Thursday, July 30, 2009
Pollster.com averages of Obama job approval
Click on image to enlarge
It's the big story everywhere for the past week. Obama's public approval ratings have fallen to earth and look to be on a very unfavorable downward course. The Pollster.com graphic above plots the average of polls as dropping from an unsustainable high point around 65% approval shortly after the election to a not-so-great 52% today. RealClearPolitics also has a summary graphic here, which shows the same decline and has him at 53-39 as of now.
Some Obama supporters are pooh-poohing the numbers on the grounds that other recent Presidents have seen a similar drop over the first six months of their first terms, and 52% favorables isn't all that bad.
True -- but most of those Presidents were not trying to push sweeping, expensive new domestic programs on a half dozen fronts at once, while also shifting the tone of America's foreign policies.
Something more than the natural end to the post-election honeymoon is over. Most of the polls tell us that even those who continue to approve of Obama have a lot of trouble approving his policy initiatives. In particular:
-- Most Americans like their current health plans, don't especially want a radical makeover of the health care system, and worry (not without reason) that "reform" will either cost them more or affect the quality of their care or both.
-- Most Americans are worried about spending trillions of dollars on bailouts for dozens of banks and GM, among others, on the "stimulus" bill, on the cap and trade bill, and now on health care reform, even as the rest of the federal budget expands.
-- Most Americans remain worried about the recession and aren't particularly pleased with the Obama Administration's handling of it so far.
Like all Presidents, Obama was elected because he captured the center of American politics -- the independents, moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats who are always open to voting for either party. As a result of a grave financial crisis and a deepening recession, combined with widespread fatigue with all things Bush and a badly run campaign by John McCain, the Democrats had an historic opportunity. Still, to seize that opportunity, Obama campaigned as a moderate -- a man who saw all sides, looked for responsible compromises, and sought a new era of "post-partisan" cooperation in Washington after a couple of decades of growingly bitter quarrels.
But as President, Obama has turned away from candidate Obama's centrist moderation on key domestic issues. (Fortunately for the nation, in foreign affairs and national security, what changes Obama has made so far are mainly cosmetic or shifts in rhetorical emphasis.) Above all, in November, millions of people voted Democratic in the belief that a change was needed to get the economy moving again. Many of those voters continue to believe that this should be Obama's number one priority on which he stays focused until the job is done. They may not be economists, but they know that spending a trillion dollars more on health care, even if desirable, has nothing to do with ending the recession, the key job they voted to give Obama. And they know that the stimulus program has fizzled, while unemployment has continued to rise.
Perhaps Obama will get through this period and see his popularity rebound -- maybe in time to save the Democrats from a whopping setback at the mid-term elections in 2010. But I doubt that will happen unless the moderate, consensus-building Obama we came to know and like in the campaign makes a reappearance.
What do you think of Obama's decline in the polls? Post a comment.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Watch the whole thing. It's interesting to me that a late-night comic can summarize in a comedy bit what legions of academics and self-appointed social critics take millions of words to explain and never quite get.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
One of France's worst fires for three years raged on the eastern outskirts of Marseille late on Wednesday burning dozens of homes but claiming no victims, rescue services said.
The wildfire caused by military practice shelling hit the eastern Trois-Ponts suburb of the southern city forcing the evacuation of scores of residents.
Regional prefect Michel Sappin confirmed that the blaze had been started by the shelling, lashing out at the "imbecilic" action that had led to "an annoying and serious" situation in a zone close to a city and saying he was "exasperated".
More pics here.
Hmmm. Maybe we should shelve that idea about leaning on France to send more troops to Afganistan.
Any thoughts? Post a comment.
(Hat tip: Legal Insurrection)
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
David Brooks thinks the Democratic Party has launched itself on a "suicide march." I wouldn't go that far, but it's surely true that the left wing of the party has always been a tad suicidal -- more now than ever -- and seems always ready to pull the Democratic Party as a whole down if it can't get its way.
I've blogged about this before here and here. If more proof is needed, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a MoveOn.org spin off, and DemocracyForAmerica, which calls itself "the nations' largest progressive political action community," are running TV ads attacking Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is probably the key guy on the Hill who can frame a health care bill that might just pass the Senate.
No matter to the self-styled progressives who claim that Baucus is out of step with "the 76% of Americans who support President Obama's public health insurance option." The groups cite a month-old poll at a time when public support for any health care reform has been dropping like a rock as the massive costs and not altogether pleasing trade offs have become obvious to people. In any case, Baucus has never said he does or doesn't support a public option; he's just trying to get a bill that enough Senators will support to pass it.
And did the two groups even pause to wonder whether in relatively conservative Montana -- which now has two Democratic Senators, thanks to the very moderate stances that the left is attacking --their ads really will undermine Baucus with his voters? Frankly, I think it will help him at home to be attacked by these guys.
Montana's junior Senator, Jon Tester, was one of the moderates elected in 2006 who handed control of the Senate to the Democratic Party. Tester has been keeping a relatively low profile on health care reform, and like many other moderates, appears to be keeping his -- and the Senate's -- options open. For the moment, then, Tester is not a target of the left. But seven other Democratic Senators may find themselves in the cross hairs, including such usual suspects as Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman but also, somewhat surprisingly, John Kerry!
Let me not mince words: this is crazy, does not make smart, sustainable health care reform any more likely, and weakens the Democratic Party's ability to hold power in Washington long enough to change much of anything.
Moderate Democrats in the Senate and the House are reflecting their constituents' unease with sweeping expensive proposals that might be pushed through with foolish haste and a myriad of unintended consequences. These members of Congress likely represent the center of gravity of American opinion on this issue. They should be listened to -- not attacked.
What's your opinion? Post a comment.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Today, President Obama ramped up the rhetoric in a renewed push for a health care reform bill, while giving significant ground by backing away from his insistence that Congress produce a bill before its August recess. Well he might, since the chance that the House and Senate will agree to anything is now zero, and even the odds of a bill passing one chamber are dropping by the minute.
The troubles besetting his "signature" proposal (the tag now used by many media, even though Obama doesn't have a specific proposal) are so many that the question may no longer be whether there can be a bi-partisan bill but whether the Democrats can muster enough Democratic votes to pass a partisan bill! House Blue Dogs and Senate moderate Democrats are far from sold on any of the various proposals popping up and down daily. Public support for a sweeping reform is fading, as voters catch onto the behemoth costs, the likely tax and/or premium increases, and the vagueness of the benefits. Meanwhile, Obama's honeymoon is over, and his standing in the polls is declining -- not a problem for him but a signal to Democrats in Congress that they need not fear him as much as they might have a few months ago.
So you would think that Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress would begin to look for a "Plan B" to avoid the sort of political fiasco that could ensue, if they insist on passing a bill -- some bill, any bill -- regardless of the unintended consequences for health care and the possible public backlash against them.
The obvious Plan B is this: stop trying to fashion a single "comprehensive solution" to everything at once, and figure ways to solve pieces of the problem.
For whatever reason, we Americans are enamored of big, sweeping plans -- so much so that we scorn "piece meal" approaches to many problems and sneer at "patch work" answers to major challenges. But what if pieces and patches can actually gain wide, sustained public support and make real progress that delivers substantial benefits to large numbers of people without the risks of massive failure? It is hard to take that route after you've spent years saying that our health care system is "broken" and needs wholesale reform to keep us all from sinking with it. But such rhetoric is highly exaggerated: the "system" is not "broken;" most Americans have health care coverage and a large majority of them are happy with it; and we have for the most part quality care that extends and enhances our lives.
The problem is that about 15% of America's people do not have health care insurance at any given moment. Most of these folks are in one of these categories:
1) They have lost a job and their health care insurance with it.
2) They are young people who have passed the age when their parents' job-based insurance covers them but don't yet have -- or in some cases want -- coverage of their own.
3) They work for employers -- many of them small -- who do not offer health care insurance.
4) They are among the rapidly growing number of self-employed people, including those who work as temps or independent contractors.
Here's my suggestion: Why not start with a plan to address groups 1 and 2?
If you lose your job, you could be provided with stopgap coverage (say, through the existing Medicare program to avoid having to create new structures) for the period of time you're collecting unemployment compensation (unless you opt to exercise your Cobra rights, which people who can afford it might still do). Enacting this proposal in the midst of a recession in which there is 10% unemployment should be a breeze politically. And the fact that the stopgap is temporary would appease conservative sentiment. But millions of people would benefit concretely and right away.
What if you're one of the post-graduate young people who lose parents' coverage? This is actually an attractive group to insure, given that 20-somethings are generally healthy and unlikely to tap insurance funds a great deal. The problem is that private carriers have no easy way to aggregate them -- and only them -- into a group plan that makes sense for the carrier. It should not be rocket science for the feds to figure a way to encourage or require insurance companies to offer such plans for people within a specified (healthy) age range (and probably geographic area) who don't have access to other coverage. The cost of these plans could be held down further by offering what amounts to major illness coverage -- with low premiums but high deductibles. This step should be a piece of cake politically because it would not costs the taxpayers much, if anything.
OK, so that leaves the biggest group, number 3, and what may be the thorniest, number 4, uncovered. But it would be something accomplished this year, rather than nothing -- or what is becoming increasingly likely, a big mess.
What do you think? Post a comment.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
As People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals put it: "Wearing nothing but strategically placed lettuce leaves, Playboy Playmate of the Year and stunning vegetarian Jayde Nicole will hand out tasty, humane, and healthy veggie hot dogs on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The action marks National Veggie Dog Day--PETA's answer to the meat industry's National Hot Dog Month."
Kinda makes you want to eat your veggies.
More of Jayde and Jo go to Washington here and here. Click here if you're interested in what Playboy saw in Jayde.
Any profound thoughts, analyses or comments?
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Believe it or not: New York State spending almost $1 million of "stimulus" cash on road signs touting stimulus projects!
In New York, 84-sq. ft. signs like this one eat up $6-$8,000 a piece in stimulus dough
Believe it or not, New York State is on track to spend close to $1 million of the precious federal dough available under the "stimulus" program passed in February on big road signs (like the one above) beating the drum for the program.
No doubt, the signs are well made but incredibly, each one costs at least $5,000 and with some coming in at a whopping $8,300!
Lest you think this is just a New York extravagance, the feds have "strongly encouraged" this billboarding of road work paid for under the program (no doubt, it's the public's "right to know"), and many other states are doing it, although most are going with smaller, cheaper signs than New York's. Some states (e.g., Texas, Florida and Virginia) have had the good sense to take a pass on this ludicrous waste of money that could easily be better spent.
Now that the media are onto the signs, the public backlash has started (in an online poll by a Syracuse TV station, 93.6% of the respondents call it a waste of money), and state legislators, recently back to "work" after weeks of fighting over the keys to the Senate Chamber, are putting out press releases to grandstand against the signs. Meanwhile, New York's hapless accidental Governor, David Patterson, stepped in doo-doo again by insinuating that the state had no choice but to put up signs required by the feds.
What a bunch of clowns.
Any thoughts? Post a comment.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Way back on March 5th -- a whole four months ago! -- President Obama seemed sure to push through a health care reform package to his liking this year. It was conventional wisdom that he had learned from the Clintons' earlier failure, which was widely attributed to their attempt to control the development of a plan centrally, leaving Congress and the public open to competing arguments. This time, by rallying wide-ranging support for the concept of "reform" and leaving it to the Congressional barons to develop specific plans, that wouldn't happen. Meanwhile, given Obama's popularity and a solid Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress, who would be able to stop the momentum behind a health care bill as one of Obama's highest priorities? “Those who seek to block any reform at any cost will not prevail this time around,” the President said confidently.
Maybe so, but there is still no bill, no sign of a bill, many signs of deep Congressional worry -- among Democrats -- over the costs of any program and how to pay for it, as well as how to get reelected if it works out badly, and to top things off, growing public skepticism about the whole thing.
In a new poll, 49% of voters don't like the plans being advanced by Obama and the Congressional Democrats, while 46% are favorable. In a really bad sign for the Obama team, support is slipping away just as it's needed most. Only two weeks ago, 50% favored reform and 45% did not.
No wonder it's being reported that Obama's deadline of August for bills to be reported out of both Houses will not -- and probably cannot -- be met. Some Democrats don't want to raise tax rates on high-income people to meet the minimum $1-trillion price tag for reform; others don't want to tax health care benefits to raise the dough; some are opposed to a public insurance option, while others insist on one as a sine qua non of their support; and few people believe that reform will result in significant savings to offset the cost of wider coverage. All that before you get to what price a few Senate Republicans might exact before signing on!
Yet, Obama and the Democratic leaders of Congress have far too much riding on passing a bill to get cold feet altogether. There are big and powerful constituencies in the country that want universal health care insurance coverage -- including scores of members of Congress and major unions that backed Obama. So one way or another, there will be a bill for the President to sign, even if it's a little late.
Therein lies the problem. As we've seen in connection with the stimulus bill and the cap and trade bill, when you want a bill -- any bill -- out of Congress, you're likely to get one loaded with contradictory provisions, loopholes for special interests, uncounted costs, and lord knows what unintended consequences.
So, what if a reform bill passes that is hugely expensive, does not provide enough real revenue or savings to pay the costs, reduces access to quality care for people who currently have coverage while jacking up their costs, and doesn't cover everyone anyway? That would result in a political fiasco, making life difficult for Democrats running for reelection in 2010, and likely diminishing Obama's popularity.
Could that happen? I wouldn't have thought so four months ago, but it looks like a real possibility now. What can prevent it? Only Obama's seizing control of the process and imposing his standards for a reform plan. That wouldn't magically make all the problems disappear, but it would inject some coherence into a process that is now spinning wildly and give him a better shot at rallying public support. Will he do it? Beats me.
What's your opinion? Post a comment.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Department of pure bunk: U.S. hospital groups set to contribute $150 billion in "savings" to health care to health care reform
It's being reported widely that three major hospital associations, the Obama Administration and the Senate Finance Committee will announce Wednesday an agreement under which America's hospitals will make "cost savings" of $150 billion over 10 years as their "good faith" contribution to an as-yet-unknown health care reform effort that is estimated to cost at least $1 trillion over a decade.
A lot of money, that $150 billion, eh? It means there is "only" $850 billion to go, right?
Wrong. IMHO, the whole thing is pure bunk, a bit a sleight of hand with numbers on paper. Here's why:
-- First, $150 billion is the proverbial drop in the bucket for the nation's hospitals, which collectively account for more than 30% of all health care spending -- or a whopping $11 trillion expected over the next 10 years. That means that the promised "savings" are less than one and one-half percent of an on-paper projection of long-term hospital revenues. It's easy to see that a few currently "unanticipated" costs here and there would handily overwhelm such a tiny proposed cut.
-- Second, most of the "savings" (some $100 billion) will supposedly happen as a result of reduced Medicare and Medicaid payments to hospitals. But these are projected reductions linked to "productivity adjustments" and a change in the formula used by the government to determine future Medicare and Medicaid payments. The former may or may not materialize, and the latter can be renegotiated -- or just ignored -- by future officials of this or a subsequent Administration.
-- Third, another $40-$50 billion (depending on which story you read) will come from the elimination of payments the feds make to hospitals to compensate them for treating uninsured patients. These "savings" come with a very big catch: They "would begin in 2015 and be phased in as more Americans gain medical coverage through broad health-overhaul efforts." So it's actually cost shifting, not cutting at all. Only as care is provided via insurance will the hospitals see the compensatory payments reduced. Since we have to hope that currently uninsured patients will receive more, better and more expensive care when they are insured, these costs are likely to go up, not down.
-- Finally, the three hospital associations -- while undoubtedly negotiating with the Administration and Congress in good faith and with a firm sense of what their member hospitals are prepared to do as of now -- really cannot commit the future operators of thousands of the nation's hospitals to anything. Down the road, if hospitals feel they are being pinched, they and their associations will lobby in another direction.
Right now, they are under enormous pressure to contribute to the kind of health care reform package that Obama has made a major goal for this year. With tomorrow's announcement, the hospitals will be able to say, "We're doing our part." Meanwhile, the Administration will be able to say, "See that, we're getting the industry to pitch in to make reform happen cooperatively, so we can cut current costs enough to afford the increased costs of covering everyone."
But these "savings" are far from real. They are nothing more than numbers on a piece of paper -- a slight alteration of projections of costs in a field where such projections regularly turn out to be wrong. In short, it's bunk. Extending coverage to millions of people is going to cost a great deal of money -- and that cost is the sticking point. Instead of levelling with the American people about it, everyone engaged in this project is throwing up smoke and setting out mirrors.
What are your thoughts about this? Post a comment.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
The holy city of Qum, Iran
The movement for change in Iran is far from over, as the organization of religious scholars founded by Ayatolah Khomeini himself has thrown its weight on the side of the reformers and against "Supreme Leader" Khamenei and would-be President Ahmadinejad. From The New York Times:
The most important group of religious leaders in Iran has called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.
The statement by the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult — if not impossible.
“This crack in the clerical establishment and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”
Since the election, the bulk of the clerical establishment in the holy city of Qum, an important religious and political center of power, has remained largely silent, leaving many to wonder when, or if, the nation’s most senior religious leaders would jump into the events that have posed the most significant challenge to the country’s leadership since the Islamic Revolution. With its statement Saturday, the association of clerics — formed under the leadership of the revolution’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — came down squarely on the side of the reform movement.
This is a huge split in the Iranian leadership. It's hard to see how Khamenei can hold onto his authority without at least mollifying the clerics -- perhaps by sacrificing Ahmadinejad. Of course, Ahmadi may not like being sacrificed and might keep control of the security services, although that will be a neat trick without Khamenei.
Any thoughts? Post a comment.
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
Read the whole thing. It does us all some good to read it once in a while.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Guess we'll be seeing a lot more of former-Governor Palin in the lower 48 soon -- especially in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina......Your thoughts are as good as mine on this one. Post a comment.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
I wasn't going to post anything about the untimely passing of Michael Jackson. It's not about politics; it's sad and tragic when anyone dies suddenly at age 50; I did like some of his music; and I appreciate how clever and inventive he was (at one time) in making the most of the then-new medium of music videos.
But enough is enough. We're well into Day Six of all-Michael-all-the-time news coverage that saturates the networks, cable news, radio, papers, magazines and the Web -- and they're is no end in sight, as breaking news about his will, the paternity of his children, the maternity of his children, the autopsy, the other autopsy, the doctor, the investigation, the many possibilities planned or not planned for the funeral and/or public memorials, and of course, the Jackson family.
All the while, the distraught fans troop to and from Neverland, the Apollo Theater, MJ's boyhood home in Gary, and every other place with an association, however attenuated, with the self-titled "King of Pop." One typical fan I saw on the tube, a 30-something white woman who drove from Tennessee toting a 4-5-year-old girl to hang around Neverland until she was interviewed on TV, saying that she wanted to pay her respects and make sure her daughter saw this "history." So the outpouring of fan grief is what makes this so newsworthy, right? Maybe, except for the fact that we'll never know how many fans gather at these makeshift memorials due to heartfelt grief and how many because they know the TV cameras will be there. Doesn't the presence of dozens of reporters and cameras certify this as a big deal (or "history")? Isn't the "fan" response much like that of demonstrators who start chanting slogans when the TV cameras run?
And then there are the over-the-top encomiums. Naturally, no one beat Al Sharpton in this department (or in managing to milk the event to shine the light of publicity on his humble self). Rev. Al told the throng at the Apollo that The Gloved One had broken race barriers as a "crossover" act (i.e., a Black performer who appeals to white people), thus paving the way for countless others in the entertainment world and even President Obama!
Huh? Didn't that trailblazing crossover happen in the 1950s and 1960s with Sammy Davis, Jr., Ertha Kitt, Johnny Mathis, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and a host of others in pop and rock music (many far more talented than the "King")? In fact, dozens of African-American singers, actors and comedians were household names for people of all races across America before many people knew much about Michael Jackson. While MJ performed with The Jackson Five back in 1968, he did not become a star as a single by any standard until the late 1970s. So what is Rev. Al talking about?
Most of this is foolish blather. On-air talking heads now refer to MJ softly as having been "eccentric" or "sometimes controversial." I'll say he was "eccentric" -- if that means bleaching your skin and undergoing plastic surgery to alter the racial aspect of your face, always talking in a falsetto voice, keeping a pet chimpanzee, pretending you're Peter Pan in your 40s, reportedly ordering up children through surrogate mothers without even contributing the sperm, dangling one of them as a baby over a balcony edge, paying two guys to walk alongside you in public holding umbrellas over your head to shield you from the sun like Pharoah, and sharing your bed with small boys, among many, many, wierd and creepy things.
The Jackson saga will go on, and on, and on, I'm afraid. But the next few chapters may be less appealing to the fans and others, although everything is grist for the media mill. The family members, the ex-"wife", and others are lawyering up, with MJ's will and the fate of Jackson's estate, potentially a huge cash cow for years to come, at stake. Sadly, the three children may become pawns in a brawl over MJ's money. Then, the medical examiner will report what happened to Jackson, and even if the findings are supposedly private, they will leak in detail, and god knows what we'll find out.
In the end, it might be better for Michael Jackson and his family (certainly his kids) and even his true fans if there were more modesty and a sense of regard for propriety about his passing. Give the man and decent burial, and let him rest in peace.
What do you think? Post a comment.