Audit D.C. Notes: WSJ Good on Wall Street Muni Fees; Newsweek on Design, Bloomberg Goes Contrarian on Obama, Etc.

The Wall Street Journal digs into Build America Bonds, enacted as part of last year’s stimulus plan “to create jobs building roads, schools and hospitals.” Turns out the underwriters who pitch these muni bonds aren’t exactly giving away their services to help the team.

On average, the underwriting fees for Build America Bonds are $8.20 per $1,000, according to Thomson Reuters. By comparison, the standard fee for tax-exempt issues is $5 to $6 per $1,000, according to Wall Street banks. Thomson Reuters says 984 deals have been done since April. Underwriting fees were disclosed in just two-thirds of those, totaling nearly $1 billion. Spokesmen for all the banks declined to comment.

Nice work if you can get it. And a nice story.

—Design geeks are noticing President Obama’s announcement last week that he’s named Edward Tufte to an independent panel that tracks how stimulus funds are spent. As Newsweek explains, those in the know call Tufte “the Da Vinci of Data.”

Over time, he became increasingly interested in information design—charts, graphs, diagrams—and in 1982 he took out a second mortgage on his home in order to self-publish his first book on the subject, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. It redefined the field and was later named one of Amazon’s 100 best books of the century.

Four major volumes and dozens of consulting gigs later—think IBM, NASA, Lotus—Tufte now spends much of his time crisscrossing the country and teaching one-day seminars on how to organize dynamic, multidimensional information on a two-dimensional surface.

Tufte has already had a hand in, which is chock full of interactive charts and graphs. Oh, and he thinks PowerPoint is evil.

(h/t Federal Eye)

—The Money Game looks at the non-traditional research world and finds “remarkable optimism in the small and mid-size manufacturing space.”

On the jobs front, while U.S. manufacturing employment isn’t expected to return to 2007 levels until 2011 or 2012, 82% of manufacturing companies are already planning to hire new staff in 2010, according to Prime Advantage’s survey. American manufacturing is far from dead, according to the industry itself.

—Bloomberg goes against the grain and concludes that, despite a “political consensus” that Obama’s handling of the economy has been weak, “[t]he judgment of money in all its forms has been overwhelmingly positive, and that may be the more lasting appraisal.”

“We’ve had a phenomenal run in asset classes across the board,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist for Miller Tabak & Co. in New York. “If he was a Republican, we would hear a never-ending drumbeat of news stories about markets voting in favor of the president.”

We’ve been trying to keep track of the latest meme, the press meta-message, on the country’s economic prospects. We thought it was heading south; all this is north. We’ll keep watching.

—The New York Times gets an early look at New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch’s plan to address the state’s fiscal crisis.

This is tough medicine:

The plan, which requires legislative approval, seeks to address New York’s immediate cash needs by permitting the state to sell bonds to help cover operating expenses. But those bonds would be contingent on the state’s producing a balanced budget, and the newly established board would have the authority to determine whether the budget meets that requirement. In addition, the plan would limit how much could be borrowed — probably 1 percent or 2 percent of the total budget, so lawmakers do not rely on borrowing to shirk difficult decisions on spending cuts, though any increase in borrowing will be controversial.

But no plans yet to start closing highway rest stops.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at