Support For Obamacare Increases Despite Problems With Exchanges

Conservatives just can’t catch a break in polls since the shutdown. One might expect that at very least the numbers supporting Obamacare might have dropped considering how terrible the initial opening of the exchanges has gone. No, instead approval has increased in several recent polls, including Gallup.

Despite the highly publicized technical issues that have plagued the government’s health insurance exchange website that went live on Oct. 1, Americans’ views of the Affordable Care Act are slightly more positive now than they were in August. Forty-five percent now approve of the law, while 50% disapprove, for a net approval score of -5. In June and August, net approval was slightly lower, at -8.

Keep in mind that any poll regarding approval of the Affordable Care Act can falsely show decreased support because many of those who oppose the law do so because they believe it should do more, or want a single payer plan. There is also considerable misunderstanding of the law, with many people supporting the components of Obamacare when polled while also saying they oppose Obamacare when asked separately.

There are a couple of reasons why support might be going upwards despite the computer problems. This could be part of the overall backlash against Republicans and everything they stand for seen in recent polls. I wonder if coverage of what the exchanges are intended to do is leading to more support for the Affordable Care Act, which is more meaningful than probable temporary computer glitches. The administration has had excellent success with computers when used to revolutionize politics. I think that at times they are also overly optimistic about what computers can do, from handling the complexity of the insurance exchanges to their views on electronic medical records. We have lived with computers long enough to know that glitches are common with a new product, but this does not mean that we don’t adopt the new technology over time. Plus, in this situation, the use of computer exchanges to purchase health coverage says nothing about the quality and affordability of care once insurance coverage is purchased. The most important outcome so far is that insurance costs do appear to be lower than expected due to the exchanges.

We also must keep in mind that the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, and the final law is not exactly what most people wanted. The question is not whether Obamacare is perfect, but whether it is a major improvement over what was in place in the past. Greg Sargent also reminds us that Obamacare passes another important comparison despite the initial problems: “We can keep two ideas in our heads at the same time. The first: Obamacare’s rollout is awful and demands accountability. The second: GOP criticism of the rollout is deeply incoherent and indicative of a larger refusal — one that has gone on for years — to participate seriously in the basic governing necessary to solve this pressing national problem.”

Most conservatives cannot keep these two ideas in their head (and few can even manage one). They see the problems with the roll out as indicative of problems in the overall concept. Others such as Ross Douthat realize that the failure of the conservative aspects of the plan could lead to an even more liberal alternative. Mike Konczal has argued that the exchange problems stem from more conservative or neoliberal ideas included in the Affordable Care Act (which was essentially the conservative Heritage Foundation’s alternative to Hillarycare). He looked at the politics and argued that a true government-run plan “while conceptually more work for the government, can eliminate a lot of unnecessary administrative problems.”

Some of the more cartoony conservatives argue that this is a failure of liberalism because it is a failure of government planning, evidently confusing the concept of economic “central planning” with “the government makes a plan to do something.”

However, the smarter conservatives who are thinking several moves ahead (e.g. Ross Douthat) understand that this failed rollout is a significant problem for conservatives. Because if all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, “Paul Ryan’s health-care plan — and his Medicare plan — would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, the Medicaid expansion is working well where it is being implemented, and the ACA is perhaps even bending the cost curve of Medicare, the two paths forward that conservatives don’t want to take.

The old status quo in which insurance companies profited by finding ways to deny coverage to those with expensive medical problems and affordable insurance was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain was not a viable option. The choices were either continuation of private insurance with increased government involvement, as with the Affordable Care Act, or a single-payer plan. Conservatives should be happy about the outcome if they are willing to back away from the extremism of opposing everything which Obama supports. If the exchanges turn out to be too complicated, especially with Republicans attempting to prevent their success (or as Ed Kilgore put it, have unclean hands) as opposed to participating in the process, the choice then become a more simple single-payer plan, not turning to the incoherent alternatives being proposed by Republicans.

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Reality Check

Does Maureen Dowd realize that The American President is a movie, The West Wing is a television show, and that real life doesn’t work that way?

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Obama Derangement Syndrome Preventing Meaningful Consideration Of Budget Issues

Obama derangement syndrome has become rather tedious. It’s not only the totally insane ones who call Obama a Socialist or who claim he was not born in the Untied States.  Conservative pundits and bloggers endlessly complain about the deficit, despite the fact that it was Republicans who ran it up and it is now shrinking, with Obama being the most fiscally conservative president since Eisenhower.  They regularly write about Obama taking an inordinate amount of time off on vacation even though he has taken far less days off than George Bush and many of his other predecessors.  Despite spending all his time on vacation, if you listen to conservatives, Obama has also taken on dictatorial powers, ignoring attempts at Republican power-grabs under the theory of the unitary president. Now a conservative columnist is attacking Obama for following the law.

Bob Woodward, who has become a second-rate conservative writer resting on his laurels from the Watergate years, has joined most of the conservative movement in totally ignoring the facts over the recent budget battles. He has a really odd attack on Obama today (which conservative bloggers are lapping up):

The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward ripped into President Barack Obama on “Morning Joe” today, saying he’s exhibiting a “kind of madness I haven’t seen in a long time” for a decision not to deploy an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf because of budget concerns.

“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying, ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document?’” Woodward said.

“Or George W. Bush saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to invade Iraq because I can’t get the aircraft carriers I need?’” Or even Bill Clinton saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to attack Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters,’ … because of some budget document?”

The Defense Department said in early February that it would not deploy the U.S.S. Harry Truman to the Persian Gulf, citing budget concerns relating to the looming cuts known as the sequester.

“Under the Constitution, the President is commander-in-chief and employs the force. And so we now have the President going out because of this piece of paper and this agreement. ‘I can’t do what I need to do to protect the country,’” Woodward said.

If it was a matter of protecting the country from an imminent attack it would be a different matter. In such a case we would expect Obama to do what needs to be done (and face the inevitable conservative attacks for assuming more dictatorial powers). Sending one additional carrier to the Persian Gulf is more of an elective matter and the president is subject to obeying the law on such spending. Brian Buetler has an excellent response:

The obscure type of budget document Woodward’s referring to is called a duly enacted law — passed by Congress, signed by the President — and the only ways around it are for Congress to change it (Obama’s trip to Virginia on Tuesday was all about pushing Congress to do that) or for Obama to break it. Sequestration is bad policy, but not remotely unconstitutional, and if Obama decided to ignore it and just spend money as if the law didn’t exist the howls of outrage we’d hear from Woodward and others would be entirely justified.

Buetler also commented on additional absurdity surrounding much of the recent budget coverage:

David Ignatius doesn’t go quite as far as calling Obama’s decision to obey the law insane, but his Wednesday Washington Post column typifies the “Obama’s right on the merits, but this is somehow all his fault too” genre. In an overstretched metaphor he compares the U.S. political system to a drunk driver and Obama to a sober passenger who’s too meek to comandeer the wheel.

“I’m no fan of the way President Obama has handled the fiscal crisis,” Ignatius declares. “As I’ve written often, he needs to provide the presidential leadership that guides Congress and the country toward fiscal stability. In my analogy, he should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading: namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue.”

As it happens, that’s the precise mix of policies President Obama has been offering House Republicans for nearly two years.

The counter-argument against Obama, which we don’t hear in the mainstream media, is over whether it is really the right thing to cut Social Security and Medicare. Political discourse has centered far too much around cutting spending as if this is the only option. Social Security and Medicare are popular and beneficial programs which most voters do not want to cut. This country needs a serious discussion as to how much we want to spend on Social Security and Medicare and whether we want higher taxes to pay for this (including, but not necessarily limited to, taxes beyond the top one percent). We cannot have serious consideration over such matters as long as talk centers entirely on cutting spending and as long as one political party is unwilling to consider any means to increase revenue. We will be doomed to gridlock on matters of public policy as long as Republicans refuse to behave as responsible legislators.

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Bob Woodward Wrong In Accusing Obama Of Moving The Goal Posts In Sequester Battle

Conservatives have a tendency to latch onto articles which support their viewpoints, ignoring any further information which shows they are wrong. Therefore they have been citing Bob Woodard’s op-ed in The Washington Post which supports their attempts to pin the blame for any damages which occur from the sequester on Obama. For years Bob Woodward has capitalized on his name and avoided the hard work of actually reporting. This leads to him being wrong on many occasions, such as at present, when he ignores virtually all the negotiations surrounding the debt ceiling agreement which led to the sequester. Woodward appears totally oblivious to what Obama has been calling for when he accuses him of “moving the goal posts” in calling for a balanced approach to the deficit (while also admitting that Obama’s position is “reasonable” and that Obama “makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more.”

Brian Buetler responded to the op-ed:

But in this case Woodward is just dead wrong. Obama and Democrats have always insisted that a balanced mix of spending cuts and higher taxes replace sequestration. It’s true that John Boehner wouldn’t agree to include new taxes in the enforcement mechanism itself, and thus that the enforcement mechanism he and Obama settled upon — sequestration — is composed exclusively of spending cuts. But the entire purpose of an enforcement mechanism is to make sure that the enforcement mechanism is never triggered. The key question is what action it was designed to compel. And on that score, the Budget Control Act is unambiguous.

First: “Unless a joint committee bill achieving an amount greater than $1,200,000,000,000 in deficit reduction as provided in section 401(b)(3)(B)(i)(II) of the Budget Control Act of 2011 is enacted by January 15, 2012, the discretionary spending limits listed in section 251(c) shall be revised, and discretionary appropriations and direct spending shall be reduced.”

Key words: “deficit reduction.” Not “spending cuts.” If Republicans wanted to make sure sequestration would be replaced with spending cuts only, that would have been the place to make a stand. Some of them certainly tried. But that’s not what ultimately won the day. Instead the, law tasked the Super Committee with replacing sequestration with a different deficit reduction bill — tax increases or no.

“The goal of the joint committee shall be to reduce the deficit by at least $1,500,000,000,000 over the period of fiscal years 2012 to 2021,” according to the BCA. The bill even provided the House and Senate instructions for advancing a Super Committee bill if it included revenue. This couldn’t be clearer. In the Super Committee’s waning hours, Republicans tried to entice Democrats into a spending-cut heavy agreement by acceding to a small amount of revenue. Democrats balked — the balance was off — but all of that just goes to show that a tax increase has always been a likely element of a replacement bill, and Republicans know it.

David Weigel also responded by showing how Woodard’s claims contradict the facts, including information presented in Woodward’s own book, The Price of Politics. He concluded:

To argue that the White House is “moving the goal posts” when it now asks for revenue in a sequestration replacement, you have to toss out the fact that the White House always wanted revenue in the supercommittee’s sequestration replacement. This isn’t confusing unless reporters make it confusing.

Ezra Klein also argues that Woodward is wrong in suggesting that Obama has moved the goal posts by insisting that any budget deal includes increases in revenue. He also  points out that the deal over the debt ceiling did kick the can down the road until after an important event which would show how voters thought the matter should be settled–the election:

The American people voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes.

In fact, they went even further than that. They also voted for a Senate that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes. And then they voted for a House that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes, though due to the quirks of congressional districts, they didn’t get one.

Here in DC, we can get a bit buried in Beltway minutia. The ongoing blame game over who concocted the sequester is an excellent example. But it’s worth remembering that the goalposts in American politics aren’t set in backroom deals between politicians. They’re set in elections. And in the 2012 election, the American people were very clear on where they wanted the goalposts moved to.

It is theoretically possible that a majority voted for candidates who did not reflect their views. After all, polls blinded to party have often showed that Republican voters actually favor Democratic positions. This wasn’t the case here. A recent Pew Research Center survey shows that most voters do not support the types of spending cuts advocated by Republicans. This is consistent with other recent polls showing that a majority support Democratic positions on the budget and other issues.

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Republicans Try To Pin Blame For Sequester On Obama

As the Republicans are unwilling to negotiate (having developed a philosophical opposition to this), sequestration is likely to occur. The spending cuts are going to be unpopular so the Republican response (as on so many issues) is to try to shift the blame for the problems they have created. John Boehner even has an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal which blames Obama. Boehner’s account, like Republican accounts of history typically are, is largely fictitious. He also blames Obama for not putting forth a detailed plan. In reality, Obama has offered a balanced approach containing both increases in revenue and spending cuts, cutting more than is actually desirable. In contrast, if Republicans such as Boehner believe the deficit can be reduced significantly by spending cuts alone, why do they refuse to be specific about what they will cut? The answer is that the Republicans know that most voters (even most Republican voters) would be highly unhappy about the cuts which would be necessary to balance the budget, and the Republicans want to be able to blame the Democrats.

There are many responses on line to Boehner’s false claim that Obama is to blame. This includes a direct response from the White House and a review of the history of the sequester from John Avlon. For those who desire a more detailed review of the facts, along with a description of the damage caused by the radicalization of the Republican Party form a centrist source, I’d suggest reading It’s Even Worse Than It Looks by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.

Republicans have frequently succeeded in pinning the blame for their failures on others but many pundits do not believe they will succeed this time. Byron York responded to Boehner’s op-ed with a response entitled The GOP’s astonishingly bad message on sequester cuts. Here is a portion of his response:

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner describes the upcoming sequester as a policy “that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more.”

Which leads to the question: Why would Republicans support a measure that threatens national security and thousands of jobs?  Boehner and the GOP are determined to allow the $1.2 trillion sequester go into effect unless President Obama and Democrats agree to replacement cuts, of an equal amount, that target entitlement spending. If that doesn’t happen — and it seems entirely unlikely — the sequester goes into effect, with the GOP’s blessing…

The effect of Boehner’s argument is to make Obama seem reasonable in comparison. After all, the president certainly agrees with Boehner that the sequester cuts threaten national security and jobs.  The difference is that Obama wants to avoid them.  At the same time, Boehner is contributing to Republican confusion on the question of whether the cuts are in fact “deep” or whether they are relatively minor.

Could the GOP message on the sequester be any more self-defeating?  Boehner could argue that the sequester cuts are necessary as a first — and somewhat modest — step toward controlling the deficits that threaten the economy.  Instead, he describes them as a threat to national security and jobs that he nevertheless supports.  It’s not an argument that is likely to persuade millions of Americans.

Chris Cillizza has a simpler explanation as to why Obama will win politically on this one which can be further simplified to say that Obama is popular and Congress is not.

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Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration

Today Barack Obama joined a small group of people who have taken the oath of office more than twice. The oath was repeated in 2008 to avoid giving right wingers another reason to deny Obama’s legitimacy after John Roberts made an error when first administering the oath. (I note Roberts did use a note card today). He was sworn in for his second inauguration in a private ceremony on January 20, with the public event postponed to Monday. Only FDR and Obama have taken the oath of office four times. Bill Clinton is the only other president to my knowledge to have been sworn in more than twice as one of his inaugurations also occurred on a Sunday.

With Obama being sworn in, dogs everywhere gave a sigh of relief. Maybe now that Obama has been sworn in two more times Karl Rove is willing to give up hope for a Romney victory and concede defeat. Tea Partiers and Mitch McConnell swear to oppose Obama’s agenda and make him a two-term president. (Surprisingly some commentators do not realize how the Republicans really did decide to oppose everything Obama did on the day of his first inauguration.) All the living former presidents were in attendance except for George H. W. Bush, for health reasons, and George W. Bush, because everyone in Washington hates his guts.

Getting serious, Obama gave a liberal speech to mark the start of his second term (full text here and video above). He sounded neither like the socialist Republicans claim he is or the conservative a handful on the far left claim he is. James Fallows found this to be a startling progressive speech. Think  Progress called this a landmark moment for LGBT equality. Obama made a strong push for taking action on climate change.

While Obama has learned he cannot compromise with the extremism and intransigence of Congressional Republicans, I do like see Obama continue to try to explain how the real world works to conservatives in the hopes that there are some who will listen. Radical conservatives and libertarians believe a mythology that the free market is something which exists in nature, and that any government action is an abomination. In reality, markets are a creation of men and require government regulation to exist. Rothbardian anarch0-capitalism provides a fun background for some science fiction stories, but cannot exist in the real world. Obama explained:

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

He did learn it is politically dangerous to point out the truth that businessmen did not build the infrastructure they depend upon after the Republicans themed their convention around misquoting Obama, claiming Obama was saying businessmen did not build their businesses.

Obama’s record is not perfect. No president’s record is. Even if he did not do everything hoped for by the left, in a two party system, and with the constraints on presidential power, Obama did have a strong first term. Even his frequent critic Paul Krugman has been acknowledging this in recent columns, such as yesterday’s column, calling Obama’s record a Big Deal:

Health reform is, as Mr. Biden suggested, the centerpiece of the Big Deal. Progressives have been trying to get some form of universal health insurance since the days of Harry Truman; they’ve finally succeeded.

True, this wasn’t the health reform many were looking for. Rather than simply providing health insurance to everyone by extending Medicare to cover the whole population, we’ve constructed a Rube Goldberg device of regulations and subsidies that will cost more than single-payer and have many more cracks for people to fall through.

But this was what was possible given the political reality — the power of the insurance industry, the general reluctance of voters with good insurance to accept change. And experience with Romneycare in Massachusetts — hey, this is a great age for irony — shows that such a system is indeed workable, and it can provide Americans with a huge improvement in medical and financial security.

What about inequality? On that front, sad to say, the Big Deal falls very far short of the New Deal. Like F.D.R., Mr. Obama took office in a nation marked by huge disparities in income and wealth. But where the New Deal had a revolutionary impact, empowering workers and creating a middle-class society that lasted for 40 years, the Big Deal has been limited to equalizing policies at the margin.

That said, health reform will provide substantial aid to the bottom half of the income distribution, paid for largely through new taxes targeted on the top 1 percent, and the “fiscal cliff” deal further raises taxes on the affluent. Over all, 1-percenters will see their after-tax income fall around 6 percent; for the top tenth of a percent, the hit rises to around 9 percent. This will reverse only a fraction of the huge upward redistribution that has taken place since 1980, but it’s not trivial.

Finally, there’s financial reform. The Dodd-Frank reform bill is often disparaged as toothless, and it’s certainly not the kind of dramatic regime change one might have hoped for after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees.

Still, if plutocratic rage is any indication, the reform isn’t as toothless as all that. And Wall Street put its money where its mouth is. For example, hedge funds strongly favored Mr. Obama in 2008 — but in 2012 they gave three-quarters of their money to Republicans (and lost).

All in all, then, the Big Deal has been, well, a pretty big deal

While Obama’s record was not perfect, there is no problem which would be handled better if the Republicans had taken the White House. Just think of the executive orders which were not issued today because Mitt Romney did not have the opportunity. Romney, like Republicans before him, would have probably immediately reinstated the Global Gag Rule, limiting access to abortions world wide. While it would probably take more than a quick executive order, he would probably have made an effort to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He may have immediately put an end to federal funding of stem cell research. Who know what else what he would have done to accommodate the far right on his first day alone.

Seeing Barack Obama sworn in to be president for the next four years is a Big Deal.

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We Have Lost The War On Drugs

It has become extremely rare these days to find an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal to recommend, but there is an exception today. The drug war is an issue where there is division on both the right and left, with some on both sides agreeing that it has become a fiasco which we cannot benefit from continuing. Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphey ask, Have We Lost The War on Drugs? They quickly answered their question:

By most accounts, the gains from the war have been modest at best.

The direct monetary cost to American taxpayers of the war on drugs includes spending on police, the court personnel used to try drug users and traffickers, and the guards and other resources spent on imprisoning and punishing those convicted of drug offenses. Total current spending is estimated at over $40 billion a year.

These costs don’t include many other harmful effects of the war on drugs that are difficult to quantify.

While exact quantification is difficult, they proceeded to explain many of these harmful effects.

They recommend decriminalization, using Portugal as an example:

One moderate alternative to the war on drugs is to follow Portugal’s lead and decriminalize all drug use while maintaining the illegality of drug trafficking. Decriminalizing drugs implies that persons cannot be criminally punished when they are found to be in possession of small quantities of drugs that could be used for their own consumption. Decriminalization would reduce the bloated U.S. prison population since drug users could no longer be sent to jail. Decriminalization would make it easier for drug addicts to openly seek help from clinics and self-help groups, and it would make companies more likely to develop products and methods that address addiction.

Some evidence is available on the effects of Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs, which began in 2001. A study published in 2010 in the British Journal of Criminology found that in Portugal since decriminalization, imprisonment on drug-related charges has gone down; drug use among young persons appears to have increased only modestly, if at all; visits to clinics that help with drug addictions and diseases from drug use have increased; and opiate-related deaths have fallen.

Decriminalization of all drugs by the U.S. would be a major positive step away from the war on drugs. In recent years, states have begun to decriminalize marijuana, one of the least addictive and less damaging drugs. Marijuana is now decriminalized in some form in about 20 states, and it is de facto decriminalized in some others as well. If decriminalization of marijuana proves successful, the next step would be to decriminalize other drugs, perhaps starting with amphetamines. Gradually, this might lead to the full decriminalization of all drugs.

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Republican Fantasy Land: How Conservatives See Obama And Their Liberal Opponents

The last three posts were on the detachment of Republicans from reality. (Here, here, and here). In the first of these posts I noted how conservative assessments of the election showed how they were out of touch with reality–just as with most of what comes out of the right wing noise machine:

Conservative fantasy met reality on election night. Similarly we have seen conservative fantasy to justify war in Iraq, with some conservatives still believing Saddam was behind the 9/11 attack and had WMD. We see conservative fantasy economic theories, which do not work in the real world. We see conservative denial of science, including on evolution and climate change. Conservatives have their own alternative history, such as denying the fact that the Founding Fathers established the United States with a secular government characterized by separation of church and state, recognizing that this is essential to guarantee religious freedom.To prevent contamination from liberal (i.e. reality based) ideas, conservatives have their own descriptions of liberal beliefs, which are not held by any liberals in the actual world.

National Review demonstrates this with an article by  Charles C. W. Cooke which contains a description of Obama’s beliefs which are totally out of touch with reality:

A president of the United States just ran a reelection campaign based on the promise of government largess, exploitation of class division, the demonization of success, the glorification of identity politics, and the presumption that women are a helpless interest group; and he did so while steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the looming — potentially fatal — crisis that the country faces. And it worked.

Worse, as David Harsanyi has observed, “the president’s central case rests on the idea that individuals should view government as society’s moral center, the engine of prosperity and the arbiter of fairness.” This stunted and tawdry vision of American life was best summed up in his campaign’s contemptible Life of Julia cartoon, which portrayed the American Dream as being impossible without heavy cradle-to-grave government, and in which the civic society that Tocqueville correctly saw as the hallmark of the republic was wholly ignored — if not disdained outright. “Government is the only thing we all belong to,” declared a video at the opening of the Democratic National Convention. In another age, this contention would have been met with incredulity and confusion; in ours, it was cheered.

Any Obama voters see the man they voted for as being remotely like the faux-Obama described above?

It is rather ironic that he  cherry picks a rather trivial line from a video at the Democratic Convention while the entire Republican National Convention was themed around an attack of an alleged view held by Barack Obama which they made up selectively editing a statement to give it an entirely different meaning. That’s the way it goes. They lack the honesty to even discuss actual liberal values so they make up something totally bizarre, showing no relationship to actual liberal beliefs.

The full article by Cooke is similarly inane, such as with attacking health care reform with a total lack of understanding of the failures of our system which made reform so urgent, along with a total lack of understanding of the plan which passed. To conservatives, Obama has launched a government take-over of a successful system, even though this is neither a government take-over nor a system which could have survived much longer.

The failure of Republicans to respond to actual Democratic views reminds me of this comment from Bill Maher from August:

You know, Republicans have created this completely fictional president. His name is Barack X and he’s an Islamo-socialist revolutionary who’s coming for your guns, raising your taxes, slashing the military, apologizing to other countries, and taking his cues from Europe or worse yet, Saul Alinsky. And this is how politics has changed; you used to have to run against an actual candidate, but now you just recreate him inside the bubble and run against your new fictional candidate.

That’s how Bush won in 2004, by running against John Kerry, a French war criminal. And speaking of Bush, I know conservatives are saying oh Bill, come on Democrats did the same thing to him. No. Say what you will about the left’s hatred of Bush, at least we were hating on the real guy. We didn’t invent a boogeyman who tanked the economy, took us to war on false pretenses, and tortured prisoners. That was the actual guy.

But run down the list of complaints about fantasy Obama. He wants to raise your taxes, even though he’s lowered them. Confiscate your guns, even though he’s never mentioned it, and read terrorists their rights, yeah, like he did Tuesday in Somalia. And look what Gingrich said about him this month. (Video of Gingrich claiming Obama is against work). Yes, Obama is anti-work. You remember the bill he championed, The Grab A Corona And Call In Sick Act.

You see, the difference is the Republicans hatred of Obama is based on a paranoid feeling about what he might do. What’s he’s thinking. What he secretly wants to change. Anger with Bush was based on what he actually did. What Bush was thinking didn’t matter, because he wasn’t.

Just as Romney lost partly due to being out of touch with reality as it quoted the ideas of the right wing noise machine, future Republican candidates who read articles such as this will be at a severe disadvantage in failing to understand the actual ideas of those they run against.

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Conservative Views On Political Predictions Mirrors Their Pro-Ignorance, Anti-Knowledge Mind Set

It is human nature to dislike bearers of bad news, but conservatives are extending this to a visceral hatred of those who even predict bad news. This has been compounded by the anti-fact/anti-logic/anti-science sentiments which now dominate the right wing. While there have been comments for months on conservative blogs showing denial of bad polling results, this has escalated over the past week, and become far more personal. Last week The Examiner laid down this battle-line:

While many conservatives look to former Clinton political consultant Dick Morris to understand the polls and political surveys on the elections, or even a site like UnSkewedPolls.com, those on the left look to New York Times blogger Nate Silver.

I have read Nate Silver’s blog as just one of many sources which evaluate the polls, but the authoritarian mindset of the right wing does tend to see things in terms of following one or the other leader. A look at how the left and right view this issue is consistent with how they differ on more substantiate matters than mere predictions.

First let’s look at UnSkewedPolls.com. They have been predicting a Romney victory well in excess of 300 electoral votes. Maybe this will happen, but it would require either that the polls are way off or that things change drastically before the election (which is possible, but not predictable). In other words, their predictions are based on the hope that their candidate will win as opposed to actually paying attention to the polling data.

Today Dick Morris is predicting a Romney landslide. Throughout the election his predictions have also been based upon what the right wingers want to hear, not based upon any facts. Perhaps he is trying to help Romney, or perhaps he is trying to increase readership among conservatives by saying what they want to read. Either way, he is also ignoring the actual polling data. I have also seen many posts from conservative blogs which distort the findings in polls, declaring a victory for Romney when the actual polling data shows the opposite or at most a tie.

Looking at actual polling data shows the popular vote as being too close to call while Obama continues to have a lead in the battleground states. Obama has leads in the latest polls in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. It is certainly possible that Romney could still take one or more of these states, but he would need to either win all three or win in other states where Obama is now leading to win the election. With that in mind, let’s compare what Nate Silver says about the race compared to the two right wing commentators above. Silver’s map of state by state probabilities is based upon the polls, but he does adjust them to take into consideration factors such as the state of the economy and the historical partisan tendencies of the state. Unlike the conservative commentators, Silver’s electoral predictions have been very close to the status at sites such as ElectoralVote.com which are purely poll driven. Silver predicts Obama victories in Ohio and Virginia while his last prediction continued to predict Romney would win in Florida. He predicts an approximate two percent victory in the popular vote, which is the same as I and many others have been predicting (at least prior to Superstorm Sandy).

What especially confuses conservatives is that Silver includes odds, now predicting a 77.4 percent chance of Obama winning (up 9.3 percent over the past week). That sounds like a reasonable prediction, except to those who do not understand the concept of probability. Last week Silver gave Romney well over a one in four chance of winning, and continues to give him over a one in five chance. Ezra Klein defended Silver (with his post written when Silver’s chances of an Obama victory were a little lower than at present):

Silver’s model is currently estimating that Obama will win 295 electoral votes. That’s eight fewer than predicted by Sam Wang’s state polling meta-analysis and 37 fewer than Drew Linzer’s Votamatic.

So before we deal with anything Silver has specifically said, it’s worth taking in the surrounding landscape: Every major political betting market and every major forecasting tool is predicting an Obama victory right now, and for the same reason: Obama remains ahead in enough states that, unless the polls are systematically wrong, or they undergo a change unlike any we’ve yet seen in the race, Obama will win the election.

There’s no doubt about that. Real Clear Politics, which leans right, shows Romney up by 0.8 percent nationally, but shows Obama up in Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Romney is up in Florida and North Carolina, but note that his lead in Florida is smaller than Obama’s lead in Ohio. And RCP shows Colorado and Virginia tied. Pollster.com, meanwhile, shows Obama leading by a point in Colorado and Virginia and the race tied in Florida.

It’s important to be clear about this: If Silver’s model is hugely wrong — if all the models are hugely wrong, and the betting markets are hugely wrong — it’s because the polls are wrong. Silver’s model is, at this point, little more than a sophisticated form of poll aggregation.

But it’s just as important to be clear about this: If Mitt Romney wins on election day, it doesn’t mean Silver’s model was wrong. After all, the model has been fluctuating between giving Romney a 25 percent and 40 percent chance of winning the election. That’s a pretty good chance! If you told me I had a 35 percent chance of winning a million dollars tomorrow, I’d be excited. And if I won the money, I wouldn’t turn around and tell you your information was wrong. I’d still have no evidence I’d ever had anything more than a 35 percent chance.

Nate Silver is one of the sources I look at after his predictions were extremely accurate in 2008, but I also don’t follow any one source, suspecting that another source could edge him out in other elections. It will be interesting to see if his model is any more accurate than other means of predicting electing results when the results are in next week. Util then I will continue to look at a variety of sources, and leave it to the more authoritarian-minded conservatives to want to follow a single leader. Looking a other of sources of predicting the election finds that Silver’s predictions are far more in line than those of the conservative wishful thinkers. For example,  Intrade predicts an Obama victory at 66.1 percent.

Predicting an Obama victory also isn’t out of line with what most Americans predict. Gallup found that 54 percent of Americans think Obama will win while only 34 percent  predict Romney will win. It is only the far right, which places ideology over facts in all matters, which would predict a Romney landslide based upon the information now available.

Another source that Romney is losing is speculative, but I think does say a lot about the state of the race. Mitt Romney is now running like a candidate who believes he is going to lose and must throw a Hail Mary. He has been running highly dishonest and desperate ads about the auto bail-out despite the fact-checking of newspapers who see this as Romney going too far with his lying. Seeing both Chrysler and GM debunk Romney’s false claim is reminiscent of Candy Crowley debunking Romney on Libya during the second presidential debate. He is also resorting to repeating his discredited welfare attack. He is making desperate attempts to compete in states such as Pennsylvania where he has no serious chance, most likely due to realizing his chances of winning by taking Ohio are slipping away.

While many conservatives who cite Dick Morris sound convinced that Romney will win, the attitude on liberal blogs remains more in tune with reality. Besides better understanding the math, liberal bloggers are more likely to realize that polls are a snapshot of where we are now and not absolutely predictive of the election results. With the race this close, things can still change. When pundits spoke of Hurricane Sandy freezing the race, I had fears that this might blunt Obama’s momentum in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, where he has recently been improving in the polls after falling behind after the Denver debate. Looking presidential, and getting the praise of Republican keynote speaker Chris Christie, might make up for any lost days of campaigning. Superstorm Sandy does provide a strong contrast between Democratic and Republican views as they relate to the real world, from views on the importance of the federal government in disaster relief to views on accepting the scientific consensus on global warming.

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Hurricane Sandy Shows Dangers Of Republican Policies

The most important consideration regarding Hurricane Sandy is the safety of those in its path and recovering from damage. There is the danger that discussing the political implications might seem distasteful, however very recently the Republicans began to play politics with the death of Americans in Libya with total disregard for waiting for the facts to come in. There is no reason not to look at the political implications of a tragedy where the facts are clearly on our side. Policies have consequences and Sandy shows the consequences of the Republican beliefs being wrong in two areas–disaster management and climate change.

Mitt Romney would return us to the disaster management policies of George Bush just like he would return us the economic policies of George Bush.  Over the last couple of days numerous sites have linked to multiple statements from Mitt Romney talking of cutting FEMA.  He has argued this should be handled by the states, but he also vetoed money for flood prevention while governor. Cutting funding for FEMA is also the position of the Republican Party:

Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them. The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as “an excellent piece of work,” would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.

Now Romney either avoids answering questions about FEMA or claims he will not cut it. Campaigning for cuts to big government programs in the abstract is popular. It is a different matter to identify individual programs. Romney claims he will cut federal spending to less than 20 percent of GDP by 2016  but refuses to say what he will cut. It would be folly to vote for someone who refuses to answer this question.

Mitt Romney made fun of Barack Obama, saying he “promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet” at the Republican convention. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea now. Bill Clinton mocked  Romney for a similar attack on Obama at the first debate (where sadly Obama failed to defend himself):

I was actually listening closely to what the candidates said in these debates. In the first debate, the triumph of the moderate Mitt Romney. You remember what he did? He ridiculed the president. Ridiculed the president for his efforts to fight global warming in economically beneficial ways. He said, ‘Oh, you’re going to turn back the seas.’ In my part of America, we would like it if someone could’ve done that yesterday. All up and down the East Coast, there are mayors, many of them Republicans, who are being told, ‘You’ve got to move these houses back away from the ocean. You’ve got to lift them up. Climate change is going to raise the water levels on a permanent basis. If you want your town insured, you have to do this.’ In the real world, Barack Obama’s policies work better.

Many Republicans deny science, claiming that global warming is a hoax despite all the evidence that the earth has warmed due to activities of mankind. Scientists, along with the insurance industry which must rely on facts, acknowledge that severe weather events are related to climate change. From Scientific American:

Hurricane Sandy has emboldened more scientists to directly link climate change and storms, without the hedge. On Monday, as Sandy came ashore in New Jersey, Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, tweeted: “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is [the] storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.”

Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate Systems Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, was quoted in the Vancouver Sun saying: “When storms develop, when they do hit the coast, they are going to be bigger and I think that’s a fair statement that most people could sign onto.”

A recent, peer-reviewed study published by several authors in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science concludes: “The largest cyclones are most affected by warmer conditions and we detect a statistically significant trend in the frequency of large surge events (roughly corresponding to tropical storm size) since 1923.”

Greg Laden, an anthropologist who blogs about culture and science, wrote this week in an online piece: “There is always going to be variation in temperature or some other weather related factor, but global warming raises the baseline. That’s true. But the corollary to that is NOT that you can’t link climate change to a given storm. All storms are weather, all weather is the immediate manifestation of climate, climate change is about climate.”

Now, as promised: If you still don’t believe scientists, then believe insurance giant Munich Re. In her October 29 post at the The New Yorker, writer Elizabeth Kolbert notes:

Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance firms, issued a study titled “Severe Weather in North America.” According to the press release that accompanied the report, “Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America.” … While many factors have contributed to this trend, including an increase in the number of people living in flood-prone areas, the report identified global warming as one of the major culprits: “Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity.”

If Democrats can capitalized politically on Hurricane Sandy’s demonstration that Republicans are wrong in cutting government disaster funding and wrong about climate change they could do very well next week.

On the other hand, if they have not been able to benefit politically from running against a candidate who would destroy Social Security and Medicare, and if they still have not yet been able to sell all the benefits of Obamacare to the public, there is no reason to be confident that the Democrats will win this argument despite having the facts on their side. The Republican tsunami of misinformation,which covers up facts and presents a direct danger to liberty and democracy, is even more harmful to this nation than any single natural disaster.

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