Joe Scarborough recently got into quite a huff—and got the Morning Joe crew to huff with him—over Harry Reid’s attacks on David and Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialists who fund dozens of conservative causes and Republican campaigns. Reid had said, rather catchily for him, that Senate Republicans “are addicted to Koch.” The Senate majority leader also said the brothers “have no conscience and are willing to lie” in political ads, and that they’re “un-American” for trying to “buy America.”
Reid said he doesn’t begrudge the Kochs their wealth, but “what is un-American is when shadow billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system and benefit themselves and the wealthiest 1 percent.”
That might sound hyperbolic unless you have followed the long list of ways the Kochs are indeed buying America. For starters, while their Koch Industries is the one of the nation’s largest air polluters, their money is a huge factor in blocking climate change progress and spreading know-nothing denialism; they fund ALEC and its stand-your-ground political agenda; and they’re waging a multimillion-dollar war against the Affordable Care Act, trying to convince young people, through ads like the one with the creepy Uncle Sam gynecologist, that they should be afraid, very afraid of Obamacare. Through innumerable think tanks, PACs, nonprofits and dark-money trap doors, Koch money has formed a veritable “Kochopus” that reaches deep into academia, industry, state legislatures and Congress. (For more, see here and here.)
But what’s really gotten Harry Reid to put up his dukes is that the Koch-funded PAC Americans for Prosperity (AFM) has spent more than $30 million, and counting, on ads attacking Democratic senate candidates in the upcoming midterm elections. To defeat Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, for instance, AFM has already dropped $8.2 million on TV, radio and digital ads. As Politico puts it, that’s more “than all Democratic outside groups in every Senate race in the country—combined.” Koch money could easily flip the Senate to a Republican majority, leaving little but presidential vetoes to blunt the GOP House’s politics of cruelty.
Joe Scarborough understandably fumed at the “un-American” charge, but he framed the Koch’s power quite differently.
“Let’s first tell the truth about them and what they do, put some perspective in it,” he said Thursday. “It’s unbelievable what they’ve done for cancer research, what they’ve done for the arts, what they have done for education.”
Indeed, you can tell by the way the bros have been slapping their names on cultural institutions that they think they can get their reps fixed wholesale. In New York City alone, the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center has become the David H. Koch Theater. As you enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art, signs tell you you’re standing on the new David H. Koch Plaza. David Koch’s name had also been elevated by his contributions to WNET, the city’s PBS affiliate. That ended last year, however, when WNET ran an independent documentary critical of him. To placate Koch, they axed a second similar film, but Koch resigned from the board and took his money with him.
But by emphasizing the Kochs’ philanthropy—which, come on, is the least two men worth $40 billion each and tied at number four on the Forbes rich people list, can do—Scarborough was providing exactly what their largesse was intended to produce: praise and a media force field that can deflect political criticism. Not that Joe is terribly adverse to their politics, but the point of his outrage in the Morning Joe banter was to shift focus away from Koch policies to Reid’s breach of polite discourse. Willie Geist said that the “addicted to Koch” line “seems beneath the office.” Former congressman and nominal Democrat Harold Ford sniffed, “There’s no need for that kind of vitriol.” Only Donnie Deutsch got close to the heart of the matter, asking whether the “Koch brothers spending a billion on advertising is good for democracy.”
Training your eyes on an oligarch’s philanthropy and away from what it camouflages is to accept in some way the essential justness of great wealth. As if to second that notion, Governor Chris Christie said at CPAC last week that Reid was “rail[ing] against two American entrepreneurs who have built a business, created jobs, and created wealth and philanthropy in this country. Harry Reid should get back to work and stop picking on great Americans who are creating great things in our country.” Some of those great things include millions in donations to the Republican Governors Association, which Christie (still) heads.
Reid’s attacks are part of a larger Democratic pushback, which includes TV spots and sites like KochAddiction.com and StopTheGreedAgenda. The strategy is transparent: link GOP candidates to the Kochs and make the Kochs into villains.
Creating a visible villain is, of course, a time-honored political activity. The Dems have vilified Newt Gingrich and more recently Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, while the Republicans’ demons include Nancy Pelosi, the Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers. As for “un-American,” a few years ago Glenn Beck falsely portrayed George Soros, the closest big-time funder progressives have to the Kochs, as a Nazi collaborator.
But beyond a bunch of liberals who follow the Koch trail, will voters know or care about what the billionaire brothers do with their money?
Paul Waldman in The American Prospect doubts it. And so far, he says, the Democratic ads aren’t up to the job. In this very busy spot, running in Michigan, the Koch brothers appear as barely identified ghosts amid a jumble of hard-to-follow words.
For what it’s worth, the things-don’t-go-better-with-Koch message is getting across, at least with focus groups. Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told the Times, “Our research has shown pretty clearly that once voters recognize the source of the attacks [on Democratic candidates], they tend to discount them substantially.” Focus groups, he said, had an “overwhelmingly negative” reaction to the Kochs’ political involvement and believed that the Kochs’ “agenda will hurt average people and the undermine the middle class.’”
Billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins might have been only kidding when he said that democracies should be run more like corporations: “You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes.”
But if you pay for enough misleading ads, that is, in effect, what a million bucks can do. And the more the media unthinkingly hail your charitable giving, the more mileage a million dollars will get you.
By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, March 10, 2014
OK, Sen. Mitch McConnell wasn’t brandishing a rifle at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday in order to shoot Tea Party marauders. The unpopular Senate Minority Leader was just trying to avoid being booed by the crowd, using the most reliable prop on the far right, a gun (President Obama in handcuffs would probably work well too). But the embattled leader did go ballistic this weekend, figuratively, on his party’s restive far-right activists. The Tea Party is not going to be able to knock off GOP senators in red states, McConnell warned.
“I think we are going to crush them everywhere,” McConnell told the New York Times. “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”
Not surprisingly, McConnell is starting with his own Tea Party challenger, Matt Bevin. He released a new ad trashing not only Bevin but the Senate Conservatives Fund that’s backing him, charging the group “solicits money under the guise of advocating for conservative principles but then spends it on a $1.4 million luxury townhouse with a wine cellar and hot tub in Washington, D.C.” Wine and hot tubs, you know what that means – these folks are probably just uppity liberal hypocrites in conservative clothing!
But McConnell’s crusade comes a few years too late. Clearly the Tea Party is already the mainstream of his party. Just last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that Republican voters say a candidate’s Tea Party ties make it more likely they’ll support them, by a margin of nearly 2-1. Unfortunately for the GOP, Tea Party affiliation makes the broader electorate less likely to vote for a candidate by about the same margin.
Even some Republicans who the media oddly place in the “moderate” or pragmatic camp don’t belong there. Wisconsin’s scandal-challenged Gov. Scott Walker has bragged about being “the original Tea Party in Wisconsin.” In a popular CPAC session using Wisconsin as “the model” for union-busting and right-wing coalition politics, the RNC’s Reince Priebus credited “total and complete unity between the state party, quite frankly, Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party groups, the Grandsons of Liberty. The [Glenn Beck-instigated] 9/12ers were involved. It was a total and complete agreement that …everyone was going to run down the tracks together.”
And while it’s true that Congressman Paul Ryan, endorsed in 2012 by the Tea Party Express as “the strong Tea Party candidate for Vice President,” has had tension with Tea Partiers since he partnered with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray to pass a budget, at CPAC Ryan downplayed the notion of a rift between himself and the party’s right, comparing intra-party debates to a “family reunion” among Irish-Americans. (Actually, nobody in my family wants to take lunches away from poor children, not even the Republicans among us.)
Now it is true that Tea Party challengers in three red states – Kentucky, Mississippi and Kansas – are having a hard time getting traction against reliably conservative GOP senate incumbents. One poll has McConnell up 42 points over Bevin; another has his lead at 26 points. Thad Cochran and Pat Roberts are likewise leading their Tea Party challengers.
But oddly, McConnell – and the Times – don’t even mention Georgia, where five extremists have been virtually tied for the lead in the GOP senate primary to succeed retiring Saxby Chambliss, competing for the opportunity to run against Michelle Nunn. The most extreme of the five, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, just pulled ahead in the last PPP poll. Broun would abolish the IRS, the EPA and the Department of Education, and wants the U.S. to pull out of the United Nations. He’s called evolution and the big bang theory “lies from the pit of hell.” Interestingly though, Broun is the only GOP candidate with a (slight) lead over Nunn in an early head to head match up; the others trail her. Presumably, in a one on one race, Nunn and the Democrats would have a lot to work with battling Broun. He is an early contender to be the Todd Akin of the 2014 cycle.
“I know this: Politics doesn’t like losers,” McConnell told the Times, suggesting defeats in primaries in places like Kentucky and Mississippi would discourage Tea Party insurgents. “If you don’t have anything to point to, it is kind of hard to keep it going.”
But while McConnell has a big lead over Bevin, he’s trailing his Democratic challenger, secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes. It’s far too early to count McConnell out, but it’s worth asking whether the far-right’s animus towards McConnell will make him the ultimate loser in November.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 10, 2014
While the Republican presidential contenders were kumbaya-ing at CPAC, evidence continued to mount over which of them gets to suffer the embarrassment of winning 180 electoral votes. A USA Today poll found that 59 percent of respondents said they will or might vote for Clinton. It showed enormous improvements in personal qualities (Is she likeable? Is she honest?, etc.) since the first time she ran for president. Respondents even thought that she was six years younger than she actually is!
What the CPAC goings on tell us, combined with a burst of polls showing Clinton wiping out Chris Christie and just mopping the floor with Jeb Bush, is that as they face 2016, the Republicans are in a situation that has almost no precedent in the party’s modern history. In practically every nomination battle going back to Tom Dewey—I’m not even going to tell you the year, but trust me, that’s going back!—the Republicans have had a chalk candidate. The establishment guy, the early front-runner.
Dewey, Dewey, Eisenhower, Eisenhower, Nixon, Rockefeller, Nixon, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Sr., Dole, Bush Jr., Bush Jr., McCain, Romney. These were the establishment nominees. You could make a case for William Scranton instead of Rocky in ’64, and you might argue, I guess, that at the start of the 1968 cycle, it wasn’t Nixon but George Romney, although he imploded in the pretty early innings. And anyway, I’m not sure Romney ever led Nixon in the polls. So these were the GOP establishment choices. You’ll have noted that only one of the whole bunch of them, Nelson Rockefeller, failed to capture the nomination.
Today? No chalk horse. Wide open. Christie was, but clearly isn’t anymore (by the way, Clinton leads him by 10 points—in New Jersey). Those who think Jeb Bush can step in and play this role are going on name and history, but they obviously aren’t looking at the numbers—Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee do just about as well against Clinton as Bush does. Establishment money might chase Bush if he got in, but there’s no evidence that votes would.
So this time it really could be almost anyone. The CPAC straw poll results suggest as much. It doesn’t mean much that Rand Paul won going away with 31 percent. He’s engineered to win CPAC straw polls. They’ll always overstate his support, although he is certainly among the front rank of aspirants right now. But look at the other numbers: Cruz, 11; Christie, 8; Rick Santorum, 7; Scott Walker, 7; Marco Rubio, 6. It’s a good bet that the nominee is going to be one of these people (counting Paul), and they’re packed in there pretty tight. That’s not a bad number for Rubio, whom the chattering classes have spent the last few weeks writing off (except Ross Douthat, who just yesterday suggested that a Rubio nomination was a distinct possibility.) I remember telling people in 2006 that I thought there was no way the GOP would nominate McCain in 2008, although I also said the opposite the following week.
It’s fascinating that this is happening at the precise time that the GOP establishment looks to be asserting control over the party at the congressional level. After two congressional election cycles during which the insurgent radicals started to take over, the establishment conservatives have said enough and started their own organizations to beat back Tea Party challenges to incumbents (the Times ran a good summary on this Sunday). The early sense is that for the most part, the establishment will succeed at this task. No more Christine O’Donnells on ballots. Most of the GOP incumbent senators being challenged from the right are probably going to end up winning their primaries. All those senators needed to see was what happened in Indiana in 2012, when the Tea Party wingnut beat the establishment Republican and then lost in the general, giving the state a Democratic senator even as Mitt Romney was beating Barack Obama there by 10 points, to conclude finally that they’d better clamp down on can’t-win-in-November extremism.
But it turns out they can’t contain it completely. It’s whack-a-mole, GOP style: They move to solve the problem at the congressional level, but lo and behold the mole pops up out of the presidential hole. If Christie is cleared, maybe matters will revert to normal. But even if he is cleared, he can’t turn back time; his image just isn’t what it was and never will be. He is already not quite Dole/McCain/Romney, the troika calumniated as sellouts by Cruz at his CPAC speech last week.
And thus the odds are strong that the GOP, for only the second time since 1944, is going to nominate an anti-establishment insurgent. Because, you know, they only lost in 2008 and 2012 because they failed to offer voters “a real choice.” Or so some of them say. So let them offer voters that choice. As they did in 1964, the voters will know what choice to make, and she’ll be a fine president.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 10, 2014
Whatever else it has done, the Ukraine crisis has served as a major tonic for American conservative foreign policy hawks, who have recently been losing ground not only with the general public but inside the Republican Party, where hatred of Barack Obama has sometimes trumped the desire for an interventionist foreign policy.
Now hoary old voices of blood lust are heard again, even at the young-libertarian-skewing CPAC, per this account from Dave Weigel:
Twenty-five years since Oliver North was convicted for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. Twenty-three years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. And yet here he is, the ever-more grizzled “host of ‘War Stories’ with Oliver North,” standing between American flags and issuing warnings about the Russian bear.
“The people of Ukraine are this very minute paying the terrible price for America’s leadership deficit disorder and the Obama organization’s utopian rush to unilateral disarmament,” says North. “That’s where we’re headed. We don’t need a head of state who guts our defenses and draws phony red lines with a pink crayon.” North pauses for the guffaws. “Yeah, I did say that.”
Conservatives had been hating the Russians long before they had been Standing With Rand. All day Thursday, the thousands who packed into CPAC’s main ballroom heard their movement’s icons cry out against isolationism. They’d known foreign adventurism and intervention as Obama policies, blights on both parties, not part of the Republican Party they were rebuilding. They were being tested, and by people who claimed to know much more about how the party should defend America.
“Can you just imagine Ronald Reagan dealing with Vladimir Putin?” asks onetime UN Ambassador John Bolton, one of the only representatives of the George W. Bush administration to show at CPAC. “Reagan called a strong defense budget the ‘vital margin of safety.’ We are losing that vital margin all around the world. … Putin has a growing defense budget and ours is shrinking.”
If you’re Standing With Rand, that’s never worried you. The senator had supported the forced cuts of sequestration, encouraging his colleagues to “jettison some of the crap” in the defense budget and live with lower spending levels. If you’re, say, a 21-year-old CPAC attendee, you were born after the Soviet Union dissolved. You were 8 years old on Sept. 11, and maybe 10 for the start of the war in Iraq. You’ve never been a hawk.
But the average rank-and-file member of the Republican “base” isn’t a 21-year-old college student wearing a “Stand With Rand” t-shirt, is it? More typical is a 65-year-old white man whose first political memory was the Goldwater campaign, in which the desire to “lob one into the men’s room of the Kremlin” was as strong a mobilizing sentiment as hostility to such unconstitutional domestic measures as Medicare or the Civil Rights Act. On the long path from then to now, some of conservative activists’ most thrilling moments, in fact, involved smiting college students opposed to overseas military adventures, from the “effect corps of impudent snobs” denounced by Spiro Agnew during the Vietnam War to the sniveling appeasers willing to let Saddam Hussein run amok. So of course it is second nature for older conservatives to take the rhetorical uniform of the Cold War, dry-cleaned recently for the occasional march for war with Iran, out of the closet for its original purpose. And the return of the war party was notable at CPAC:
[A]t CPAC, you’re seeing the hawks sprint back into the spotlight. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio uses his Thursday speech to rally conservatives in a global fight against “totalitarianism.” Afterward, he tells the New York Times that “there are forces within our party, there have always been in American politics, that basically say, ‘Who cares what happens everywhere else? Just mind our own business.’”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ventures from the main conference to an alternative all-day meeting of hawks—itself, a sign of how much ground has been lost to the libertarians—and explains how he differs with Paul. Sure, the Kentucky senator was right about Syria, but the hawks were right about Iran.
It will be fascinating to watch this, the one real ideological “split” within a right-wing dominated Republican Party, work its way out during the 2016 presidential cycle.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 10, 2014
“Surprise, Surprise”: The Real Numbers On ‘The Obamacare Effect’ Are In, Now Let The Crow Eating Begin
After years of negative speculation on the part of the opponents of Obamacare, hard data is finally coming in with respect to the anticipated negative side-effects of the law.
The results are guaranteed to both surprise and depress those who have built their narrative around the effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act.
Let’s begin with the meme threatening that healthcare reform will lead to a serious decline in full-time employment as employers reduce workforce hours to below 30 per week in the effort to avoid their responsibility to provide health benefits to their employees.
It turns out that there has, in fact, been no such rush to reduce work hours. Indeed, numbers released last week reveal that precisely the opposite is taking place.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of part-time workers in the United States has fallen by 300,000 since March of 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was passed into law. What’s more, in the past year alone—the time period in which the nation was approaching the start date for Obamacare—full-time employment grew by over 2 million while part-time employment declined by 230,000.
And it gets even more interesting.
Despite the cries of anguish over the coming destruction of private sector work opportunities at the hands of Obamacare, it turns out that the only significant ‘cutter’ of work hours turns out to be in the public sector where cops, teachers, prison guards and the like are experiencing cuts in work time as cities, states and universities seek to avoid the obligations of the health reform law.
Correct me if I am wrong, but is it not the very same folks who strenuously oppose Obamacare who are constantly screaming for smaller government? Are these not the same people who have, for as many years as I can recall, been carping about swollen government payrolls?
But the false narrative that has been peddled to make us believe that the private sector can’t wait to lower our hours of employment turns out not to be the only false note being played by anti-Obamacare forces.
For months now, we have been pounded with the story of the millions of Americans who have lost their non-group, individual health insurance policy due to cancellations forced by Obamacare.
Yet, a new study just out by Lisa Clemons-Cope and Nathaniel Anderson of the Urban Institute tells a very different story.
How many times have readers, along with television and radio audiences, read or heard me point out that few ever expected to hang onto their individual insurance policy for longer than a year or two following date of purchase? Long before there was Obamacare, it was always clear that when someone purchased an individual health instance policy, it was pretty much a given that they would either be moving on to an employer provided group plan when they get a job or that their policy would respond to the ordinary, pre-Obamacare changes that occurred from year to year and result in the consumer having to purchasing a new plan after a short period of time.
Indeed, it was this very reality that made it clear to those who follow the health insurance industry that Obama’s “If you like your policy you can keep your policy” proclamation was a near impossibility for those participating in the individual marketplace. This simply wasn’t the way the individual market worked.
The Urban Institute study bears this out, noting that “the non-group market has historically been highly volatile, with just 17 percent retaining coverage for more than two years.”
While Obamacare foes have been quick to jump on this statistic when it comes to condemning the President for uttering his promise that you could keep your insurance if you are happy with your policy, the same people have somehow managed to miss the reality that a huge percentage of those who received cancellation notices last year were going to get that notice even if the Affordable Care Act had never existed.
But that is not all that critics have been missing as they’ve sought to exploit the supposed high number of cancellations they claim are due to Obamacare.
To find out just how many people have really been put into an insurance fix, the Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey, in December of 2013, asked people between the ages of 18 and 64 the following question:
“Did you receive a notice in the past few months from a health insurance company saying that your policy is cancelled or will no longer be offered at the end of 2013?”
The following bar published in Health Affairs provides the results—
Note that the number of people who saw their policy cancelled because it did not meet the Obamacare minimum requirements was 18.6 percent—dangerously close to the 17 percent of individual policyholders who were losing their individual market policies pre-Obamacare.
Also note that the 18.6 percent equates to roughly 2.6 million people whose plans were cancelled as a result of Obamacare—a number well below the estimates of 5 million or considerably more being tossed about by Obamacare opposition.
So, what happens to these folks who saw their health insurance policy cancelled?
According to the Urban Institute researchers :
“While our sample size of those with non-group health insurance who report that their plan was cancelled due to ACA compliance is small (N=123), we estimate that over half of this population is likely to be eligible for coverage assistance, mostly through Marketplace subsidies. Consistent with these findings, other work by Urban Institute researchers estimated that slightly more than half of adults with pre-reform, nongroup coverage would be eligible for Marketplace subsidies or Medicaid.”
So what does this data tell us?
As a result of at least half of those cancelled being able to either enroll in a Medicaid program or receive subsidies on the healthcare exchanges, many—if not most—will now find health care coverage at a price lower than previously paid while greatly improving the quality of coverage.
Still, roughly one million people will have to replace their cancelled policy with something that may cost them more. This is not a good thing but it is far, far less dramatic than what we’ve been hearing. It is also a part of the expected upheaval that has always—and will always—result from the passage of reforms designed to benefit the greatest number of people. Traditionally, those who are disadvantaged in this way find that things are sorted out in amendments to the initial legislation, amendments that can only result when Republicans in Congress stop playing politics and begin the serious work of making the law better for Americans.
There is another problem noted in the study—
Because of the amount of focus placed on scaring the you-know-what out of people when it comes to the alleged dire effects of Obamacare rather than educating them, people remain in the dark as to what is available on the exchanges or via the state Medicaid programs.
Per the Urban Institute study—
“Yet making the best enrollment choice may be difficult for consumers. HRMS findings show that many people are not aware of the new state Marketplaces, few know whether their state is expanding Medicaid, and many lack the confidence to enroll, make choices, and pay their premiums.”
Once again, politics trumps policy and the critical needs of those our elected officials are sworn to serve.
I highly encourage everyone—whether friend or foe of healthcare reform—to take a look at the study cited above and the BLS statistics. While most all would agree that there are some repairs that need to be made to the Affordable Care Act, workable fixes designed to benefit the public and improve American healthcare cannot happen so long as politicians, pundits and special interests are devoted to lying about what Obamacare means and what it does not mean to the American public.
Facts matter—even when they screw up an effective disinformation campaign.
UPDATE: Monday, 12:15pm EST:
The news just keeps on coming.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is out this morning and reveals that 15.9 percent of American adults are now uninsured, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months of 2013 and has shown improvements in every major demographic group with the exception of Hispanics who did not advance.
That translates roughly to 3 million to 4 million people getting coverage who did not have it before.
According to Gallup, the number of Americans who still do not have health insurance coverage is on track to reach the lowest quarterly number since 2008.
This is one statistic that is going to be tough for Obamacare critics to overcome.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, March 10, 2014