Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Split on Same Sex Marriage

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed four district court decisions that struck down prohibitions on same sex marriage in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, DeBoer, et al. v. Snyder, et al., No. 14-1341 (6th Cir. 11/6/2014).  The vote was 2-1, and the dissenting opinion is worth a read, if for no other reason than that it debunks the idea that there is such a thing as a "traditional marriage."

This is the first federal court decision denying a right of same-sex marriage, so it creates a split in the circuits and sets the stage for a possible Supreme Court review.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Do we live in a democracy, or do we have a democratic system?

I watched NBC's "Nightly News" tonight (4/17/2013), and I learned that a bill to enact universal background checks for gun purchases had been "defeated" in the Senate.  They reported that four Republicans had voted in favor of the bill (actually, an amendment to a bill), but four Democrats had voted against.  That didn't make any sense to me, because I knew that Democrats held a majority in the Senate, so four votes switching both ways would still leave a Democratic majority.

It was only later, listening to a different news show, that I learned that the amendment had been "defeated" by a vote of 54 ayes and 46 nays.  Yes, a bill was "defeated" because it got only 54% of the vote, which is "only" a majority.

Ignoring for the moment whether the Senate is a democratic institution, or whether a vote of a majority of Senators would reflect a vote of a majority of the American people, the problem still remains that, if the Senate is supposed to be a representative body, and if a majority of Senators can't act for the Senate, then something is terribly and fundamentally wrong.

So the question raised at the beginning of this post, "do we have a democratic system?" can be answered, and the answer is "no," we do not.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The House of Un-Representatives

Looking at the election results from Pennsylvania, I was glad to see that we had voted for Barack Obama and Bob Casey, but surprised that we elected only 5 Democrats from our 18 Congressional districts.  Was there that much vote splitting?

Then I learned that Pennsylvania wasn't alone.  As Ezra Klein points out, Democratic candidates for the House got 54,301,095 votes while Republicans got 53,822,442, but Democrats got many fewer House seats, only 193 to 233 for Republicans.  (Nine races are still undecided.)  So Democrats got half the votes but only 44% of the seats.

I looked up the Congressional election results for Pennsylvania, and with 99.61% of the precincts reporting, Democratic candidates for House seats got a total of 2,702,900 votes, Republicans got  2,617,031 votes, and other parties got 41,080 votes.  So Democrats got 50.4% of the votes, but won only 28% of the races.

How could that happen?  It happened because some Congressional districts were lopsided wins for Democrats, while most Republican wins were narrower, so the Democratic votes were concentrated in a few districts.  Specifically, 41.9% of all Democratic votes were cast in the 5 Congressional districts that the Democrats won.

And why did that vote concentration happen?

The easy answer is that the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature fixed the Congressional districts to favor Republicans, but that's only part of the answer.  The fact of the matter is that Democratic votes tend to be concentrated in urban areas, and in Pennsylvania that means Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  Once that many voters of one party are congregated together like that, it is fairly difficult to construct districts with proportionate numbers of voters of each party.  Republican-controlled legislatures might have made the problem worse, but the problem was going to be there regardless.  And it's only going to get worse as time goes on because there is a growing tendency for people to cluster together with other people with similar political views, as explained in Bill Bishop's book, The Big Sort.

The irony here is that the House of Representatives was supposed to be the branch of the government that would be most responsive to the will of the people, with direct elections every two years.

The Senate was only indirectly responsive to the people, with Senators elected by state legislatures.  Senators are now elected by popular vote, but the allocation of two Senators for each state gives less populous states--which tend to be Republican--a disproportionate amount of power, and the Senate is slow to change because Senators are elected only every six years.

The election of the President is even more indirect, and so the President was going to be the least responsive to the people, because the President is chosen by "electors" selected by each state "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct," which means that popular vote is not needed at all.  And we complain about the role of the "Electoral College" in Presidential elections every four years, but the results of the Electoral College usually match the results of the popular vote.

So we've now got a President who was elected with the support of a majority of the voters.  We've also got a Senate with 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans, which is roughly the same percentages as the popular vote for President and so roughly representative of the voters.  But we've also got a House that is distinctly not representative of the politics of a majority of Americans.

So the whole system has turned upside down, with the President becoming the most representative of the popular will and the House becoming the least representative, a House of Un-Representatives.

How Romney Failed as Manager-in-Chief

In 2008, I was really torn between voting for Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama in the primary.  I made up my mind when I read that the Clinton campaign was running out of money about half way through the primaries.  Apparently, they had planned for a short campaign, expecting to build up an overwhelming lead early, while the Obama had planned for the long haul.  That made up my mind for me because I figured that you can't be trusted to manage the US government if you can't manage your own election campaign.  (And management matters.  Compare, for example, the federal responses to hurricane Katrina and hurricane Sandy.)

Now, I know that the President doesn't really manage the government, and the candidate doesn't really run the campaign, either.  But the candidate picks the people who manage the campaign, and the President picks the people who pick the people who manage the government.  So the quality of the people who run the candidate's campaign is a good indication of the quality of people who will be running the country if that candidate is selected.

For that reason, not only was I worried about Mitt Romney's ideology and politics, but I was also worried about his ability to manage, because it was clear his campaign was being poorly run.  It wasn't just the frequency of his campaign wandering off-message, but also the inability of his staff to anticipate and be able to answer questions that were obviously going to be asked sooner or later.  (The most famous example was a telephone conference called for the purpose of talking about women's issues in which senior Romney staff were unable to say whether or not Romney supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.)

Now I read (in of all places) that it was actually worse than I thought:  "Campaign Sources: The Romney Campaign was a Consultant Con Job."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Supporting (Opposing) Patient-Centered Outcomes

On July 17, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee posted online the proposed, fiscal year 2013 spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies.

This bill would end health care research in the following areas:
  • The bill ends all funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (Sec. 227).
  • The bill prohibits any appropriated funds from being used for patient-centered outcomes research (Sec. 217).
  • The bill prohibits funds appropriated for the National Institutions of Health (Title II, page 57, lines 20-24) from being used for any economic research.
The second one is strange, because "patient-centered" is a phrase developed in focus groups by Republican pollster Frank Luntz to describe Republican health care policies. For some examples of Republican comments using the phrase following the Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act, see David Weigel's blog posting on Slate on July 2.

And I found these other more recent examples on Twitter:
  • Americans for Prosperity: "RT if you reject the government takeover of #healthcare & want real, patient-centered reform!" (7/20/12)
  • George Allen: "I want to be the deciding vote to repeal this health care law & replace it with patient-centered reforms for more affordable health care." (7/16/12)
  • Sarah Palin (via Kim Moons): "Our vision is of an America where health care is affordable, it's patient centered, and it's market driven."
So Republicans are in favor of patient-centered care, but are not interested in spending money for any research into what would be effective patient-centered care?

Even more confusing is that patient-centered care is an important part of the Affordable Care Act that Republicans want to repeal.  The phrase "patient-centered" (or "patient-centeredness") appears 15 times in the ACA, not counting the headings of titles, sections, and subsections, and not counting references to the "Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute" or the "Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund."

One of the main ways that the ACA is supposed to hold down Medicare costs is through "accountable care organizations" (ACOs) and one of the requirements of an ACO is that it meet patient-centeredness criteria to be established by the Secretary of Health & Human Services.  (Sec. 3022)  And one of the ways that the ACA is supposed to hold down Medicaid costs is through supporting the creation of "patient-centered medical homes."  (Sec. 3502)

But Republicans want to repeal the whole ACA, including its provisions for patient-centered care, in order to enact patient-centered care, and meanwhile are working to block any research into developing models or techniques for patient-centered care.

This is terribly schizophrenic.  There are either conflicts and disagreements within the Republican party, or the whole Republican "patient-centered" talking point is just a smoke screen for repealing the ACA without offering anything in its place.

My vote is the latter.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What made Santorum want to throw up?

Former Senator (and now Presidential candidate) Rick Santorum said that, when he read John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on religion and politics, he wanted to "throw up." When asked about that comment by ABC's George Stephanopolous, Santorum said, "[T]o say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up."

Of course, you can read Kennedy's speech for yourself, and you'll see that he says nothing about denying people of faith any role in public affairs. He specifically says that people of all faiths should be able to participate in politics:
I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
That hardly seems like something that would cause someone to throw up.

So what so offended Santorum?

I think it was this later section:

Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

That is what made Santorum want to throw up.

The goal of Kennedy's speech was to assure the public in general, and Protestants in particular, that as President he would not try to impose the teachings of the Catholic Church on Americans. And the paragraphs quoted above are the most forceful expression of that goal.

And that is what Santorum disagrees with. Santorum has very strong opinions on birth control and abortion and divorce, and Santorum believes that his views on birth control and abortion and just about everything else are superior to all other views. If elected President, it would be not just his right, but his duty to impose those views on all other Americans.

Which makes me want to throw up.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gingrich's Appeal

Newt Gingrich appeals to many Republican voters because of Gingrich's obvious disdain for Democrats.

Unfortunately, voters soon realize that he as a great deal of disdain for Republicans also.

Which explains why his poll numbers keep going up down.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Bain Identity

Mitt Romney has been criticized from both left and right as a "flip-flopper." Someone who will say whatever needs to be said in order to move ahead politically. He will say whatever he needs to say in order to get nominated, then say what he needs to say to get elected, and then say what he needs to say to govern. All without any real commitment or sincere belief.

When he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he ran as a moderate and he governed as a moderate, and now that he's running for president in a conservative Republican field he's running as a conservative. In the general election, running against Obama, he'll portray himself as a moderate, and who knows how he would govern?

What doesn't seem to have gotten much press is that Romney ran Bain Capital the same way.

According to this piece in the Washington Post, written by an investment banker who often dealt with Bain Capital while Romney was in charge, Bain Capital had a nasty habit of doing what might be called a "bait and switch." In a private offering, the firm that makes the highest initial bid gets favored position to negotiate the final deal. Bain would make the high bid, eliminate the competition, and then use its favored position to negotiate the price down below its original bid. Some renegotiation is normal when new conditions are discovered on "due diligence" (closer scrutiny), but Bain negotiated downward too often and too flagrantly.

In other words, Bain would say what it needed to say in order to get a favorable negotiating position, and then change its price once it had the position it wanted and the other side was at a disadvantage.

This is what some people would call "gaming the system," and what other people would call "dishonest."

If this description of Bain Capital is correct, then "flip-flopping" is not a fluke of Romney's political career. It is a fundamental character flaw of the man. He lacks integrity.