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  • If Democrats and their allies go on air to note—correctly, and uncontroversially—that their opponents want to take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of new beneficiaries, and make it lawful once again for insurance companies to discriminate against the ill, the law's drag effect might shrink, and eventually change directions.

    At some point it might even make sense for Democratic leaders in Congress to hold test votes on repealing the Medicaid expansion—if not the Affordable Care Act in its entirety—to test the handful of Republicans who'd be making an indelible statement to their own constituents no matter how they voted.

    Conservatives will mock this idea. And I happen to know that top aides to Democrats likewise think there's no margin in it for them. Why force vulnerable incumbents to remind voters of their support for the law, even if it puts other Republicans in the hot seat? No denying it. This would be political jiu-jitsu of the highest stakes.

    But when his primary campaign is finally behind him, will Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell really be wild about voting to repeal a law that's cut Kentucky's uninsurance rate nearly in half? Or to eliminate the Medicaid expansion, which accounts for the vast majority of that coverage expansion? How would his base feel if he blocked that bill? Or voted against it? If Democratic leaders can figure out a way to force the same vote in the House, would Arkansas Representative and Senate hopeful Tom Cotton reaffirm his support for repeal? Or would he yield to whatever analysis has convinced him that he must respond to questions about the Medicaid expansion with incomprehensible twaddle.

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    As much as Obama would like to think the debate is over, it isn’t. And it’s not just because the politics haven’t settled down. It’s because there’s still important evidence to come.

     

    The next moment of truth will be when insurers start announcing the Obamacare rates they’re going to charge next year, in a series of disclosures that will start in the summer and then continue in the fall. Any big increases are sure to become fodder for attack ads, even if they’re not widespread throughout the country.

     

    Obama seemed to be anticipating the possibility that some premium hikes will happen, somewhere. “We suspect that premiums will keep rising, as they have for decades,” he said on Thursday — but he added that health care spending has been rising more slowly since the law took effect.

     

    And after that, there will be more enrollment periods, and more chances to sign up new customers. But there’s also the potential for more trouble as small businesses switch to health plans that meet Obamacare standards — because some are likely to face sticker shock compared with what they had before.

     

    “This is a three-year process. We’re in the first quarter of the first year,” said Gruber. Even so, he said, “the signals are as good as we can expect at this stage.”

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    Maybe not. What the administration has not told us is how many of those 19 million people already had coverage and lost it because of the Affordable Care Act. Or how many of them would have been covered by insurance this year and changed plans to get a big subsidy. Or how many of them thought they were going to get a better health plan but found out that their doctor is not in the network. Or how many of them spent more on insurance than they felt they could afford because there were no lower-cost alternatives. Or how many will find out that the taxpayer subsidy they are receiving will turn out to be too high—they might get a raise in a few months or work some overtime and will make a little too much money this year, or it might just be that the government’s computers didn’t get it right—and will have to repay the Treasury hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars?

     

    The president’s health plan is a hugely complicated enterprise. It has limped to the end of the first open enrollment period with numbers that look too good to be true.  If what we care about is getting insurance for people who otherwise would not be covered, then the numbers are too good to be true.


  • The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden's question and mine here.)

    Clapper's lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.

  • When this event comes around next year, I hope we'll see more questions on surveillance programs and other controversial policies. But we don't have to wait until then. For example, journalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals' communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function. They might ask whether the social media companies reporting that they have received bulk collection requests from the Russian government are telling the truth.

  • Speaking of suspiciously narrow answers, let’s consider Snowden’s. Putin’s approach to propaganda has been to tightly control television—which, in most of Russia, is the only media there is—while granting wider latitude to the remote and unpopular elites who communicate in print and online. Snowden is now taking part in this process. He played the dutiful courtier on TV, where he was seen by tens of millions of Russians; he expressed his tentative and circuitous criticisms in an English-language foreign newspaper.

      

    Yet even in print and in English, Snowden is participating in and lending his support to a massive lie. Russian journalists will not “revisit” (as he puts it) the truthfulness of Putin’s answers. Russian journalists who do that end up dead, in at least 56 cases since 1992. Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who pressed Putin hardest, was shot dead in her own apartment building in 2006, after years of repeated arrests, threats, and in one case, attempted poisoning.

  • After retreating from public view following his crushing loss to President Obama in the 2012 election, Romney has returned to the political stage, emerging as one of the Republican Party’s most coveted stars, especially on the fundraising circuit, in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.
  • Insisting he won’t seek the presidency again, the former GOP nominee has endorsed at least 16 candidates this cycle, many of them establishment favorites who backed his campaigns. One Romney friend said he wants to be the “anti-Jim DeMint,” a reference to the former South Carolina senator and current Heritage Foundation chairman who has been a conservative kingmaker in Republican primaries. Romney’s approach is to reward allies, boost rising stars and avoid conflict.
  • Romney is heartened, his intimates said, that the GOP has not cast him aside as a loser. Spencer Zwick, the 2012 campaign’s national finance chairman who is so close to the family that Romney calls him his “sixth son,” said he believes Romney has become more popular over the past six months than he was during the election.

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  • House leaders have told Mr. Diaz-Balart to have the legislation ready to go for possible debate in June or July, an aide said.
  • But increasingly, GOP lobbyists and some congressional staff say the taskmight grow harder if the party waits.

    If Republicans win control of the Senate, for example, Sen.                                   Charles Grassley                              (R., Iowa), who is widely seen as opposing an immigration overhaul, would be slated to lead the Judiciary Committee, which handles immigration.

  • Here’s the problem: All the states to have joined so far are very blue. Until some purple states and red states sign on, the compact has little in the way of territory to conquer.
  • Perhaps the compact can get Delaware, Connecticut and Maine to join, where Obama also won by 15 percentage points or more. But they account for only 14 total electoral votes (and Maine already has a unique way of apportioning electoral votes). Oregon and New Mexico also re-elected Obama by double-digit margins — and those two states have become increasingly off-limits to Republican presidential candidates — but have just 12 electoral votes between them.

     

    After that, you get into states such as Michigan and Minnesota, which are blue-leaning but that receive plenty of attention from presidential campaigns. Their votes might not be quite as influential in the Electoral College as the campaigns presume — a Democrat who lost Minnesota would probably be in too much trouble elsewhere to cobble together a 270-vote majority. Still, they receive an influx of media dollars and political pandering every four years, and probably have little incentive to bite the hand that feeds them.

     

    Soon after comes outright swing states, such as Ohio, New Hampshire and Colorado. These states, along with Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, collectively had a 98.6 percent chance of determining the Electoral College winner in 2012, according to the FiveThirtyEight tipping-point index as it was calculated on election morning. In other words, these nine states are 70 times more powerful than the other 41 (which collectively had a 1.4 percent chance of determining the winner) combined. That’s part of the reason so many Americans object to the Electoral College. But states whose voters have a disproportionate amount of influence may be in no mood to give it up.

  • In theory, states that want a Republican in the White House might have a lot of incentive to join the compact. That’s because in the 2008 and 2012 elections, the Electoral College worked to Democrats’ benefit. States closest to the tipping point, such as Colorado, voted for Obama by a slightly wider margin than the nation as a whole. That implies that if there had been a uniform swing against Obama and he lost the national popular vote, he could have still won the Electoral College by eking out a victory in these states.

     

    Could the red states come around? Perhaps. Despite Democrats’ painful memories of Al Gore’s Electoral College loss in 2000, Republican voters are nearly as likely to support ending the Electoral College (61 percent of them would vote to do away with it as compared to 66 percent of Democrats, according to a Gallup poll last year). But Republican legislators in those states evidently feel differently, or perhaps have calculated that the Democrats’ Electoral College advantage in 2008 and 2012 was an anomaly that will soon fade.

  • Today, a partisan wall blocks out meaningful competition in more than two-thirds of states and even larger majorities of congressional districts. As soon as a state has an underlying preference of more than eight or nine percentage points for one party — with New Mexico and Missouri examples of such former swing states — no amount of money or voter mobilization can influence that state’s presidential outcome in a nationally competitive year.
  • These blinders distort what candidates talk about, what their campaigns address, where the party nominees travel, and which states receive federal grants. It’s no accident that swing states have greater voter turnout than the rest of the nation.
  •  

    It comes down to whether parties have confidence in their policies and ability to earn majorities. If you do, you can be confident in winning majority support in a truly representative democracy.

     

    Under the current system, however, majority support does not guarantee electoral success. In any given election, one party or the other can have an advantage based on the vagaries of the leanings of a few swing states. Republicans used to have an edge, but in recent elections, pundits like Nate Silver of 538 convincingly argue that Democrats have had an edge. The 2016 race, however, is anyone’s guess. We know that there will be a distortion — but we don’t know who it will help.

  •  

    This got me wondering: Which states get the worst deal from the Electoral College, technically speaking? Everyone knows that the good people of Wyoming make out like bandits, but which voters are least represented in a presidential contest?

     

    I assumed that since the least populated states are the most preposterously over-represented, the largest states, like California and Texas, would suffer the most when compared against the ideal of a "one-person, one vote" standard.

     

    Nope!

  • It turns out that many states have huge populations of people who are ineligible to vote. California and Texas, for example, have 5.1 million and 2.6 million non-citizens, respectively, which cuts down their voting-eligible populations significantly. Florida, meanwhile, has slashed its voting population by over 10 percent through the disenfranchisement of felons. (Ironically, this makes its position in the Electoral College look "fairer," since by raw population the Sunshine State comes out the worst.)

  • N.P.V. is a good idea for all sorts of high-minded civic reasons. When an election is for a single office and only one candidate can win, it’s obviously outrageous when the candidate who gets more votes somehow loses to the one who gets fewer. But that doesn’t happen very often—”only” four of our thirty-nine elected Presidents, including “only” one of the two most recent, made it to the White House despite the citizenry’s preference for somebody else. What’s more outrageous is what happens every time: four-fifths of the states are ignored in the general election.
  • N.P.V. is a good idea for all sorts of high-minded civic reasons. When an election is for a single office and only one candidate can win, it’s obviously outrageous when the candidate who gets more votes somehow loses to the one who gets fewer. But that doesn’t happen very often—”only” four of our thirty-nine elected Presidents, including “only” one of the two most recent, made it to the White House despite the citizenry’s preference for somebody else. What’s more outrageous is what happens every time: four-fifths of the states are ignored in the general election.

      

    If you live in one of those states, you see neither hide nor hair of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees, scarcely even in television commercials. Grassroots politics does not exist in your state as far as the Presidential campaign is concerned, because there’s no point in ringing your neighbors’ doorbells if the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. The relative power of money vs. people is magnified, because while campaign cash is raised everywhere, including your state, it gets funnelled exclusively into places like Ohio and Florida. And, between elections, states like yours get measurably less federal attention and federal money, per capita, than is lavished on the swingin’ few.

      

    But it’s not just the voters in those spectator states who are ignored. It’s also the politicians, including the state legislators—no matter which party they belong to, no matter whether their state is red or blue, no matter whether the sure winner in their state is the candidate of their party or the other party. Either way, they’re nobodies. The National Popular Vote plan would make them somebodies—and that, perhaps more than the high-minded stuff, is why N.P.V. has a pretty good chance of actually happening.

      

  • The absence of red states from the roster is due largely to to a suspicion among Republican politicians and operatives that N.P.V. is somehow an attempt to get revenge for 2000. In opinion polls, Republican rank-and-filers, as distinct from Party professionals, strongly favor the idea of popular election. And a nontrivial number of Republican pros favor the plan itself.

      

  • The best case for passing the law might be this map from the National Popular Vote group, which shows how many 2012 presidential campaign events were held in each state between the party conventions and the election:
  • You’ll notice that the majority of states never saw Romney or Obama at all, because their electoral votes were already foregone conclusions. And when a president can get elected by basically ignoring the specific needs and interests of most of the states in the country, that is, like, pretty messed up.

  • Replacing the Electoral College by electing the U.S. president through the national popular vote is as democratic an ideal as there is, says Democratic strategist Ben Wikler.
     
     "The uniting principal is actually the idea that votes should count," Wikler told J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" Thursday on Newsmax TV."
     
     "So the question is now, do we want to be divided into red states and blue states, or do we all want to be Americans voting for president just the way as our brothers and sisters in other states across the country? Both parties should be competing for a national mandate, should be competing for support from a majority of Americans."
  • "I don't know of any place in the debates among the Founding Fathers where they said that a small sliver of swing states should determine who becomes president," he said.

  • Why are Democrats pushing this plan?

    Democrats usually see a smaller percentage of their people go to the polls than Republicans do.

    Under the electoral vote system, they figure why beat the drums to get a high turnout in New York City when the state will go Democratic anyway? But if it’s the popular vote that matters, the big-city machines can do their thing — with devastating impact.

  • If the popular vote determines who will be the next president, we can bet that the machines will be out in force lining up voters, real and phony, to pad their statistics.

  • New York has joined the campaign to effectively end the Electoral College’s role in determining winners of presidential elections.

     

      Under the National Popular Vote Compact, which Gov. Cuomo signed off on Tuesday, the state has agreed to award its electoral college votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote.

  •   The compact only takes effect once enough states have signed on to give it the required 270 electoral college votes. With New York’s participation, the movement has 165 votes.

     

      "With the passage of this legislation, New York is taking a bold step to fundamentally increase the strength and fairness of our nation's presidential elections," Cuomo said.

  • Of course, that’s hard to do without access. And this White House has not exactly made it easy for journalists to question the president, especially those with national audiences who might be most eager to press him on tough subjects.

  • In a response to a request by a Ukrainian Jewish website, Pushilin, the interim government's regional chairman, confirmed that the flyers were distributed by his organization, but denied any connection to the leaflet's content.

  • Nevertheless, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky told Voice of Israel government radio on Wednesday that aliyah from the Ukraine is likely to double by the end of 2014.

  • The fliers were official-looking documents that carried what was presented as Pushilin’s signature, but the news site tvrain.ru on Wednesday quoted Pushilin as denying any connection to the flyers, calling them a provocation.
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