The Dumb Party, Cont.


A significant chunk of Louisiana Republicans evidently believe that President Barack Obama is to blame for the poor response to the hurricane that ravaged their state more than three years before he took office.

The latest survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, provided exclusively to TPM, showed an eye-popping divide among Republicans in the Bayou State when it comes to accountability for the government’s post-Katrina blunders.

Twenty-eight percent said they think former President George W. Bush, who was in office at the time, was more responsible for the poor federal response while 29 percent said Obama, who was still a freshman U.S. Senator when the storm battered the Gulf Coast in 2005, was more responsible. Nearly half of Louisiana Republicans — 44 percent — said they aren’t sure who to blame.

Should stealing be legal? Thieves say yes

Not that anyone should be surprised, but it looks like there’s a growing consensus among free market fundamentalists to let insiders screw over investors :

“I want the laws completely erased,” said John Tamny, editor of Forbes Opinions and RealClearMarket in an email exchange.

“Let the markets sort out the information that’s out there.”

He argues insider trading is vaguely defined, and to criminalize it merely blocks the flow of information markets need to thrive. He is hardly alone.

“As sleazy as insider trading sounds, there really isn’t much of a reason to ban it,” Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog wrote last week.

He argues insider trading laws only create “the illusion of fairness.” Small players are convinced they have a fair chance when in fact they are routinely eaten for lunch by large institutional players.

The Dumb Party

Exhibit A :

WASHINGTON — When House GOP leaders abruptly shelved a bill to fund standard federal transportation and housing programs last Wednesday, one of the legislation’s few uncontroversial provisions was a section banning funds for the anti-poverty group ACORN. Had Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) been able to pass the bill, it would have marked the 13th time that Republicans have voted to block federal funding for ACORN since the GOP took over the lower chamber in 2011.

Oddly, however, ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, does not exist. And it did not exist at any time when the House GOP has held a vote on ACORN’s access to government monies — the group disbanded in the spring of 2010.

Exhibit B :

The campaign will likely fail to make a dent with the broader public. But it might be convincing to some hardcore conservative activists, who will go without health coverage they otherwise would have had. And then some of them will get sick, or hurt — and then what?

Over the past couple of years, Republicans have responded to minority status by adopting more extreme political tactics. Chief among them is hostage taking: threatening to shut down the government, or breach the debt ceiling, if they don’t get their way.

But now Republicans have taken themselves hostage. They’re threatening to hurt themselves and their states and their voters and their most committed activists if Democrats don’t give them their way on Obamacare. It’s evidence of their extraordinary dedication to the cause, but also to their increasingly extreme view of how American politics works.

Exhibit C :

“shall not be questioned”

One would think that a President (and former constitutional law professor) faced with an opposition party that wants to derail the economy would show a little bit of curiosity about whether or not they have the constitutional right to do so.

Systematic Errors in 2010 Polls?

With the midterms a few days away, lemme go out on a limb and say that I don’t think it’ll be *that* bad for Democrats. Oh sure, it’ll suck. Dems spent the last two elections winning in districts that are really conservative, so it’s only natural that many of those seats would swing back to the GOP as the result of 2010′s Tea Party Hate-A-Thon.

But I don’t think the GOP is a lock to win more than 50 House seats or that the Democrats have a less than 20% chance of holding onto the House. Based on what Nate Silver recently wrote, I think it’s looking more like a 50-50 shot :

But suppose that our forecast is biased against the Democrats by one point across the country as a whole, perhaps because pollsters are overestimating the enthusiasm gap very slightly. Just one point. Well, there are 6 seats in which we have the Republican candidate projected to win by less than 1 full point (it might be a very long election night, by the way). If Democrats hold those 6 seats, the projected Republican gains would be down to 46.

Now suppose that the forecast understates Democratic support by 2 points. There are 8 seats in which we project the Republican candidate to win by a margin of between 1 and 2 points; now these would also be wiped off the board. Now the Republican gains would be reduced to just 38 seats — and the Democrats would hold the House, 218-217!

Read that again: it means that if our forecasts turn out to be biased against Democrats by just 2 points overall, the party becomes about an even-money bet to hold the House.

And where might those two points come from? Well, first there’s the cell-phone problem :

The latest estimates of telephone coverage by the National Center for Health Statistics found that a quarter of U.S. households have only a cell phone and cannot be reached by a landline telephone. Cell-only adults are demographically and politically different from those who live in landline households; as a result, election polls that rely only on landline samples may be biased. Although some survey organizations now include cell phones in their samples, many — including virtually all of the automated polls — do not include interviews with people on their cell phones.
. . .
In three of four election polls conducted since the spring of this year, estimates from the landline samples alone produced slightly more support for Republican candidates and less support for Democratic candidates, resulting in differences of four to six points in the margin.

It makes sense that this might underestimate Democratic support since cell-only households tend to be younger, more educated, and urban than those with landlines. Adding to this problem is that some polls, like this one for the Nevada Senate race from CNN, are just undercounting Democratic-leaning demographics entirely :

At the end of the day, it’s all going to be about who’s more motivated to go vote, but I won’t be surprised if the big story next week is about how the media used bad polls to drive a bogus narrative.

Work of Art

Bravo’s new show is awfully similar to an idea I posted a few years ago :

If Bravo insists on beating the Project Runway formula to death, I hope they do a series set in the fine arts world next. I’d love to see painters struggle with a sculpture challenge. Or see some jerk-off insist that they don’t have to have any technique because their work is “conceptual”. Or a challenge that takes everyone to the Crayola factory. Or one in which they have to paint something that’s meaningful to them, only to find out the real challenge is to see who can sell the most t-shirts of their painting. Or a commercial illustration challenge in which the contestants have to redesign a corporate logo or redesign the packaging for some product they find abhorrent. Get a dozen pretentious assholes together like that and you know it’s gonna be a good show. The winner gets a gallery show and a feature in Juxtapoz magazine, the loser has to pack his brushes and go.

I’m happy to say that Work of Art is as awesome as I predicted. It perfectly captures everything I hate about the insular, self-proclaimed gatekeepers of the fine arts world. The judges are a bunch of easily-manipulated phonies and the artists seem evenly split between pretentious, self-obsessed douchebags and self-righteous outsiders who resent other contestants for being better at bullshitting their way through a critique. It’s hi-frickin’-larious.

The Republican Infatuation With CEO’s

It’s funny how candidates who vow to run the government “like a business” always seem to back GOP policies that would run the “business” into the ground and enrich their cronies. Any chief executive who promised to shrink the market share of the company and intentionally reduce the company’s earnings would be laughed back down to the mail room, but the standard conservative tropes of shrinking the size of government and cutting taxes are like red meat to “fiscal conservatives”. Any CEO who ran a company the way candidates like Meg Whitman promise to run government would be a massive failure.

Being a “CEO candidate” isn’t about balancing the books and restoring fiscal responsibility, it’s about making sure rich people get to keep as much of their money as possible, even if it means destroying programs that help children and the poor. That’s how Carly Fiorina did it, cutting tens of thousands of jobs at HP, making the company lose 60% of its value, and securing a $42 million dollar payday for herself. That’s how bank CEOs do it too, bringing the world economy on the brink of a depression, but rewarding themselves with fat bonuses for doing such a great job begging for taxpayer money. CEO’s have a cavalier attitude towards success and tend to take unnecessary risks because, screw it, companies come and go. They get paid either way.

Why anyone would favor this sort of approach to governing is beyond me.

Using A Tactic Against A Tactic…But Not Really

The current debate over the use of the budget reconciliation process is infuriating. The Senate, like every other deliberative body, by default makes decisions based on a majority vote, unless their rules say otherwise.

The filibuster is one of those rules, allowing a 40-Senator minority to keep debate open indefinitely and block the majority from getting to vote. It’s anti-democratic and its abuse has been shockingly nihilistic, but whatever. It’s in the rules.

Another Senate rule, however, allows for budget-related bills to bypass filibuster and pass with a majority vote (ie. “budget reconciliation”). Since it’s restricted to bills that can affect the budget, there are obviously some restrictions, but rules are rules. The filibuster and reconciliation, both perfectly acceptable under Senate rules.

So how the hell did one rule become the de facto standard for passing all legislation and the other a codeword for legislative thuggery? The filibuster is somehow sacrosanct (even among some Democrats with an inexplicable fondness for Senate tradition), but using a loophole to defeat another loophole is equivalent to “jamming” a bill through Congress? Either the rules count or they don’t.

Even worse than all this parliamentary horseshit is the fact that everyone is mischaracterizing the potential use of reconciliation. Health care reform won’t get pushed through the Senate via reconciliation. Reform itself already passed the Senate. On Christmas Eve. After overcoming a Republican filibuster.
What might get passed through budget reconciliation is a much smaller bill with fixes to the Senate bill to bring it closer to the House-passed bill. Fixes, not the overall reform itself. It’s an important distinction. Reform already passed both houses of Congress. All the whining in the world won’t change that fact.

How to save Health Care Reform from Joe Lieberman

It’s been pretty clear that the Democratic leadership in the Senate are bunch of amoral cowards who are not only afraid to play hardball, but unwilling to at least pretend to play hardball. As the predictable consequence of this weakness, Sen. Reid has let the health care reform debate become an opportunity for “centrist” Democrats to use logically inconsistent assertions about reform (which often go unchallenged) as a pretext to block the Senate from making progress. Joe Lieberman, who Jonathan Chait says “pose[s] the greatest threat to health care reform”, has provided the clearest example of this hypocrisy yet in his incoherent flip-flopping on the public option compromise which would allow Americans to buy into Medicare.

Democrats in the Senate still seem to think there’s some virtue in being polite to their colleagues who would uphold a status quo that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, but this needs to end. While I doubt the leadership in the “upper house” would ever deign to lower themselves to hurting Joe Lieberman’s feelings in order to save lives, here’s what I would do if I were in charge :

1) Joe Lieberman is persona non grata – From this point forward, it should just be assumed that the Democratic caucus has 59 members. I wouldn’t suggest taking punitive measures against him (yet), lest the leadership come off as spiteful and alienate some of the votes still in play. Rather, Democrats should just ignore Lieberman completely. Stop inviting him to caucus meetings, don’t pay attention to the things he says, and actively engage on-the-fence Senators like Nelson, Collins, and Snowe while making no secret of the fact that the Senate leadership is no longer interested in giving a troll like Lieberman the attention he craves. If asked about Lieberman, Dems should be diplomatic, but treat him as if he were Sen. Graham or McCain. If Joe bashes any aspect of the reform effort, amiably write it off saying something like “Of course Joe would say that. Sen. Lieberman is a good friend, but he’s made it clear over the past few months that his vote isn’t in play.” If Joementum isn’t going to negotiate in good faith, stop negotiating.

2) Put reconciliation back on the table – I understand budget reconciliation is a convoluted process which the Democratic leadership is weary of employing, but they underestimate its value as a threat to moderate Senators who are willing to cut a deal. Harry Reid should split the Senate bill into its budget and non-budget related components (per standard reconciliation procedure), include the House version of the public option, and submit the bills to the CBO for scoring. Even if Reid never intends to move forward on reconciliation, a pending CBO score for a reconciliation-ready robust public option should hang like the sword of Damocles over the heads of every centrist Senator. If you don’t cut a deal, we’ll have a more liberal bill waiting to be passed.

3) The public option is still dead – It’s been obvious since the summer that the public option wouldn’t make it out of the Senate, so the Democratic leadership needs to work overtime to find a good alternative, even if it means taking a hit from the base. Unfortunately, it looks like allowing people to buy into Medicare is a non-starter, but ditching the public option entirely in exchange for ditching annual/lifetime coverage limits, implementing a hard 95% medical loss ratio, ending the monopoly exemption for insurers, and including Ron Wyden’s ideas for opening up the health care exchange (singular, not plural) to every American would accomplish just as much if not more than the already-watered down public options would. The key is to keep focused on the purpose of the bill and not the specifics. If a public option can be traded out for a compromise that will encourage stiff competition and actually control costs, be willing to make a deal.

4) Bring back the “constitutional option” – Once again, like reconciliation, I doubt Harry Reid would ever have the balls to pull something like this off, but it’s still worth employing as a tactic to get moderate Senators talking. The Democratic leadership should start trying to get whip counts together to see if they can scrounge up 51 votes for the nuclear option. Moreover, they need to make a serious effort to put the legitimacy of the filibuster in the spotlight. Every Democrat should be prepared to decry the filibuster as a parliamentary trick that has no constitutional basis and start peppering their speech with go-to phrases like “up or down vote”, “framer’s original intent”, and “simple majority” as a way of drawing attention to the fact that Republicans are using a procedural loophole to subvert small-D democracy. If Democrats can get the message across, they can assure the public there’s no shame in using a loophole to kill another loophole.

As they say, politics ain’t a beanbag, but for too long Democrats in the Senate have chosen the path of least resistance and let the American people be a punching bag in the process. This isn’t a game. Harry Reid and the rest of his cohorts need to put down their copies of “Robert’s Rules of Order” and pick up Machiavelli’s rules for kicking some ass (aka. “The Prince”). They need to stop being congenial and realize that if reform doesn’t happen in the next few weeks, it’s unlikely to happen for another generation or more. The fate of hundreds of thousands of lives rests on their shoulders.

Great Moments For Democracy

Perhaps not entirely by coincidence, the New York Times homepage presented its readers with the following juxtaposition:

Great Moments for Democracy

Moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava committed the unforgivable sin of supporting abortion rights, marriage equality, and the economic stimulus package. She had the endorsement of the RNC, Republican leaders in Congress, and fer chrissake Newt Gingrich; more importantly, she reflected the views of her district’s Republican voters. This was not enough for a coalition of mostly D.C.-based crybabies from throwing huge amounts of money and high-profile endorsements (yes, that means Sarah Palin) at Douglas Hoffman, whose qualifications for office consist of being a millionaire and supporting tax cuts.

It’s a little uncomfortable for me to admit that I pretty much wholeheartedly agree with Newt Gingrich’s comments on the affair:

“I felt very deeply that when you have all 11 county chairman voting for someone, that it wasn’t appropriate for me to come in and render my judgment,” he said. “I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.”

The whole thing conveniently ignores that States’ rights idea the right like to throw around when it supports their thinking. Meanwhile, RNC Chairman Michael Steele has cheerily flip-flopped (“Doug’s campaign will receive the financial backing of the R.N.C. and get-out-the-vote efforts to defeat Bill Owens on Tuesday.”), demonstrating the kind of courage in one’s convictions he hasn’t become famous for.

So what does this have to do with a corrupt president appointing himself to another term? Mainly just the one very important overarching theme: The Democratic process getting cornholed. In one case we have utterly disconnected party elites hand-picking an unqualified candidate because he passes the litmus tests that qualify him as the type of bonafide right-wing moron that lost the 2006 and 2008 elections for the GOP. In the other case, we’ve got a sham electoral process driving an opposition candidate from the race. In both cases, the voter loses the right to back the candidate of his or her choice. Democracy FAIL.

Itchy Trigger Finger

For the moderates who claim they can only support a public option if it includes a trigger, here’s an idea : We pass a heath care reform bill with a robust public option and heath insurance exchanges that are open to everyone (a la the Wyden plan). The public option is behind a trigger that goes into effect the moment the bill is signed and kicks off if a single American dies of a treatable condition becuase they cannot afford heath care. At the rate Americans have been dying to protect the status quo (approx. 45,000 per year), that means we’ll only have to wait 10 minutes or so for the public option. Problem solved!

Better Dead Than Red

I find the “What about people in the red states?” argument against an opt-out public option wholly unpersuasive. Yes, an opt-out public option could end up preventing millions of people from having access to quality affordable health care, but there’s a simple solution to that problem : Stop Voting For Republicans. If enough people do that, then you don’t have to worry about getting your heath care taken away by a bunch of wingnuts who think Barack Obama is the love child of Hitler and Malcolm X.

The main reason a robust public option is off the table at all is because conservative voices are over-represented in the Senate, yet we’re supposed to care because a bunch of ignorant, regressive, fools in the small states might take away a vital component from the compromise of a compromise of a compromise health care plan that Congress can barely pass? Cry me a frickin’ river.

I’m sick of seeing people suffer because the founders decided to give the representatives of small, states a de facto over anything even mildly progressive. Every major leap forward our nation has taken has been in spite of conservatives, so when I think about all of the progress still waiting to be done, I’d rather just get the best deal we can and let the rest of the country keep living in the dark ages. Better to lead by example and hope they catch up then let the tyranny of the minority keep screwing everyone over.

Articles I’ve Read Lately That I Like

Obama’s High Bar

The problem for the addlebrained Obama-rejectionists is that the president, as far as they are concerned, couldn’t possibly do anything right, and thus is unworthy of any conceivable recognition. If Obama ended world hunger, they’d accuse him of promoting obesity. If he solved global warming, they’d complain it was getting chilly. If he got Mahmoud Abbas and Binyamin Netanyahu to join him around the campfire in a chorus of “Kumbaya,” the rejectionists would claim that his singing was out of tune.

What would actually work? Driving down the cost of health care

What provisions in a “health reform act” would actually drop costs in health care? Let’s leave aside for the moment all the myriad other arguments – some might be seen as too much government intrusion, some would destroy the health plan industry, some would be cripplingly difficult for providers, and so on – and just focus on cost. Given the real structure of health care markets in the United States at this moment, what could be written into federal law and regulation that would actually reduce cost?me of these changes are massive, some would be invisible to those outside the industry, but all could be legislated or regulated, and all would “bend the curve” toward lower costs.
. . .
Limiting medical loss ratios: Many European countries dictate that health plans must return 85% or 90% or 92.5% of the premium paid in as medical services paid out. U.S. health plans, in contrast, compete on (and brag to Wall Street analysts about) how low their medical loss ratio is. Some are as low as 60%.
. . .
Increasing subsidies for digitization, tied to productivity improvements: There are huge inefficiencies in the actual practice of medicine. No one can improve on them until the people running health care can actually track what they are doing, in detail. In something as complex as health care, that means total digitization, like any other business.

Subsidizing automation: Many things in health care would be done much more efficiently by automation, from lab work and pharmaceutical distribution to tracking inventory. Today’s system does little to encourage such automation – instead,it actually supports the inefficiency.

Standardization and checklists: Many parts of health care have established pathways that are clinically proven and widely published in the medical literature, yet followed only at the clinician’s whim. These are not matters for the doctor’s judgment, these are matters like washing your hands between patients, fully draping a patient for a central line placement, getting clear verbal confirmation from everyone in the surgical suite that they agree on who the patient is and what the operation is for. Standard pathways, and simple feedback mechanisms like checklists to make sure they are followed, are still not common practice in health care. If regulations made them mandatory, following them would save billions of dollars in fighting infections and having to re-admit patients to the hospital with problems that could have been prevented.

High Cost of Death Row

Perhaps the most extreme example is California, whose death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts for life. The state has executed 13 people since 1976 for a total of about $250 million per execution. This is a state whose prisons are filled to bursting (unconstitutionally so, the courts say) and whose government has imposed doomsday-level cuts to social services, health care, schools and parks.

Money spent on death rows could be spent on police officers, courts, public defenders, legal service agencies and prison cells. Some lawmakers, heeding law-enforcement officials who have declared capital punishment a low priority, have introduced bills to abolish it.

A Smarter (and Cost-Efficient) Way to Fight Crime

Most crimes in the United States are committed by long-term repeat offenders, a majority of whom are eventually caught. One of every 100 adults in the United States is now behind bars; many are serving lengthy sentences. The crimes they committed clearly did not “pay” in any objective sense of the term.

Why, then, did they commit them? The short answer is that most criminals are not the dispassionate rational actors who populate standard economic models. They are more like impulsive children, blinded by the temptation of immediate reward and largely untroubled by the possibility of delayed or uncertain punishment.

The evidence suggests that when hardened criminals are reasonably sure that they will be caught and punished swiftly, even mild sanctions deter them. But not even the prospect of severe punishment is effective if offenders think they can get away with their crimes.

One way to make apprehension and punishment more likely is to spend substantially more money on law enforcement. In a time of chronic budget shortfalls, however, that won’t happen.

But Mr. Kleiman suggests that smarter enforcement strategies can make existing budgets go further. The important step, he says, is to view enforcement as a dynamic game in which strategically chosen deterrence policies become self-reinforcing. If offense rates fall enough, a tipping point is reached. And once that happens, even modest enforcement resources can hold offenders in check.