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“Mark Halperin, Amateur Meterologist”: Not Even Hurricanes Can Stop Dumb Punditry

Will Hurricane Sandy cause an Electoral College tie and turn Ohio into this year’s Florida 2000? PROBABLY. At least, something along those lines is what political pundits are hoping for today.

The two most important events in the world right now are the presidential campaign and a major East Coast weather event, so obviously “politicos” are trying to figure out how to combine the two things into one convenient and snappy cable television hit.

Mark Halperin, MSNBC political talking guy, Time political writing guy, blogger and amateur meteorologist, has multiple competing opinions about what this storm that actually threatens to destroy much of the East Coast and kill and displace thousands of people means for the president’s reelection bid.

On “The Morning Joe Show” this morning, Halperin said White House adviser David Plouffe was clever to convince the president to cancel his campaign event in Florida today and go to Washington to be the president of hurricane response.

I think the most important person in this election right now is not the candidates, for today at least, it’s David Plouffe, senior White House adviser, ran the President’s campaign last time. Brilliant at understanding the intersection between the campaign and the government. Lots of control over both, and, obviously, was central to the decision to say the President shouldn’t do this event in Florida today, should come back to Washington. And I think you will see David Plouffe doing a couple things. One, the symbolism of the office, making sure they don’t mess up.

Great, great insight. It took a canny political mind to decide to … go manage the storm response, and the No. 1 goal for Obama right now is “manage the storm response well and not horribly.” Incisive stuff.

Then, like an hour later, Mark Halperin decided, on Twitter, that canceling campaign events to do disaster response was a bad idea, probably.

@MarkHalperin : W/Obama nixing events, gotta ask: what happened to constant White House claim POTUS can do job equally well from anywhere?

Just gotta ask!

Will President Obama lose the election if he spends too much of this week running FEMA and not being in Florida and Ohio over and over again? Shouldn’t he take off his coat and roll up his sleeves and direct storm response from … Northern Virginia, maybe? Just one thing is “clear now,” to Mark Halperin: that people who may or may not lose elections next week will think the hurricane is responsible. Fascinating, if true.

(Actual smart people basically agree: There is no way of knowing how this storm will actually affect the election, if it does, which it might or might not.)

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Send Disaster Response To The States”: Mitt Romney’s Disastrous Emergency Management Plan

As 50 million East Coast residents brace for Hurricane Sandy’s impact, President Obama has already signed disaster declarations for at least a dozen states, making available the resources and unique coordinating capabilities of the federal government — specifically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA – to assist in the response and recovery.

It’s worth noting that Mitt Romney has said he’d get rid of FEMA and leave states to fend for themselves.

At a CNN-sponsored GOP debate last June, moderator John King asked Romney what he would do to keep FEMA solvent. Romney replied that we need to cut government spending and should “send it back to the states … And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” King looked a bit surprised and followed up to make sure Romney was saying what he appeared to be saying. “Including disaster relief, though?” King asked. Romney answered affirmatively: “We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.”

A Romney spokesperson, in a vague statement to the Huffington Post last night, suggested that eliminating FEMA is still Romney’s position.

“Send it back to the states” is a typical conservative talking point, of course. But the states don’t inspire much confidence when it comes to emergency management. FEMA also has a budget of about $6 billion that would disappear from the total pool of money available for disaster relief if the agency were eliminated tomorrow, unless states raised their taxes to make up for the loss, something Romney and his party seem unlikely to support.

Romney, as a former governor, ought to know better.

This is how a federal disaster area gets declared: The governor of a state submits a letter to the local FEMA branch requesting help. “In this request the Governor certifies that the combined local, county and state resources are insufficient and that the situation is beyond their recovery capabilities,” according to FEMA. So every time a governor submits a request for assistance — and there were a record 99 disaster declarations in 2011 — they have to declare they are incapable of handling the situation on their own.

And Romney does know, firsthand. For example, there was a November 2006 chemical plant explosion in Danvers, Mass. “You know, we’ll be looking at what the requirements are from a, from a national standpoint. We do have FEMA here now … The needs of the state or it should be the needs here, if they can be met by the state, they will be. If it’s beyond the needs or the capability of the state, then we’ll go to the federal government,” he said at a press conference.

Several months before that, in May, Romney requested additional money from FEMA to deal with flooding in Lowell, Mass. Before that, in October 2005, Romney requested FEMA help for several counties affected by flooding. Etc. etc.

But perhaps it isn’t fair to criticize Romney over these instances, since he was merely operating under the existing system and naturally wanted to do everything he could do to help his state.

But the idea of sending things back to the state makes little sense if you think about it for even a second. Natural disasters frequently transcend political borders, affecting multiple states simultaneously. Absent a unified chain of command coordinating the response in affected areas, you’d get a patchwork of different responses and approaches, which may be very difficult to coordinate. Poorer states with a weaker tax base may be less able to respond adequately. A national agency can pool and transfer resources across the entire county in a way that states can’t — individual state may go years without a major disaster, whereas FEMA is always busy. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of FEMA, especially after Hurricane Katrina, but they all relate to how it needs to be more effective, not less so.

In a nutshell, disaster preparedness hits at the whole point of having a federal government and federalism. It’s a pretty good illustration of how far to the right the GOP has shifted that Romney wants to send disaster relief to states despite that being an obviously terrible idea. And privatizing disaster relief is even scarier. Who will pay for that? How will contractors be held accountable? Other cases of largely privatized disaster relief have raised serious red flags.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Real Mothers Vs Moochers”: Is Motherhood The Most Important Job?

It can be hard to remember a mere six months ago, but that was when we were talking about the hard work mothers perform in the home and how valuable it is. A recap: Democratic surrogate Hilary Rosen said that Ann Romney, who is a stay-at-home mother, has never worked a day in her life. In the blink of an eye, both sides jumped on the moment to declare their undying fealty to mothers and their awe at the hard work women perform in the home. Romney even went so far as to say that Ann’s job was “harder” and “more important” than his own, be it running the state of Massachusetts or the Olympics. (Although he never explained why he didn’t simply trade places with her.)

Someone watching this debate couldn’t be blamed for coming away with the impression that this country has put motherhood on a gold-plated pedestal. But it turns out that pedestal is contingent on certain factors—class being chief among them. A Pennsylvania House bill proposed last week sought to limit the amount of TANF assistance—formally known as welfare support—that low-income women receive based on how many children they give birth to while covered. In other words: the more children a woman on welfare has, the fewer benefits she receives.

The good news is that three sponsors of the bill have since backed away from it, claiming to not have read it closely enough. The bad news is that Pennsylvania was simply following a trend. At my request, Joan Entmacher of the National Women’s Law Center calculated that as of July 2010, seventeen states had “family cap” policies that limit the amount of TANF assistance available to mothers who have children while receiving benefits. When Ann Romney stays at home to raise her five boys, financed by her family’s wealth and income, we revere her as the pinnacle of womanhood and a hardworking American. When a poor mother has five boys, we punish her by denying her the benefits she needs to keep them healthy and happy.

Unfortunately the horror doesn’t stop there. What about a woman who is raped and then bears her rapist’s child while on TANF? Should she have her benefits decreased? Pennsylvania, in its magnanimity, granted that this woman shouldn’t be docked. She just has to give the state a signed statement that she was a victim of rape or incest and that she reported the crime and the identity of her offender to law enforcement. (Never mind that over half of all rapes are never reported given the stigma and ordeal victims are put though.) She also has to sign a statement affirming that she understands that “false reports to law enforcement authorities are punishable by law” and that lets her know the state will report “evidence of false statements or fraud” to the correct department. As summarized by Jake Blumgart: “State Reps to Poor Women: Prove You Were Raped or Lose TANF Assistance.”

Once again, Pennsylvania is sadly not alone. Many states require parents to cooperate with child support enforcement to receive childcare assistance, often to establish paternity and provide accurate information. Last month, the Children, Youth and Families Department of New Mexico decided to pull a Todd Aiken and considered an amendment to this policy that would exempt victims of “forcible rape” from having to file child support claims against the absent parent. And even worse, a bunch of states already use this language. According to Entmacher, at least four states list forcible rape as one potential reason for an exemption: Colorado, Idaho, Maryland and Rhode Island, with varying levels of detail about how a woman should go about proving that her rape is “legitimate.”

In the motherhood hierarchy, then, women who don’t need welfare support rank highest, followed by mothers who can “prove” that their rape is rape rape. Tough luck for low-income women who were date raped, raped when drugged or simply had a wanted child. Our message to them is that they’re not really mothers. They’re just moochers.


By: Bryce Covert, The Nation, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Women | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Medicaid On The Ballot”: Unfortunately Mr. Romney, A Lack Of Insurance Does Kill People

There’s a lot we don’t know about what Mitt Romney would do if he won. He refuses to say which tax loopholes he would close to make up for $5 trillion in tax cuts; his economic “plan” is an empty shell.

But one thing is clear: If he wins, Medicaid — which now covers more than 50 million Americans, and which President Obama would expand further as part of his health reform — will face savage cuts. Estimates suggest that a Romney victory would deny health insurance to about 45 million people who would have coverage if he lost, with two-thirds of that difference due to the assault on Medicaid.

So this election is, to an important degree, really about Medicaid. And this, in turn, means that you need to know something more about the program.

For while Medicaid is generally viewed as health care for the nonelderly poor, that’s only part of the story. And focusing solely on who Medicaid covers can obscure an equally important fact: Medicaid has been more successful at controlling costs than any other major part of the nation’s health care system.

So, about coverage: most Medicaid beneficiaries are indeed relatively young (because older people are covered by Medicare) and relatively poor (because eligibility for Medicaid, unlike Medicare, is determined by need). But more than nine million Americans benefit from both Medicare and Medicaid, and elderly or disabled beneficiaries account for the majority of Medicaid’s costs. And contrary to what you may have heard, the great majority of Medicaid beneficiaries are in working families.

For those who get coverage through the program, Medicaid is a much-needed form of financial aid. It is also, quite literally, a lifesaver. Mr. Romney has said that a lack of health insurance doesn’t kill people in America; oh yes, it does, and states that expand Medicaid coverage show striking drops in mortality.

So Medicaid does a vast amount of good. But at what cost? There’s a widespread perception, gleefully fed by right-wing politicians and propagandists, that Medicaid has “runaway” costs. But the truth is just the opposite. While costs grew rapidly in 2009-10, as a depressed economy made more Americans eligible for the program, the longer-term reality is that Medicaid is significantly better at controlling costs than the rest of our health care system.

How much better? According to the best available estimates, the average cost of health care for adult Medicaid recipients is about 20 percent less than it would be if they had private insurance. The gap for children is even larger.

And the gap has been widening over time: Medicaid costs have consistently risen a bit less rapidly than Medicare costs, and much less rapidly than premiums on private insurance.

How does Medicaid achieve these lower costs? Partly by having much lower administrative costs than private insurers. It’s always worth remembering that when it comes to health care, it’s the private sector, not government programs, that suffers from stifling, costly bureaucracy.

Also, Medicaid is much more effective at bargaining with the medical-industrial complex.

Consider, for example, drug prices. Last year a government study compared the prices that Medicaid paid for brand-name drugs with those paid by Medicare Part D — also a government program, but one run through private insurance companies, and explicitly forbidden from using its power in the market to bargain for lower prices. The conclusion: Medicaid pays almost a third less on average. That’s a lot of money.

Is Medicaid perfect? Of course not. Most notably, the hard bargain it drives with health providers means that quite a few doctors are reluctant to see Medicaid patients. Yet given the problems facing American health care — sharply rising costs and declining private-sector coverage — Medicaid has to be regarded as a highly successful program. It provides good if not great coverage to tens of millions of people who would otherwise be left out in the cold, and as I said, it does much right to keep costs down.

By any reasonable standard, this is a program that should be expanded, not slashed — and a major expansion of Medicaid is part of the Affordable Care Act.

Why, then, are Republicans so determined to do the reverse, and kill this success story? You know the answers. Partly it’s their general hostility to anything that helps the 47 percent — those Americans whom they consider moochers who need to be taught self-reliance. Partly it’s the fact that Medicaid’s success is a reproach to their antigovernment ideology.

The question — and it’s a question the American people will answer very soon — is whether they’ll get to indulge these prejudices at the expense of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 28, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“All The Explanation You Need”: Mitt Romney, The Most Mysterious Man In The Election

It’s often said that the way a candidate runs his campaign gives insight into the way he’ll run the government, but unfortunately it usually isn’t true. A campaign has a few similarities to a government, but not many; likewise, while there are similarities between running for president and being president (lots of speeches, for instance), most of the really important things couldn’t be more different.

As the presidential election nears its end—a vote of tremendous consequence preceded by a campaign of unusual triviality—is there anything left to learn about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? Despite the fervid hopes of those on the extreme right that there is some secret revelation waiting to be unearthed about Obama, we know most of what we need to know about his potential second term just by taking stock of his first. We know that domestically, where he needs Congress’s cooperation he’ll pursue the policies his party supports, just as Mitt Romney will. In foreign policy and national security, we know that he’ll continue to distress the progressives who care to think about it, with a continuation of the drone war in Pakistan and Afghanistan and a vision of presidential power that is little different from George W. Bush’s. The bulk of his policy initiatives will merely continue what he has already done; whether you think that’s a good idea depends almost entirely on your party affiliation.

If you had particular foresight, you might have seen in Obama’s pre-presidential political career some of the characteristics that produced his greatest successes as president. In particular, he combines a carefulness and methodical planning with extremely bold action when he believes circumstances have produced the perfect moment. The most obvious example was his decision to run for president in the first place. Let’s not forget that at the time, nearly every sage observer said Obama was being presumptuous and premature. When his run began he was a mere two years removed from the Illinois state senate, an electrifying presence but hardly possessed of the seasoning that a president needed. But Obama saw that the end of the Bush years provided an opportunity he might not see again, when the thirst for someone new and different made the election of the nation’s first black president a possibility, even one who had only occupied high office for only a brief time.

There have been plenty of times when Obama could have gone farther than he did, or would have done better forcing a confrontation instead of settling for conciliation. But that boldness could be seen at most of the key moments of his first term: ignoring advisers like Rahm Emanuel who counseled abandoning the Affordable Care Act when it was in jeopardy; bailing out the auto industry when many thought it was a dying elephant; and yes, ordering the operation that killed Osama bin Laden despite all the risks it entailed.

Like Obama, Mitt Romney is known as a careful planner. But unlike Obama, Romney has shown an aversion to risk-taking that is nearly absolute. That isn’t always a bad thing; though many of Obama’s risks have worked out well, there’s nothing inherently wrong with caution. But Romney’s caution is extreme, so much so that it’s impossible to think of a single risk he’s ever taken—political, personal, or otherwise. When he was working at Bain & Co. and the firm’s founder asked him to run the new venture of Bain Capital, Romney negotiated a deal that guaranteed him his old job back if the private equity firm failed. When he went to run the Olympics in Salt Lake, he negotiated a similar deal with Bain Capital. And the private equity business that he helped pioneer is all about risking borrowed money and making sure to charge huge management fees, so even if the company you buy goes under, you still wind up making a profit.

In politics, Romney’s aversion to risk is all the explanation you need for his reinventions: When the next electorate to be wooed didn’t look favorably inclined to the last iteration of Mitt, rather than risk being rejected because of what he stood for, he sought out the path of least ideological resistance. The problem is that if he becomes president, Romney will face decisions in which there is no safe choice. I don’t doubt that if a natural disaster hit, Romney could effectively manage the government’s response, since it would be an administrative challenge with clear goals. But what about some international crisis where all paths pose tremendous risks? What if, say, fundamentalists staged a coup in Pakistan? Can anyone say how Romney would respond, or even what in his character or experience might give us some idea? He might handle such crises brilliantly or disastrously. We have no idea.

Nevertheless, for all Romney’s ideological revisions and reimaginings, we can be fairly sure about many of the things he’ll do. Just like Obama, he’ll be a creature of his party. He’ll stock the executive branch with the same Republicans who would arrive with any GOP president. He can’t enact his tax cut plan as he has presented it during this campaign, but he’ll attempt to cut income tax rates in some fashion, and probably try to cut capital gains and inheritance taxes to boot. He’ll appoint judges (and Supreme Court justices if he gets the chance) who are hostile to reproductive rights and friendly to corporate power and privilege. When he promises to cut regulations that limit business’s ability to pollute or harm consumers, he means it. While he may not achieve his utterly arbitrary goal of increasing military spending to 4 percent of GDP, he’ll certainly try to increase it. He might get cold feet on voucherizing Medicare, but he’ll be happy to go after Medicaid; doing so is less risky since the latter’s constituency is poor people.

Finally, if we’re trying to imagine the next four years, it’s as important to ask what each candidate doesn’t care about as what he does care about. A president won’t take a political risk or invest in a long-term effort to accomplish a goal he can live without achieving. Obama wouldn’t have undertaken the monumental struggle required to pass the Affordable Care Act if he didn’t care about the goal of health care reform. On the other hand, he clearly doesn’t care much about the proliferation of guns.

As for Mitt Romney, it’s so hard to determine what he cares about that it’s equally difficult to say what he doesn’t care about. His campaign recently informed reporters that he will be giving no more interviews between now and Election Day, lest he be subjected to the risk of an uncomfortable question or another cringe-inducing gaffe. So whatever voters don’t know about Mitt Romney they aren’t going to find out unless he becomes president.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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