Political Animal


April 22, 2014 4:51 PM Landrieu Running On the “Jindal Gap”

Going into this election cycle, it was generally assumed that state-level Democrats in states that had rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion might well run on the stupidly obstinate ideological refusal to let the federal government pay for covering uninsured people. But in Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu is making a federal case out of it, and could even benefit from a ballot initiative on the subject, per this report from Greg Sargent:

[I]n an interview today, Landrieu vowed to campaign aggressively against GOP foe Bill Cassidy’s opposition to the Medicaid expansion in the state, offered a spirited defense of the law — while acknowledging it has some problems — and even insisted he’d be at a “disadvantage” over the issue.
This week a state legislative committee in Louisiana is expected to consider a measure that would put a constitutional amendment before the voters this fall that, if approved, would direct the state to accept $16 billion in Medicaid money to cover 242,000 people. Even if the ballot measure is not green-lighted by the legislature, Landrieu said she will continue to press the issue — and hit Rep. Cassidy over it.
“That would be a real setback for the people of Louisiana, many of whom are working 30, 40, 50 hours a week but find themselves caught in the Jindal gap because the state refuses to expand health care options to the working poor at little to no expense,” Landrieu told me, referring to Governor Bobby Jindal’s opposition to the expansion.

As the person who labeled those left uncovered by the states rejecting the Medicaid expansion as those in the “Wingnut Gap,” I’m very pleased to see Landrieu get personal about it. It probably doesn’t hurt that Bobby isn’t real popular in Louisiana—even among fellow Republicans—at the moment.

April 22, 2014 3:28 PM Another Lesson in Paying Attention to Median Rather Than Average Income Data

Another inaugural offering from the New York Times’ new Upshot subsite today offers a new analysis of income data for the United States, Canada and European countries, and shows what we all intuitively know: income inequality here means that while aggregate data look strong, it disguises a distribution that shows Americans of modest means losing ground.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.
After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.
The numbers, based on surveys conducted over the past 35 years, offer some of the most detailed publicly available comparisons for different income groups in different countries over time. They suggest that most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality.
Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago….
The struggles of the poor in the United States are even starker than those of the middle class. A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true.

Note that these median figures are not what we often hear from celebrants of American economic power:

The findings are striking because the most commonly cited economic statistics — such as per capita gross domestic product — continue to show that the United States has maintained its lead as the world’s richest large country. But those numbers are averages, which do not capture the distribution of income. With a big share of recent income gains in this country flowing to a relatively small slice of high-earning households, most Americans are not keeping pace with their counterparts around the world.

Unless you get a tangible sense of well-being from knowing that the wealthiest of Americans are boosting average incomes, it’s really time to stop citing such statistics.

April 22, 2014 2:03 PM Lunch Buffet

Hope the weather’s half as nice where you are this Earth Day as it is outside my window.

Here are some sun-soaked midday treats:

* Airwaves clogged with ads in FL-19 as three Republican candidates in special primary to replace coke-addled Rep. Trey Radel each benefit from over a million smackers in buys.

* Republican legislator pulls bill making King James Bible Lousiana’s Official State Book, saying it had become a “distraction.” Plus he made his point to his biblicist constituents.

* About 5,000 activists expected to join Cowboy and Indian Alliance protests in DC this week against Keystone XL pipeline.

* Here’s link to Lyle Denniston’s preview at SCOTUSblog of today’s oral arguments in ABC v. Aereo case.

* U.S. forces in Afghanistan expected to drop below 10,000 shortly.

And in non-political news:

* Well before third and final season of The Newsroom airs on HBO this fall, creator Aaron Sorkin is apologizing for whole series. Glad I haven’t bothered with it.

As we break for lunch, here’s more earthy music: Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology):”

April 22, 2014 1:16 PM You, Too, Can Host a National Political Convention!

Perhaps the declining importance of national political conventions is a factor, and it probably didn’t help when Congress banned use of taxpayer funds to support convention operations last month. But for whatever reason, the Democratic Party isn’t waiting around for cities to come a-courting to host their 2016 clambake, as CNN’s Mark Preston reports:

The Democratic Party has asked 15 mayors to submit formal bids to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention, an event that could cost a city as much as $60 million but the payout could be triple the investment or more.
The Democratic National Committee’s official request for proposal or “RFP” was sent to cities late Monday and they are required to submit their bids to host the convention by June 6.
Cities that received the DNC’s “RFP” include: Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus (Ohio), Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City.
In a letter accompanying the RFP, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz noted that Democrats, in addition to logistical requirements, will consider a city’s relationship with a key political constituency, labor, as well as a city’s approach and handling of certain issues.
“While many of the requirements are specific to the various logistical and administrative goals of putting on the Democratic National Convention, we do seek a city that shares our values of equality, inclusion, diversity, respect and dignity,” said Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as a congresswoman from Florida. “And because of the significant security and construction related issues that we will face, we also look for a city with strong relationships with organized labor and those they represent. Our priority is to work with a community that will partner with us as we plan this historic event.”

Something tells me Salt Lake City will not be racing to send in an application.

Republicans are further along in their convention planning; they’re down to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City and Las Vegas. This last city may have an advantage because of its nexus with a GOP “key political constituency” named Sheldon Adelson.

In any event, I’m personally predicting another step this cycle towards smaller and shorter conventions with even less left to chance than before. As usual, Republicans will struggle to display diversity, and Democrats will have to take extra steps to impose discipline. Both parties will work mightily to help media representatives justify their travel expenditures, and local volunteers will be ruthlessly exploited. Republicans will go early this time to give the Walker/Martinez ticket (just a guess, just a guess) time to gather its wits, so to speak, and narrow a polling gap against the Clinton/O’Malley juggernaut (another guess, at least in the second position). And at the end of the dual festivities, we’ll all wonder anew why the whole spectacle isn’t put on in an extra-large TV studio with holograms.

April 22, 2014 11:58 AM Scorching the Earth on Medicaid Expansion

State laws governing accession to or rejection of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion vary in terms of who makes the decision; in some cases, it’s the governor, in some cases the legislature, in some cases both.

So it’s not surprising that in some Republican-controlled states, GOPers are changing the laws to make it harder to undo prior rejectionist decisions, as TPM’s Dylan Scott explains:

Republicans are taking no chances when it comes to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. They’re closing every possible door. Under bills passed in Georgia and Kansas recently, even if a Democratic candidate were to pull off an upset and take the governor’s seat, they would not be able to expand the program without the consent of the state legislature — which will almost certainly remain Republican.

It’s a form of scorching the earth prior to a possible political retreat. And it’s probably a good sign for Democrats in these two states that Republicans think it’s possible they could lose the governorship in November.

April 22, 2014 11:20 AM Latest From SCOTUS on Race-Based Affirmative Action

In the long and torturous line of judicial precedents governing affirmative action, it’s not clear whether today’s 6-2 SCOTUS decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action will be considered much more than a footnote. It held that a Michigan voter initiative placing a ban on racial preferences in college admissions did not itself violate the U.S. Constitution by creating a disproportionate burden for those favoring race-based admissions criteria. The 9th Circuit earlier reached the same conclusion with respect to a voter ban on affirmative action policies in California; the 6th Circuit narrowly ruled otherwise in a Michigan case.

The decision does not modify existing precedents on the constitutional permissibility of race-based college admissions policies, but simply makes it clear voters can ban them via state constitutional amendments even if the bans do not limit other preferential admissions policies (e.g., for “legacies”).

If an increasingly conservative Court ultimately places new constitutional restricts on affirmative action, perhaps this decision will appear to be a way station in that trend. Otherwise, it is simply a restriction on judicial remedies protecting race-based affirmative action from hostile action by legislatures and voters.

April 22, 2014 10:48 AM The Unswingers

So the New York Times’ 538-ish substitute subsite “The Upshot” debuts today with two items (so far) of special interest to political animals. The first is a Senate race predictions feature suggesting a narrow probability for a Republican takeover, and more usefully, providing a nifty chart comparing other “experts’” (538, Cook, Rothenberg, Sabato) state-by-state projections in competitive races. Assuming they keep this up, the chart can definitely give you a quick read on changing perceptions of key Senate races.

The second features is a succinct argument by political scientist Lynn Vavreck (co-author with John Sides of The Gamble, an unorthodox but fascinating book on the 2012 presidential election) that the 2014 elections aren’t going to be “about” which party appeals to swing voters. She offers numbers (more controversially, they are from interactive pollster YouGov) suggesting that “preference switchers” represented at most a modest factor in the 2010 Republican landslide, with turnout differentials being massively more important.

So the idea that “America changed its mind” between 2008 and 2010, or “voters rejected Obama’s leadership” in 2010 or any such suggestions of deliberative activity, greatly overrates the significance of “swing voters,” and also assumes that turnout differentials are based on “enthusiasm gaps” (about which Vavreck herself is a lot more “enthusiastic” than I am) rather than ancient demographic turnout patterns that happen to have a disproportionately partisan impact at this particular moment in history.

Vavreck is certainly a writer who relishes unambiguous mythbusting:

It may seem hard to believe that the shellacking was more about who turned up than about who changed their minds between 2008 and 2010, but it lines up with a lot of other evidence about voters’ behavior. Most identify with the same political party their entire adult lives, even if they do not formally register with it. They almost always vote for the presidential candidate from that party, and they rarely vote for one party for president and the other one for Congress. And most voters are also much less likely to vote in midterm elections than in presidential contests.

Thus the headline: “The Myth of Swing Voters in Midterm Elections.”

It seems the Times is seeking a balance between pretty charts and wonky authors and big bold headlines. Or that at least is the Upshot.

April 22, 2014 10:04 AM Thoughts on Earth Day

It’s become common on Earth Day in recent years to observe that the environmental movement has a much tougher argument to make now than in the past, and faces more entrenched and partisan opposition. TNR’s Jeffrey Ball sums up this rather pessimistic argument today:

[A]t middle age, Earth Day and the environmental movement face a fundamentally tougher foe than they did in the spring of ’70: climate change. Over the past decade and a half, environmental stalwarts have tried various tactics to fight global warming, and they’ve largely failed. Now, though they don’t say so explicitly, they’re essentially reverting to the same principle that characterized that first Earth Day: “Think globally, act locally,” which subsequently became an environmentalist mantra. The fundamental question the environmental movement faces as it nears its silver anniversary is whether, in the face of this modern nemesis, the familiar playbook will succeed better than it did the first time around.

Thus, says Ball, the focus on environmental groups on stopping the Keystone XL pipeline is an effort to recapture the “think globally, act locally” spirit of the past with a tangible, oil-industry target tangentially related to the big problem that’s so hard for people to wrap their minds around or secure action to address.

Best I can tell, though, there are plenty of environmentalists convinced that Keystone XL is in itself an environmental threat, not just a symbol, and a lot more environmentalists who downplay “symboilic” issues and even the ritual of Earth Day itself and focus on the hard, daily struggle against carbon emissions.

But thanks to polarization, and the broadening of the civic and political space in which climate change denialism is not only acceptable but fashionable, there is a growing sense on this Earth Day that environmentalists have lost their once-broad megaphone.

On the first Earth Day my conservative public high school in Cobb County, Georgia, devoted an entire school day to discussion of environmental issues. It’s hard to imagine that happening today. Early conservative attacks on environmentalism were decidedly counter-cultural. I distinctly recall National Review commenting in 1970: “So celebrate Earth Day, formerly Lenin’s Birthday. Pick up a beer can. Throw it at a pollutocrat.” Now conservatives are more likely to ignore Earth Day or celebrate what they consider to be the demise of environmentalism as a mass, quasi-universal movement.

But the climate change problem is not going away no matter how strongly or weakly it polls, or how faithful or inconstant the one national political party still more or less interested in environmental issues happens to be on any one issue at any one time. So on this as on other Earth Days, it’s a good time to put one’s shoulder to the rock and roll it back up the hill, knowing it may roll back down on any given Election Day or whenever some competing priority seizes the political high ground.

April 22, 2014 8:53 AM Daylight Video

It’s Earth Day 2014. Here’s a song from back in the early days of Earth Day: Traffic with “When the Eagle Flies.”

April 21, 2014 6:39 PM Days End and Night Watch

Today’s news cycle was so barren that I almost resorted to writing about David Brooks questioning Obama’s “manhood,” which would be a new low in shooting fish in a barrel.

Here are some remains of the day:

* TNR’s Jonathan Cohn provides a comprehensive look at causes and implications of apparent uptick in health care inflation.

* Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson luridly suggests Media Matters paid to criticize her, which they’d be happy to do for free.

* Napster co-founder Sean Parker to leap into politics with his very large wallet.

* At Ten Miles Square, Julia Azari suggests RNC nomination process changes aimed at reining in insurgents might backfire.

* At College Guide, Michael Krupnick explores trend among law schools of lowering tuition to improve enrollment.

And in non-political news:

* Meteor shower to peak tomorrow, just in time for Earth Day.

That’s it for Monday. We’ll close with one more Brownie McGhee performance with Sonny Terry: “Key to the Highway,” after an introduction from Pete Seeger.


April 21, 2014 4:58 PM Abolish the Sixth Amendment!

Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire noted a new Republican Governors Association ad being run in South Carolina against Democratic candidate Vincent Sheheen under the headline: “Most Negative Political Ad Ever?” and suggested it set “a new standard for nasty.” I’d say it sets a new standard for immoral cynicism.

You’d think the “constitutional conservatives” of the Republican Party might be aware there’s an item in the Bill of Rights—the Sixth Amendment to be precise—that guarantees those accused of criminal acts the right to “the assistance of counsel.” A really deep-thinking constitutional conservative might even understand that we don’t know who the “criminals” are until they are given a fair trial. In an especially despicable little twist, the anonymous narrator of this ad twice notes that Sheheen was paid for defending “violent criminals who abused women.” Would it have been better if he had represented them for free?

I hope someone immediately asks the intended beneficiary of this toxic piece of agitprop, SC Governor Nikki Haley, if she thinks we should just repeal the Sixth Amendment, and maybe take everyone accused of a crime and set ‘em on fire right there at the point of arrest.

Trouble is, she might say “Sure!”

RGA Chair Chris Christie ultimately needs to be held accountable for this crap. I’d love to hear him—an attorney—try to justify an attack on the Right to Counsel.

April 21, 2014 4:01 PM End Times For Broadcast?

If you’re only interested in court decisions that affect you personally, you might want to watch tomorrow’s SCOTUS oral arguments in the case of American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo, which could theoretically doom broadcast television as we know it. Here’s how The Week’s Andrew Cohen explains it:

[T]he justices will decide whether an enterprising company that uses a raft of tiny antennas in a single location to transmit over-the-air TV programs to paying subscribers in that city may continue to do so without paying broadcasters or owners of the copyrighted shows….
A year ago, a panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a divided 2-1 ruling, sided with the upstart company, Aereo, Inc. Before that ruling, and the trial judge’s ruling that preceded it, broadcast executives presumed that federal copyright law protected their interests by precluding Aereo from charging customers for a television product for which it had no license to charge.

As the New York Times’ David Carr notes, Aereo is betting on the precedent set when the courts legalized cable-based DVR’s:

[Aereo] is a crafty workaround to existing regulations, which rides on the Cablevision court ruling in 2008, which held that consumers had the right, through their cable boxes, to record programming. But then, cable companies pay broadcasters billions in so-called retransmission fees while Aereo pays them exactly nothing. (And the case is not just about Aereo — it opens the gate for cable companies or others to build a similar service and skip the billions in payments to the networks.)

Carr predicts than an adverse ruling (which would upset the current betting) might lead the broadcast networks to abandon broadcasting altogether, and instead become companies selling content to the cable giants just like, say, AMC. Such a decision the decision could also lead cable companies to move even more aggressively than they already are into online streaming, and would probably represent death for local broadcasting outlets.

Ah, the long-awaited “convergence” could be on the horizon! But even if Aereo loses at SCOTUS, the existing configuration of forces is probably doomed by future “workarounds” based on new technologies.

April 21, 2014 3:28 PM New Republican Robopollster

As regular poll-watchers know, the sheer volume of surveys churned out by a particular polling firm can have an impact on polling averages, and even more so on subjective impressions of public opinion. Until Public Policy Polling emerged as a Democratic national firm, the ubiquity of surveys from Rasmussen provided a not-so-subtle thumb-on-the-scales for Republicans in perceptions of opinion trends. PPP (which has a pretty strong record of accuracy) now churns out as many surveys as Raz.

So it’s worth noting that a new Republican firm relying mainly (though not entirely) on less expensive automated polling (a.k.a. robopolls) is entering the field: Vox Populi Polling, with Mary Cheney as the best-known partner. You get the sense from Alexander Burns’ description of the firm at Politico that PPP-style frequent polling is definitely in the cards for Vox Populi.

It is not clear, however, if the new firm will emulate PPP’s publication of extensive cross-tabs, which makes its products especially useful for the deeper sorts of analysis, totally aside from the horse-race numbers.

April 21, 2014 2:15 PM Lunch Buffet

Happy Easter Monday for those inclined to treat yesterday’s Christian feast as the beginning of a season.

Here are some midday news/views treats:

* Gotta say, when you feel compelled to hire a psychologist to evaluate your Sunday Show’s ratings-poor host, as NBC has done with David Gregory, it might be time to give him a little less job security.

* Two vacant spots on the Board of Governors could give progressives chance to shape Fed.

* TNR’s Brian Beutler thinks brightening picture for Obamacare could destroy GOP’s midterm strategy.

* Greg Brannon, who could well be GOP Senate nominee in pivotal NC, seemed to be sympathetic to 9/11 “truther” argument as recently as 2012.

* Ta-Nehisi Coates declares “the struggle for integration…largely over.”

And in non-political news:

* “Hurricane” Carter dies at 76.

As we break for lunch, here’s Brownie McGhee with Sonny Terry performing “Cornbread and Peas.”

April 21, 2014 1:45 PM More Conservative Than Thou

As we begin to enter the heart of the 2014 primary cycle, I hope that last-ditch defenders of “both parties have surrendered to their extremes” false-equivalence perspectives notice a rather significant difference between Democratic and Republican candidates. The latter, regardless of how they are regarded on some objective spectrum, almost invariably identify themselves as “conservatives,” or “true conservatives,” or “constitutional conservatives,” or “strong conservatives,” or “conservative reformers.” They are forever shouting about their “conservative values” or “conservative record.” I’m looking at a batch of campaign literature from Georgia my mother-in-law sent me. There are multiple items from Senate candidate Phil Gingrey, whose slogan is “Always Delivering on His Conservative Principles.” Rival Jack Kingston, generally considered a time-serving Establishment stooge in the House, cannot utter a breath without touting his bogus National Journal rating as having “the most conservative record in the race,” and described himself in a debate over the weekend as “a long-term soldier fighting for the conservative cause.” 11th District U.S. House candidate Tricia Pridemore wants primary voters to know she is a “devoted conservative activist;” another, Ed Lindsay, calls himself a “proven conservative reformer.” And they may be the least ideological candidates in the GOP field in that particular race.

The last congressional or statewide GOP candidate I can remember calling himself a “moderate” was Michigan’s Rick Snyder in 2010. Maybe I’ve missed a scattered self-identified “moderate” in New England or something, but it’s not a crowd.

Can anyone imagine Democrats behaving this way? Yes, there may be a few primaries in deep blue country where one candidate insists he or she is more “progressive” than another, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. But by and large, it’s just remarkable the extent to which Republican candidates act as though it is almost literally impossible to be too conservative. I keep half-expecting some GOPer to broadcast the slogan: “I’m insanely conservative.” But I guess Paul Broun doesn’t have the money to run ads.

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