As the dust settles

on the first enrollment period of the new Affordable Care Act, we are learning that a lot more people than a lot of people predicted have signed up for insurance.  President Obama is claiming 7.1 million people signed up on the health insurance exchanges – along with unknown numbers of others who signed up directly with insurance companies.  There was a claim yesterday that 90% of the enrollees had actually paid a first premium, a crucial step to being able to actually use the insurance.  We all know that there will be hassles when people go to their medical provider, when insurance cards don’t arrive in the mail, when someone with expanded Medicaid goes to a doctor who doesn’t accept that plan, but then, there have always been hassles with health insurance.  This will be nothing new.  What will be new is the massive number of new people suddenly looking for a provider.  Adjustments will have to be made all around.

But the biggest losers as of this morning would seem to be the opponents of the ACA or Obamacare as they call it.  Here is Dan Wasserman’s cartoon from this morning’s Boston Globe.

obamacare wasserman

 

And then there is this story from Politico.

Back in the fall, conservatives seized on the flubbed Obamacare rollout as proof that President Barack Obama’s brand of liberalism doesn’t work.

Now, the law’s opponents aren’t about to say that critique was wrong — but they’ve lost the best evidence they had.

On Tuesday, Obamacare sign-ups passed 7 million, six months after the launch of a federal website that could barely sign up anybody. There are still a lot of questions about how solid that figure is, but the idea that the law could even come close to the original goal after such a disastrous start would have been laughable even a few weeks ago.

That’s left the critics questioning the early numbers or changing the subject. It’s a reminder that the attacks on the website were more than complaints about technology, but a proxy for a much deeper argument about what government should do and what it can’t do

But the Republicans do seem to be suffering from a compulsion disorder.  Here is Representative Paul Ryan quoted in the Politico story

And House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who on the same day released a budget plan that would repeal the law, wasn’t fazed by the enrollment news.

“I think Obamacare is a slow-rolling fiasco. I think it’s a Pyrrhic victory,” the Wisconsin lawmaker said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, at the same time that Obama was giving his victory speech in the Rose Garden.

But it was so much easier when they could just say the federal government can’t tie its own shoelaces. Now, they have to acknowledge that the government fixed the problem — and enrollment came roaring back.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is set to release his health care plan – I guess he is running for President.  According to the Washington Post

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will announce Wednesday a plan to repeal and replace President Obama’s health-care law, an effort by the Republican to insert himself into the increasingly competitive early maneuvering for his party’s presidential nomination.

In his 26-page plan, Jindal lays out a lengthy critique of the health law — which he refers to throughout as “Obamacare” — and reiterates his belief that it needs to be entirely done away with. In its place, he sets forth a bevy of ideas that have run through conservative thought for years, in some cases renaming them and in other cases suggesting new variations on old themes.

These themes appear to include giving those on Medicare a subsidy to buy private insurance and giving Medicaid money to the states to provide whatever care they decide on.  I have a feeling that this every-state-for-itself  idea will be proven to be a real problem as people in states that didn’t accept the expanded Medicare under the ACA are faced with citizens who won’t understand why Uncle Charlie can get health insurance subsidies and they can’t.  I don’t think this is a plan people will go for – especially after they get a feel for what is covered under ACA – but at least Jindal has something.

President Obama’s poll numbers are creeping up.  Democrats running for re-election would do well to be cautious about running away from the ACA, and optimistic me says that Nate Silver might just be wrong this time with is prediction that the Republicans have the edge in the mid-terms.  It won’t be easy for the Democrats:  They have to turn out their base in larger numbers than is usual for a mid-term, but it can be done.  Nate did favor Duke which lost in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Random thoughts on the state of the world on the first day of spring

Today, the first day of spring, is warmish outside.  I think it actually broke 50!  We had a few hours of sun, but now it is mostly cloudy.  I finally purchased John Grisham’s “Sycamore Row”.  I had been resisting but succumbed because I loved “A Time to Kill” and I ended up getting 45% off the cover price.  Don’t know if a new Grisham is a sign of spring or not, but I’m going to take it as one.

It is hard for me to concentrate on much the last few days.  There is just too much news! Between the missing Malaysian airliner, Crimea, and worrying about the Democrats retaining Congress in the fall, things are pretty depressing even for someone who tends to be an optimist.

Unfortunately, I think that time ran out a long time ago for the passengers on the airliner and now all we can do is watch as the world tries to locate the remains of the plane and the black box.  While everyone points out that they did eventually find the Air France plane that went down in the Atlantic, it was very difficult even though we had a much better of idea of where it went down.  I see the families on television and wonder what I would feel if I just didn’t know what happened.  At this point one almost has to treat it as a forensic mystery to be solved.

I don’t think we are on the verge of a war over Russia and the Crimea, but I do think that things will be difficult internationally for a while.  This will affect negotiations in Iran and Syria as well as people in the Ukraine and Crimea.  But the ultimate losers may be the Crimeans.  David M. Herszenhorn had an article in the New York Times yesterday which pointed out that the troubles there may just be starting.

Many A.T.M.s in this sun-dappled seaside resort city in Crimea, and across the region, have been empty in recent days, with little white “transaction denied” slips piling up around them. Banks that do have cash have been imposing severe restrictions on withdrawals.

All flights, other than those to or from Moscow, remain canceled in what could become the norm if the dispute over Crimea’s political status drags on, a chilling prospect just a month before tourist season begins in a place beloved as a vacation playground since czarist times.

He points out that Ukraine could cut off electricity and water supplies and that there is no direct overland route between Crimea and Russia.  The story ends with this

Some Crimeans said they were already feeling the financial sting from political instability.

As crowds in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol held raucous celebrations well into Monday morning after the vote, here in Yalta, Ihor B., the owner of a small travel business, went to bed with a growing sense of dread: The roughly two dozen bookings that he had received since the start of the year had all disappeared.

“I got 10 requests from Germany, and 10 assignments from Ukrainian agencies for Western tourists; a couple of requests from Dutch tourists and cruise ships,” said Mr. B, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisal by the new Russian government. “At the moment, all of them, absolutely all of them, are canceled.”

In the same issue of the Times was a long cautionary story about South Ossetia which was liberated from Georgia five years ago.  But things have moved on and South Ossetia is not doing very well.

When Russia invaded Georgia, repelling a Georgian attack on South Ossetia and taking control of the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it seemed most unlikely that the Kremlin was thinking about long-term consequences.

As in Crimea, the war was presented to Russians as a humanitarian effort to protect its citizens, and more broadly as a challenge to encirclement by the United States, which was aligned with Georgia. Television stations gave the intervention blanket coverage, and it was wildly popular in Russia, lifting the approval ratings of Dmitri A. Medvedev to the highest point of his presidency.

The aftermath of recognition, however, has presented Russia with a long series of headaches. This week, economists have warned repeatedly that Crimea, if it is absorbed, will prove a serious drag on Russia’s budget, but their arguments have been drowned out in the roar of public support for annexation.

Aleksei V. Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russian officials “will be shocked” with the challenges they face when trying to manage Crimea — reviving its economy, distributing money and influence among its ethnic groups, and trying to control the corruption that accompanies all big Russian projects. And, judging from precedent, the public’s euphoria will fade, he said.

“I think that in Russia, the majority of the society forgot about Ossetia, and if it weren’t for the Olympics, the majority of the society would also forget about Abkhazia,” Mr. Malashenko said. “Of course, Crimea is not Ossetia. But anyway, the popularity of Crimeans, and the Crimean tragedy, will be forgotten in a year.”

So maybe we don’t need to do anything except some sanctions and make sure that Russia and Putin’s next move is not to march into eastern Ukraine.  Forget John McCain’s mockery and advice.

As for domestic politics, I recalled Andrew Sullivan’s March 13th blog entry on The Dish. The Boring, Relentless Advance Of Obama’s Agenda.  To read the entire piece one has to subscribe [which I would encourage you to do], but here is his conclusion.

…One side is theater – and often rather compelling theater, if you like your news blonde, buxom and propagandized. The other side is boring, relentless implementation. At any one time, you can be forgiven for thinking that the theatrics have worked. The botched roll-out of healthcare.gov, to take an obvious example, created a spectacular weapon for the GOP to hurl back at the president. But since then, in undemonstrative fashion, the Obama peeps have rather impressively fixed the site’s problems and signed up millions more to the program. As the numbers tick up, the forces of inertia – always paramount in healthcare reform – will kick in in defense of Obamacare, and not against it. Again, the pattern is great Republican political theater, followed by steady and relentless Democratic advance.

Until the theater really does create a new majority around Republican policies and a Republican candidate, Obama has the edge. Which is to say: he has had that edge now for nearly six years. Even if he loses the entire Congress this fall, he has a veto. And then, all he has to do is find a successor able to entrench his legacy and the final meep-meep is upon us. And that, perhaps, is how best to see Clinton. She may not have the stomach for eight years in the White House, and the barrage of bullshit she will have to endure. But if you see her as being to Barack Obama what George H.W. Bush was to Reagan, four years could easily be enough. At which point, the GOP may finally have to abandon theater for government, and performance art for coalition-building.

Plus, it is spring.

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Anita Hill and Sandra Fluke: Does 20 years really make a difference?

Tonight while I was surfing around looking for updates on the Malaysian jet still missing somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam – or perhaps somewhere else – I happened upon a long story in the New York Times about the new documentary about Anita Hill.  Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s review of the movie is actually a long profile of Hill.  I’m very happy that Hill allowed the documentary to be made because it means that a whole new generation of young men and women will be introduced to a remarkable person.

Back then there was no social media, no Facebook, no Twitter but the word still spread quickly among women that someone was about to accuse a nominee for the United States Supreme Court of sexual harassment.  No one knew exactly who she was, but we knew this was going to be important.  I was in Washington, D.C. that day at a meeting, but I remember sitting in a bar that afternoon with several other women all of us transfixed by what was happening on the television.  I was astounded that none of the men, and the Judiciary Committee was all white men, had any clue.  Stolberg puts it this way

“I think this event changed the course of her life and gave her a public mission that she took on,” said Fred Lawrence, the Brandeis president and a Yale Law School classmate of Ms. Hill’s. “It’s not a duty that she volunteered for, but I think she understood that the circumstances had put her in a unique role, and gave her a voice.”

The hearings were a surreal spectacle, as senators prodded an obviously uncomfortable Ms. Hill through awkward testimony about penis size, pubic hair and a pornographic film star known as Long Dong Silver — shocking public discourse at the time. When the hearings ended, Ms. Hill returned to teaching commercial law at the University of Oklahoma, trying, as she says in the film, to find “a new normal.” It proved difficult.

Ms. Hill at the hearings.

Ms. Hill at the hearings.

And I think every women who watched the hearings remembers that electric blue suit.

There were thousands of letters of support, but also death threats, threats to her job. Conservative state lawmakers wanted her fired; fortunately, she had tenure. Even years later, she felt “a discomfort,” she said. One dean confided that he had tired of hearing colleagues at other schools remark, “Isn’t that where Anita Hill is?”

In Washington, her testimony reverberated. Sexual harassment claims shot up. “Our phones were ringing off the hook with people willing to come forward who had been suffering in silence,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, where Ms. Hill serves on its board.

Congress passed a law allowing victims of sex discrimination to sue for damages, just as victims of racial discrimination could. Waves of women began seeking public office. In 1991, there were two female senators. Today there are 20.

Clarence Thomas was confirmed even though, as Hill puts it

“I believe in my heart that he shouldn’t have been confirmed,” she said in a recent interview, acknowledging that it irritates her to see Justice Thomas on the court. “I believe that the information I provided was clear, it was verifiable, it was confirmed by contemporaneous witnesses that I had talked with. And I think what people don’t understand is that it does go to his ability to be a fair and impartial judge.”

And there are still those who believe she made the whole story up. Then I started thinking about a more recent woman’s experience with Congress. This is from a story in the Daily Beast.

Rep. Darrell Issa’s Thursday hearing went off the rails early. “What I want to know,” demanded Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, as she looked at the all-male panel of clerics before her, “is, where are the women?”

The hearing, titled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience,” was about religious freedom, Issa said, but it took place against the backdrop of a national controversy regarding the White House’s mandate that all employers provide birth control as part of their insurance plans.

As it happens, there was one woman present prepared to testify on the issue of birth control. Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old Georgetown University Law School student, had been contacted earlier in the week by committee minority leaders after Democrats saw a video of her speaking about the mandate at the National Press Club on February 9.

Sandra Fluke

Sandra Fluke

Congress had a woman to ask the question, but the panel was all men.  Fluke went on to testify at an informal hearing arranged by Democratic women.  The Huffington Post described it this way

This week she received almost rock-star treatment as the lone witness at an unofficial Democratic-sponsored hearing. While the rest of the Capitol was mostly empty, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, three other Democrats and dozens of mainly young women supporters crowded into a House office building room to applaud Fluke as she spoke of the importance of reproductive health care to women.

Prominently displayed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., was a photo of five religious leaders, all men and all appearing at the invitation of the Republican majority, testifying last week with Fluke visible in the background, sitting in the visitors’ section.

Democrats pounced on that image of a hearing discussing contraceptive rights being dominated by men while the one person Democrats had asked to appear on the witness stand, a woman, was turned away. Pelosi, D-Calif., said they had since heard from 300,000 people urging that women’s voices be heard on the issue.

“We almost ought to thank the chairman for the lack of judgment he had,” in denying a seat to Fluke, Pelosi said.

Committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., had said at last week’s hearing that the panel’s focus was on whether the administration policy was a violation of religious freedom. He said at the time that Fluke, invited by Democrats in her capacity as former head of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice, was not qualified to speak on the religious rights question.

“I’m an American woman who uses contraceptives,” Fluke said, when asked Thursday by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., about her qualifications to speak on the issue.

So maybe we have made progress in the years since Anita Hill.  Some Republican men don’t seemed to have learned much, but there were plenty of woman and men in Congress who wanted to hear Fluke’s testimony.  And we can thank Anita Hill for her part in making change happen.

Photograph of Anita Hill: American Film Foundation

Photograph of Sandra Fluke:  Getty Images

Daily Beast story: Matthew DeLucca

Huffington Post story: Jim Abrams

Spending and the deficit

There is a lot of information floating around out there, but I just got these charts from my Congressman, Mike Capuano, and I wanted to share them.

The Bottom Line
The statistics and chart below will prove two points despite any rhetoric to the contrary:
  1. Federal spending is headed towards the lowest share of GDP in memory;
  2. The federal government is making great progress towards reducing our annual deficit.
A Note about Federal Spending
If you listen only to a few talking heads you might think that the federal government is engaged in a spending frenzy.  That is actually not the case.  In fact, our government is currently spending LESS than it did in 1974 on discretionary spending programs, the year that detailed economic records were first compiled.
We all know that a dollar doesn’t go as far as it once did – so measuring any spending over a 40 year period demands adjustment.  One way to do this is to look at government spending as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The chart below with data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) illustrates that in 1974, federal government spending under the Nixon Administration equaled 9.3% of ALL spending in the country (the GDP).  Discretionary spending peaked in 1983 under the Reagan Administration at 10% of GDP.  The most recent figures show that federal spending last year under President Obama fell to just 7.2% of GDP and is estimated to decline even further over the next several years.
Historically, the lowest level of discretionary government spending in the last 40 years occurred in 1999 under the Clinton Administration, and it rose steadily from 6.1% to 7.7% during the George W. Bush Administration.
The point I am trying to make is that it is important to keep federal spending in perspective.  Your federal government today is spending a much smaller share than President Reagan ever did and more spending cuts are coming.  Many of us think it is long past time to face reality and truly consider the future of our country. Do we want good roads? Do we want good schools?  If the answer is yes, then it’s time to start paying for them.
At this point in our nation’s history, we should be investing again in our future. Our economy is improving and the federal budget has stabilized. The notion that federal spending is out of control just isn’t accurate. Take a look at the chart (or click here for a larger version) and table below, which illustrate my argument:
Discretionary Outlays Since 1974
as % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

FY

Defense

Nondefense

Total

Nixon 1974

5.4

3.9

9.3

Ford 1975

5.4

4.4

9.8

Ford 1976

5.0

4.8

9.8

Carter 1977

4.8

4.9

9.7

Carter 1978

4.6

5.0

9.6

Carter 1979

4.5

4.8

9.3

Carter 1980

4.8

5.1

9.9

Reagan 1981

5.0

4.8

9.8

Reagan 1982

5.6

4.2

9.8

Reagan 1983

5.9

4.1

10.0

Reagan 1984

5.8

3.8

9.6

Reagan 1985

5.9

3.8

9.7

Reagan 1986

6.0

3.6

9.7

Reagan 1987

5.9

3.4

9.3

Reagan 1988

5.6

3.4

9.0

Bush 1989

5.5

3.3

8.8

Bush 1990

5.1

3.4

8.5

Bush 1991

5.2

3.5

8.7

Bush 1992

4.7

3.6

8.3

Clinton 1993

4.3

3.6

7.9

Clinton 1994

3.9

3.6

7.5

Clinton 1995

3.6

3.6

7.2

Clinton 1996

3.3

3.3

6.7

Clinton 1997

3.2

3.2

6.4

Clinton 1998

3.0

3.1

6.2

Clinton 1999

2.9

3.1

6.0

Clinton 2000

2.9

3.1

6.1

GW Bush 2001

2.9

3.2

6.1

GW Bush 2002

3.2

3.5

6.7

GW Bush 2003

3.6

3.7

7.3

GW Bush 2004

3.8

3.6

7.4

GW Bush 2005

3.8

3.7

7.5

GW Bush 2006

3.8

3.6

7.4

GW Bush 2007

3.8

3.4

7.3

GW Bush 2008

4.2

3.5

7.7

Obama 2009

4.6

4.0

8.6

Obama 2010

4.7

4.5

9.1

Obama 2011

4.5

4.2

8.8

Obama 2012

4.2

3.8

8.0

Obama 2013

3.8

3.5

7.2

Obama 2014 EST

3.5

3.4

6.9

Obama 2015 EST

3.3

3.2

6.6

Obama 2016 EST

3.2

3.0

6.2

2017 EST

3.1

2.9

6.0

2018 EST

3.0

2.8

5.8

2019 EST

2.9

2.7

5.7

2020 EST

2.9

2.7

5.6

2021 EST

2.8

2.6

5.4

2022 EST

2.8

2.6

5.4

2023 EST

2.7

2.5

5.3

2024 EST

2.7

2.5

5.2

Sources: Cong Budget Office; Office of Management and Budget

The Federal Deficit
We have heard a lot of talk about the federal deficit. The chart belowshows the amount of the annual deficit, or in some cases, surplus,generated by the federal government.  There are many ways to interpret these statistics and I would like to offer a few comments.
You can see there have been only four years since 1974 wherea surplus was generated– the last three years under PresidentClinton and the first year under PresidentGW Bush.  One could argue that the 2001 surplus should be credited to Clinton policies – butI will leave that aside.  However, it is clear that the federal governmentstarted regenerating deficits under Bush policies – most notably his first tax cut in 2001 (before the 9/11 attack).  Certainly, the terrorist attacks on September 11th and the country’s decision to engage in Afghanistan impacted the economy. However,the federal government made a conscious decision to turn away from fiscal discipline BEFORE September 11th.
One can quickly notice the impact of the 2008 economic crisis and our reaction to it.  Regardless of how you might feel about the stimulus and the bailouts – at least it was clearwhat the short term effect would be on the federal deficit.  I happen to think BOTH those actions were necessary and appropriate to save our economy from an even worse fate. Certainly the bailout should have had more teeth. Remember though it was passed under the Bush Administration so those of us calling for more teeth were drowned out.The only choice we faced was action or inaction, and we chose action. I also believe that the stimulus should have been more targeted on creating jobs.  Unfortunately, Congress never has a choice between perfect options – it is always a choice between imperfect plans.  I understand thatmost people have formed pretty strongopinionsabout the actions that the government took and I will let history decide whether those actions were appropriate.
Since the economic crisis in 2008, the federal government has been making significant and steady progress towards reducing our annual deficit.  The average deficit over the 43 years covered by this table equals 3.1% of the GDP. This chart doesn’t show it, but by the end of the Obama Administration it will be below that historic average. Remember, absolute numbers like these only tell a portion of the story.
My final note on this is historic.  This chart shows the deficits and surpluses under 20 years of Democratic Presidents and 22 years of Republican Presidents … good times and bad … war and peace.  I think the most important measure is the change from one year to the next. Maybe we cannot achieve our goals in one year, but are we making progress?  Based on this chart you can calculate that under Democratic Presidents, the deficit was REDUCED by an average of $22.3 billion each year … under Republican Presidents that Deficit has been INCREASED by an average of $44.5 billion each year.  I’ll let you decide which course is the better one.

Revenues

Revenues Change %

Outlays

Outlays Change %

Total Deficit / Surplus

Change $

Nixon 1974

263.2

269.4

-6.1

Ford 1975

279.1

6%

332.3

23%

-53.2

-47.1

Ford 1976

298.1

7%

371.8

12%

-73.7

-20.5

Carter 1977

355.6

19%

409.2

10%

-53.7

20.1

Carter 1978

399.6

12%

458.7

12%

-59.2

-5.5

Carter 1979

463.3

16%

504.0

10%

-40.7

18.5

Carter 1980

517.1

12%

590.9

17%

-73.8

-33.1

Reagan 1981

599.3

16%

678.2

15%

-79.0

-5.1

Reagan 1982

617.8

3%

745.7

10%

-128.0

-49.0

Reagan 1983

600.6

-3%

808.4

8%

-207.8

-79.8

Reagan 1984

666.4

11%

851.8

5%

-185.4

22.4

Reagan 1985

734.0

10%

946.3

11%

-212.3

-26.9

Reagan 1986

769.2

5%

990.4

5%

-221.2

-8.9

Reagan 1987

854.3

11%

1,004.0

1%

-149.7

71.5

Reagan 1988

909.2

6%

1,064.4

6%

-155.2

-5.4

Bush 1989

991.1

9%

1,143.7

7%

-152.6

2.5

Bush 1990

1,032.0

4%

1,253.0

10%

-221.0

-68.4

Bush 1991

1,055.0

2%

1,324.2

6%

-269.2

-48.2

Bush 1992

1,091.2

3%

1,381.5

4%

-290.3

-21.1

Clinton 1993

1,154.3

6%

1,409.4

2%

-255.1

35.3

Clinton 1994

1,258.6

9%

1,461.8

4%

-203.2

51.9

Clinton 1995

1,351.8

7%

1,515.7

4%

-164.0

39.2

Clinton 1996

1,453.1

7%

1,560.5

3%

-107.4

56.5

Clinton 1997

1,579.2

9%

1,601.1

3%

-21.9

85.5

Clinton 1998

1,721.7

9%

1,652.5

3%

69.3

91.2

Clinton 1999

1,827.5

6%

1,701.8

3%

125.6

56.3

Clinton 2000

2,025.2

11%

1,789.0

5%

236.2

110.6

GW Bush 2001

1,991.1

-2%

1,862.8

4%

128.2

-108.0

GW Bush 2002

1,853.1

-7%

2,010.9

8%

-157.8

-286.0

GW Bush 2003

1,782.3

-4%

2,159.9

7%

-377.6

-219.8

GW Bush 2004

1,880.1

5%

2,292.8

6%

-412.7

-35.1

GW Bush 2005

2,153.6

15%

2,472.0

8%

-318.3

94.4

GW Bush 2006

2,406.9

12%

2,655.1

7%

-248.2

70.2

GW Bush 2007

2,568.0

7%

2,728.7

3%

-160.7

87.5

GW Bush 2008

2,524.0

-2%

2,982.5

9%

-458.6

-297.9

Obama 2009

2,105.0

-17%

3,517.7

18%

-1,412.7

-954.1

Obama 2010

2,162.7

3%

3,457.1

-2%

-1,294.4

118.3

Obama 2011

2,303.5

7%

3,603.1

4%

-1,299.6

-5.2

Obama 2012

2,450.2

6%

3,537.1

-2%

-1,087.0

212.6

Obama 2013

2,774.0

13%

3,454.3

-2%

-680.3

406.7

Obama 2014 EST

-514.0

166.3

Obama 2015 EST

-478.0

36.0

Obama 2016 EST

-539.0

-61.0

 

 My bottom line? Let’s spend some money and create some jobs.

Post is cut and pasted from an email update from Congressman Michael Capuano. 7th CD, Massachusetts.

The perpetual war on women

I’m baffled.  When a political party loses a large, important demographic in an election, I would think that they would change tactics so the same thing doesn’t happen again.  I’m not saying they necessarily need to give up a favored policy position but certainly they could maybe talk about something different.  They could follow the example of Pope Francis.  The Pope is certainly not going to change the Catholic Church position on abortion or ordination of women, but he doesn’t want those kind of issues to be the focus of Church teaching. I refer, of course, to the Republican Party.

I think that all of them need to go back and take Biology 101 again because starting with Todd Akin, they really don’t know how the reproductive system works.  The latest is from Mike Huckabee.  The Nation has provided the full quote via Yahoo! News.

Here are Huckabee’s comments in full, provided by Yahoo! News’s Chris Moody:

I think it’s time for Republicans to no longer accept listening to Democrats talk about a war on women. Because the fact is, the Republicans don’t have a war on women. They have a war for women. For them to be empowered; to be something other than victims of their gender. Women I know are outraged that Democrats think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have a government provide for them birth control medication. Women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable of doing anything anyone else can do. Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That’s not a war on them, it’s a war for them. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be. And women across America have to stand up and say, Enough of that nonsense.

Maybe he should stick to playing the guitar.

Maybe he should stick to playing the guitar.

While his remarks are somewhat muddy and unclear I think the gist is that the Democrats are paternalistic.  Sorry, Mike, but I think that it is the Republicans who are paternalistic.  They assume that women don’t understand about birth control, abortion, and their own bodies.  Otherwise, why would they need to have a doctor do a vaginal ultrasound and explain to them about fetal development.  But I think that Gail Collins had the best response.

Say what? Basically, Huckabee seems to be telling us that the Republican Party will not insult women by suggesting the federal government should require health insurance policies to include birth control pills in the prescription drug coverage.

He appears confident that women will find that an attractive proposition.

Huckabee was at a meeting of the Republican National Committee that was supposed to be pondering ways to close the gender gap. Instead, he laid bare a fact that the party has always tried desperately to hide — that its anti-abortion agenda is also frequently anti-contraception.

Back in 2011, Mississippi voted down a referendum that would define life as beginning at conception.  One reason it failed was because women came to understand that passage might outlaw certain kinds of contraception.  Women, as Collins points out, believe that the right to control their own reproductive schedules was long since established.  Most women find the idea that this might not be so beyond imagination.

Once upon a time, Republicans took the lead when it came to helping women get access to birth control. Now, the whole party is hostage to an anti-abortion movement that harbors a wide-ranging contempt for sex outside of marriage, combined with a strong streak of opposition to any form of artificial birth control, even for married couples.

“What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right?” Rush Limbaugh said of Sandra Fluke, the law student who was lobbying for inclusion of contraceptives in health care plans. However garbled his language, Huckabee’s control-their-libido harks back to the same mind-set.

This is a super political strategy. Let’s target all the voters who waited until they were married and then practiced the rhythm method.

The Republican party continues to be tone deaf when it comes to women’s health.

And there was no backtracking after the “Uncle Sugar” speech. In fact, Huckabee sent an email to his supporters replaying his remarks. Then he asked for a donation.

Photograph from Wikipedia.

Beware gifts from friends

As long time readers of this blog probably know, I worked for many years in Virginia state government and I grew up in Virginia politics.  OK, so the Virginia laws on accepting gifts may be a little murky, but every state employee I’ve ever known understands that one cannot accept anything of any value from anyone with whom one does business.  The constituent who sends Christmas candy, for example, to thank you for providing some information.  That candy can be accepted if shared with the office.  You can’t take it home.  Plus you should consult the assistant attorney general assigned to your office so there is a record.

A former governor and former state attorney general should know this.  Bob McDonnell likely did and decided he was above the law.  He isn’t.  At least he isn’t above indictment.  The Washington Post published a list of the most interesting of the counts.  Here are some of them.  It begins with shopping.

April 11-13, 2011: The dress and a seat next to the governor

Maureen McDonnell called Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. on April 11 and asked him to take her on a shopping trip to New York to buy a dress by designer Oscar de la Renta. The first lady explained that she was attending a political event at the Union League Club in New York two days later and promised to get Williams seated next to McDonnell (R). On the shopping trip, Williams accompanied the first lady to numerous designer stores and spent $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, more than $5,500 at Louis Vuitton and roughly $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman for dresses and accessories that McDonnell said she needed for her daughter’s wedding and for her own anniversary party. Williams was seated next to the governor at the Union League Club event.

May 9-June 1, 2011: Receiving checks from Williams and promoting his company

A member of the governor’s staff indicated May 9 that the staff was considering plans to have McDonnell visit a Star Scientific promotional event on June 1 in Florida. “[T]he person inviting the Governor is a good friend so I would like to be as responsive as possible,” the staff member wrote. A staff member told the company that the McDonnells’ daughter’s wedding, the same week as the corporate event, would make the trip impossible.

“I’m so sorry this won’t work out! What else can we do to fix this?” the staff member wrote.

On May 17, Maureen McDonnell scheduled herself to attend the promotional event.

On May 23, Williams had his office assistant write two checks, for $50,000 and for $15,000 as a wedding gift, and delivered them in person to the governor’s mansion.

On June 1, Maureen McDonnell attended the company’s promotional event in Sarasota, Fla., which was also attended by numerous Star Scientific investors, and announced that she was offering the governor’s mansion for the official product launch of Anatabloc.

August 2011: The Rolex, free golf and a product launch

On Aug. 1, Maureen McDonnell met privately with Williams before the state health official’s briefing to discuss ways that the state could research Star Scientific’s Anatabloc product. The first lady asked about the Rolex watch that Williams was wearing and mentioned that she wanted to get one for her husband, but Williams expressed surprise that the governor would want to wear a luxury item, given his role as a public official. The first lady responded that she wanted Williams to buy her one to give to the governor. Soon afterward, he did buy the watch and called the first lady to ask what she wanted engraved on the Rolex. She replied: “71st Governor of Virginia.” The same day, the governor’s wife entered an electronic calendar event for herself to attend an Aug. 30 luncheon with Virginia state researchers.

On Aug. 12, Maureen McDonnell’s chief of staff arranged for the governor to attend the Aug. 30 luncheon.

On Aug. 30, the governor and his wife played host at a luncheon at the governor’s mansion for the launch of Anatabloc. Williams helped craft the guest list, which included some of the same University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University research scientists whom Star Scientific was trying to persuade to conduct clinical trials of Anatabloc. The first lady and Williams placed Anatabloc samples at each table setting.

January-February 2012: Big loans to the McDonnells and a push for state research:

In late January, the governor’s brother-in-law e-mailed him to say that “the guy who is helping us” had contacted him about where to send the first check he planned to provide for MoBo, a real estate holding company that McDonnell owned with his sister.

On Feb. 9, the first lady e-mailed her husband and copied his senior policy adviser under the subject heading: “FW: Anatabine clinical studies – UVA, VCU, JHU.” In her message, she wrote: “Here’s the info from JW. He has calls in to VCU & UVA & no one will return his calls.”

The next day, she asked her husband’s policy adviser to please call Williams that same day and “get him to fill u in on where this is at. Gov wants to know why nothing has developed w studies after [JW] gave $200,000

Thanks, -mm.”

The McDonnells

Jeff Schapiro wrote in his column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the indictment Tuesday, a picture emerges of McDonnell as a politician who rationalizes his behavior. This is a man who apparently told himself that — because Williams had become an intimate and because gifts from friends do not have to be disclosed under state law — he could conceal from the public beneficence that it would almost certainly deem indefensible.

And it was behind that screen, the indictment argues, that an elaborate scheme unfolded — one in which the government of Virginia, following enthusiastic assurances by Maureen McDonnell to Williams, pledged to support his money-losing company.

Was it the Governor’s wife who was the real driving force behind all of this?  Did they have financial problems all along?  Did they see election to Governor as a signal they needed to live the life of the rich?  Will Governor Bob “Ultrasound” McDonnell end up in federal prison?  I guess we will find out.

Photograph:  Bob Brown, Richmond Times Dispatch

Winners and losers

Not talking about baseball today but about  the 16 day drive toward the fiscal cliff.   One of my favorite commentators, Ana Marie Cox, has compiled a list that you can see in its entirety here in the Guardian.  You can agree with her or not about her choices, but she gives us some things to think about.  Here are my favorites among Cox’s choices.

Winners

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz. The punchline for a thousand Twitter humorists and the lead for most of the many stories about GOP dysfunction, Cruz is laughing in that whiny way of his all the way to the campaign war chest. He raised over $1m in the third quarter that ended 1 October, before the shutdown, half of it through the new “Ted Cruz Victory Committee” formed last year specifically to benefit from Cruz’s “defund Obamacare” petition. Cruz’s floor speech before the Senate vote seemed to imply that the fundraising was continuing at that pace; he referred to the “millions of millions [sic] of American people rising up across this country, over two million people signing a national petition to defund Obamacare”. The online petition is also an email harvesting gambit from the Senate Conservative Fund, the PAC that helped bring Cruz to Washington in the first place.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid. The former pugilist only won a technical knockout, but that’s probably the way the Senate majority leader likes it. That Reid’s compact and focused rage held Democrats together and in chorus was obvious from the outside. Senator Dick Durbin’s insinuation that we will “never know, you will never know, how much he put in to accomplish this” only ups the suspicions about the incredible power Reid wields.

Speaker Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi. Drudge called it, naming the Democratic congresswoman from California the once and future Speaker of the House. In other words, Matt Drudge thinks the Democrats have a serious chance of winning back the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterms. Or, you know, he could have been trolling us.

John McCain

John McCain. The septuagenarian’s bipolar relationship with the media started on the upswing with his early ridicule of Cruz (though now Cruz wears “wackobird” as a badge of honor). With the threat of a shutdown, the love affair really flared back up. McCain gave both earnest indictments of the strategy and exasperated quips. He dusted off the chestnut that congressional popularity is down to “paid staffers and blood relatives” and declared sarcastically of the GOP, “We’re livin’ the dream.”

And now the

Losers

majority rule

Majority rule. While the fundamental principle of democracy seems to have survived the 16-day crisis, the fact of the shutdown and the tiny minority of congressmen that created it, the Tea Party Republicans of the House have nonetheless managed to poke serious holes in the constitution they hold so dear. Presumably, the second amendment was left unscathed.

economic principles

Economic principles. People who didn’t even know what the debt limit was last month now think it’s some kind of conspiracy. Even as the US dodged a bullet this time – though suffering the collateral damage of further credit-rating downgrades – one can’t help feeling that we haven’t heard the last of the GOP’s new caucus of “debt default skeptics”.

apples and oranges

“False equivalence” reporting. James Fallows at the Atlantic documented some of the worst offenders and as “it’s everybody’s fault” became a Republican talking point, many media critics joined him in denouncing the faux-even-handedness as actually putting a finger on the scale. The “serious people” trope (as in, “serious people are above partisan bickering”) popularized by op-ed writers such as Michael Kinsley and Ron Fournier became especially ridiculous as the crisis wore on. Kinsley’s column beseeching Obama to “give in” to Republicans “for the sake of the country” (“media will no doubt call Obama weak”!) should be taught as a cautionary example against this desire to be “taken seriously”.

gop logo

The GOP. I mean, really.

This effort has only cost us an estimated 24 Billion dollars (and counting) and there is no saying that it won’t happen again in January.  It drives me nuts that the President is blamed by many while Ted Cruz used me – and everyone else who pays taxes and needs government services – to raise money for his 2016 Presidential bid.  But the silver lining is that if the Democrats get to work, it looks like they can hold on to the Senate and take back the House.  And then John Boehner will really have something to cry about.

Moving toward the cliff

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, a federal employee, who is not working because of the shutdown.  She can’t check her work email or phone messages and fears the backlog of problems that awaits her when she does get back to work.  She said the only way she was fortunate was that she was not one of the essential employees who had to work anyway.  We speculated on how people will get to work if October moves to November and people’s monthly transit passes run out.  Will they be expected to shell out money they don’t have to get to a job they aren’t paid for?  All her friends can do is to buy her lunch.  Fast forward 24 hours and we still have no deal.  Even if the Senate comes up with a solution it is not clear if 1) the House will even vote on it and 2) if they do, if this is just another short term postponement.  All my friend hopes is that the next deadline is past the holidays and that there is back pay.

I was trying to find some humor in the whole situation, but find that I actually feel very sorry for John Boehner.  John Cassidy posted this for the New Yorker.

Give the Republicans on Capitol Hill one thing: they don’t leave a job half done. Evidently disturbed by polls showing Congress with a single-digit approval rating, they appear intent on driving it to zero.

What other explanation can there be for Tuesday’s farcical maneuvers, which saw the House Republican leadership try and fail to seize the initiative in the debt-ceiling standoff from the Senate, in the process humiliating Speaker Boehner yet again. By the end of the day, facing renewed opposition from some of his own members, Boehner had dropped his efforts to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling until February, but one with more riders than an agreement that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, have been working on.

From the point of view of the country, that’s good news. Overnight, officials representing McConnell and Reid were rushing to complete their negotiations, which were called off on Tuesday after Boehner’s unwise intervention. As it stands now, the Senate agreement would reportedly fund the government until January 15th and raise the debt ceiling until February 7th, with the only concession from the Democrats being an agreement to toughen up the policing of eligibility requirements for obtaining federal subsidies to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner is in a box.  He can’t control his own party caucus and can’t turn to Democratic votes because then he would lose his Speakership.  If the country goes into default, he will likely lose it anyway.

Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, the Speaker will face the unenviable choice of allowing it to pass with Democratic support or exercising the nuclear option of forcing a default. Having already ruled out this second option in public comments, there were reports on Tuesday night that Boehner was prepared to bring the Senate bill to the floor, which would probably insure its passage. That wouldn’t end the budget crisis—it’s never-ending—but it would put off the next showdown until the new year, whilst ensuring that the Republican ultras had gained almost precisely nothing for their willingness to shut down the government and raise the prospect of a debt default. (In another development on Tuesday, Fitch, one of the big ratings agencies, placed U.S. government debt on watch for a potential downgrade, saying that “the prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011), risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.”)

From the point of view of the Republican Party, things have been going from bad to worse. With the party divided, its poll ratings tanking fast, and its leadership unwilling to risk an actual default, it has been clear for some time that it was in a losing position. The discussions in the past few days have been about the terms of surrender, with the White House and Reid pressing for something close to an unconditional capitulation.

So here are a few cartoons to weep at as we proceed at a Senate’s slow pace, to the edge.

From Tony Auth

From Tony Auth

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

Signe Wilkerson

Signe Wilkerson

And Wilkerson, again.

Wilkinson2

Can we hope that there are still some adults who won’t drive us over the edge?

Can we send David Ortiz to the budget negotiations?

It has been a discouraging last few days with the only real bright spot being Friday (and then we went back Saturday) at Symphony Hall with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We wanted to hear Thomas Ades, Polaris a second time and Friday night the BSO did not do Franck’s Symphony in D Minor which my husband loves.   But we came home Saturday night to no budget/debt ceiling deal and the Red Sox striking out, also.  I often tune in to some of the Sunday news shows, but couldn’t stand to hear any more Republican Congresspersons who have no clue about what the debt ceiling is much less understand any thing about the economy.  One of my friends posted this on Facebook the other day

Despite their lofty status in managing American affairs, it appears to me that few Congresspersons have any meaningful understanding of how their chronic politicization of economic policies substantially degrades, perhaps permanently, the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency. Evidence of the dollar’s decline to a commodity status is increasingly apparent. In time, every American will feel a crippling pain that no amount of political negotiating can cure.

Given this state of things, I retreated to a game of Civilization V where I could control, more or less, my own universe until after Sunday dinner when the Red Sox could take over.  But, after watching strike out after strike out with Clay Buchholz pitching sooo very slowly while getting slammed around in the sixth, I retreated.  I woke up just before 6 am this morning having just had a dream that I woke up and the Sox had come back.  I turned on the radio, I found that is was true!

Peter Abraham explains

In what has been a season full of memorable late-inning victories at Fenway Park, the Red Sox saved the best for when they needed it the most in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Sunday night.

Trailing by four runs against the Detroit Tigers, the Sox tied the game on a grand slam by David Ortiz in the eighth inning then won it, 6-5, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to drive in Jonny Gomes in the ninth.

The remarkable victory had the players chasing Saltalamacchia across the outfield and the sellout crowd of 38,029 chanting “Let’s Go Red Sox!” as they left Fenway.

“When you back us into a wall, you either do two things: cave or fight. We’re gonna fight,” Dustin Pedroia said.

That wall was hard to get over. The Sox had scored one run through the 16 innings in the series, going 3 for 51 at the plate with 30 strikeouts. Detroit starter Max Scherzer allowed one run on two hits over seven innings and struck out 13.

And then.

Will Middlebrooks doubled to left field off Jose Veras to start the rally. Then Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk off Drew Smyly.

Al Albuquerque was next out of the Detroit bullpen. He struck out Shane Victorino for the second out, but Pedroia singled to right. Third base coach Brian Butterfield held Middlebrooks, wanting to make sure Ortiz got his chance.

Ortiz swung at the first pitch, a changeup away, and was strong enough to pull it into the Red Sox bullpen in right field for his first career postseason grand slam and the fourth in Red Sox history.

Right fielder Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall trying to make a catch as Boston police officer Steve Horgan raised his arms in joy. Bullpen catcher Mani Martinez, who was warming up Koji Uehara, casually turned and caught the ball.

It was bedlam at Fenway and the crowd kept cheering until Ortiz emerged from the dugout and tipped his helmet to them.

“My idea wasn’t to go out and hit a grand slam,” Ortiz said. “If I was telling you about thinking about hitting a grand slam, I’d be lying to you now.”

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

A hero of postseasons past, David Ortiz rounds third base — as the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera looks on — to a standing ovation after his grand slam in the eighth inning tied Game 2 at 5.

Gotta love David.

There was still a game to win. After Uehara retired the Tigers in order, Gomes was again the catalyst.

He reached on an infield single off Rick Porcello and took second on a throwing error by shortstop Jose Iglesias, the former Sox player known for his defensive skills.

“No is not an option for this team,” Gomes said. “Once I got on second, I was going to do anything I could to score.”

Gomes advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Saltalamacchia singled to left field.

“I felt good,” Saltalamacchia said. “Trying to hit the ball up the middle and take your chance.”

It was the 12th walkoff win of the season for the Red Sox.

So now we have something to watch on the highlight reels other than strike out after strike out.  There is joy in Mudville after all.  The Red Sox head for Detroit to face Justin Verlander, still another one of the Tigers’ great pitchers.  Let’s end this with something to ponder.  My husband heard Verlander ask this question:  If a pitch grazes a Red Sox’s beard, did he get hit by the pitch?

Now if only someone would hit a grand slam on the budget and knock out Ted Cruz and his friends.

Photograph:  Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The government shutdown: a letter from Congressman Capuano

I am posting the entire weekly email newsletter I just got from my Congressman, Mike Capuano.    I am proud to say that he was my boss for several years when he was the Mayor of Somerville.

Dear Friends,

The government shutdown is in its fourth day. Speaker Boehner still refuses to bring up a clean Continuing Resolution (CR), even though it would pass Congress and be signed by the President, reopening the government.

The House has spent most of this week considering bills to partially fund the government. This process is more about appearances than responsible legislating. That’s why you’ve seen attempts to fund the National Park Service so tourist attractions can reopen but not the Transportation Department. The Senate and President have both rejected this path. I’m not sure where or when this all ends. It’s certainly true that this battle is about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the obsession many Republicans have with sabotaging it. I think there’s more to it though.

This is also about one of the fundamental principles of our government, the idea of majority rule. The importance of that principle is vividly on display here and it’s one worth protecting.

The ACA was signed into law in 2010 after months and months of substantive and at times contentious debate. Since Republicans regained control of the House in 2010, there have been 42 attempts to repeal, defund or gut the law. Each time the effort has accomplished essentially nothing. As I noted earlier this week, Mitt Romney ran on a promise to repeal “Obamacare”. He lost the election. House Democrats got more votes than House Republicans and Democrats retained control of the Senate. The ACA was even declared constitutional by the Supreme Court.

Despite all of that, a small percentage of the House Republican Caucus refuses to accept the will of the majority, democratically expressed. They shut the government down because they can’t accept it. The ACA is the law of the land, affirmed by the results of a national election and a Supreme Court ruling. More and more moderate Republicans are speaking out on the need for a clean CR. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of those moderate voices and the extremists in the House continue to drown them out.

Imagine what our government would look like if more Members refused to respect the principle of majority rule and insisted on getting their way without regard for the consequences. It wouldn’t be 17 years between government shutdowns, that’s for sure.

I believe that this battle is also about the role that government should play in our lives. Do we want to provide some help to those less fortunate in the form of nutrition assistance or home heating aid? Do we want to help our states build world class roads, bridges and subway systems? Do we want to attract cutting edge research that results in medical advances? All of that takes an investment of federal dollars.

What has been happening over the past couple years is a steady and steep reduction in federal spending. That often gets lost in the din but numbers don’t lie. In two years, a total deficit reduction of almost $2.4 trillion has been achieved. In 2011, the Budget Control Act placed a cap on discretionary spending at $1.066 trillion for fiscal year 2014. That cap has been ignored by the House, with much deeper cuts going into effect as a result of sequestration.

Here are just a couple examples of how those cuts have impacted some important programs. In the past year, funding for the National Institutes of Health has been cut by $1.6 billion. Funding for Head Start has been cut by $400 million.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a budget that proposed spending $1.058 trillion for fiscal year 2014. Under the clean CR proposed in the Senate in order to reopen the government, that spending is cut to $986 billion. This is much closer to the Republican proposal than the Senate’s.

In terms of cutting spending, Republicans don’t seem to recognize that they are gaining significant ground. The CR that many of them say they won’t support includes deep cuts to discretionary programming.

More votes are expected in the House tomorrow and the schedule for next week is unclear. Thanks for your calls and emails of support. I appreciate all of them.

Best,

Mike

English: Official Congressional portrait for C...

English: Official Congressional portrait for Congressman Mike Capuano. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)