Friday, November 25, 2016

Predictions: 2018 Senate Races

Overview: (11/25/16). The story of the 2018 Senate races was going to be that of historic gains for the Republican party. Democrats hold 25 of the seats up for election compared to only 8 for the GOP, and the party out of power always does well in the mid-term elections. Of course I expected Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump to become President. So now it's the Democrats who are the party out of power, and, quite possibly, Democratic voters will be more fired up than their Republican opponents in 2018. Of course it may not matter how energized Democrats are, given the increasing effectiveness of Republican voter suppression laws. This may be an election where few if any seats change hands. Retirements will be key.

Races are categorized as either likely or unlikely to be competitive. This post will be updated continuously until election day.

Likely to be competitive:

Arizona
Rating: Likely Republican hold
Republican: Jeff Flake (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: For years now, Democrats have found themselves tantalizingly close to winning statewide elections in Arizona, without actually winning any of them. Jeff Flake's approval rating is only 35% (he doesn't like Donald Trump), making him vulnerable to a challenge from the right. If Flake loses his primary to some right-wing yahoo, the door is open for a competitive race. If Flake is renominated, he's a pretty safe bet for reelection.

Florida
Rating: Leans Democratic hold 
Democrat: Bill Nelson (incumbent)
Republican: Governor Rick Scott?
Overview: Republican Governor Rick Scott is term-limited out of office after 2018, and, having nothing better to do, apparently he'd like to continue ruining the state of Florida by becoming a US Senator. If he runs, Scott would be the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination. His approval ratings are however underwater, so for the time being I like Nelson to win another term.

Indiana
Rating: Toss up
Democrat: Joe Donnelly (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: How the heck did Democrat Joe Donnelly win a Senate seat in Indiana? Well, it seems his opponent, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, suggested during the campaign that women impregnated by rapists must not have abortions, because their pregnancies are something, "God intended to happen."  Can Donnelly draw another opponent as repellent as Mourdock? I wouldn't count on it, and Indiana is a red state going redder.

Michigan
Rating: Leans Democratic hold 
Democrat: Debbie Stabenow (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Stabenow is running for a fourth term, and has easily defeated past Republican opponents. On the other hand, if Michigan can go for Trump just four years after giving President Obama a 10-point victory over Michigan boy Mitt Romney, anything is possible.

Missouri
Rating: Toss up
Democrat: Claire McCaskill (incumbent)
Republican:
Overview: Nobody thought Claire McCaskill had a chance of winning another term in the Senate in 2012. As expected, Mitt Romney beat President Obama by a large margin in Missouri. McCaskill however skillfully helped ensure that the Republican nomination would go to the most extreme candidate in the race, Congressmen Todd Akin. Akin then obliged McCaskill by making some truly birzarre comments on rape and pregnancy, and she beat him by 15% on election day. Well, that was then. McCaskill might get lucky again and face a truly terrible opponent, but I wouldn't count on it.

Montana
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Jon Tester (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Libertarian: ?
Overview: Tester ran a brilliant campaign in 2012, and won a race that Republicans were counting on. It didn't hurt that the Libertarian candidate ate some of the Republicans' lunch by taking 6.5% of the vote. Tester won't be easy to beat in 2018, but it wouldn't surprise me that much if he lost.

Nevada
Rating: Toss up
Republican: Dean Heller (incumbent)
Democrat: ?
Overview: Heller narrowly beat a scandal-tarred opponent in 2012. Nevada is trending blue, and if the Democrats nominate a good candidate, this will be a close race.

New Jersey
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Bob Menendez (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Menendez is facing federal corruption charges. Whether this actually opens the door for Republicans to win a Senate seat in New Jersey remains to be seen. It's hard to imagine voters turning out in a big way for New Jersey Republicans in 2018 given their loathing of Govenor Chris Christie, and the recent convictions in the Bridgegate scandal.

New Mexico
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Martin Heinrich (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Martin Heinrich has decent approval ratings. He also kind of looks like a model. New Mexico is trending blue, and I don't think Democrats have much too much to worry about here.

North Dakota
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Heidi Heitkamp (incumbent)
Republican: Congressman Rick Berg
Overview: Time was when North Dakota elected liberal Democrats to Congress even as it voted strongly for Republicans at the Presidential level. It looked like those days were over in 2012, however, Heidi Heitkamp miraculously beat her Republican opponent by 3,000 votes even as Mitt Romney beat President Obama by 64,000 votes in North Dakota. This will be a close race, but I think Heitkamp has the popularity to win another term.

Ohio
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Sherrod Brown (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: In 2012, Republicans had high hopes that Mitt Romney would carry Ohio, and that "rising star" Republican state Treasurer Scott Mandel would defeat incumbent Senator Sherrod Brown. Neither happened, however, Donald Trump's big win in Ohio in 2016 should give Democrats pause. Brown may be a bit too liberal for increasingly conservative Ohio. But his approval ratings are pretty good, and he has a strong chance to win another term.

Pennsylvania
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Bob Casey, Jr. (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Bob Casey has good approval ratings and I like his chances to win another term.

Virginia
Rating: Likely Democratic hold
Democrat: Tim Kaine (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Even with popular former Governor and Senator Tim Kaine on the Clinton ticket, she barely carried Virginia. Oh well, moving on. While I expect Republicans to mount a serious challenge here, Kaine is a good bet to win another term.

West Virginia
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Joe Manchin (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: Joe Manchin is easily the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. Will that be enough to win another term in very conservative West Virginia? His approval ratings suggest it will.

Wisconsin
Rating: Leans Democratic hold
Democrat: Tammy Baldwin (incumbent)
Republican: ?
Overview: I don't know what to say about Wisconsin any more. Barrack Obama carried it easily, now it goes for Trump. Republican Ron Johnson is probably the worst member of the Senate, he has terrible approval ratings, and yet he defeats Democrat Russ Feingold. Republican Governor Scott Walker is a total disaster for the state, yet he easily wins reelection. On paper, liberal Democrat Tammy Baldwin is a good bet for reelection. In reality, given what's happened in Wisconsin in recent elections, who knows?


Unlikely to be competitive:

California: Dianne Feinstein (D) may not run for reelection (she'll be 85), but California is likely to stay blue.

Connecticut: Chris Murphy (D). Republicans have had high hopes for Connecticut in recent elections; those hopes have gone nowhere.

Delaware: Tom Carper (D) has sky-high approval ratings and is in no danger.

Hawai'i: Mazie Hirono (D). Even in Republican-leaning years, the GOP has gotten nowhere in Hawai'i congressional races.

Maine: Angus King (I-Democratic caucus). King is quite popular, and Maine seems to like incumbents. 

Massachusetts (D). The only way Elizabeth Warren is not still a U.S. Senator years from now is if she runs for higher office.

Maryland: Ben Cardin (D). Maryland is too blue for Republicans to make a go of it here.

Minnesota: Amy Klobuchar (D). Strong approval ratings protect Klobuchar from vulnerability.

Mississippi: Roger Wicker (R). As I noted in a post in 2008, here's how voting works in Mississippi in statewide races: white people vote Republican, black people vote Democratic. The population demographics needed for a serious challenge to Wicker just aren't there.

Nebraska: Deb Fischer (R). In 2012, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning was expected to win this race, but State Senator Deb Fischer surprised most by winning the Republican nomination. She then proceeded to campaign so badly in her race against former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey that Republicans were forced to inject last-minute campaign funds into a race that should have seen Fischer able to sleepwalk to victory. More recently, she made the brilliant move of calling on Donald Trump to step down from the Presidential nomination after the release of the Billy Bush tape, only to endorse him for President 3 days later. To summarize, it wouldn't surprise me if the inept Fischer were to lose renomination to another Republican. But nothing short of a miracle would make a Democrat competitive in this race.

New York: Kirsten Gillibrand (D). Extremely unlikely any Republican will win a statewide race in New York.

Rhode Island: Sheldon Whitehouse (D). Republicans have made serious inroads in a lot of what were considered blue states in the past few years. But not in Rhode Island.

Tennessee: Bob Corker (R). Corker has strong approval ratings. Democrats have pretty much given up on Tennessee.

Texas: Ted Cruz (R). Some day a Democrat will win a statewide race in Texas. But not very soon.

Utah: Orrin Hatch (R). Hatch will be 84 in 2018. He might retire, and there's the possibility of a primary challenge. Otherwise, nothing of interest here.

Vermont: Bernie Sanders (I, member of the Democratic caucus). There is no more popular Senator among his constituents than Bernie.

Washington: Maria Cantwell (D). Republicans have become far less competitive in statewide races in Washington is the past couple of decades, and with Trump in office, the GOP nominee for this seat doesn't have a prayer.

Wyoming: John Barrasso (R). Watching paint dry will be more interesting than this race.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

2016 Election Predictions

The Presidential Race
Popular Vote:
Hillary Clinton (D) 50.3%, Donald Trump (R) 45.7%, Other 4.0%

Electoral Vote:
Hillary Clinton (D) 323, Donald Trump (R) 215



The US Senate Races

Current Senate: 54 Republicans, 46 Democrats,
New Senate: 52 Democrats, 48 Republicans.

The competitive races:
We seem to have a bunch of coin-tosses.
Likely Democratic pickups: Illinois, Wisconsin
Leans Democratic pickup: NH, PA
Leans Democratic hold: NV
Toss up: IN, MO, NC. All three of these are almost impossible to call. But I'll go with Democrat Evan Bayh to narrowly win Indiana. Very recent polls have show Democrat Jason Kander losing momentum in Missouri, and with Trump way ahead of Clinton there, I have to go with the Republican Roy incumbent Blunt. I think Clinton is slightly ahead in North Carolina, and although Democrat Deborah Ross seems to trail every so slightly in the polls, I think Burr's recent remarks about Clinton will cost him.
Leans Republican hold: FL


The US House Races
Current House
: 248 Republicans, 187 Democrats.  
New House: 234 Republicans, 201 Democrats.


The Gubernatorial Races

Democrats to pickup IN, MO, NC.
Republicans to pickup NH, VT.


Thanks for reading. Joe

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Eleven: Ted Cruz and Muslims

You are probably familiar with apartheid, the twentieth century system of segregation in South Africa under which white minority rule curtailed the rights, associations and movements of blacks. Could a system like apartheid ever come to be in America, where most folks support the idea that everyone is equal before the law? Let's consider some recent remarks by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is running for President. From an official campaign statement:

"Our European allies are now seeing what comes of a toxic mix of migrants who have been infiltrated by terrorists and isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods.

We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here. We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."


It's pretty discouraging to see a leading American politician argue for law enforcement policies based on bigotry. One has to wonder if Cruz will also call for increased law enforcement in neighborhoods populated by whites, given that most terrorist acts in the United States are committed by radical anti-government groups or white supremacists. Cruz did try to reverse himself somewhat on the above statement, saying in a CNN interview, "If you have a neighborhood where there's a high level of gang activity, the way to prevent it is you increase the law enforcement presence there and you target the gang members to get them off the streets. I'm talking about any area where there is a higher incidence of radical Islamic terrorism." Of course this raises the question of what "areas" with "a higher incidence of radical Islamic terrorism" Cruz might be talking about. More on that later.

Unfortunately, Ted Cruz is not alone in calling for continued racial profiling by law enforcement. And I do mean continued. Blacks are three times more likely than whites to be searched during routine traffic stops, despite the fact that they are less likely than white drivers to turn up with guns or drugs when searched. Some years ago, the New York City initiated a program in which police stop, question and possibly search those they consider suspicious. Nearly nine out of 10 people "stopped and frisked" under the policy in 2011 were black or Hispanic, despite the fact that blacks and Hispanics made up only 52.8% of the city's population that year. And once again, data compiled by police department showed that, among those searched under the program, those suspects who were white were more often to be found in possession of weapons and drugs.

In June of 2013, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's stop-and-frisk program saying, "One newspaper and one news service, they just keep saying ‘oh it’s a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group.’ That may be, but it’s not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the [crime]. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little." In other words, it's OK to target minorities, as they are known to commit more crimes. Now it's actually true that minorities commit more crimes; they tend to offend more because they tend to be more disadvantaged, living in poorer urban areas with less access to public services and jobs. But that fact is hardly a defense of racial profiling in stop-and-frisk searches given that minorities are known to be less likely to carry contraband.

And racial profiling creates problems. From Evan Horowitz of the Boston Globe:


"When police start targeting people based on their race, it effectively puts a whole community under suspicion. What is more, it virtually guarantees that the innocent will regularly find themselves stopped by police, for little reason beyond the color of their skin.

Racial profiling can also poison relations between police and the populace. When minority groups feel that they’re under constant suspicion, they’re less likely to entrust police with information that can be vital to solving crimes. This is one reason some law enforcement groups oppose racial profiling."

And that brings us back to Ted Cruz, who is more than happy to put entire communities under suspicion. I've already written about Cruz's amazing feat of generating and/or repeating fourteen separate and distinct myths on a single subject (climate change). Let's see how many Cruz can spread in a single op-ed piece he wrote last month for the New York Daily News and the controversy surrounding that article:

Part Eleven: Ted Cruz and Muslims

Myth
: "Islamism is a political and theocratic philosophy that commands its adherents to wage jihad, to murder or forcibly convert the infidels (by which they mean everyone else)."
Fact: Let's start here, because it's the biggest and most dangerous lie that Cruz is telling. From islam.about.com:

"Islam's holy text, the Quran, describes Jihad as a system of checks and balances, as a way that Allah set up to "check one people by means of another." When one person or group transgresses their limits and violates the rights of others, Muslims have the right and the duty to "check" them and bring them back into line."

"Islam never tolerates unprovoked aggression from its own side; Muslims are commanded in the Quran not to begin hostilities, embark on any act of aggression, violate the rights of others, or harm the innocent. Even hurting or destroying animals or trees is forbidden. War is waged only to defend the religious community against oppression and persecution, because the Quran says that "persecution is worse than slaughter" and "let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression" (Quran 2:190-193). Therefore, if non-Muslims are peaceful or indifferent to Islam, there is no justified reason to declare war on them."

"Finally, the Quran also says, "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). Forcing someone at the point of a sword to choose death or Islam is an idea that is foreign to Islam in spirit and in historical practice. There is absolutely no question of waging a "holy war" to "spread the faith" and compel people to embrace Islam; that would be an unholy war and the people's forced conversions would not be sincere."

Myth: "One of the causes of this horror has been European bureaucrats restraining law enforcement from fully engaging with the Muslim community in "no go" zones."
Fact: The "no go zones" myth began in the wake of the Paris attacks in January of 2015. From Carol Matlack of Bloomberg,

"Steve Emerson, a U.S. television commentator, set off a firestorm in Britain on Jan. 11 when he told Fox News that "non-Muslims just simply don't go in" to the British city of Birmingham, and that in some parts of London, "religious police" beat people who don't wear "religious Muslim attire." Prime Minister David Cameron called Emerson "a complete idiot," and Emerson quickly backtracked, admitting he had made "an inexcusable error."

The story didn't die there. Nigel Farage, head of Britain's anti-immigrant U.K. Independence Party, asserted on Jan. 13 that there were no-go zones "right across Europe. We have got no-go zones across most of the big French cities," he told Fox News. Another Fox commentator, Nolan Peterson, has been posting online reports this week saying that some 750 areas in France have been "marked as off-limits by French authorities, restricting access by police and other emergency services."

While the British were outraged, the French simply seem amused. Paris social-media wags have already posted a guide to "eating and drinking in the no-go zones," which happen to include some of the city's trendy gentrifying neighborhoods.  

In fact, France does maintain a list of 750 "sensitive" neighborhoods. Far from being considered "off limits" to authorities, they've been designated as priority areas for urban renewal and other forms of state aid."

Myth: "I also called for empowering law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they follow the path of Molenbeek (Belgium) and become havens for radical Islamic terrorists."
Fact: The statement above presumes that their are identifiable Muslim "neighborhoods" in the United States. Studies show that there are no such neighborhoods. To summarize an article by W. Gardner Selby of politifact.com:
* The Pew Research Center's map of Muslim populations in America doesn't suggest that they live in particular neighborhoods.
* Texas homeland security consultant Mohamed Elibiary who is a Muslim and a Republican told Politifact: "The reality is there are no Muslim neighborhoods, especially here in Texas. We don’t really have ethnic enclaves like that."
* In 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department scrapped a plan to map Muslim communities in response to an outcry among Muslims and others who said the project amounted to racial profiling, and, "on the ground that unlike in much of Europe, Muslims did not live in their own separate neighborhoods in the United States." 

Myth: Mayor de Blasio of New York City shut down the city's counterterrorism unit, because, "He was taking heat from liberal advocacy groups who caricatured the unit’s work as "spying on Muslims," which it wasn’t."
Fact: Cruz is referring to the NYPD Demographic Unit, which the New York Daily News described as having, "targeted city Muslims in the wake of 9/11."

First of all, did the NYPD spy on Muslims, singling them out for surveillance, without probable cause? Yes it did, quite extensively. And in January of 2016 the city agreed to settle two lawsuits that, (from the Washington Post) "claimed Muslims were the target of baseless surveillance and investigations because of their religion."

As for shutting down the
NYPD demographic unit, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said that, "There was not one actionable piece of intelligence that came out of that unit." In response to Ted Cruz, Bratton also wrote an article for the New York Daily News last month saying, "Cruz repeated the false reports surrounding the NYPD Demographics Unit and my decision to abolish it because it wasn’t serving any useful purpose. He tried to depict the demise of the unit, as other ill-informed observers have done, as a knuckling under to the forces of political correctness rather than the sensible administrative decision that it was. The fact is that the former administration had allowed the unit to dwindle down to two investigators. Why? Because the work of the unit, which was to map the ethnic makeup of the city to better understand the domain of the New York metropolitan area, was finished. The two remaining detectives simply had little to do."

Bratton went on to add that, in fact, hundreds of NYPD officers are currently working full-time on counter-terrorism and in other critical response and intelligence capacities.

Myth: "The Obama administration has even joined Islamist governments in sponsoring a UN resolution that would shred our First Amendment by threatening to make discussion of radical Islamism potentially illegal."
Fact: I had a devil of a time figuring out what Cruz is talking about in the above quote. It turns out he's referring to updated language submitted in 2009 for the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only articles I can find about the update come from rabidly right-wing sources like the Weekly Standard, which said in an article by Anne Bayefsky,

"The new resolution, championed by the Obama administration, has a number of disturbing elements. It emphasizes that "the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities . . ." which include taking action against anything meeting the description of "negative racial and religious stereotyping." It also purports to "recognize . . . the moral and social responsibilities of the media" and supports "the media's elaboration of voluntary codes of professional ethical conduct" in relation to "combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance."

Ms. Bayefsky makes a hash of different parts of the UN Declaration in order to mischaracterizes what the Declaration is saying as a whole. While it says that the Human Rights Council, "expresses its concern that incidents of racial and religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence, as well as negative racial and religious stereotyping continue to rise around the world, and condemns, in this context, any advocacy of national or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges States to take effective measures, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law to address such incidents," it also affirms, "the right of everyone to hold opinions without interference, as well as the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of their choice, and the intrinsically linked rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, peaceful assembly and association and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs."

Myth: In a statement made a week before his Daily News piece, Cruz said, "Our European allies are now seeing what comes of a toxic mix of migrants who have been infiltrated by terrorists and isolated, radical Muslim neighborhoods. We will do what we can to help them fight this scourge, and redouble our efforts to make sure it does not happen here. We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence."
Fact: The dangerous myth here is that refugees represent a terrorist threat to the United States and its allies. I covered this particular misbelief at length in a post last year. To summarize:
* The current refugee vetting process is incredibly thorough.
* Of the nearly 750,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. since 9/11, the number arrested on domestic terrorism charges is zero.
* U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper has expressed confidence in the government’s ability to screen refugee applicants.

In conclusion, regarding this affair, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton also said, "In the case of Mr. Cruz, he might have saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d kept his mouth closed." Commission Bratton, I have to agree.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Donald Trump's Healthcare Plan is Donald-Trump-Level Crazy

Here we go folks: Donald Trump's got a health care plan! Or as Trump of course puts it, "Healthcare Reform to Make America Great Again." He'd like to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which he claims, "has tragically but predictably resulted in runaway costs, websites that don’t work, greater rationing of care, higher premiums, less competition and fewer choices. Obamacare has raised the economic uncertainty of every single person residing in this country."

As is usual with Trump, just take the exact opposite of what he says and you'll have a good reflection of reality. The average annual increase in health care costs is down substantially under the ACA, and the law is reducing the federal deficit. The health care exchanges are working fine and meeting their signup goals. The law does not ration care. People have a choice of insurance; before the law many with pre-existing conditions had no choice, or insurance, at all. And the 17 million people who gained health insurance thanks to the law through May of 2015 now have a lot less economic uncertainty, given that they no longer have to fear that a single hospital visit may bankrupt them.

Here's what Trump's got for us:

1. Repeal the individual mandate. Now Trump is known for his contradicting himself on the issues, but this is a big flip-flop even for him. Just last month in a Republican debate he said, "I like the mandate." Two problems with repealing the mandate. One, if folks are no longer required to have insurance, we'll go back to the old system where taxpayers picked up the tab for the uninsured to get all their health care in emergency rooms. Two, without the mandate premiums would skyrocket as some healthier people left the risk pools.

2. "Modify existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines." Every time one of my conservative friends rails against Obamacare, and I ask them, OK, how would you insure the uninsured, they say, "Allow insurance companies to sell across state lines."

First of all, here's some news for Republicans: insurance companies are already allowed to sell across state lines. They don't do it because it's not a workable system. As Senator Al Franken explained recently:

"Why? Because a license to sell insurance in a given state isn't the only thing insurance companies need in order to be able to actually sell insurance. They need to learn the state, analyze the healthcare needs of its population, recruit participants, build a network of providers, negotiate rates, and more.

"If you're a huge insurance company like Blue Cross, you might have the resources to replicate this effort in states across the country, which is why you can get Blue Cross insurance in multiple states. But smaller insurance companies based in a single state have found again and again that, even when offered the opportunity to sell across state lines, it simply isn't worth the hassle."

To put it another way, from Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times,

"The trouble is that varying or numerous state regulations aren’t the main reason insurance markets tend to be uncompetitive. Selling insurance in a new region or state takes more than just getting a license and including all the locally required benefits. It also involves setting up favorable contracts with doctors and hospitals so that customers will be able to get access to health care. Establishing those networks of health care providers can be hard for new market entrants."

Or to put it still another way, From John R. Graham of the Hill,

"Absent Obamacare, states had dramatically different health insurance mandates. As a result, New Yorkers paid more for insurance than did Utahans. Therefore, the argument goes, if Congress passed a law allowing New Yorkers to buy policies licensed in Utah, they could buy less expensive coverage. Well, maybe they could, if they wanted to fly to Salt Lake City every time they wanted to see a doctor or needed an operation."

3. "Allow individuals to fully deduct health insurance premium payments from their tax returns". I'm going to go with the snarkiest comment I can find on this one. From Kaili Joy Gray of wonkette.com,

"Nothing treats cancer better than tax deductions for rich people, who are the people who benefit the most from tax deductions and don’t help low-income people, like, at all. But as we know, when it comes to Republican policy, that’s the point. And really, don’t poors prefer a healthcare system that lets riches take bigger deductions instead of one that provides subsidies for healthcare coverage for those folks who really do need the savings? That’s rhetorical. Don’t bother answering."

4. "Allow individuals to use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)". Earth to Donald: They already can.

5. Block-grant Medicaid to the states. Yeah, real bad idea. From Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, 

"This would accomplish nothing except, probably, to make health care worse. States tend to do everything they can to use Medicaid dollars for non-health purposes, and giving them total control over Medicaid would only make this worse. Also, it would eliminate the automatic increase in Medicaid spending during recessions, when it's needed most. Overall, this proposal would almost certainly result in less Medicaid spending and less effective Medicaid spending."
 
6. Allow drug "importation." Trump's web site doesn't really explain what he's talking about. Furthermore, our prescription drugs are already imported from overseas manufacturers. What Trump is referring to is buying drugs from other countries who had already purchased them from drug companies at lower prices. From the Motley Fool,

"In America, Medicare can't negotiate for lower prices directly with drugmakers and insurers must negotiate prices with drugmakers individually. As a result, Americans can pay far more for their medicine than people living in other countries. For example, prices for a medicine in Canada can be less than half the price charged for the same drug in the United States."

"Under Trump, a system for importing drugs would be created that helps consumers import medicine from markets such as Canada."

Several problems with this. First, The US Food and Drug Administration requires that drug companies implement track and trace systems to guarantee the security of prescription drugs to customers. Counterfeit drugs are a major problem and accounted for $75 billion in revenue in 2010 according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. All the way back in 2004, Republican Senators released two prescription drug importation reports by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services (HHS) which rejected, "any lingering hope that the individual importation of pharmaceuticals is – or can be made – safe and reliable for personal use. There is simply no amount of resources that can guarantee that the content and quality of foreign prescription drugs purchased via the Internet, mail order, or other such means are safe for patients to consume."

Second, again from the Motley Fool, "Because America is a large and highly profitable market for drugmakers, medicine is often launched in the U.S. first, and therefore, new medicines or complex specialty medicines may not be available for import for months or even years after they've become available in America."

Finally, if Mr. Trump would like to solve the problem of high drug prices in the US, there's an easy way to do it: change the law so that Medicare CAN negotiate prices.

There is however one part of the Trump plan I can recommend: "we need to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country." Indeed, I can think of a certain Presidential candidate who could benefit from said services.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Ten: Ted Cruz and Climate Change

"In Florida, up to $69 billion in coastal property not at risk today will likely be at risk of inundation at high tide by 2030. By 2050, the value of at-risk property below local high tide levels will increase to about $152 billion. In addition, the value of coastal property that will be below mean sea level will range from an estimated $5.6 billion to $14.8 billion by 2030 and between $14.8 billion and $23.3 billion by 2050. Higher seas will lead to more widespread destruction from storms. The report predicts storm-related losses attributed to climate change could increase by $1.3 billion a year by 2030 and by $4 billion a year by 2050."

Those are the conclusions of a report by the Risky Business Project, as reported by Ron Hurtibise of the Sun-Sentinel. Does anybody disagree? Well, the same article reports that, "Dr. Leonard Berry, former director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, called the projections "reasonable and logical."" Furthermore, property insurers are encouraging, "a national effort to educate insurance consumers, public policymakers and stakeholder groups on measures to mitigate and adapt to evolving risks that may be related to climate change." A consulting company is helping advising coastal residents on, "building sea walls or barriers around homes and installing reversible pumps into drainage systems." And several south Florida counties have formed a coalition to engineer mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with rising waters.

Great, so everyone's agreed that we have a problem we need to address quickly: the planet is warming, sea ice is declining, glaciers are shrinking and thus oceans are rising. Right? Wrong. "The summer of 2013 has come and gone, and John Kerry was not just a little bit — he was wildly, extraordinarily, entirely wrong. Had the [2014] Antarctic expedition in the picture next to it not believed the global warming alarmists, had they actually looked to the science and the evidence … they wouldn’t have been looked down and been surprised when they got stuck in ice."

The above is a quote from Texas Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, in a attempt to dismiss Secretary of State John Kerry's 2009 remarks on disappearing arctic ice, by conflating it with antarctic ice. (The two polar regions are actually impacted by climate change in very different ways.)

It's well-known that American conservatives refuse to recognize that anthropogenic pollution, in the form of CO2 and methane released into the environment, is causing the planet to warm and the oceans to rise and acidify. This is a problem, because it means we cannot agree on curbing that pollution. But in theory the reality-based community and conservatives could come together and at least agree that the planet is warming and the oceans are rising, even if we can't agree that pollution is the root cause. In that eventuality, we could at least work together to keep property on the gulf coast from being flooded by Atlantic waters, and mitigate some of the other problems caused by climate change. But that will never happen as long as Ted Cruz has anything to say about it.

Last month in Paris,
200 leading nations unanimously agreed to embrace a plan that would leave most of the world’s fossil fuels unburned, thereby limiting global warming "to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above preindustrial levels." But Senator Cruz is having none of that, and has promised to withdraw the US from the agreement is he's elected President. According to Cruz, the international agreement was disingenuous: "These are ideologues, they don’t focus on the facts, they won’t address the facts, and what they’re interested [in] instead is more and more government power." I hear this meme a lot from right-wing friends: climate change is a myth created to further a secret Stalinist one-world government conspiracy.

But Cruz doesn't stop there. He's held congressional hearings and gone on at extraordinary length in public regarding facts he claims disprove the scientific consensus on climate change. And in each and every case, he's completely, utterly wrong.

Part Ten: Ted Cruz and Climate Change

Myth
: "The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming. For the last 18 years, the satellite data — we have satellites that monitor the atmosphere — the satellites that actually measure the temperature showed no significant warming whatsoever." - Ted Cruz, 3/24/15
Fact: The scientific evidence unambiguously shows warming. This is the position of every single professional scientific society and every single National Academy of Sciences on the planet. Here is a partial list. Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades. The 2000s were warmer than the 1990s, and the 2010s so far have been warmer than the 2000s. 2014 was the warmest year on record.

So what is Ted Cruz talking about? From Sean Illing of Salon.com:

"To appear interested in the facts, Cruz references satellite data showing "that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years." What he doesn’t say is that his claim is based on a single study, conducted at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, which has since been discredited because it failed to account for the fact that satellites drift in their orbits over time, an error known to distort temperature records. Conveniently, Cruz ignores the findings of NOAA and NASA and the global scientific community which show that the earth is, in fact, warming."

More information on the "global warming hiatus" myth here.

Myth
: Liberal politicians and scientists, "switched their theory to global warming" because an earlier global cooling theory never panned out. - Ted Cruz, of 12/9/15. The scientific community has repeatedly suggested, then retracted, various consensus views regarding climate change in order to further, "massive government control of the economy, the energy sector, and our lives." - Ted Cruz, 8/2/15.
Fact: Here we go with the conspiracy theory. In 2008, the American Meteorological Society published an article called The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus. That title says it all, but here's a good summary of what really happened from Politifact.com:

"(T)hough there were some in 1975 who believed cooling temperatures were on the horizon, climate science has improved dramatically since then... The certainty that our atmosphere is indeed warming stems from a series of rigorous observations and theoretical concepts that fit into computer models and an overall framework outlining the nature of Earth’s climate."


"By the late 1970s, research had established that the warming associated with greenhouse gases was dominant over the cooling effect of aerosols."

"And in fact, reviews of research from that era have shown that even around the time of Newsweek’s 1975 article (reporting concerns of global cooling), a warming climate was of more concern than a cooling one. A study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society by climate scientists and a journalist in 2008 said there was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the world was cooling."

"The survey of the peer-reviewed literature between 1965 and 1979 found only seven papers "indicating" global cooling compared with 44 papers indicating warming."


Now as it turns out, a number of other folks have already written articles debunking Ted Cruz's lies at length. The next five Cruz climate change myths all come from Dr. Peter Gleick of scienceblogs.com, in a deconstruction of Ted Cruz's remarks from a December 9, 2015 interview with National Public Radio.

Myth
: Cruz: As part of the global cooling consensus myth above, scientists claimed, "we were facing the threat of an incoming ice age."
Fact from Dr. Gleick, "there were a very small number of scientific papers discussing cooling, and even they did not talk about a coming "ice age." The few media stories about this have been repeatedly seized on by skeptics and deniers as evidence that scientists were wrong decades ago, and thus must still be wrong today."

Myth: Cruz: To cope with the challenges of climate change, scientists' "solution to this problem is that we needed massive government control of the economy, the energy sector and every aspect of our lives."
Fact from Dr. Gleick, "False: Cruz uses a false scientific claim to put forth a false political claim. Very few scientists offer opinions about specific policies to address climate change, but when they do – as is their right as citizens – their policy preferences are diverse."

Myth: Cruz: "The scientific evidence doesn’t support global warming."
NPR's Steve Inskeep: "I’ll just note that NASA analyzes that same data differently. But we can go on."
Cruz: "But no, they don’t.  You can go and look at the data."
Fact from Dr. Gleick
"Here are the data and NASA’s analysis clearly showing warming."
(This one is really strange. How can Cruz, who chairs the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee, claim that NASA's data doesn't show global warming? NASA's representatives have told Cruz point blank in hearings what their data shows.)

Myth: Cruz: "Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big government politician who wants more power. Why? Because it is a theory that can never be disproven."
Fact from Dr. Gleick, "False: This also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of science and the scientific method. Atmospheric and climatological science is well understood and produces hypotheses that are constantly tested, confirmed, refuted, and regularly revised. And as it improves, the concerns about global climate change have consistently strengthened, not declined. See, for example, the 40 years of reports on this issue from the US National Academy of Sciences."

Myth: Cruz: "(I)n the name of global warming, you have politicians trying to impose trillions of dollars of cost on the world." I’m concerned about the single mom waiting tables right now, ... what the Washington elites are trying to do is double her energy bill."
Fact from Dr. Gleick, "False: there is no evidence that addressing the risks of climate change will cost more than paying the costs of unabated climate change. Indeed, the economic evidence is the opposite – "the benefits of strong early action on climate change outweigh the costs.""

Myth: "Almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space... I am concerned that NASA in the current environment has lost its full focus on that core mission." - Ted Cruz, 3/12/15 in a Senate hearing with NASA.
Fact: I had a right-wing friend reiterate this one to me: the fact that NASA is talking about climate change means that it's been co-opted by the government-power conspiracy.

"Our core mission from the very beginning has been to investigate, explore space and the Earth environment, and to help us make this place a better place," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Cruz in the same hearing. Indeed, NASA has been working on climate science since its inception. From NASA.gov:

"When NASA was first created by the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, it was given the role of developing technology for “space observations,” but it wasn’t given a role in Earth science. The agency’s leaders embedded the technology effort in an Earth Observations program centered at the new Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in the U.S.. It was an "Applications" program, in NASA-speak. Other agencies of the federal government were responsible for carrying out Earth science research: the Weather Bureau (now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The Applications program signed cooperative agreements with these other agencies that obligated NASA to develop observational technology while NOAA and the USGS carried out the scientific research. The Nimbus series of experimental weather satellites and the Landsat series of land resources satellites were the result of the Applications program."

Myth: "It is really freezing in D.C.," "I have to admit I was surprised. Al Gore told us this wouldn't happen!" - Ted Cruz 2/10/14
Fact: Cruz likes to suggest that cold weather must mean that Al Gore has been wrong and/or lying about climate change. OK, let's review:
* Weather is not indicative of long-term global trends.
* Al Gore never suggested it would stop getting cold during the winter. Furthermore, scientists have been unanimous that Al Gore has accurately conveyed the science of climate change.
* As the world gets warmer, parts of North America, Europe and Asia could see more frequent and stronger visits of cold air. Studies indicate that this is the result of shrinking ice in the seas off Russia.

The next five Cruz climate change myths all come from Emily Atkin of thinkprogress.org, in a deconstruction of Ted Cruz's remarks from a December 7, 2015 Senate hearing.

Myth: Cruz: "I would note that the history with markedly more CO2 pre-dated the industrial revolution."
Fact from Emily Atkin, "(Cruz suggests) CO2 isn’t bad, because we’ve had more CO2 in our atmosphere then we have right now. The last time CO2 was this high, humans didn’t exist, and the planet was a terrifying place. The world’s seas were up to 100 feet higher than they are today, and the global average surface temperature was up to 11°F warmer than it is now."

Myth: Cruz: "Here are the inconvenient facts about the polar ice caps. The Arctic is not ice free. This year’s minimum sea ice extent was well above the record low observed in 2011. In the Antarctic, a recent study… indicates that the ice is not only not decreasing, but is in fact increasing in mass, directly contrary to what the global warming alarmists had told us would be happening." 
Fact from Emily Atkin, "Sea ice in the Arctic and land ice in the Antarctic have been dramatically decreasing for decades. Cruz said that minimum sea ice extent in the Arctic "was well above the record low observed in 2011." First, Cruz just directly admitted the lowest-ever-recorded minimum sea ice extent in the Arctic was just four years ago. Second, Cruz doesn’t mention that Arctic ice as a whole has been decreasing for decades. As for Antarctic ice, Cruz is right when he says sea ice is growing. But Antarctic land ice — glaciers, ice sheets, and ice masses that have accumulated over thousands of years — is decreasing at dramatic rates. And that’s arguably much more important than sea ice, considering Antarctica’s sea ice completely melts every year (one of the many differences from the Arctic, where sea ice is never supposed to melt completely)."

Myth: Cruz: "The summer of 2013 has come and gone, and John Kerry was not just a little bit — he was wildly, extraordinarily, entirely wrong. Had the [2014] Antarctic expedition in the picture next to it not believed the global warming alarmists, had they actually looked to the science and the evidence … they wouldn’t have been looked down and been surprised when they got stuck in ice."
Fact from Emily Atkin, (Cruz suggests) "A bunch of scientists got stuck in Antarctic ice last year, so John Kerry was wrong about Arctic ice melt. John Kerry said Arctic ice would be gone in 2013. But here are a bunch of scientists, in 2014, frozen in Antarctic ice.

This is a laughably false comparison. The Arctic and the Antarctic are literally polar opposites, and each is impacted by global warming in fundamentally different ways. From LiveScience: "Strong circumpolar winds may be compacting and thickening the Antarctic ice. But the Arctic ice is much more vulnerable to ocean warming, and summer storms only speedup the thaw."

Cruz was, however, right about one thing — Kerry was wrong in 2009. Arctic ice is not gone. But Kerry’s statement didn’t represent the mainstream opinion of climate scientists at the time. The mainstream opinion of climate scientists was, and still is, that summers in the Arctic could be ice-free by 2050 if global warming remains at its current level or worsens. That prediction is playing out now — This year’s maximum Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record, and the total extent of Arctic sea ice has gradually and dramatically decreased over the last several decades."


Myth: Cruz: "In the year 1615, if you asked 97% of scientists at the time, would’ve said categorically that the sun rotates around the earth."
Fact from Emily Atkin, "This is ostensibly why Cruz disagrees with the fact that multiple peer-reviewed studies show 97 percent of climate scientists agreeing that humans cause global warming: because in 1615, scientists thought the sun rotated around the Earth.
Today, scientists use the scientific method. This is really great, because the scientific method requires people to back up their evidence using empirical data — they can’t apply their own personal biases to it. To have success using the scientific method, a person with a completely different worldview will be able to replicate what you have found. The scientific method means looking outside yourself to find empirical truth.

In 1615, by contrast, scientists didn’t use the scientific method. Scientists were philosophers and ideologues, smart white men who sat in armchairs thinking about what made sense to them. After they thought about it for awhile, they’d say things, and then people would believe them or they wouldn’t.

So in other words, Ted Cruz is essentially saying that the scientific method is no more reliable than a bunch of white dudes sitting in armchairs yelling about how they believe the world works." 

Myth: "On the global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical [sic] claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate. What do they do? They scream, “You’re a denier.” They brand you a heretic. You know, it is, today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. You know, it used to be, it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier." - Ted Cruz, 3/24/15
Fact: This is sort of a repeat of the myth above, I just like to note that although Cruz loves to talk about Galileo, he doesn't seem to know much about him or the time in which he lived. From Politifact.com: "Galileo’s struggle against the Catholic Church had nothing to do with debate over the shape of the planet. In fact, he was persecuted for supporting the idea of a Copernican system, which posited that the sun was the center of the universe and the Earth revolved around it. At the time of this struggle with the church, in the early 17th century, it had long been accepted that the planet is in fact round. Explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s crew completed the first circumnavigation of the globe in 1522 — 42 years before Galileo was born."

How to summarize Senator Cruz on the subject of climate change? In November, the Associated Press asked a group of climate and biological scientists to score each of the presidential candidates on their scientific knowledge. On a scale of 0 to 100, Cruz scored six, the lowest of any candidate.

"This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner," Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor Michael Mann told the AP. "That sort of ignorance would be dangerous in a doorman, let alone a president."