Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Post election analysis

I'm sure everyone is quickly becoming tired of Republican gloating and the MSM echoing the Faux "News" meme that this election was a referendum on Obama. If any of them were to actually look at any exit polls, they'd see a clear majority said Obama had no effect, with another 20% saying they voted to show support for Obama. But don't let reality distract the right. As long as they remain distracted by this, they'll ignore the true lessons of this election and remain a minority party for longer.

There are three real lessons that I saw in these elections: extremism is a sure way to lose, names on the ticket are more important than names in Washington, and elections are more often lost than won. Please share yours in the comments.

Extremism is a sure way to lose

New York's 23th district is the strongest reflection of this. For those who missed it, in the Republican primary, DeDe Scozzafava won a strong majority. In response to her moderate views on gay marriage and taxes, the extremist wing of the Republican party backed a third party Conservative candidate, David Hoffman. This caused a schism in the vote which gave the Democrat, Bill Owens, a slight advantage. The conservative rancor was so strong, it drove Scozzafava from the race, not to endorse Hoffman, but to endorse the moderate Democrat, Owens. In the end, Owens won a seat that has been held by Republicans for about 130 years (only ten times longer than the 8 and 12 years since a Republican held the VA and NJ governorship). America is a moderate country; nearly 30% of citizens identify themselves as Democrats, about 20% as Republicans, leaving more than 50% identifying themselves as independent. Similar numbers are reflected along the conservative/liberal spectrum as well. Espousing extremist views is a sure way to drive the majority moderate/independent away from either side.

Names on the ticket are more important than names in Washington

As the exit polls I mentioned above show, Obama had no effect on 60% of New Jersians and 55% of Virginians. The remaining 40ish percent were split somewhat evenly for and against Obama and I have the feeling they would have voted this way with or without Obama. Meanwhile, New Jersy's Jon Corzine had a state-wide approval comparable to Bush/Cheney in 2008. In Virginia, only 47% of voters said they felt Creigh Deeds shared their views (61% said Bob McDonnell did).

Elections are more often lost than won

As I mentioned above, Governor Corzine's job approval rating was in the mid 20s throughout most of the campaign. Yet the primary message put out in his campaign ads were along the lines of "Chris Christie is corrupt too." Messages like this are don't fix your weakness and at times can highlight your own issues. If he had instead focused on his own successes as governor, he could have turned around his job approval numbers (possibly) and possibly won the vote. Similarly, Creigh Deeds largely didn't campaign for himself but against his opponent. Halfway through the campaign, a golden opportunity was dropped in his lap with the discovery of McDonnell's college thesis advocating against women's equality. This is great to highlight progressive, equal rights/equal pay agenda and is useful as one piece of a campaign. Instead, Deeds made this his entire campaign. As such, by the time the election rolled around, nearly two thirds of voters said the paper had no effect on their vote. Neither of these candidates brought strong ideas or principles to the table (although their opponents only brought the "taxes are too high" canard) which are what bring people to the polls to vote for candidates. This principle was also reflected in the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns. John Kerry failed to strongly advocate his own views and instead was largely a anti-Bush candidate in 2004 and John McCain threw away any opportunity he had by campaigning erratically without any clear personal message.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Other email from Obama

Sent 8-5-2009

John --

This is the moment our movement was built for.

For one month, the fight for health insurance reform leaves the backrooms of Washington, D.C., and returns to communities across America. Throughout August, members of Congress are back home, where the hands they shake and the voices they hear will not belong to lobbyists, but to people like you.

Home is where we're strongest. We didn't win last year's election together at a committee hearing in D.C. We won it on the doorsteps and the phone lines, at the softball games and the town meetings, and in every part of this great country where people gather to talk about what matters most. And if you're willing to step up once again, that's exactly where we're going to win this historic campaign for the guaranteed, affordable health insurance that every American deserves.

There are those who profit from the status quo, or see this debate as a political game, and they will stop at nothing to block reform. They are filling the airwaves and the internet with outrageous falsehoods to scare people into opposing change. And some people, not surprisingly, are getting pretty nervous. So we've got to get out there, fight lies with truth, and set the record straight.

That's why Organizing for America is putting together thousands of events this month where you can reach out to neighbors, show your support, and make certain your members of Congress know that you're counting on them to act. But these canvasses, town halls, and gatherings only make a difference if you turn up to knock on doors, share your views, and show your support. So here's what I need from you:

Can you commit to join at least one event in your community this month?

In politics, there's a rule that says when you ask people to get involved, always tell them it'll be easy. Well, let's be honest here: Passing comprehensive health insurance reform will not be easy. Every President since Harry Truman has talked about it, and the most powerful and experienced lobbyists in Washington stand in the way.

But every day we don't act, Americans watch their premiums rise three times faster than wages, small businesses and families are pushed towards bankruptcy, and 14,000 people lose their coverage entirely. The cost of inaction is simply too much for the people of this nation to bear.

So yes, fixing this crisis will not be easy. Our opponents will attack us every day for daring to try. It will require time, and hard work, and there will be days when we don't know if we have anything more to give. But there comes a moment when we all have to choose between doing what's easy, and doing what's right.

This is one of those times. And moments like this are what this movement was built for. So, are you ready?

Please commit now to taking at least one action in your community this month to build support for health insurance reform:

Let's seize this moment and win this historic victory for our economy, our health and our families.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Email from Obama

John --

Members of Congress have been home for just a few days, and they're already facing increased pressure from insurance companies, special interests, and partisan attack organizations that are spending millions to block health insurance reform.

These groups are using scare tactics and spreading smears about the President's plan for reform, trying to incite constituents into lashing out at their representatives and disrupting their events.

The goal of these disruptions is for a few people to get a lot of media attention and hijack the entire public discourse. If they succeed, all Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents -- will continue to struggle under the broken status quo.

It's up to us to show Congress that those loudly opposing reform are a tiny minority being stirred up by special interests, and that a huge majority strongly supports enacting real health insurance reform in 2009.

Your representative, Wm. Lacy Clay, has been fighting hard for real health insurance reform. Can you call the local office in Saint Louis? Let the person who answers know that you're a constituent. Then tell them: "Thanks for working to enact real health insurance reform this year. Voters like me support your efforts."

According to our records, you live in Missouri's 1st congressional district. Please call:

Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay at 314-367-1970.

Once you've made your call, click here to report it.

(Not your representative? Click here to look yours up.)

Calling should only take a few minutes, but it's a huge help. These local offices serve as the main connection between a member of Congress and voters in the district. And with representatives home on recess, the staff there are in daily contact with your member, keeping them updated on how many calls they receive that are for or against reform.

Once you've called, please tell us. Knowing how many calls are coming in from all around the country will help us better plan our campaign -- and help us show that the American people overwhelmingly want health insurance reform this year. Let us know you called:



Mitch Stewart
Organizing for America

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Who's really trying to ration health care

In the debate over the health care reform bills coming before the House of Representatives (pdf) and the Senate, the go to objection for conservatives and Republicans has been, "Do you want the government to be able to tell you what care you can receive?" Setting aside the logical inconsistency that care right now is rationed (either directly by insurance companies or indirectly through overpriced care and employment risks) this argument is hypocritical and self serving.

First, the bill linked above from the House expressly prohibits restricting coverage A (I)(C)(121)(c) pg. 26:

A qualified health benefits plan may not impose any restriction (other than cost sharing) unrelated to clinical appropriateness on the coverage of the health care items and services.

In fact, throughout all of Division A (the section that establishes both the public option and defines what meets the mandate specifications as an eligible private plan) the only restrictions this bill sets are on minimum quality of coverage. Most of these minimums go above and beyond what I see in private plans (mental health parity, elimination of pre-existing conditions, etc.) This isn't rationing of care, this is the opposite just as then candidate Obama promised on the campaign trail (although with the addition of a mandate as Hillary Clinton and John Edwards had proposed).

Throughout this entire debate I have heard only one group call for any government imposed restrictions on the type of care you can receive. This hasn't been Democrats trying to tell doctors to give this drug instead of that one. This hasn't been progressives trying to say which doctor you get to see.

The only people asking that the government not provide coverage has been Republicans. It is the Republican leadership and Congressmen that are trying to get an amendment passed that would restrict the care a woman can receive from her doctor. They want to impose a restriction on coverage that would prevent a woman from accessing legal safe abortions.

They're not trying to impose this restriction on medical grounds. They're not even trying to impose it based on cost savings. The one and only reason they have for proposing this is because their religious base says so. Because their religious base believes abortion is wrong, they want to deny this essential and sometimes life saving procedure to those who need it.

There is a reason our founders created a firm wall between church and state. They knew that forcing one's religious beliefs on another took away the freedoms of everyone. In fact, many of the first European immigrants came to these shores because others were attempting to force their religious beliefs on them.

Could you imagine the outcry if representatives with large Amish constituencies passed a provision banning the coverage for MRIs because they view that as wrong? Or Scientologists banning treatment of depression? The outcry from the "libertarian" right would be deafening. We can not let this hypocrisy stand or go unchallenged.

Remember this the next time you hear the "rationing" health care argument these reforms. Those who preach it the loudest already are the first to attempt to do so.

Please contact your Senators and Representatives and ask them to keep government out of decisions that should be between patients and doctors. Sign this petition from or contact them directly (Senator contact information, Congressperson contact information)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Conservative Keynesian Myth

There is a myth going around. Largely it is repeated in Conservative circles, but many political pundits (George Will and Newt Gingrich chief among them) like repeating it. They repeat over and over that "Keynesian economics has never worked." Yet immediately they turn right around and thoroughly disprove themselves.

The most openly Keynesian action by our government was the New Deal of FDR in the 1930s. Conservatives claim that Keynesian policy was an absolute failure because we didn't fully exit the Depression until World War II. They ignore two major flaws in this thinking.

The first problem is that Keynesian policy wasn't used throughout the Depression. From 1933 into 1937 FDR took the "kitchen sink" approach. He would try something, see how it worked and either continue it or move on to something else. The WPA and many other programs were started and got people back to work. For these four years, GDP grew an average of 10% per year, unemployment fell from 25% to a minimum of 12% in June of 1937 (using the same calculation for unemployment today that they used then, we are currently between 14 and 16%), and created an average 9% annual increase in average incomes.

Throughout this whole period FDR and his Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau Jr., were constantly worried about the expanding deficit. By 1937, things seemed to be looking relatively better. GDP had grown from $56.4 billion to $91.9 (current dollars adjusted for inflation). Unemployment, as I said above, had fallen by nearly 50%. FDR let his inner deficit hawk take control and cut spending by over about two billion dollars (adjusted for inflation). When this happened, GDP stumbled and fell more than 3% and unemployment jumped to 19%.

Then we get to the second half of the Conservative myth wherein they contradict themselves. Every Conservative economist claims that the Great Depression disproves Keynesian economics because we didn't pull out of the Depression fully until the war effort ramped up. But if you look at that, it only proves Keynes correct. The war effort didn't have tax cuts, it didn't have a balanced budget (just the opposite, spending 140%+ of GDP). No monetary policy brought us out of the Depression during WWII. It was direct government spending unlike anything we had seen before or have seen since.

Other policies can help with recessions. Monetary policy has worked in the past, as recently as 2001. Tax cuts sometimes help, but rarely in isolation (see 2008 for an example of a tax cut failing in isolation). But these options aren't available to us and don't work in a demand death spiral like we are in now. Monetary policy is used up, we are at 0% interest. Tax rebates have already failed once and the smaller one being proposed now won't work any better. Tax incentives for purchases can't work if people can't purchase. The only thing left is for the US government to directly stimulate demand by direct spending. Other things like the middle class tax cut may help on the short term while government spending ramps up, but without the larger government projects, that short term stimulus will be wasted just as quickly as last year's stimulus checks.

UPDATE: Rachel Maddow discussed this as well. Here is an article with other good charts that reflect my points.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Ending?

This glorious day has seen the end of a number of things. An end to the Bush administration. An end to the national shame of endorsement of torture. And as some have said, "An end of an error." We have also seen a brilliant first; the first black man elected to the highest office of the land. And it is this first that has brought an end to something else that many pundits are trying to put a finger on.

Many have said it is an end to segregation, to discrimination, or to racism. These pundits are lofty, but they ignore the reality that many African-Americans face every day throughout the country. Racism isn't going to be defeated by one election. Hatred and bigotry were an undercurrent (and sometimes not so under) throughout the election, and while it has suffered a defeat, it is not gone. The next time an African-American runs for president, the bar will not be as high, but it will still be higher than for a white man.

No, what I believe we saw an end to when Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office is much more subtle. I believe we saw an end to an idea, to an undercurrent of modern culture, that African-Americans can't succeed. Children have been told that in America you can be anything you want to be: astronaut, fireman, or even president. But for African American children, this has always seemed a pipe dream. Only 45 years ago, dogs were sicced on them for attempting to attend school. 30 years ago a president ran on a platform of attacking welfare as handouts for the lazy and unworthy (with an implied "black"). Even this year, we saw a presidential candidate attacked for being black with opponents attempting to diminish him as just another black candidate or as uppity.

But this has come to an end. These children now can look at their chart of presidents and see a black man's face among the 44. They can look on their TVs and see 2 or 3 million people of all races cheering this man on as he takes the reins of power. They know that the words "all men are created equal" are finally being lived up to. And while discrimination and bigotry and hatred haven't ended, when they face these obstacles they will have the strength of knowing that over 60 million of their fellow citizens voted for a man born to an African imigrant, a man who grew up at times on food stamps, and who has the name Barack Hussein Obama.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Stimulate This

Congress and the President (elect) are now debating how best to work out a stimulus package to pull us out of of the recession we have been in for more than 12 months. And while we only have 535 Senators and Representatives (give or take) we have thousands of ideas how best to do this. Obama has promised for more than a year tax breaks for families making under $250k and for employers who hire American workers instead of shipping jobs overseas. Every member of Congress wants a tax break or direct hand out for their own local pet project (that they want their name attached to in stone after it's completed). And there are even some who think we should lock up the money and hope it's still worth something after our economy has collapsed.

In times like we are now facing, though, only the government has the capability of spending unfortunately. Even with trillions of dollars in bail outs, buy outs, and other promises, the lending institutions that could empower the private sector to drive the recovery are still hording their money, ensuring no improvements can come from there. Private citizens are (for the first time in decades) saving more than they are spending and, while wise for a population who's personal savings rate has been in the low $1,000s, this adds more to the stranglehold on our financial system. The Federal Reserve, even as lender of last resort, simply can't put as much on its balance sheet as would be necessary. This leaves only the federal government itself as the spender of last resort and the best chance of breaking through the deadlock.

But while the government does need to increase spending, it must do so carefully. Spending a couple million on a Woodstock Museum or $400 million on a bridge to nowhere will only serve to tie up that money and keep it from its full potential. We need to make sure the money we the people spend will work not just once for a handful of local jobs, but work repeatedly. We must invest in things that will serve us long term, as the interstate system has since it was started in the 1950s. We need to expand broadband access, improve our electrical grid to handle the new requirements that will be put on it, and create a true green economy that will last us for centuries longer than fossil fuels could possibly hope to.

To this end, governors and mayors from across the country have sent proposals to Obama's transition team. Many of these "shovel ready" projects will strengthen communities and create jobs as is needed, but many others are aptly titled pork. The President and VP (elect) have made it very clear there should be none of the later in the bill, but they have a 535 member body that is very accustomed to bacon and will put up a fight. Obama and Biden must hold the line because otherwise it will be even harder next time.

Some proposals though may just need tweaking to turn from pork to a true improvement. Seattle is proposing projects worth as much as $7 million (for one solar installation). This may seem ludicrous when you consider that some years there are more rainy days in Seattle than sunny days. But, while areas like Nevada may be able to make thousands of times more solar megawatt hours than Washington, it is unable, with the current electrical grid, to efficiently send that electricity up north. Meanwhile, countries like Germany, which gets a comprable amount of sunlight annually, is the leader of solar power in all Europe. Now, the plan as proposed would only power the (publicly owned) Qwest exhibition center and as planned would only reduce energy costs 14-16%. I don't know what the current energy costs of this building are, but that doesn't sound like much bang for the buck. It is possible, though, if Seattle uses lessons learned in Germany, to apply such funds to a solar network that may generate much better results and make that $7 million really work.

We are very lucky to have a President (can I drop the "elect" yet? PLEASE!!!) who values a high level of skill and expertise over dogmatic loyalty. This quality will hopefully guide policy and spend our money much more wisely than the failure of Bush and Paulson have.

Rumors of my death only show you weren't listening

It's been a while since I've been back over here. Sorry if it's gotten a bit dusty. It isn't for lack of things to talk about though; the last two months have been anything but quiet. Between failed bailouts, bailouts that failed to pass (but were implemented anyway), power hungry governors and egocentric wanna-be senators and war this has been a hectic transition period.

And while I have been silent here on my blog, my Twitter followers have suffered from an abundance of opinion. I will still come here and post periodically, most of my attention will be focused by the more concise 140 character limit imposed over there. Those who haven't already, feel free to come over and tell me there what I am getting wrong -