High-Risk Pools, Pre-Existing Conditions and Other Lies: Why Tomorrow’s Health Care Vote Matters

dXvSVWord this evening is that the House Republican leadership has set a vote for tomorrow on the latest version of “Repeal and Replace.” Insiders and observers are saying that this is a sign Speaker Ryan and his whips have found the requisite number of “yeas” to get the bill out of the House and on to the Senate.

On the one hand, tomorrow’s vote doesn’t really matter. Whatever Frankenbill they cobbled together won’t last a day in the Senate before it gets shredded. And, whatever the Senate sends back to the House will be a non-starter for the lower house. So tomorrow is a little meaningless skirmish in a larger war. It will give the Umber Jackhole residing at 1600 Pennsylvania an empty victory he will claim in Tweet and incoherent interview alike but nothing much else.

On the other hand, the hand I care about this evening, tomorrow’s vote matters a lot. The Republican legislation – to the extent anyone knows what’s actually in it – substantially weakens the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The authors of the bill know this. The administration knows this. Donald Trump doesn’t care what it does as long as it passes.

And yet all of these people are saying just the opposite and are thus perpetrating a fraud on the American people and on that basis, tomorrow’s vote matters very much. It is a test of whether our system still works, an opportunity to say, “Hell no” to this level of mendacity and grifter behavior.

If you’re already convinced on this point, you can skip the rest of this post and simply stop here with this call to action: Please call, email or visit your Congressperson tomorrow. Do it more than once. The main phone number is (202) 224-3121. You can find a list of Congressional offices (most with links to their direct phone numbers and emails) here. Don’t know how your Representative is? Look it up here.  Tweet at them, post on their Facebook pages. Share this with your friends and ask them to do the same. Ask your Representative to reject this legislation.

If, however, you’re unconvinced that tomorrow’s vote is worth your time or if some of your friends need more than just an ask from some random person on their Facebook feed, the rest of this post is for you and them.

At the core of the bill being voted on tomorrow is a set of changes that will allow insurers to return to many of their pre-ACA behaviors including greater price discrimination by age, the promotion of substandard plans, as well as cuts to Medicaid and – as has been much discussed – will create a pathway for the elimination of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

As I understand the proposed legislation, if a state asks the federal government for a waiver, insurers in that state can refuse to cover pre-existing conditions if 1) the insured person lets his or her coverage lapse and 2) the state sets up a “high-risk” pool or reinsurance program as a safety net. This is pretty much the way things worked in the pre-ACA days when – according to the New York Times – 35 states had such mechanisms.

So…let’s contemplate for a second how many Republican governors there are – 33. How many state legislatures are controlled by the GOP – 32. How many of those politicians have pledged their undying, unyielding hatred of Obamacare. Suddenly, that hurdle doesn’t seem so high.

The process for granting a waiver? Under the current Trump administration, I’m guessing that will be something that can be completed on a postcard and approved with a “looks good to me” review.

I’ll leave it to you to contemplate all the ways you can lose coverage in today’s world of economic dislocation. Suffice it to say shit happens.

“But wait! Wait,” the apologists will claim. Even if you’re right, those people will still have access to care. Through the high-risk pools.

Yeah, let’s talk about that idea.

Historically, as the Times article notes, those pools have been wildly underfunded, charged participants much, much higher premiums than the prevailing market, were capped in terms of how many people they would accept and how much they would pay out either in a year or a lifetime. As the Times noted, California had an annual cap of $75,000 per person and across all the plans – in all 35 states – a grand total of 230,000 people were able to get coverage.

230,000 people out of 321,000,000. Less than 1/10 of 1 percent of the population.

Needless to say the number of people with pre-existing conditions is substantially bigger than 1/10th of 1 percent. How much bigger? Try 270 times bigger. And, depending on where you live, a lot bigger.

That’s not hyperbole. That’s actual verified data, the stuff we used to call “facts” in the old days. Based on an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 27 percent of the people under 65 have a pre-existing condition. Add it all up, according to Kaiser, and you come up with more than 52,000,000 people who might find themselves with no coverage, unaffordable coverage or substandard coverage.

And, of course, as you get older, the prevalence of pre-existing conditions increases. The graphic from AARP below illustrates, the percentage of people in the 50-64 age bracket with a pre-existing condition ranges from 32 percent on the low end to 52 percent on the high end.


You might not have a pre-existing condition, but if you live in a family of four chances are someone in your family does. If your block has 12 families on it, three of them might be uninsurable under a loosened standard of coverage and could be bankrupted by the cost of care. As Jimmy Kimmel tearfully noted, even newborns come with pre-existing conditions and a family without insurance – or an insurance plan with a lifetime or annual cap – can find itself have to choose between caring for their newborn or sending him to college, owning a home or a retirement.

In case you’re interested in exactly what constitutes a pre-existing condition, you might be surprised to learn that you could pretty easily fall in that category. Pre-ACA, the list of conditions considered pre-existing included:


  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Alzheimer’s/dementia
  • Arthritis (rheumatoid), fibromyalgia, other inflammatory joint disease
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery
  • Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Epilepsy
  • Hemophilia
  • Hepatitis
  • Kidney disease, renal failure
  • Lupus
  • Mental disorders (severe, e.g. bipolar, eating disorder)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Obesity
  • Organ transplant
  • Paralysis
  • Paraplegia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pending surgery or hospitalization
  • Pneumocystic pneumonia
  • Pregnancy or expectant parent
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Transsexualism

Pre-existing conditions could also injuries, previous surgical procedures and more.

I’m not alone in opposing this, of course, and neither is it a liberal thing. The famously conservative American Medical Association? Against it. Also the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. So too is the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, JDRF, March of Dimes, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, the National MS Society and others. The American Hospital Association? A no vote. Ditto for the Children’s Hospital Association and AARP. For too many reasons to enumerate, these organizations know the scam that’s being pulled and are screaming about it:

“None of the legislative tweaks under consideration changes the serious harm to patients and the health care delivery system if AHCA passes. Proposed changes to the bill tinker at the edges without remedying the fundamental failing of the bill – that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance as a direct result of this proposal.

“High-risk pools are not a new idea. Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, 35 states operated high-risk pools, and they were not a panacea for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. The history of high-risk pools demonstrates that Americans with pre-existing conditions will be stuck in second-class health care coverage – if they are able to obtain coverage at all.

“Not only would the AHCA eliminate health insurance coverage for millions of Americans, the legislation would, in many cases, eliminate the ban against charging those with underlying medical conditions vastly more for their coverage.”

– American Medical Association President Andrew W. Gurman, M.D

Again, the authors of this bill also know all this. They know that they’re opening an easy pathway to exclusion of pre-existing conditions. They know the money they’ve set aside to support high-risk pools is inadequate for its intended purpose. They know the extra $8 billion they dramatically added to the bill today does nothing to change these calculations.

And yet they look us in the eye and tell us exactly the opposite. We cannot, should not, let this go unnoticed and unopposed. To the contrary, I hope that every Member of Congress goes to vote tomorrow with the credo of Anonymous echoing in his or her mind: We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

That’s why tomorrow’s vote is important. Spread the word.

  • Austin




Minnesota Has Seen This Movie

rotten_tomatoes_8290As I watched the dramatic collapse of Trumpcare today, I was reminded that Minnesotans have seen this Happy Gilmoresque movie before: Before there was “Trump: The President” there was “Ventura: The Governor.”

For those younger than me – approximately all of you – you might not remember that in 1998, sober, sane, proud-of-our-good-government-instincts Minnesota elected a former professional wrestler – surely the forerunners of today’s reality stars – and bit-player actor (“I ain’t got time to bleed.”) as its governor. While this decision looks positively brilliant next to Mr. Trump’s election – Ventura had at least served in the military and had held elective office – it was an electoral exercise in “what-the-fuck” voting as two uninspiring mainstream candidates drove down their turnout and allowed a third party candidate to eke out a narrow victory.

Two things saved Mr. Ventura’s tenure from immediately becoming the smoldering crater that is the Trump Administration after just 64 days. First, and most obviously, is the fact that we elected a buffoon to the Governor’s Office instead of the Oval Office thus limiting the damage that even the most inept office holder can do (though one should never underestimate what a motivated governor can do – I’m looking at you Scott Lets-Gut-Public-Unions Walker and you Rick Let-Them-Drink-Lead Snyder). Second, as MPR notes, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was lucky enough to come into office with a $4 billion tax surplus (which it also notes he turned into a $4.5 billion deficit) and a blessedly quiet period in Minnesota when the most difficult public policy questions consisted of everyone asking, “What should we do with all this extra money?” Even Jesse Ventura – who had the not-very-original-or-smart- but-defensible position of rebating the surplus to taxpayers – could manage not to screw things up too bad in a political environment that marshmallowly.

As an aside, while I was reading the MPR story mentioned above to refresh my memory of what happened – and didn’t – during The Body’s time in office, I was struck by this passage:

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Ventura’s relationship with key lawmakers was hot and cold.

“There are times he just charmed you tremendously. You know, just very, very charming,” Sviggum said. “And in the next minute, you’ll be shaking your head and saying, ‘you know, I don’t want anything to do with the individual.'”

Gee, who does that remind me of? Wait, wait…it’ll come to me.

Unfortunately, shit got real for Minnesota in the last year or so of Governor Ventura’s term when the money ran out and actually governing and legislating had to be done. Mr. Ventura, after making some nominal efforts to participate in the process, checked out and left it to the legislature to work it out. I seem to recall he spent his time – while in office – being the MC for something called the XFL, junketing to China and Cuba and feuding with the media (the more things change…).

This trip down memory lane is more than just an old fart’s reminiscences; it bears on today’s debacle – and that’s an insult to the other debacles – in terms of what happened today and – more importantly – what’s going to happen next.

Today, Mr. Trump’s efforts at playing the role of President were exposed as the fraud many of us have believed it would be and is. The master negotiator got rolled by two dozen guys in $200 Men’s Wearhouse poly-blend suits. The “closer” discovered he’s a “c” short. The Great Leader turned around and discovered the parade was a bit shorter than he’d promised and that nobody seems terribly worried about crossing him. In short, he got the shit kicked out of him and even if he can’t admit it, looked hopelessly out his depth.

Who knew health care was so complicated? I mean, gee Wally, I guess being a grown up is harder than it looks.

My prediction is that Mr. Trump – who is so thin-skinned he makes Mr. Ventura look positively indifferent to criticism – will do exactly what the governor did back in 2001; he’ll pull back from all this “governing stuff” and leave it to the Congress – and maybe his cabinet members – to deal with. Having suffered a body-blow of a loss, Mr. Trump will retreat to what he likes best – ceremonial photo ops with truckers, bikers, CEOs who announce jobs (real or not), rallies (though I’ll be interested to see how those crowds hold up for a guy who lent his name to a bill supported by 17 percent of voters), Mar-a-Lago and Twitter. The billionaire president is going to be positively cheap when it comes to spending whatever political capital he has left.

We’ll be able to assess the accuracy of my prediction in short order because in just a few weeks Congress will have to vote to increase the debt limit or risk a default by the U.S. government. The adults in the room – reported to be Mnuchin and Cohn when it comes to economics – will start issuing warnings. Speaker Ryan, cindered up to his well-toned biceps from the last 18 days, will be as firm as Jello and mostly ignored. Mitch McConnell will say…something. The Freedom Caucus will announce its unalterable opposition to raising the debt limit (but will back-channel that it can be bought for some draconian price), the Democrats will take the understandable (albeit not very grown up) position that since it’s the Republicans who control both both houses and the White House, it’s their responsibility to lead on the issue.

My guess – based on what I know of Mr. Trump and what the lesson of Jesse Ventura tells me – is  that while the risk of default builds, President Trump will hit the links, meet with Bill Gates (again), Kanye, the border patrol union, seventeen guys in the construction business and a collection of country-and-western stars. He’ll Tweet out stream-of-consciousness thoughts as he watches Fox & Friends and let Congress and his surrogates work it out (though he will never, ever again own their actions). If they’re able to work out a deal, then – and only then – will he show up for work. I suspect he’ll re-create the boardroom set from The Apprentice and make Ryan, McConnell and a player to be named later have to come pitch him to save the country’s credit rating. He’ll do it live. Steve Bannon will get a producer’s credit. The other Steve – the one with the bulging eyes and the spittle – will do the script.

What a profile in courage. What a change agent.  And it’s only two months in. Forty-six more to go.

  • Austin



End of Days for the Bubble-Saurii.

NEW SLAUGHTERAlong with the strategies, tactics and rhetoric, this whole shutdown/default crisis is a fascinating moral drama, at least for President Obama.

His level of exasperation with Republican malfeasance and ineptitude was pretty evident in his press conference yesterday, and mirrors what the public is saying in polls. You saw today’s? Where Congressional approval has hit … 5%? Scrape away a bit and you’ll find that number is an overwhelming condemnation of the Tea Party factor.

Obama certainly knows — and said — that we can’t go on like this, with the same bunch of “neo-confederates” (TM former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren) ginning up a national crisis every three months. I suspect he is factoring that into his thinking talk of a “deal” that kicks this can a month down the road. Why do that? What does that really serve? At some point enough has to be enough, and the public at large is clearly on board with that line of thought.

Continue reading “End of Days for the Bubble-Saurii.”

Welcome to the First Completely Post-Factual, All Bull[****] Campaign.

I’m feeling better. In my last post I suggested it was a kind of post-hippie, gauzy-eyed, chemical flashback optimism that led me to think America’s generally flaccid “mainstream” press corp was stumbling toward holding politicians accountable to the truth this season. Now I think I can grasp something tangible. In the course of a week two remarkable events have leapt out into the media’s face.

First, Paul Ryan’s speech to the GOP convention. And then … Mr. Ryan’s highly revealing claim that he once ran a two-hour fifty minute marathon.

Over the past seven days people like James Fallows at The Atlantic have noted the — unusual — lengths The Los Angeles Times and other publications have gone to dissecting Ryan (and others’) convention speeches for their shameless parade of fractional truths, complete non-truths and stuff they just clearly pulled out of their white asses. Simultaneously, the topic of what reporters (and their revenue-anxious bosses) should do in the face of “campaigns” demonstrating such a complete indifference to facts and accuracy has dominated conversations on earnest, wonky, “reality-based” public radio shows like “On the Media”. While the latter is speaking to a niche audience with — just guessing here — a single-digit affinity for the Romney-Ryan ticket and the entire modern GOP ethos, if I dare call it that. When big, second-tier papers like the LA Times (albeit in securely Democratic California) start making an issue of flagrant lying, you can safely say the worm is turning.

As I said last week, part of the problem is that the GOP campaign to date has been such a colossal farce. First it was the Sarah Palin-Herman Cain-Michele Bachmann-Donald Trump vaudeville act. Now we have Mitt Romney, a man who has been so steadfast in his refusal to explain exactly how he’d create 12 million jobs, get tough with Vladimir Putin and lay out to fellow Americans precisely how he bootstrapped his way to fantastic financial success that the ordinary press has little option other than to treat a strategy of opacity and rhetorical fraud as a bona fide issue. The press suspects, as I believe the general public also does, that Romney’s career is built on a bedrock of semi-piracy, (gorging on the casino spin of debt, which as Bain handled it required sliding gutted pension programs off on taxpayers) and the ruthless gaming of a tax system that his company and peers lobbied into existence.

But this marathon business — an otherwise silly exaggeration — accelerates and ingrains the notion that Romney and Ryan can be/must be handled differently than even a manifest air head charlatan like Sarah Palin.

Where the roots and mechanisms of Romney’s fortune remain obscured by the arcane terminology of exotic finance — and Romney’s refusal to disclose anything more to “you people”, as Mrs. Romney refers to the press adds to the curtain — flagrant lying like Ryan on his marathon prowess is a much easier — much easier — window for the average voter into “the real person within”.  (BTW, that “you people” line/attitude is not a good strategy for keeping the impudent media dogs off your lawn.)

Big, highly public events like political campaigns are always vulnerable to seemingly extraneous, petty events that distort the careful focus, like someone suddenly slapping on a fish-eye lens. So it may well be with Ryan’s marathon gaffe and how it cements a now well-established reputation for self-aggrandizing mendacity. Post-marathon bullshit, his crediblity is seen through fundamentally different glass.

The “average voter” probably had the same reaction I did to hearing about Ryan’s whopper — told on a right-wing radio show, not over drinks with his P90X buddies. When a guy exaggerates his prowess at anything, by a little, no one much notices or cares. For me to say for example that I once shot par at the Edina Country Club might astonish anyone who has seen me play golf, but the average audience probably won’t think a moment longer, assuming even the worst duffer can have one out-of-his-mind experience. But … if I go around saying I shot a seven-under par, anyone who has ever played the game has a whiplash moment. Life teaches discerning adults that someone who feels a need to lie/prevaricate so flagrantly is someone with a psychology that knows it is a house of lies and is essentially pleading to be caught and revealed.

Several writers and sites have noted the popular response to Al Gore for “saying he invented the internet”, something he never said but suffered with far more patience than I could have ever mustered. Gore’s actual statement has been heavily fact-checked, and he has a long career built on treating scientific facts as sacred, “inconvenient” things.

Not so much in Ryan’s case. What he said in a half-dozen different points in his big, nationally televised speech and about his marathon ability has now been heavily fact-checked … and proven wholly, utterly false or at best, grossly misleading.

Team Romney may believe they can get away with running the first wall-to-wall completely post-factual All Bullshit campaign, unabashedly ignoring demands for details and transparency and shamelessly repeating the most transparent lies.

But I’m saying they have taunted and tempted an inconvenient fate.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Well, that was different.

I’m not much of a Rachel Maddow sycophant, but I have to agree with her that Clint Eastwood’s 11-minute performance at last night’s RNC was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a major party convention.  Maddow was left speechless – for once – and so was I by the surreal sight of Mr. Eastwood rambling and ad-libbing to an empty chair.  Between the mumbling and the fly-away hairdo, Mr. Eastwood came off less like Dirty Harry and more like the old guy down the block who was pretty normal and neighborly in a curmudgeonly way until the day he started cutting the lawn in his underwear with a katana strapped to his back.

His performance makes two things abundantly clear:

1) Nobody – I mean NOBODY – vetted Eastwood’s remarks.  Not even so much as a “Mr. Eastwood, what do you need with the chair?”

2) Actors without good writers to give them good material are rarely worth listening to.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me on this point, but I am 100% sure that Team Romney counts this as a hot mess that is stepping all over the next-day coverage of what was supposed to be “All About Mitt.” Instead, The Big Speech (which in the words of Fox’s Chris Wallace was “workmanlike” at best) has to contend with headlines like:

  • “After a Gunslinger Cuts Loose, Romney Aides Take Cover” – New York Times
  • “Ann Romney: Eastwood Did “A Unique Thing” – CBS News
  • “Clint Eastwood Riff Distracts From Successful Romney Convention” – Washington Post
  • “Clint Eastwood Speech Backfires on Republicans” – Boston.com
  • “Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange?” – Christian Science Monitor
  • “Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at RNC sparks Internet buzz” – NBC News
  • “Clint Eastwood puts liberals in full panic mode” – New York Daily News
  • “Eastwood mocked for kooky speech at GOP convention” – San Jose Mercury News
  • “Clint Eastwood speech with empty chair upstages Mitt Romney at GOP convention” – Newsday
  • “Eastwood, the empty chair and the speech everyone is talking about” – CNN

And on and on and on.  As of now, Google News is serving up more than 1,500 stories related to the Eastwood speech.  Every one of them distracts, detracts from or otherwise obscures the message Romney and company were hoping we’d be talking about today but aren’t.

Check out the New York Times‘ story this morning on who was responsible for this clusterfuck:

Clint Eastwood’s rambling and off-color endorsement of Mitt Romney on Thursday seemed to startle and unsettle even the candidate’s own top aides, several of whom made a point of distancing themselves from the decision to put him onstage without a polished script.

“Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”

Finger-pointing quickly ensued, suggesting real displeasure and even confusion over the handling of Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which was kept secret until the last minute.

A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.

But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said.

Mr. Stevens, in an interview, said he would not discuss internal decision making but described Mr. Eastwood’s remarks as improvised.

There’s some profiles in courage there. I can hardly wait for a Romney presidency in which the aides race one another to their iPhones to rat out their colleagues – anonymously of course – when real decisions go wrong.

Couple last  night’s mess with everything else that went wrong or off-message in Tampa (cancellation of Day 1, the Christie keynote (aka “It’s All About Me”), the cult of Paul Ryan, the peanut tossers, being upstaged by his wife and Condeleeza Rice, the untruths of the Ryan speech, the Ron Paul distractions) and this was NOT a good convention for Romney. Anne Romney, maybe, but not Mitt.

Yes, the GOP talking points would have us believe otherwise, but the reality is that Mitt Romney got less out of this convention than almost anyone. Instead of a bounce, I’m expecting more of a post-convention “thud” in the next set of polls.

Oh well, there’s still the debates.  Governor Romney was pretty good in the Republican debates where he could play Snow White to the Seven Dwarfs but I’m not entirely sure he’ll come across so well in a one-on-one comparison with Obama.

– Austin


The Conscious Strategy of “Legitimate Rape”.

The first thing that crossed my alleged mind when I heard about Todd Akin’s shall we say, remarkable abuse of biological science, common decency and common sense, was that “This is no surprise to the crowd that put him where he is.”

No one rises to the party nomination for U.S. Senator without being thoroughly vetted, not so much by “average voters” as by well-connected, usually deep-pocketed party elders … and their minders in the national party. Particularly in Missouri this  year.

As has been exhaustively repeated the incumbent Democrat, Claire McCaskill, is pretty much a sitting duck. All the Republicans really had to do is put up someone who bathed regularly and knew the difference between a fork and a spoon to guarantee a win … and take a giant step closer to making Mitch McConnell Majority Leader.

Maybe Akin performs his ablutions regularly, but the fundamentals of what is real and what is — as The Great and Wonderful Austin said in the previous post — medieval religious hysteria kind of escape him. He’s a modern troglodyte, but by strategic design he has plenty of company.

The like of Todd Akin is very much what today’s modern Republican elders, overseers, party professionals and strategists are regularly endorsing and financing.. I’m certain Akin saying what he believes in his out-loud voice disappointed them, but it sure as hell didn’t surprise them, if for no other reason than what Akin believes about gynecological function is essentially no different from what, I strongly suspect, dozens of other “true conservatives” currently taking up space in Congress also believe.

Do the names of Steve King, Louie Gohmert, Bob Aderholt, Jeff Flake, John Boozman, Brian Bilbray, Gary Miller, Sand Adams, Allan West, Paul Broun, Raul Labrador, Joe Walsh, Dan Burton … and Michele Bachmann to name just a few, mean anything to you? While most know better than to say — out loud and on TV — what Akin said, what do you think those deep thinkers discuss privately when it comes to “legitimate” or, (equally absurd and offensive) “forcible rape”?

It as been pointed out that the Tea Party’s intellectual leader, Paul Ryan, co-authored with the bumbling Mr. Akin, the short-lived legislation deploying the term “forcible rape”, (as opposed to, I don’t know, the kind where the woman touches up her lipstick and gives the drunken thug her best “come hither” look). Ryan’s purpose in exploiting that term — i.e. pandering to the most superstitious, know-nothing instincts of his base — was to blunt an imagined scheme by Planned Parenthood to qualify all teen pregnancies as statutory rape … and have taxpayers pay for abortions.

It’s a “moral” thing with this crowd, you understand. Not that they’ve added anything to the prosecution of the characters who melted down the world economy.

With Karl Rove pulling his money out of Mr. Akin’s campaign, I see no way the pathetic doof survives. But the modern GOP has a deep well of like-minded “talent”. The party hierarchy has actively recruited and sponsored a small army of mini Torquemadas, people of often astonishing ignorance but reliable recklessness who can be counted on to advance the hierarchy’s primary objective — reduced tax rates for themselves — while creating no end of collateral damage along the way.

The lesson the party minders will take away from Mr. Akin’s “lapse” is a fresh set of talking points of “what to never say in public”.


Paul Ryan, Spawn of Newt.

The classic line about Newt Gingrich, the architect of the strategy of rigid partisan obstruction that has rendered problem-solving virtually impossible, was that “He’s a stupid man’s idea of what a smart man sounds like.” * Newt, now pasty, blubbery and entirely beholding to a casino owner who could soon be in very deep (and long overdue) trouble for padding his fortune with the help of Chinese gangsters, has finally been dismissed from the public stage. (Not that the Beltway talk shows won’t continue to trumpet an “exclusive” with a guy more familiar with a microphone than a light salad.)

It took over 30 years for America’s political/media culture to work the wisdom of Newt Gingrich through its system. But even before he was properly deposited and disposed of, his replacement has stepped in to the spotlight. I speak of course of Paul Ryan, for whom the famous Gingrich quote applies … in spades.

PX90-trim, jut-jawed, clear-eyed and armed with a cherry-picked “understanding” of Ayn Rand, Ryan is very much Gingrich’s spawn. He is, like Gingrich, a man who sounds informed, serious and authoritative despite the uncomfortable fact that his visionary notions for solving The Big Problems … don’t really make any sense once you put paper, pencil or computer to the numbers and get into even superficial detail about … the details. It’s not quite a lunar colony — which would actually have more of a pump-priming quality job creation benefit — but’s it’s nearly as unrealistic.

But for a party, the modern GOP, that has a kind of “Project Runway” response to candidates who look like the characters they are supposed to be –Mitt Romney, job creating businessman who looks like a Hollywood president and now Paul Ryan, serious student of hard numbers from humble origins with matinée-idol appeal — Ryan is a dream candidate. Or rather a “dreamy” candidate.

Ryan’s various budget ideas will get picked apart like a dead deer on a hot Wisconsin highway in the next few weeks. This may be illuminating for those who have no idea who he is or what he’s been talking about and why the GOP cognoscenti (FoxNews, Michelle Malkin, Limbaugh) has such a crush on him. For others, who know about how the Congressional Budget Office scored his budget (which he insisted they judge based on a vast number of closed tax loopholes and cuts… that he did not specify), it’s enough to keep in mind a few key bits of information that wreak havoc with Ryan’s approved personal narrative.

1: He’s “courageous”. In the same way that perpetually campaigning on “cutting taxes” is the single easiest, least courageous thing any politician could ever do, Ryan’s career to date is built on never proposing or seriously countering any tax or legislative initiative supported by this country’s enfranchised financial elite. An act of “courage” would be to have at some moment, as a “serious” thinker, found something somewhere that might have readjusted the tax burden away from the middle-class and on to those around whom money has pooled like fast-rising flood water since the Bush cuts of 2003.

All of his “serious” talk to town halls in southern Wisconsin involve selling middle-class voters on the idea that times are very tough, and it is their patriotic duty to accept sacrifices … none of which are required from the people who have supported him through the entire adult working life he has spent in Congress, mastering the game of modern politics.

2: He’s a “deficit hawk”. Again, were he a true hawk and not merely a hyper-partisan in the Gingrich mold, he would have leaped at the so-called “grand bargain” in last year’s budget talks … but didn’t because to have voted for something that would have so significantly cleaned up the country’s books — post the Bush-Cheney era where Ryan voted for every budget-busting war and idea that crowd of drunken sailors came up with — would have facilitated Barack Obama’s reelection. There is no “courage” or pragmatic patriotism, or seriousness in capitulating to every act of partisan obstruction required from party leaders … who are essentially nothing more than circus dogs for their heavy-lobbying financial masters.

3: He’s a “rising star”. On this point there is no doubt. Ryan is on the ticket because of his appeal to voters for whom the appearance and sound of “seriousness” is good enough, and certainly better than anything said by a Kenyan Muslim socialist. Who the Tea Party crowd was going to vote for, if not Mitt Romney, I have no idea. But I doubt they needed Paul Ryan to vote against Barack Obama. Still, Ryan, assuming he leaves the ring in November with only character-enhancing scars from his run with Romney, is very much the modern GOP’s answer to Wally Pipp. In fact, in the event of a Romney loss, you can already hear the worst of the hyper-partisan zealots caterwauling that “we had the wrong guy at the top of the ticket”.

What I do like is that Ryan has been in Team Obama’s sights for quite a while. A shrewd read of what today’s GOP regards as a courageous rising star. I doubt they were surprised or unprepared for Ryan, and considering the gift he provides in terms of his re-design of Medicare and Medicaid and the focus he restores on the modern GOP’s concept of an equitable balance of balance to the 1% and everyone else, I suspect they are delighted to see Ryan, spawn of Newt, take that act back on the national trail.

Oh, and BTW, today on the campaign trail, Ryan will give a speech on the economy and all the tough choices middle-class Americans are going to have to make … then stop by the Venetian Hotel and Casino for a meeting with the aforementioned friend of Chinese mobsters, Sheldon Adelson, Newt’s one-man deep pocket and now devoted to bankrolling Mitt Romney.

The courage is breathtaking.

* Paul Krugman.

Death By PowerPoint Point Two

Scene: Port Richey, Florida, Post Office.

Date: Saturday, August 11, 2012.

Dramatis Personae: My wife Lisa, two elderly women, Paul Ryan lingering on the airwaves.

First elderly woman, who had just heard about Ryan being picked, reaches the counter with the help of her friend. “Where are your voter registration forms? I need to make sure they have my right address. I have to vote against Ryan. He’s going to take away Medicare.”


The Obama campaign, despite the progress they’ve made lately showing Romney to be what he is, still can’t get the message clear and ringing. Even the new ad after the Ryan pick talks about “top down” economics. Wow, that’ll rally the troops. “No top down!” But the Republicans, with Ryan, have finally clarified the message for the Democrats. “They want to take away some of your Medicare and give the money that saves to rich people.”

Roosting Chickens: The Reagan Revolution is indeed trickling down. Part of the Reagan philosophy is to get spending, and the taxing that supports it, closer to the voters. Less Federal spending, more local decisions on spending. Ryan’s plan to cut Medicaid spending and turn it into block grants to the states puts spending decisions closer to home. Where taking care of poorer people’s medical needs (which if not taken care of results in either more and more public spending as poorer people become sicker poorer people, or in dead people in the streets) will compete with all the other things states spend on. And all states are short of money now, which means the local governments they help support are short of money. So, in effect, the Reagan Revolution, in which Ryan carries a big torch, is showing up more and more in states and local governments having less to spend on schools and roads and libraries and law enforcement. Everyone who isn’t a millionaire who says “no new taxes” better realize that means less of everything. You ride a bus, you drive on a road or over a bridge, you use the library for internet access, you hope the fire department will come — less, slower, worse. And how’s the One Percent doing in all this? Better, much better under Reagan-Ryan-Romney.

All We Need to Know About Ryan: From today’s New York Times, talking about Romney and Ryan — “The two men share an easy rapport and a love of PowerPoint presentations and policy details.” OMG.

— Bruce Benidt
(Image from gossip.mentalbreeze.com)

A “Brave Choice”

Don Adams, president of the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, correctly described Governor Romney’s choice of Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan as a “brave choice.”  He’s 100% right.  Bravery is showing courage and daring in the face of danger and there is no doubt in my mind that Governor Romney would not have acted so bravely but for the belief that without it his candidacy was in great danger.  You could argue that John McCain acted bravely, too, when he picked Sarah Palin.  Foolishly, but, bravely.

To save Newt and Eric the sputtering comments, no, I don’t equate Paul Ryan with Sarah Palin (though he’s no Lyndon Johnson or even a George H.W. Bush), but he also is a risk.  Young, very conservative and a bit of a one-trick pony with a savant’s grasp of the budget issues, but not much else that I can think of, Paul Ryan is on the ticket only because Governor Romney, who never took a risk he could avoid, is sweating the numbers, and more importantly, the trend he sees in the polls.

We’ll see how it plays out.  As Willy Wonka says, “The suspense is terrible; I hope it lasts.”

– Austin

Recapping the Summer Campaign Season

Oh, what a difference a few months make.

At the end of May, loyal readers may recall that I gave you my sense of how the Republican field for president was shaping up.  At the time, I put four white guys – Romney, Huntsman, Pawlenty and Santorum – in the small category of candidates who could win their party’s nomination and could win in the general.

Turns out I was too generous by half.  Former Governor Pawlenty packed it in a day after a disappointing performance in the Ames straw poll and former Senator Santorum’s performance over the last couple of months suggests to me that he’s in it for the ideology not the office.  That leaves only former Governor Romney and former Governor Huntsman still in the sweet spot (with Huntsman there only out of courtesy as he hasn’t done much of anything since declaring in June).  Jeez, there’s a lot of former officeholders looking for work, isn’t there?

Overall, however, the dynamics of the Republican race haven’t changed much.  Romney is still considered to be the frontrunner by most pundits and many Republicans are still looking for someone else.  In just this year alone, we’ve seen flirtations with Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniel, Michelle Bachmann and – most recently – Rick Perry.  Even with the actual candidacies of the latter two, we’re still hearing wistful longing for more choices such as Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and others.

As a result of all of this churn, my graphic representations of who’s best positioned to win the nomination and who’s best positioned to win the general have changed a little bit:

Among the most noteworthy changes:

  • The rise and fall of Michele Bachmann.  I hope Ms. Bachmann has enjoyed her star turn because her best days on the campaign trail are behind her.  The entry of Rick Perry sucks away too much of her oxygen and her regularly scheduled lunatic ravings (“”I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’) are not playing well on the larger stage.  While she’s still in the consideration set, my perception is that she’s rapidly falling out of it.  If Michele Bachmann’s candidacy were something actually important – like, say, a nation’s AAA credit rating – we’d have it “under review with negative implications.”
  • The entry of Rick Perry.  Governor Perry is an actual current governor so he’s got that going for him, but it’s interesting to note that after about a week’s worth of infatuation, the GOP intelligentsia started showing signs yet again of restlessness.  It will be interesting to see how the Aggie from west Texas holds up.
  • The fall, fall, fall…fall of Newt Gingrich. Not since 1980 have I seen a major candidate as unprepared for a presidential run as Newt.  You have to go back to Ted Kennedy’s famous Roger Mudd interview in which he blew the softest softball question in presidential political history – “Why do you want to be president?” – to find a candidate screwing up so badly out of the gate.  Kennedy never recovered and Newt won’t either.
  • The thud of Jon Huntsman.  Is he actually running for president?  Damned if I can tell.  Most days he’s invisible and when he does appear most of what he says is unmemorable.  Between his – relative – moderateness and his hesitancy to attack Obama as aggressively as others are doing, he’s often drowned out.
  • The splitting of the field.  Discerning readers will note that the GOP field is bifurcating into a big mass of names around the pole marked “No Way” in terms of winning the GOP nomination.  This is a reflection less of ideology than of logistics.  If you ain’t in it now, the odds that you can get in it to win it are shrinking every day.  Running for president requires money, organization and strategy; if you don’t have a least 2 out of 3 by Labor Day you’re hosed.  Even Sara Palin though she may be crazy enough to think otherwise (that said, I’m about 90 percent sure she’s smart enough to stay out of this melee.

The weakness of the Republican field and the continued inability of its candidates to demonstrate how they can walk the whipsaw of the nomination and the general election continue to be the best thing President Obama has going for him as a re-election strategy. Usually, a sitting president with 9+ percent unemployment, sub-three percent economic growth, high gas prices and an unpopular war would be a one-term shoo-in.  The inability of the Republicans to come together around a viable candidate is the strongest reason he’s still in the game. Well, there’s the billion or so dollars he’s likely to raise, too.

Labor Day marks the unofficial start of the election season and the Iowa caucuses are just about five months away.  As Hank Williams Jr. might say, “Are you ready for some football?”

– Austin

God Help Us! The “Adults” are Running the Asylum!

There are a lot of reasons why I wouldn’t want to be John Boehner. But if I was, the presence of Eric Cantor would be up at the top of my list of Weird Ass Critters I Don’t Want to Meet in an Alley”. In the wake of last Friday night’s major budget deal — the one where Boehner, (a guy who once handed out tobacco-industry lobbyist checks on the House floor and plays more golf in a week than a touring pro), kept Cantor and Cantor’s pandering to every grudge the Tea Party could think up at bay long enough to shake hands on a deal with Barack Obama — there’s a lot of talk about, “who won”? While I’m not certain who among those characters can claim victory, I know for absolute certain that none of us out here are any better off.

Since I’ve never read anyone, from my favorite lefties to The National Review describe Boehner as “brilliant” or even “hard-working”, I’m prepared to accept that he is neither. But he is a survivor — from a reliably Republican suburban Cincinnati district — and he is bright enough to understand the ebb and flow of politics. Whether he has a read on the ferocity and petulant,  juvenile expectations of the freshman Tea Partiers who seem to be coagulating around his #2 — Cantor — I am also uncertain. But he has to know that this new crowd, infused with the absolutist thinking you expect from a combination of evangelicals, apocalyptics and “super” Constitutionalists, will stop at nothing to get what they see as a divine right. (When both God and the Founding Fathers are on your side in The End Times, you can never be wrong, can you? And if it turns out you are? Well, The Left Behind are all going to be reduced to cinder so who’s going to count?)

Maybe Boehner and Cantor have worked out a clever tactical strategy, in which Boehner plays to the “middle”, treating Obama like he matters in this recent fight over a pittance, (last week’s $38 billion is not even 1% of the annual federal budget), while Cantor goes on stoking the fires of righteous rage among “them that took them” to the dance the Republicans are at now. Maybe. But this being D.C. politics, it seems far more likely that Boehner is expecting Cantor to go for the dagger (and his job) at the next hint of “compromise”, like say, next month when the batshit starts flying again over  an increase to the debt ceiling or … letting the United States fall into default. (Expect Mike Pence, Michele Bachmann and the usual suspects to start chanting, “Let it fall … ” by May Day.)

Since Cantor has never said a contrary word about any notion the Tea Party notion has ever belched up, I would strongly advise Boehner to operate under the assumption that Cantor is prepared to milk that braying herd for all they’re worth, and if that means grinding Boehner up for low-protein feed, so be it.

Meanwhile Boehner also has to worry about Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Ryan, implausibly, is the face of the Republican party’s “adult” wing, a compliment he earns for not being directly associated with the likes of Bachmann as anything else. With the ever even-handed national media eager-to-desperate for a Republican, any Republican, who sounds like they were educated at an accredited college, and is making decisions based on quaint concepts like study, corroboration and cross-checking, and are not “inspired” by what the burnt profile of Jesus Christ in their toast “spoke to them” that morning, Ryan is a bona fide rising star. A bright intellectual light! A couple more “big ideas” and he’ll be the next Newt Gingrich. (Clear the office desktops, ladies … ).

It says something about the asylum when a “big idea” plan like Ryan’s grand overhaul of the Federal budget — (guaranteed to be fought over pretty much all next year) — is deemed credible and adult even while offering no brave restraints on the Pentagon’s infinitely vast pool of pork, and treadworn schemes like the one for privatizing (“keep your government hands off my …”) Medicare; a plan that drives millions even deeper into the tender mercies of the country’s insurance cabals. Boehner must spit blood at the thought of putting his face on the call for sucking Medicare away from his party’s Revolutionary War re-enactors, with the tea bag dingleberries hanging off their (China-made) tri-corner hats. But if Ryan’s “adult” plan — thoroughly disemboweled as preposterous (here, here, here and here)– gains traction with “the base” (who, as per usual, won’t have a clue what effects it’d really have, even on them), it’ll be Boehner who will have to sell it.

The all-politics-no-governance ideology of the new Republicans has left most of the ward doors to the asylum wide open. The sight of so many droolers and babblers and fiery-eyed messianics roaming free would have Sam Rayburn heading for a bunker, and as the line goes, you sir, Mr. Boehner, are no Sam Rayburn. But yon Mr. Cantor has a lean, hungry and absolutely craven look.

Meanwhile, the opportunity is ripe for Obama on Wednesday, to play adult again and walk the country through the real world of government finance, where you resolve nothing by focusing on a small fraction of the federal budget, and trying to eliminate or gut social programs that no polling has ever shown a majority want cut. Likewise it’d be useful for Obama to explain that the national “defense” (i.e. the profligate waste end of the budget, which is is pushing past 50%), where we continue to buy — at premium chump prices — every gun and widget the defense lobby says we need is the one area of 21st century government that has to be completely emptied out and re-imagined. Then, while he’s at it he should lay in to the childish fiction that we can go on forever lowering taxes/handing out free money to the (“job providing”) elites who are currently sitting on $1.3 trillion in post-’08 crash assets.