard times,” said Tammi Owens of San Pablo. A student of early childhood education, she was pawning her removable “grillz” gold teeth until the school year starts and she gets her financial aid check. “There are no other options,” she said. “I have to pay my bills.”

Pawn shops are good barometer of how many Americans have struggling just to get from payday to payday, at least for those fortunate enough to be employed. When pawn shops thrive, it’s a pretty good bet that the economy is doing the opposite. And it’s not just the average hard luck Joes and Janes who are taking their jewelry, family heirlooms and other material goods to the pawnbrokers these days. With the banks reluctant to loan and employers averse to hiring, pawn shop personnel are seeing more middle-class consumers and small business owners coming to their counters in search of quick cash and willing to pay the price in interest and fees:

“We have the pulse of the economy,” said Vito Wise, proprietor of Granters. “There is definitely an increase in people getting loans and selling things.”

He’s also seeing new types of customers. A contractor pawned his Rolex for money to make payroll until his accounts receivable came in, he said. A high-end professional who was buying a house pawned his watch and his wife’s jewelry to get $10,000 without jeopardizing his upcoming mortgage.

The owners of a new store down the street brought in their jewelry for cash after the bank reduced their line of credit. “They told me if it weren’t for the money I was able to lend them, they would have had to close their doors,” Wise said.

If the increase in pawn shop traffic is a sign of the times, you don’t even have to hang out in one of these stores to see it. It’s right there on your TV screen. “Pawn Stars” and a host of imitators are now the hottest things on television:

If there is a faster-growing category of TV shows out there now than all of these series you’re seeing about the buying and selling of other people’s second-hand stuff, then we haven’t heard about it.

How could there be? This one has just exploded recently, becoming so ubiquitous that you can’t help encountering a show about pawn shops, auctioneers, estate sales, or shows encompassing elements of all three, everywhere you turn lately.

[...]

What’s the appeal of all of these shows that deal with stuff many of us have socked away in closets, attics, basements, barns and storage units? It comes down to money, and how much you and I might be able to get for objects that have gathered dust in our homes for years.

Yes, pawn shops and selling stuff to raise money for essentials are just signs of the times. And for many Americans struggling to stay financially afloat in President Obama’s economy, these are very hard times indeed.

- JP

Obama approval underwater in a plurality of states

As we reported here, President Obama’s prospects for a second term are looking increasingly dim in the battleground states. But that may not be the worst of it for his campaign team. The results of a Gallup poll released today indicate that the president’s approval ratings are 50 percent or higher in only 16 states and the District of Columbia. But his approval ratings are below average in 21 states and average in 17. They are above average in only 12 states.

Obama’s support is greatest in the East, with 8 of his 10 highest approval ratings occurring in states located in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic region of the country. The 2 non-Eastern states ranking among the 10 highest are Obama’s home states of Hawaii and Illinois.

States giving Obama his lowest approval ratings are more varied regionally, with several in the West but also including Southern and Midwestern states.

[...]

As President Obama prepares for his re-election bid next year, his approval ratings nationally and at the state level bear watching. Typically, presidents with approval ratings above 50% get re-elected, though George W. Bush won re-election in 2004 with a 48% approval rating at the time of the election.

Thus, a key for Obama is to try to push his national approval rating back above the 50% mark before November 2012, and to have it at or above that level in as many states as possible, given that the presidential election will be determined by the winner of the greater number of state electoral votes. Currently, a majority of states show approval ratings below 50%, though whether Obama is victorious will also depend in part on who his GOP challenger is, whether a significant third-party candidate runs, and the degree to which the president’s supporters turn out to vote.

Given the rapidly declining state of the U.S. economy and results of a recent Rasmussen survey which show that an astounding 80 percent of voters say the country is on the wrong track, nothing short of a miracle seems likely to turn Obama’s anemic approval ratings around. Little wonder that the Democrats want to do away with the Electoral College!

- JP

Angry left will primary Obama, but he faces bigger problem

While the latest polls reflect the views of conservatives and independents that Barack Obama is a failed president due to overreaching and incompetence, a third demographic also sees the 44th president as incompetent and a failure, but for the opposite reason. The left wing, which had great expectations for Obama in 2007-08 to fundamentally change America according to their liberal agenda, believes that the president hasn’t done enough for the leftist cause. Ralph Nader, who has a history of making marginal third party runs for the White House, says he won’t be the one to do it, but promises to find a challenger to take on Obama for the Democrat Party nomination in 2012:

“What [Obama] did this week is just going to energize that effort,” Nader promised in an interview with The Daily Caller. “I would guess that the chances of there being a challenge to Obama in the primary are almost 100 percent.”

The only question, he said, is the stature of that opponent and whether it will be either “an ex-senator or an ex-governor” or “an intellectual leader or an environmental leader.”

In approximately a week and a half there will be “another chapter of this effort,” Nader predicted.

The Public Citizen founder said he disapproved of how Obama handled recent debt ceiling negotiations, and claimed the deal’s failings prompted this week’s dramatic stock market drop.

“He made a deal that did not provide for a public works project to create jobs all over the country. All he did was he agreed to cut spending,” Nader said. “And that’s what the market is reacting to.”

President Obama “shouldn’t have even had that problem,” Nader said. “When he surrendered the continuation of tax cuts for the rich last December, the least he could have gotten was the debt ceiling increased. He didn’t even do that. So he set himself up for this hostage situation by the Republicans and it’s his own fault. And the country and the workers are paying the price.”

Though a challenge to Obama from the loony left will make for great political theater, the president really has little to fear from those who believe he wasn’t socialist enough in driving the republic over a cliff, the problem Obama faces in battleground states, — as we observed here — is far more serious. No battleground state better illustrates how independents have turned against Obama than Florida, according to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll:

“President Barack Obama’s numbers in the key swing state of Florida have gone south in the last two months. The debt ceiling deal is not making any difference in that decline and any bounce he got from the bin Laden operation is long since gone,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The president’s drop off is huge among independent voters who now disapprove almost 2-1.”

The post-debt deal poll shows little change in Obama’s May approval among Republicans and Democrats. But among independent voters he plummets from a 47 – 45 percent split in May to a 61 – 33 percent disapproval today.

Men, who approved 49 – 47 percent in May, disapprove in the post-deal survey 54 – 42 percent. Women go from 53 – 40 percent approval in May to a 46 – 49 percent split today.

Obama’s campaign hopes to raise $1 billion for the effort to secure a second presidential term for the former half-term Illinois Senator. The way things are shaping up in the battleground states, he will need every dime of it, and yet that still may not be enough to reelect a president increasingly being compared to Jimmy Carter, who served a single term from 1976 to 1980.

- JP