The Battle For Control Of Congress 2014

While the media is increasingly talking about the 2016 presidential election, we have a major election coming up for control of Congress later this year. At present it appears that it is unlikely for the Democrats to take control of the House, and they are now fighting to retain control of the Senate. Predictions that the Republicans will hold the House and possibly take the Senate are based upon historical trends and which Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Of course it is possible to see a break from past trends.

Among the trends causing people to predict this to be a good year for Republicans: minorities and young voters don’t vote as often in off-year elections, a president’s party generally does poorly in the sixth year of the president’s term, a president’s party does poorly when the president has low approval ratings, and a president’s party does poorly when the economy is having difficulties.

On top of this, the Democrats are defending Senate seats in several red states this year, giving the Republicans a chance to pick up some seats. Fortunately the situation is reversed in 2016 with more blue-state Republicans up for reelection. Based upon these fundamentals in a presidential election which is likely to already be more favorable to the party, a Democrat winning the White House should also see a pick up of several Senate seats.

The Republican Party has been working in other ways to pick up votes. They have made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. On the other hand, their history of racism may backfire with the increase in minority voters, possibly turning some southern states blue in the near future. We saw this first in Virginia and to a lesser degree in North Carolina. In the future this could extend to Georgia, Texas, and additional states.

Republicans have an advantage in keeping control of the House as so many House districts are gerrymandered to protect the incumbent. In addition, Democrats tend to be more concentrated in urban areas, meaning that even if more people vote for Democrats than Republicans, the Republicans will win more seats by small margins while Democrats will win a smaller number with bigger majorities. More people voted for Democrats than Republicans in Congressional races in 2012 but the Republicans retained control of the House. It would probably take at least  a seven percent margin of victory for Democrats to take control of the House. Republican representation in the Senate is also exaggerated compared to their level of support due to lesser populated Republican states having the same number of Senators as more populated Democratic states.

There are some things which could throw off the fundamentals this year, but we cannot count on voters suddenly no longer being fooled by the GOP line. At present the Republicans receive far too many votes from low-information white voters. Over time the number of younger voters who receive their fake news from Jon Stewart will overtake the older voters who receive their fake news from Fox.

While Obama’s approval rating is low, Congress has an even lower approval rating. Typically in such situations people like their own Congressman even if they disapprove of Congress. This year polls show that many people also think their own Congressman should be thrown out. Based upon this, I wouldn’t be surprised if more incumbents than usual get upset, but that might not necessarily help the Democrats over Republicans. In addition, more people see the Republicans as being more responsible for gridlock, in contrast to a common false media narrative of treating each party as being equally responsible. Maybe they will surprise the pundits and throw the Republicans out.

Another factor influencing whether predictions based upon the fundamentals must occur is that any competent Democratic strategist is aware of every point here, and the party is doing far more than they did in 2010 to try to change this. They are working to increase turnout among Democratic voters this year. They  have a technological edge both in regards to get out the vote efforts and fund raising. It even appears that the same problems which are placing Republicans at a disadvantage with younger voters is also impacting their ability to recruit young tech savvy political operatives. Besides using their technological advantages over Republicans in getting out the vote efforts, they can  motivate Democratic voters with fear of the consequences of the Republicans taking control of the Senate. Tea Party extremism has led to an end to talk of a grand bargain. Democratic compromises on entitlement programs might have discouraged some voters on the left from turning out for Democrats.

I think Democrats will do better if they can successfully explain the advantages of their policies as opposed to Republican policies. Democratic economic policies turned around the economic collapse caused by Republican economic policies, even if the Republicans have managed to slow recovery with their obstructionist moves, decided upon from the start of Obama’s term. The deficit rolled up by George Bush has dropped considerably since Obama took office. The CBO  projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is near the average level for the past forty years, and a vast improvement from 2009 when the deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP.

Despite early IT problems, which the Obama administration does deserve criticism for, the Affordable Care Act has turned into a tremendous success on a policy level, both in terms of health care reform and its benefits for the economy. Both the Medicare Advantage plans under George Bush and the original Medicare program had early implementation problems which took a couple of years to solve. Of course Republicans will continue to spread unsubstantiated scare stories and it is possible Obama might never received the credit he deserves. Health care premiums will be remain high on the individual market as they were high before Obamacare. Insurance companies will continue to use restricted panels of physicians and hospitals as they did before Obamacare, leaving room for Republicans to blame the Affordable Care Act for problems unrelated to the law.

Other factors could come into play. The Tea Party might oust electable Republicans and replace them with extremist candidates which the Democrats can more easily beat. While doubtful, the Tea Party might force Congressional Republicans into a situation analogous to the government shut-down before the election which reduces public support for Republicans. While it is doubtful it will really alter that many votes, even the changes in the late night comedians could help the Democrats over the Republicans.

The easy prediction is now that the Republicans will keep control of the House and control of the Senate is up for grabs. Depending upon whether the factors discussed above alter the usual fundamentals, we still might wind up seeing the pundits talking about all the reasons they knew we would have a different outcome after the results are known.

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If Obamacare Is So Bad, Why Can’t The Right Wingers Find Real Losers Under Obamacare?

Republicans have trying to scare voters with stories about people who are losers under the Affordable Care Act. They mention them in speeches, run ads about them, and put them on Fox. Each and every time this has happened reporters checking into the facts found that rather than being losers the people turned out to actually be benefiting from Obamacare. Each and every time. Considering how hard they are trying to show that Obamacare is terrible, you would think that if there are actual losers out there  they would find some.

The latest case, which is quite typical of all the others, is put out by Americans For Prosperity in Michigan and makes these claims:

“I was diagnosed with leukemia. I found out I only have a 20 percent chance of surviving. I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan. I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received a letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare. Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it’s unaffordable. If I do not receive my medication, I will die. I believed the president. I believed I could keep my health insurance plan. I feel lied to. It’s heartbreaking for me. Congressman Peters, your decision to vote Obamacare jeopardized my health.”

Glenn Kessler looked into the facts. Once again it turned out that the claims were false. The Republicans are lying yet again.

The patient was able to obtain a plan which her doctor participated in. Her premiums are significantly lower, offsetting the higher out of pocket expenses. She also could have purchased a plan with higher premiums and  lower out of pocket expenses. Compared with her previous plan, the new plan not only has lower premiums and an out-of-pocket maximum, it has better coverage for chemotherapy.

With the right wing groups repeatedly having to lie to make claims that people are being hurt under Obamacare, it has come to the point where Kevin Drum writes he is “beginning to think there’s not actually a single person in America who’s been harmed by Obamacare.” If there were, you would think that the right wing groups would be able to come up with real examples.

The problem for these groups is that the closest thing there really are to losers are upper-income healthy Americans who are paying more for coverage due to not qualifying for subsidies, but also receiving better insurance plans. Hardly a group to make commercials about.

I might be able to claim to be  a loser under Obamacare, but I’m not going to complain about paying a little more in premiums, which I can easily afford.

I received one of those letters that my plan was being cancelled. That wasn’t as terrible as the Republicans make it sound. Blue Cross gave me two choices. I could sign up for a grandfathered plan they were continuing which was similar to my previous plan but with a higher deductible and significantly lower premium. It is also non-compliant with the requirements under the Affordable Care Act. The other choice was to purchase a new plan, which I ultimately did. While technically not true that I would be able to keep my old plan as Obama stated, this is quite a trivial issue to gripe about considering these choices.

For most people, it would also cost less to buy the new plan once the subsidies are taken into account. For those of us who do not qualify for subsidies, the premiums are higher. However the plan covers much more than my previous plan. When I first bought insurance through Blue Cross (changing to them because my previous insurer had raised prices to an incredible degree) there were no plans available on the individual market which covered office calls or prescriptions. The new plan covers both. Blue Cross has also been covering preventative tests for the last couple of years with no out of pocket payments due to the Affordable Care Act. I’ve  been able to keep my daughter on my plan while she is in school, saving more money. In addition, the new plan does not have a lifetime limit on coverage, has limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and cannot be cancelled due to developing medical problems. I bet many people fail to take these important aspects into account when comparing plans under Obamacare to their previous plan.

To recap, I am a loser under the system as long as everyone in my family stays healthy as we are paying more in premiums than before. My story would hardly make a good story for opponents of Obamacare to use. If anyone in my family were to develop serious medical problems, we would have better coverage and in that case pay less out of pocket, which ultimately is the point of insurance.

Other than paying more (and getting more in return) my experience was not at all bad under Obamacare. Yes, there were problems with the computer system at first, but they have been fixed. As I was not applying for subsidies I purchased through the Blue Cross web site instead of healthcare.gov. The first claims from January were paid by the insurance company with no difficulty.

While a small minority of us are paying more, a tremendous number of  people are now able to obtain coverage who could not obtain it in the past because it was too expensive or insurance companies would not cover them due to per-existing medical conditions. I have patients in this situation who could not obtain coverage in the past but have been covered since January. With all the bogus complaints about people losing their coverage, the significant number is that zero people can now be dropped by their insurance because they become sick, and zero people have to fear losing their insurance should they stop working.

On top of all these benefits, the Affordable Care Act will help the economy. The recent Congressional Budget Office Report, frequently distorted by Republicans, shows that the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment, help decrease the deficit, and allow more people to leave large corporations to start small businesses. The effects of this freedom from the “insurance trap” cannot be scored in a CBO report, but should provide a tremendous boost to the economy.

The more people understand the Affordable Care Act and see through the lies being spread by the right wing, the more likely they will realize that those who are calling for repeal are not merely engaging in political rhetoric. The ridiculous forty-seven votes by Republican for repeal would cause real  harm to millions of Americans who are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act, along with harming the economy if we were to give up the economic benefits of healthcare reform.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Trade Organizations Warn Of National Clown Shortage

clowns17n-1-web

The New York Daily News reports that trade organizations are warning of an impending national clown shortage, blaming it on a “lack of wannabe Bozos.”

I fail to see a problem here. There are plenty of wannabe Bozos out there. Just turn on the radio. Glenn Beck has even described himself as a rodeo clown. What about Limbaugh? Plus there’s pretty much the entire “news” department at Fox, not to mention almost the entire Republican Party.

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The Past Week In Conservative Stupidity

Over a year ago Bobby Jindal warned that Republicans “must stop being the stupid party.” They have not been doing particularly well at following his advice. To extrapolate this to the conservative movement, this week provided two more examples of what can only be labeled as stupidity dominating conservative conversation–the intentional misinterpretation of the Congressional Budget Office report on the Affordable Care Act and reaction to Olympic coverage from Russia.

This is not to say that all conservatives believe these things or are stupid. However, the prevalence of stupidity does seem to have increased tremendously in the conservative movement and Republican Party in recent years. Even ignoring the easy targets such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, the caliber of conservative discourse generally seen today is far different from what came from past conservatives such as William F. Buckely, Jr., who also fought to keep the Birchers and other predecessors of today’s Tea Party out of the GOP. Barry Goldwater might have many views which liberals find objectionable, but he also warned about what would happen if the religious right took control of the Republican Party. Even Ronald Reagan was not so foolish as to oppose any tax increase or to prevent increases in the debt ceiling to allow the Unites States to honor its debts.

It is understandable that some conservatives might have been misled by the initial headlines on the report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Many journalists, overly influenced by conservative arguments and lacking adequate understanding of health care policy, initially were inaccurate in their coverage. Once the report was more fully evaluated, it was clear that the CBO report actually showed that there is no evidence of an increase in unemployment due to the Affordable Care Act as Republicans had been predicting would occur.  Instead the portions of the report on employment showed that Obamacare was projected to be successful in one of its goals--saving people from the “insurance trap.”

Until the Affordable Care Act came into effect many people continued in jobs they did not want because they would be unable to obtain health insurance if they left their current job. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance is no longer tied to employment. Now people are free to retire at an earlier age if they desire, instead of waiting until age 65 when they qualify for Medicare. They are also free to leave large corporations to work for small businesses, or perhaps even start a business of their own. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct. This can help boost the economy.

While an initial mistake regarding this might have been unintentional, there has subsequently been many corrections. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post,  corrected errors in reporting in writing, “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs”.  Kessler concluded with saying, “we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong.” Factcheck.org also corrected the misconceptions.

As some people leave jobs they no longer want or need, their jobs can open up for others. In testimony before the House Budget Committee, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf confirmed that the CBO report suggests the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment. Even Paul Ryan corrected fellow Republicans on this point. Besides reducing unemployment, the CBO report showed that, while Republicans had been demanding an end to the risk corridors in order to agree to an increase in the debt limit, the risk corridors actually wind up saving the government eight billion dollars. The CBO projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is down from 2009 when deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP, and more in line with the average size of the deficit compared to GDP over the past forty years.

Conservatives are rarely willing to give up on their criticism of the Affordable Care Act even when contradicted by the facts. They continue to repeat fallacious arguments about death panels or their false claim that Obamacare constitutes a government takeover of health care. Finding that those who received cancellation notices from insurance companies generally received better coverage at a lower price under the Affordable Care Act did not end their claims of people supposedly losing their insurance under Obamacare.

Conservatives remain unwilling to give up the argument about people leaving their jobs, spinning it to suggest that the Affordable Care Act encourages people to be lazy parasites on society instead of working, ignoring the actual types of people this is likely to affect. Conservatives have been presenting “horror stories” of people allegedly harmed by the Affordable Care Act which typically turn out to be untrue once the details are examined. Finally we are seeing newspaper reports emphasizing the positive aspect of freeing people from the “insurance trap.”

While conservative columnists such as Ross Douthat fear that Obamacare will lead to a “strong work disincentive while looking at a population of childless, able-bodied, mostly working-class adults,” these are not the type of people I am seeing as benefiting by freedom from the “insurance trap.” If the health care debate is turning into one of anecdotal cases, I’m thinking of an affluent friend who, because of health history, cannot obtain insurance on the individual market so his wife has been working full time in a job purely for the health insurance, even though they have no need for the income beyond the benefits. I have a patient who was left without insurance when her husband retired in his early sixties and then struggled to pay her medical bills. As of January she finally has comprehensive coverage she can afford. These are the types of people who are benefiting from the supposed disincentive to work under Obamacare.

In theory there is a risk that “able-bodied, mostly working-class adults” might have less incentive to work, but I hardly think that providing affordable health care is enough to do this on a widespread level. Far more able-bodied adults are not working because jobs are not available. Besides making more jobs available, the Affordable Care Act can help relieve this problem in another way. In addition to freeing people to retire in their early sixties or leave jobs held solely for the insurance, people will be able to start small businesses without losing health insurance. In Republican-speak, this should also be beneficial to the economy due to making more “job creators.” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct, and to a greater degree than previously projected.

Conservatives were wrong about this argument, and now appear stupid, and dishonest, when they continue to repeat the same mistakes. I spent more space on this first example than intended, but in retrospect this is an important point which deserves repeated explanations as long as conservatives are claiming that this positive aspect of the Affordable Care Act is somehow undesirable.

The second example is bizarre outrage from the right wing over the video below which comes from NBC’s coverage of the Olympic games:

Their objection is to this line: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

This is being spun by right wing bloggers as praise for Communism, including by FoxMarco Rubio, along with other conservatives commenting, does not appear to understand what pivotal means. The word refers to points which are critical or vitally important. The Russian Revolution was a pivotal point in their history, along with the history of the world. Similarly, Hitler’s rise to power was a pivotal moment. Both 9/11 and Katrina were pivotal moments during the Bush years.  The computer problems during the first month of the exchanges has unfortunately become a pivotal moment for the Obama administration. The word pivotal says nothing about whether the events were good or bad.

This was one line in a video narrated by Peter Dinklage as introduction to NBC’s sports coverage of the Olympics. If this was a political documentary we would expect information on the horrors of communism. This is unnecessary, and probably out of place, in sports coverage, especially if they desire to be polite and avoid criticism of the host country over a political system which has been overthrown (even if the current regime is repeating many of the same mistakes as under Communism).

I suspect this is outrage is partially motivated by the desire of conservatives to falsely paint liberals as socialists or Communists, such as with the absurd claims that a moderate such as Barack Obama is a socialist. To the conservative mind, the mainstream media represents liberals, especially when they fail to differentiate the evening commentary shows on MSNBC from the rest of NBC. There are rare examples, such as the absurd argument I noted a couple of weeks ago at Salon to nationalize the news media, but putting aside such outliers, there no meaningful interest in Marxist-style socialism or Communism on the left. In contrast, I would think that today’s Republicans would love modern Russia. Between its homophobia and substitution of a plutocracy for a working market economy, Russia has become an example of the end-result of the Republican platform.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Democratic Strategy For 2014: Get Out The Vote But Don’t Ignore The Message

This should be a bad year for Democrats if we go by historical trends. The party holding the presidency typically loses Congressional seats in their sixth year. It makes matters worse when their are economic problems, even if many people do realize that they are primarily due to a combination of problems created by the Bush administration and problems perpetuated by Republican actions to hinder economic recovery in Congress.

Making matters worse, the Democrats have to defend Senate seats in red states, including states where incumbent Democrats are not running for reelection. Democrats do worse in off year elections, when young voters and minorities are less likely to vote compared to presidential elections. Republicans also have a huge advantage in a system where small Republican states receive as many Senators as far larger Democratic states. Their advantage extends to the house. Between gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in cities. Republican will still control Congress unless Democrats receive about seven percent more votes.

On top of this, Republicans see voter suppression as a valid electoral strategy.

Democrats did much better in 2008 and 2012 than in 2010. They also expect to do much better in 2016, including picking up several Senate seats due to the playing field being reversed with Republicans being forced to defend Senate seats in blue states. The Democrats see the solution as making 2014 more like 2012. Their strategy:

The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

A campaign based upon getting out the vote isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a realization that this is how elections are won in this polarized era. There aren’t very many swing voters, but there can be huge differences between which party does better in getting their supporters out to vote.

Besides, a high tech get out the vote campaign and an old fashioned campaign to try to sway voters are not mutually exclusive. I do hope that the Democrats also think about better ways to get out their message as the Republicans often win by doing a better job here. Sure the Republican message is pure lies, claiming to be the party of small government while supporting increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals, and primarily using big government to redistribute wealth to the top one tenth of one percent.

Democrats need a coherent message, but they often fail because they are afraid of alienating some voters by saying what they believe in. I suspect that this cowardice turns off even more voters, along with reducing the motivation of their supporters to turn out. Once again, a campaign based upon promoting ideas and one based upon voter turnout are not mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary.

Rather than shying away from social issues, Democrats need to campaign as the party which supports keeping government out of our personal lives and out of the bedroom.

Rather than running away from the Affordable Car e Act, Democrats need to stress its benefits. Beyond all the millions who are assisted by the ability to obtain affordable health coverage, there are the two million people who are freed from the “insurance trap” which forces them to work in jobs they do not otherwise want or need in order to obtain health insurance. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce unemployment, decease the deficit, and strengthen the economy. Besides, we saw what happened to the Democrats when they tried running away from Obamacare in 2010.

In recent years Democrats have taken national security away from Republicans as an issue. If the Republicans want to run on their debunked conspiracy theories about Benghazi, it might be time for Democrats to remind voters of the very real failings of Republicans on 9/11, from ignoring warnings before the attack to invading the wrong country in retaliation. We saw how that turned out. It is also time for Democrats to take additional issues from the Republicans.

Challenge voters who support Republicans based upon misinformation. If they are concerned about the deficit, point out how much the deficit has dropped under Obama (as it previously dropped under Bill Clinton). Repeatedly we see polls in which voters support liberal positions but identify themselves as conservatives. They say the oppose Obamacare but also support most of the individual components of the Affordable Care Act. The only way to fight the misinformation spread by Fox is for Democrats to clearly say what they believe in and defend their positions.

Democrats are planning to run on income inequality. That is fine, but they better make sure that they make it clear that the reason is that the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent is a major cause of crippling the economy and keeping down the middle class. Failure to make this connection just plays into Republican memes.

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Rand Paul Provides A Useful Lesson When Discussing Government Help For Unwed Mothers

Rand Paul says a lot of stupid things and justifiably often comes under attack from the left (not to mention all the times he comes under attack from fellow Republicans when he is right on some foreign policy issues). This week he is under attack for something which, after some clarification, he has a broader point worth looking at. This has significance as it shows something which applies to anyone, left or right, who desires to talk about difficult issues we face.

Rand Paul has discussed the problem of unwed women receiving government assistance and continuing to have children. While there are legitimate problems faced by the poor which Rand and other Republicans seem oblivious to, in this case it is worth discussing whether government funds have the desired results. This is a tricky issue to talk about, and Paul did later clarify his views, backing away from the idea of supporting any actual policy to cut financial assistance:

The Republican senator from Kentucky said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he didn’t “come up with a policy prescription,” such as limiting government aid, but rather said it’s up to communities to resolve the problem, which he called the No. 1 cause of poverty in the country.

“I mused about how you’d have a government policy, but I actually came down saying it would be very difficult to have a government policy,” the potential 2016 presidential candidate said.

“I mostly concluded by saying it’s a community, it’s a religious, it’s a personal problem, but it is a problem,” Paul said.

While I think it is a typical conservative cop-out to simply say it is something to be handled by the community without saying how, I do have some sympathy for Paul in trying to discuss a real issue where there might be no ideal solution. Potential presidential candidates typically try to avoid such discussion, limiting our political discourse. Efforts at helping the poor cannot be abandoned as many on the right might prefer, but we must also keep in mind that there can be adverse consequences from government actions.

There are often problems where we would like to act but there is no ideal solution. In some cases there might be nothing government can do. For example, I think that the misinformation spread by Fox and the right wing media does pose a serious threat to democracy in America, but government cannot solve this without creating more serious problems by infringing on First Amendment liberties. In this case, government cannot do anything.

In many other cases, government can try to act even if there is no ideal solution. We must do something about gun violence, but efforts are limited both by the need to respect the right bear arms (regardless of whether the Bill of Rights was ever intended to include this as an individual right) and consider the limited efficacy of many policy recommendations. This even applies to recent issues over implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Our health care faced serious problems which simply could not be left unchanged. Obamacare has provided tremendous advantages over the past, including expanding access to health care, providing coverage of preventative studies, getting rid of policies which fail to actually provide health care coverage, and preventing denial of coverage due to developing serious medical problems. There are also some negative consequences as there is no ideal solution, and some adjustments are needed in the law, with the right wing greatly exaggerating the problems and denying the far more significant benefits.

In the end, Paul is right in realizing that there is no simple solution such as cutting off  financial assistance, with such attempts in the past failing to have the effects predicted by conservatives. I’m glad Paul didn’t respond with the typical conservative/libertarian bromide that private assistance could totally replace government programs when this is clearly not possible. Perhaps some government programs could be made to work better if we had a serious conservative opposition which does raise real problems with liberal programs, and the two sides could get together to find a solution that works. At present this is not possible because of the knee-jerk opposition to government programs from the right. Many problems are best solved by individual actions and by the market. Other problems can only be solved by the type of organization provided by government, even if the outcome is less than perfect.

Update: I should also clarify that this not intended to agree with Paul that on the whole welfare results in mothers having more babies due to the economic incentive, just that it could happen in individual cases and that government policies do not always work out perfectly, even if beneficial. As is often the case, conservatives greatly exaggerate  potential problems. Past attempts at capping benefits has not provided the benefits which conservatives have claimed they would, but at least Paul did back away from advocating this. There have been some edits from the original version which gave more credibility to Paul’s argument than deserved. The post is intended more to be about dealing with the fact that government programs are often necessary even if the results are not perfect than about welfare for unwed mothers.

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A Tale Of Two Countries: Health Care In Red Versus Blue America

ObamaCare Enrollment

The United States is increasingly dividing into two countries, a Blue America and a Red America. Blue America is becoming a more free country, while Red America increasingly has states which intrude more into the private lives of individuals, and use government to enforce the views of the religious right. Blue America is a more prosperous America, while Red America is more dependent upon money from Blue America, taking in more federal tax dollars than they pay. As much as they hate to admit it, Red American is the America of takers. Now we are seeing yet another division. People in Blue America are more likely to receive health care coverage than people in Red America.

Jonathan Cohn has two charts which demonstrate this. The first compares people who have enrolled in private health plans through the Affordable Care Act. Note how heavily tilted this is towards the blue states. There are some exceptions. Massachusetts has low enrollment because most people in the state already had health care coverage under their plan. Kentucky is a notable exception of a red state with relatively high enrollment because of having a Democratic governor who has been heavily supporting the Affordable Care Act. There are also some  blue states such as Oregon which had difficulties with their state exchange. Enrollment should pick up as this is fixed.

There are probably a couple of reasons for this divide. The most significant is probably the degree to which the state governments are supporting and promoting the Affordable Care Act. There is also probably a cultural difference. People in the red states are generally less well informed–if they were not they would not vote Republican. They are more likely to listen to the misinformation about the Affordable Care Act from sources such as Fox. They are also more likely to listen to conservative leaders who are telling them not to purchase ObamaCare coverage. Independent thought is not a strong point among the low-information Republican voters in the red states.

The second chart compares expansion of Medicaid. It should come as no surprise that the working poor in the blue states are far more likely to have this available than those in the red states.

I can’t help but wonder how long the political leaders in the red states can continue to fool so many of their citizens. Sooner or later they will realize how people with Democratic state governments are benefiting. Some might even decide that it is more important to worry about health insurance than whether two gay guys can marry, or whether women use birth control and possibly even have an abortion.

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The Absolutely Most Absurd Thing I Have Ever Read In A Liberal Blog–Nationalizing The News Media

Often the right looks ridiculous by raising the specter of Communism in response to programs from the left, such as with labeling the Affordable Care Act a government takeover of health care despite being based upon expanding private insurance coverage. I would think that more intelligent conservatives would avoid this line of argument. But what happens when it is the right argument and conservatives can’t legitimately make it without looking like the boy who cried wolf one too many times?After reading this absurd article by Fred Jerome at Salon, I’ll lend them a hand, and perhaps provide them with some cover. On this topic, sensible liberals and the right wing should be aligned in opposing this idea. Outcomes such a what occurred in the Soviet Union or Communist China are exactly what we should fear by this insane proposal to nationalize the news media.

The article begins:

Imagine a world without the New York Times, Fox News, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and countless other tools used by the 1 percent to rule and fool.
In a socialist society run by and for the working people it represents, the mega-monopolies like Walmart, Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, and the corporations that run the tightly controlled “mainstream media” will be a thing of the past.

Jerome does have some valid criticism of the media. The point is not that there aren’t problems with the media as it now exists, and with the concentration of ownership in so few hands. The problem is that his solution would be far worse. He gives lots of bromides such as:

A democratic, accessible-to-all media will move to center stage in a socialist USA. In some ways this democratization of the media is already happening on the Internet. But the government’s ability to spy on and even turn off the Internet belies any real democracy. In a socialist democracy, working people will control the political process, the way in which they make a living, and collectively and individually, they will influence mass culture. The Internet will be a powerful and democratizing tool in this effort…

In a socialist society a portion of the media would be reserved for news disseminated by the democratically elected governing bodies, that is, working people elected by and for working people.

But state ownership is not the only way media can represent the interests of working people, to speak with or through their voices. In most cases, the media would be owned and operated by working-class organizations—labor unions, neighborhood associations, and cultural centers.

So news (and views) in a socialist society will be brought to you by a plethora of noncommercial sponsors. The government media will report on and discuss, for example, the major government plans for production, how to improve education, and more. But other media—newspapers, TV and radio stations, and Web sites sponsored by workers’ organizations, cultural organizations, youth groups, sports teams, and neighborhood groups will report on issues specific to their interests.

The media has many faults, but shutting it down by nationalization could only lead to tyranny. The standard corporate-run media has its faults, and of course there is Fox. Attempting to shut down and nationalize any of them, even Fox, would be a tremendous blow against liberty. With all their faults, The New York Times, McClatchy, PBS, and other parts of the news media still provide a valuable source of information. Fox might be primarily propaganda, but defending freedom of speech includes those we disagree with (while we take every opportunity to also expose them).

Reading Jerome’s article is enough to make me feel like reading some Ayn Rand for balance. While Rand made many mistakes in her over-reaction to her experiences under Communism, her warnings would be valid in this case. The Blaze is also right in responding that

…it has been demonstrated time and time again throughout history that a government-controlled media is not a free media. The ease with which the government and labor unions would be able to censor the news is a chilling prospect to imagine. We would suddenly find ourselves in a world where free speech in the media would first have to be “approved.”

It is a shame that some conservative bloggers have given into the temptation to claim that this lunacy represents liberal beliefs, when this is the opposite of liberalism.

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The Democratic Advantage In The Electoral College

If a professional newspaper columnist who has to get a column out on a regular schedule does not want to write about Chris Christie or NSA Surveillance this weekend, there are a number of topics which one can always pull up. Dan Baltz went with a look at the Republican Party’s uphill path in the electoral college. There’s nothing new here, but this is worth considering when looking ahead towards 2016. Baltz looked at the earlier Republican advantage in presidential elections, later switching to favor the Democrats:

What happened? States whose loyalties were divided in the first era moved to become part of the Democrats’ base — a transition that began with Bill Clinton’s two campaigns and continued through 2012. That list includes California, the biggest electoral prize in the country, with 55 votes, but also others that have long been considered contested battlegrounds, including Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

All 16 states that went for the GOP in the past six elections remain solidly in the Republican column. The same is true of most of the states that voted GOP in four or five of the past six. But that leaves the Republicans far short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Over the past six elections, Republicans have averaged just 211 electoral votes and have not won more than 286 since 1988. Democrats averaged 327 electoral votes for those six elections, and their lowest total, even in losing, was 251 in 2004. Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016.

A further look at key states shows advantages for the Democrats. Looking ahead, it is far more likely that red states which are becoming more diverse might shift Democratic than for many of the states which have been voting Democratic to change. The Republicans cannot even count on the South long term, already losing Virginia and with others at risk. It will probably take longer than 2016, but if increases in minority voters in Texas should make that state flip, or even become a battle ground, the Republicans will not have a single large state they can count on.

The Democratic edge in recent years would be even more one-sided if not for Republicans winning the electoral votes of Florida in 2000. It is clear that a majority of Florida voters intended to vote Democratic, with some confused by the butterfly ballots. Retrospective newspaper recounts showed that Gore would have won if he had obtained a state-wide recount. Without the benefits of incumbency, Republicans also probably would not have won in 2004. Even with their short-term advantages, Kerry could have won in the electoral college, while losing the popular vote, if there were more voting machines in the larger cities of Ohio.

Nothing is for certain. John Sides took the opposing viewpoint. He failed to provide a compelling argument as to why many states will flip. It is certainly possible that if economic conditions remain bad that the Democrats could suffer. As the fault is shared by Republicans who created the crash and then blocked recovery, it is questionable whether blue states will turn against Democrats any more in 2016 than in 2012, especially with a change in presidential candidates.

Sides is correct in pointing out how hard it has been for a party to win the White House three elections in a row in modern times, but in looking at modern American presidents we are dealing with a very small sample. We now have a unique situation where the Republicans are under the control of extremists while the Democrats have taken firm control of the center along with moderate left. Republican views have become too extreme for their candidates to have a serious chance of winning in many northern states. There are just not enough low-information white males, the primary source of votes for Republicans, for them to flip these states.  While I would hope for a more knowledgeable electorate, changes in information-sources will also be important. Over time, voters who get their fake news from Fox will increasingly be replaced by those who get their fake news from Jon Stewart.

Looking at potential candidates also makes it unlikely that the Republicans will change current trends in the electoral college. Many Republicans had hoped Chris Christie might be able to alter the current red/blue electoral map. It was already hard for him to win the nomination in the Republican Party even before he became damaged by scandal. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is likely to do better than Obama in some of the larger industrial states which the Republicans need to flip. The same low-information white males who might vote against Clinton due to her gender already have been voting against Obama because of his race.

Things are not entirely hopeless for the Republicans, at least not yet. While the Democrats have a strong advantage in presidential elections, the structure of Congressional elections gives Republicans an advantage relative to their overall support in the country. With small states having the same two Senators as large states, Republican representation in the Senate is far greater than if the Senate was representative of the country. Republican advantage in the House has been even greater, due to both gerrymandering and the concentration of Democrats in urban areas. As a consequence, Democrats win a smaller number of districts by larger margins and Democrats must beat Republicans by seven percent or more to retake control. Unless there is a huge shift in the generic ballot, as happened only briefly last fall, Republicans are likely to retain control of the House even if more people continue to vote for Democrats than Republicans.

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The Surprising Lack Of Scandals In The Obama Administration

The recent scandals released about Chris Christie remind us of how often we expect to find scandals in government. Power does corrupt. We have become so accustomed to scandals at the top levels of government that it almost comes as a surprise that the Obama administration has been so free of scandal. Some observers almost take it for granted that a scandal must happen sooner or later. For example, back in 2011 Brendan Nyhan described this as an aberration, waiting for an inevitable scandal to occur:

Obama has been extremely fortunate: My research (PDF) on presidential scandals shows that few presidents avoid scandal for as long as he has. In the 1977-2008 period, the longest that a president has gone without having a scandal featured in a front-page Washington Post article is 34 months – the period between when President Bush took office in January 2001 and the Valerie Plame scandal in October 2003. Obama has already made it almost as long despite the lack of a comparable event to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Of course when speaking of the Obama administration as being free of scandal, I am speaking of real world facts, not the fantasy world of Fox and the right wing noise machine. They have invented plenty of scandals, but in every case their claims were contradicted by the facts. Just this week we had the Senate Intelligence Committee report which debunked the Republican conspiracy theories regarding Benghazi.

When Paul Waldman wrote about how the Republican claims about Solyndra didn’t hold up, he entitled his post Obama Administration Oddly Scandal-Free, again suggesting how the presence of scandals has become what is expected. Paul Waldman recently reviewed this topic again in a post entitled The Scandalous Lack of Obama Administration Scandals. (Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who also provides many of the earlier links in this post). He set up these reasonable conditions for what constitutes a scandal:

So let’s take a look back and see what happened to all these affairs that never turned out to be the scandals conservatives hoped they would be. Just to be clear, when I use the word “scandalous” in this list, I don’t mean “bad.” When you say, for instance, that there has been little evidence of anything scandalous occurring in Benghazi, conservatives often reply, “Four people died!” Indeed they did, and that was terribly tragic, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a scandal. Two hundred and forty-one Americans died in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call that a “Reagan administration scandal,” because while there were some bad decisions made with awful results, there wasn’t any criminality or corruption or cover-up, the things we usually associate with scandals.

To make a truly meaningful administration scandal, you need two things. First, there has to be some kind of criminal or morally atrocious behavior somewhere, which we can put under the general heading of “malfeasance.” People doing their jobs poorly isn’t enough to make it a scandal. Second, you need the involvement of highly-placed administration officials. Only an affair with both features is a scandal. If a ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska is found to be running a moose-based prostitution ring, that’s only an administration scandal if people high up in the administration knew about it.

Waldman looked at all those scandals which truly dishonest politicians such as Darrel Issa are wasting tax-payers money with faux investigations on. (I am linking to this in case anyone doubts that this attitude really comes from the Republican Party, and not just the clowns in the right wing media who are making these bogus claims.) Waldman looked at Solyndra, Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS, and aggressive leak investigations. In each case, the conservative claims have not held up. He concluded:

So what can we conclude from all this? There are three possible explanations for the lack of a major scandal in the Obama administration. The first is that something truly horrific has gone on, but as of yet it hasn’t been discovered. The second is that the scandals we know about haven’t been fully investigated, and will eventually yield more wrongdoing than we currently understand. And the third is that the administration has not, in fact, committed any horrible crimes. Which seems most likely?

That isn’t to say that they haven’t made plenty of mistakes, because they have. And there are three years left in Obama’s term, so you never know—maybe someone will discover that he’s having an affair with Jennifer Lawrence, or that Valerie Jarrett is a mole for the Yakuza, or that those FEMA concentration camps are real. But there’s also the chance that he’ll end his term without any major scandal, which would be quite something.

A final note: The question of whether we should think of NSA spying as a scandal in these terms is a complicated one that I’m going to have to leave for another day.

And he didn’t even mention the widely held conservative belief of a conspiracy to pass off a foreign-born Muslim Socialist as an American citizen.  Claims of an affair with Jennifer Lawrence from the right are not that far-fetched in light of this. As for NSA spying, I think this falls in the category of policies we disagree with, but not a political scandal.

Regarding the lack of scandal in the Obama administration, the simple explanation might be what Andrew Sullivan previously suggested–that he is not corrupt. I suspect that the explanation might also come down to a difference in how different people see government and where they have come from. Scandals may have become more prevalent in Republican administrations because many on the right oppose the American system of government and do not see it as a force which can be used for good. To them, government is evil and they see nothing wrong for using it for their own ends when in power. In contrast Obama sees the actual functions of government as something worthy of pursuing as an end in itself. Many top government leaders come from positions of wealth and power and seek to increase this as much as possible. Even top positions in government are not necessarily enough for their lust for power. For a former community organizer and someone who not long ago was no more powerful than a member of the Illinois State Senate, the presidency is enough.

This is all quite frustrating for those on the right who seek to attack Obama as corrupt, forcing them to make up a long list of fallacious attacks.

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