Big Bird in an Obama campaign commercial.

Elections 2012: Counting Jobs, Counting Birds and Counting Voters

Mark Trahant
10/10/12

Have you heard the one about the cooked job numbers?

Last week former GE chief executive Jack Welch tweeted: “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.”

Did the Obama administration cook the books? That’s what Welch seemed to imply. Then on various television shows, Welch said he would not take back the comment. (Others on the right quickly pounced. The government was up to something. Clearly. Or so they said.)

Today writing in the Wall Street Journal, Welch changed the story. A bit. “... if I could write that tweet again,” he wrote, “I would have added a few question marks at the end, as with my earlier tweet, to make it clear I was raising a question.”

Welch also questioned the methodology used to gather the information. “To suggest that the input to the BLS data-collection system is precise and bias-free is—well, let's just say, overstated,” Welch writes. He concludes that this election is too important to be decided by a number, one that “seems so wrong.”

At least there is a number to challenge. The employment statistics for Indian Country – while never especially accurate – have not been published for two cycles because of “methodology inconsistencies.” The Interior Department promised to publish the next report in 2013, long after the election, and long after the data is useful to measure the effectiveness of the $3 billion spent for projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

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Big Bird remains popular on the campaign trail – and is being cited by both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. A new Obama ad says Romney is trying to “crack down on the evil genius” that’s the problem, Big Bird. Romney counters that Big Bird will do fine, even without federal subsidies. He said on CNN that “we've got 23 million Americans out of work, or struggling to get a full time job. We've got one-out-of-six Americans now in poverty, 47 million on food stamps, and the President is spending his time talking about saving Big Bird.”

Of course Big Bird was from the debate a symbol about public broadcasting and the role of government. Big Bird might even be fine as a commercial operation, but what about the rest of public broadcasting, including funds that are directed to Indian Country for programming and station operation? If that “subsidy” goes away, so will the tribal stations and productions.

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Regarding the issue of polling, I really didn’t get enough responses for any sort of useful data (even if fun) for my quick political survey from Indian country. But I did learn something from the experiment and I might try again, live, during one of the debates coming up. So if you answered, thank you, and stay tuned.

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And, finally, speaking of counting, Tuesday was the final day to register to vote in 17 states. In Arizona, Rock the Vote’s Jaynie Parrish posted on her Facebook page, “Amazing performance yesterday! We are right on track to hit our 1M goal.” She said 73,837 people registered on October 9. “Rest up – and let’s do it again Friday.” That’s the deadline for New York, North Carolina, Idaho and Oklahoma.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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