Archives for Ken Blog

The over-promise of Bernie Sanders

As politicians go, President Obama has a decent record of keeping campaign promises.

PolitiFact tallies progress on more than 500 promises Obama made in 2008 and 2012. According to that “Obameter,” the president has kept 45 percent of them, compromised on 25 percent, and broken 22 percent. The remaining 8 percent are either “stalled” or “in the works.”

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders. Courtesy: Brookings Institution

Considering that politicians tend to over-promise and that Obama has spent most of his presidency at odds with a Congress that considers anything he suggests dead-on-arrival, this is quite an achievement.

I mention Obama’s promises because, this year, one presidential candidate seems to be making particularly big commitments. So I wondered: Does Bernie Sanders making more audacious promises than the typical candidate, or does he just seem to be making them?

There are two ways to answer that question. One is to think about ambition.

For example, Sanders says he’d replace private health insurance with “Medicare for All.” Just to give you an idea of the scale: He’s proposing to fund his new single-payer system with payroll, individual and other tax increases that will amount $14 trillion over a decade. At the same time, he says, most families would more than recoup those tax hikes by saving even more on insurance premiums. Whether Medicare for All nets positively or negatively for most people, we’re no longer talking about simply shaking up a sector that comprise 20 percent of the U.S. economy (as we were during the Obamacare debate); Sanders is advocating turning the entire healthcare system on its head — and in the case of private health insurance, basically eliminating it.

Which brings us to the second criteria for evaluating the audacity of Sanders’ as promises: How plausible are they?

It’s difficult to top Donald Trump when it comes to implausibility. Not only does Trump promise to build a wall along the entire Mexico-US border (a project that would rival Sanders’ Medicare for All in cost), but he says he’ll get Mexico to pay for it.

Here in the real world, though, Sanders’ healthcare “revolution” qualifies as pretty darned optimistic. Getting a very conservative Republican Congress to approve a plan that’s far more ambitious and more to the left of Obamacare seems a pretty tall order. That’s especially true when you consider how much political capital the current president spent during the epic battle over the Affordable Care Act, which in many ways isn’t even over. And it seems more of a pipe dream when you consider how unlikely it is that Sanders will enter office in as politically strong a position as Obama was in 2009 — with big majorities in both houses of Congress. It’s as if a spindly shortstop thinks he ought to swing for the fences right after the team’s slugger barely beat out a bunt single.

“Medicare for All” is the grandest of Sanders’ promises. But dozens more of his commitments read like a progressive Democratic wish list . New taxes on Wall Street would be used to zero out college tuitions. Payroll taxes would fund paid family leave. Planned Parenthood wouldn’t just see its funding preserved, it would receive a boost in funding. A carbon tax would be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And so on.

All these ideas have three things in common: 1. Liberal Democrats have pushed these very same things for many years. 2. They require congressional action. 3. Congress isn’t close to seriously considering them.

Sanders supporters counter the skeptics by insisting that, once Sanders is in the White House, Americans will wake up to his wisdom of and elect a Sanders-friendly Congress — much as Burlington, Vt., residents installed a Sanders-friendly City Council two years after he was first elected mayor. 

Just consider the plausibility of that for a moment. Somehow they overlook the differences between 1981 Burlington and 2017 Washington, between Burlington’s City Hall and Congress, between K Street and the Burlington Chamber of Commerce. If Obama’s campaign biography was called The Audacity of Hope, Sanders should be called The Audacity of Fantasy.

It’s not unusual for politicians to win while making big promises they can’t keep. Ronald Reagan claimed he’d balance the budget while cutting income taxes by 30 percent. George W. Bush ran for re-election on a platform that promised hydrogen cars and a NASA mission to Mars.

This year, Trump is in a league of his own — not just with the wall, but with commitments he flings out on the stump as seemingly extemporaneous campaign fodder. Last month, the Washington Post catalogued “76 of Donald Trump’s many campaign promises.” 

But Trump’s were off-the-cuff remarks made in the heat-of-campaigning speeches. The difference is that Sanders is offering painfully detailed policy proposals. The similarity? Both men’s promises stand about the same chance of becoming reality.

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Deal picks on helpless Syrian refugees

 

I’m a Georgia native.

After years of progress under moderately conservative Democratic leadership, my state has been governed by Establishment-to-hard-right Republicans for a dozen years. Our healthcare system has dropped to 46th in the nation, our educational opportunities are similarly plummeting, our only major metro area is mired in gridlock, and the tax burden to ordinary folks has actually increased while services have dropped. We’ve gone from the strongest economy east of the Mississippi to an employment laggard — the main reason we have economic growth at all is that City of Atlanta politicians have consistently supported the world’s busiest airport.

Macedonia, Syria, Greece

A man and his son attempt to cross from Greece into Macedonia in August 2015. Photo by Darko Vojinovic via Creative Commons.

Our Crooked Governor: Nathan Deal bravely welcomes soldiers home but says welcoming a Syrian family to Georgia would be too scary. Photo by Sgt. Gary Hone, Georgia Department of Defense .

Gov. Nathan Deal welcomes soldiers home but welcoming a Syrian family to Georgia would be too scary. Photo by Georgia Department of Defense .

Last month, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp allowed the private information of millions of voters to get out to the public, and there’s been no move for a serious investigation of what happened. He blamed it on a “clerical error” and fired one person. Our governor — the grand marshal in his own parade of nepotistic scandals — turned down a League of Women Voters request for an independent investigation of the data breach.

Fearing that it would alienate conservative suburbanites (who don’t read it anyway), and now controlled by the conservative billionaire heir of a once-Democratic family, the state’s only major newspaper more than a decade ago simply eliminated its formerly great editorial page. Once upon a time, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorialists Ralph McGill and Cynthia Tucker won Pulitzer Prizes. Now, the paper offers up “balanced” right-left columnists, but fails to exercise the civic leadership that once upon a time helped to distinguish this state from Alabama and South Carolina.

Gov. Deal and his ideologue attorney general have wasted tax money and harmed tens of thousands of families by refusing to accept Medicaid money (that we paid for with our tax dollars), and by bringing multitudes of wasteful lawsuits against such demonstrable efficiencies as affordable healthcare and clean air.

Now, in perfidious exploitation of the easily misdirected minds of Southern white voters, the governor is engaging in massive resistance against a Syrian family that has done nothing but escaped horrors that cannot even be imagined by the spoiled Bubbas who sit quaking in their homes — guns at the ready for their children to stumble upon — in fear of the terror injected into them by cable “news” pundits and, seemingly, an entire political party.

Please, now, can we finally bring back Reconstruction?

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Daily News versus Post: Saints versus demons

Today’s covers of New York’s two tabloids perfectly juxtapose liberal and conservative reactions to the San Bernardino shootings.

As they frequently do, both papers cast aside the facade of journalistic balance in favor of visceral passion. The Daily News, grinds the noses of Republican presidential candidates into their own sanctimonious insincerity.

God Isn't Fixing This, New York Daily News, San Bernardino shooting

Rupert Murdoch’s Post goes straight at the murderers’ religion.

Muslim Killers, New York Post

Which headline’s more pertinent?

 

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On Georgia Day, let’s celebrate righteous dude James Oglethorpe

It’s Georgia Day. So let’s remember what a righteous dude the colony’s original founder was.

James Edward Oglethorpe,  Alfred Edmund Dyer, portrait

Longhaired hippie: Portrait of James Edward Oglethorpe by Alfred Edmund Dyer

James Edward Oglethorpe was a minor nobleman and military hero who became one of Great Britain’s leading humanitarians after winning a seat in Parliament. Like few others in his aristocratic class, he recognized that rural families were being forced from the land and deposited into urban slums. And that many of those people ended up in debtors’ prison because of the conditions they’d been forced into, not because of their own actions.

Even more exceptionally, Oglethorpe did something about it. In the early 1730s, he conceived of Georgia as a buffer between the wealthy planters’ colony of South Carolina and the Spanish colony of Florida. It was to be settled by the “deserving poor.”

In a wonderful column this week, Georgia Humanities Council President Jamil Zainaldin notes that “Oglethorpe’s dream” has often taken on an unfortunate shorthand as a “Debtor’s Colony.”

What stands out in Oglethorpe’s vision for Georgia is the place of civil society, the very reason for the colony’s creation. At the core of this vision is an ethos of service, relative equality, commitment to community, and economic development. There was room neither for slavery (it was banned by the Trustees and Oglethorpe) nor religious bigotry (persecuted minorities were welcomed). Oglethorpe also practiced an enlightened and respectful policy toward those already living on the land — Chief Tomochichi and his people.

Within two decades, greed overtook the young colony. To Oglethorpe’s eternal sadness, planters successful appealed to Parliament to reverse the ban on slavery. That change undermined the livelihoods of poor whites, in addition to visiting a particularly horrific version of bondage that haunts Georgia’s culture to this very day.

Wouldn’t it be nice if — instead of basing our self-image on the corrupt lies of the slavery era — we Georgians glorified “Oglethorpe’s Dream” as our defining cultural tradition?

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From ‘Loss Cat’ to ‘Lost Drone’

Harbinger of things to come?

Lost Drone, reward, Atlanta

Lost Done poster, Candler Park, Jan. 22, 1015

I talked to Ben, whose number is on the poster. He really did lose his drone.

Still, it looks to me like a modern-day version of R. Land’s brilliant Loss Cat poster:

Loss Cat, R. Land

“Loss Cat’ by R. Land.

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Heresy: Obama’s popularity is positively Reaganesque

The media meme that “Obama is an unpopular president” always has seemed a bit thin. That’s even more the case today: As he gears up for his State of the Union address, the president’s enjoying a rise in approval that puts him right about where Ronald Reagan was at this point in his presidency.

Barack ObamaLike any good groupthink, the popular narrative is founded on substance:

1. Democrats went from large majorities in both congressional chambers at the time of Obama’s 2008 election (Senate 59-41; House 256-178) to definitive minorities today (46-54 and 188-247).

2. Through most of 2014, the president’s approval rating bumped about 10 points below his disapproval ratings.

But those are slivers of reality. Obama also is the first president in more than half a century to win a majority of the popular vote in two elections. In fact, only half of all post-World War II presidents even won re-election. Given the dismal popularity of Nixon and W. Bush as they left office, a case could be made that Obama is one of the four “most popular” of the 12 post-war presidents.

UPDATE JAN. 26: Obama’s most recent Gallup favorability rating is 50-45 — his highest in more than a year and two points above Reagan’s the same point in his presidency.

This all matters because perceptions about popularity will affect this president’s ability to govern alongside a hostile Congress. If he’s viewed as having been rejected by both voters and politicians, his push for cooperation on the budget, his executive actions and his vetoes will be perceived as illegitimate and therefore more difficult to uphold. If he’s seen as the sole leader who’s managed to keep a popular coalition together in a highly partisan era, he’ll be seen as the more legitimate representative of the national will. While there are elements of truth in both perspectives, it seems to me that the second one comports more closely with the actual situation.

Obama’s low ebb came during the 2014 campaign. Although many presidents aren’t popular their sixth year in office, few have seen their party perform as badly as Obama’s did for two consecutive midterms.

During his entire second term, however, Congress has been less popular than ever — currently 60-70 percent underwater in approval ratings. Obama’s approval/disapproval split is currently 1 or 2 points to the negative. So, relative to Congress, one could argue that Obama’s the most popular president in American history!

I’d be locked up if I wrote such words inside the DC Beltway. Even Nate Silver’s myth-busting site, FiveThirtyEight.com, has drunk the “unpopular president Kool-Aid. In a Dec. 11 article headlined “Obama Is Unpopular, And That’s Unlikely To Change,” the site’s Harry Enten wrote“There’s a good chance that his approval rating won’t rebound very much even if people are more confident in the economy.”

But a few weeks earlier Obama’s job approval scores actually had started a steady rise. According the Gallup Daily Tracking poll, they’ve bumped over the last week between 46 and 48 percent — his best since June 2013. That’s 5-9 points above where they were around the midterm.

The rebound could prove temporary, but not necessarily: Bill Clinton began a steady rise in popularity after Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in 1994. Obama himself enjoyed a two-year increase after Democrats lost the House in 2010’s Tea Party election.

Obama’s current, modest rebound appears to be driven by the fact that his policies are proving quite successful. We’re economically better off than when he took office; in a flip from ’09, we’re doing much better now than other industrialized nations. The deficit has shrunk by two-thirds since his first year in office. His administration extracted us from two wars. He’s handled foreign crises in ways that kept them from blowing up into disasters. And he’s made significant progress on four enormous domestic crises: health insurance, the banking system, immigration and climate change. Based on that snapshot (and barring any calamities over the next two years), Obama’s popularity seems more likely to accrue than deteriorate.

I’m not arguing Obama’s the next American Idol winner. The nation’s still bitterly divided in a way that it wasn’t during, say, Eisenhower’s days. The truth is that Obama’s popularity has run slightly below average for presidents most of his time in office. Given that he took office just as the economy was nosediving, that shouldn’t be surprising.

What is impressive is that his approval numbers never have dropped very far. Every president since Kennedy has at some point suffered ratings lower than Obama’s lowest, according to Gallup.  (I’ve used Gallup throughout this article because it’s the most consistent barometer of presidential job approval, going back through Truman.)

But the “unpopular Obama” narrative is likely to remain in place for some time. Obama himself has contributed to it. At times, and in very consequential ways, he’s shown himself to be politically inept. Losing healthy majorities in both houses of Congress — and then some — really is quite an achievement. His weakness in Congress has affected policy: Many of the president’s own reforms were watered down by compromises that grew out of a weak political position, which in turn dispirited his supporters.

At the same time, we haven’t learned much if we’re still gullible to conventional wisdom cooked up by inside-the-Beltway pundits. If largely white, upper-class journalists — whose main sources are a self-affirming circle of congressional aides, lobbyists and political operatives — parrot a line that the reformist, outsider president is grossly unpopular, perhaps it says more about their biases and sourcing than it does about Obama.

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Emory prof: Fox really does influence elections

An Emory political scientist and his Stanford colleague figured out a sly way to demonstrate what you’ve always suspected: Fox News makes people more likely to vote Republican.

Emory University Assistant Professor of Political Science Gregory J. Martin

Emory University Assistant Professor of Political Science Gregory J. Martin

According to a working paper on the study:

We estimate that watching the Fox News Channel (at its current ideological positioning) for four additional minutes per week increases the probability of intending to vote for the Republican presidential candidate by 0.9 percentage points for voters induced into watching by variation in channel position.

MSNBC has the same affect, but less so. CNN causes people to move ever-so-slightly to the right.

It’s always been tricky to figure out when slanted media influences viewers ideologically versus when viewers simply watch the station that reflects their own bias. As the Washington Post explains:

To solve this riddle, the researchers, Emory University’s Gregory Martin and Stanford University’s Ali Yurukoglu, took advantage of a surprising pattern among cable subscribers: People are more likely to watch any station with a lower channel number.

By determining the amount of increased viewing that was based simply on the local station numbers of the three major news networks, Martin and Yurukoglu were able to isolate viewing that took place for reasons having nothing to do with ideology.

Their finding are pretty startling — comparable to major demographic factors such as race and geography:

[T]he estimated effect of one hour of Fox News is just under one-half of the effect of being black on voting Republican, and about equal to the difference in dummy coefficients for residence in Ohio versus residence in Massachusetts.

Martin and Yurukoglu even intimate that Fox swung at least one very close and fateful presidential election.

We estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the average county’s Republican vote share by 1.6 percentage points

Now, don’t get all paranoid conservatives. Nobody’s suggested “removing Fox News from cable television.” But, the researchers note,

if consuming news with a slant alters the consumer’s ideology, then public policy towards the news media sector becomes more complex. In particular, if news consumption alters ideology, and consumers have a taste for like-minded news, then the existence of slanted news could lead to a polarizing feedback loop: an “echo chamber” where partisans can reinforce and strengthen their initial biases. Furthermore, an interested party could potentially influence the political process by owning or controlling media outlets.

Perish the thought!

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Georgia GOPer seems to like Fidel more than Barack

State Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville

State Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville

Wow! Did you expect a GOP leader in the Georgia Senate to say this about the president working to normalize relations with Cuba?

Regardless of the political debate, the move to normalize relations with Cuba and the resulting trade implications is good news for Georgia, and particularly agriculture, since the state’s Ag interests have had a long relationship with the country and worked around the restrictions placed by the two countries’ lack of normal diplomatic channels.  Georgia’s poultry, eggs, and commodity products could see substantial growth if the earnings of Cuba’s population start to improve and standards of living are raised.  Georgia’s close proximity for shipping would reduce delivery time, a natural advantage for perishable products like poultry.  Georgia’s Turfgrass industry could play a role in the expected rapid expansion of resort facilities, which would be one way to bring new dollars into Cuba quickly. (10 Reasons To Be Optimistic in Georgia in 2015)

Note that state Senate Appropriations Committee Jack Hill manages not to use the word “Obama” in that whole ode to something entirely being pushed by Obama. One gets the impression that he’d align himself with Fidel Castro before being linked to Castro.

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For my mellifluous public radio wisdom, click here

1957 Akkord Peggie radio

Courtesy of Hihiman. Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia

Here are links to my three recent appearances as a panelist on Georgia Public Radio.

• Yesterday, I appeared on Political Rewind with Bill Nigut to talk state politics. That discussion extended over the show’s full hour.

• On Nov. 7, I was one of four guest panelists to participate in “The Breakroom” on On Second Thought. Click on “The Breakroom” to listen to that half-hour segment.

• I also appeared on On Second Thought’s “The Breakroom” on Oct. 24.

 

 

 

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Listen to me on Bill Nigut’s show today at 3

Bill Nigut, Georgia Public Broadcasting

Broadcast journalist Bill Nigut. Photo courtesy of Georgia Public Broadcasting

I’ll be back on public radio (WRAS 88.5 FM) today, pontificatin’ and prognosticatin’ — except this time on a different show.

Political Rewind with Bill Nigut airs 3 pm-4 pm, hosted as the show’s name implies by the venerable TV journalist. We’ll, of course, talk about this month’s election as well as politics rolling forward in our fine state.

The show is broadcast statewide on the Georgia Public Broadcasting network.

 

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