Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Koch brothers vs. ‘mute’ button

    Across the nation, in congressional district after congressional district, state after state, the race has begun — the race between viewers' thumbs and the Koch brothers' pitch.

    In most cases, the thumbs win — find "mute" — before David and Charles Koch can tell them what a disaster the Affordable Care Act is and just who is responsible.

    In Colorado, the brothers are pointing the finger at Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.

     An Americans for Prosperity ad last week showed a black-and- white photo of Udall and President Obama sharing a microphone — both tie-less, glum, clearly spent. The words "Voted for Obamacare" were pinned to the senator's collar.

    Why so glum, Marx Bros? Socialist designs gone awry?

    It turned out that the senator and the president had another reason to feel spent. They had met with families of the 12 dead and 58 wounded when a maniac with a mail-order arsenal shot up an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.

    Americans for Prosperity pulled the ad when families of the victims expressed their outrage.

   Thinking of this, I imagined the young Republican up-and-comer who compiled this ad, his face bathed in the green glow of his laptop, licking his lips at a pathetic "gotcha" pose from two chosen targets.

    It goes beyond callous, beyond deceitful, all the way to sinister. But that feel has  been almost palpable ever since Obama became president. Some Americans are literally crazed with hatred.

    Right, Koch Bros?      

    Yes, once again the billionaire industrialists are spending great gobs to influence your vote.

    Partnering with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers were among the biggest of the big spenders in 2012 in an election that saw $8 billion spent to influence the vote, though in the end it didn't even nudge the needle in Mitt Romney's favor.

    Adelson pledged $100 million to defeat Obama. It's unclear how much the Koch brothers spent. Newsweek reports that the Koch "dark money network" raised $407 million.

    With that horrific Colorado ad in mind, this election season the Koches are modeling just exactly what the term "sore loser" looks like.

    It would be misleading to categorize Americans for Prosperity as a one-trick Republican mount. It is in fact an agile octopus — with a feel for everything that advances a right-wing notion, whether it involves textbook purchases in Texas or tax policy in name-your-state.

    But election year is when this slippery cephalopod really shines, or slimes, as it were.

    As such, Americans for Prosperity has kept the nation's fact checkers busy.

    An ad targeting Arizona Democrat Ron Barber says the ACA "means higher costs for struggling families." That may happen in some instances where policies were canceled and the family had to purchase anew under the ACA.

    However, as Factcheck.org explains, with millions of uninsured families gaining coverage under the law, the Congressional Budget Office projects 25 million fewer uninsured Americans as early as 2016.

    We cannot know how many people who had to switch were forced to take more expensive options under ACA, but we do know that if those instances are plentiful, Americans for Prosperity, with its bank account and its agile tentacles, hasn't found them.

    If it did, it wouldn't have featured a Michigan woman who blamed the ACA for the loss of coverage and said the federally enabled option was unaffordable, an example of how "Obamacare is destroying the middle class." Factcheck.org found that  the Michigan family "could have selected a cheaper exchange plan, as opposed to the unsubsidized private plan it chose, but the family did not want the children to be on the Children's Health Insurance Program."

   We all have to ask: If the Affordable Care Act really is destroying American dreams, why can't the Koch brothers, with all their video- and photo-editing means, find one example to convince us all?

  Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The few, the soured, the off-year voters

   Next November, the Republican Party is banking on the cranky.

   Don't laugh. This appears to be a very good wager.

   Good enough to hold onto the U.S. House. Good enough, even, to take the Senate.

  Democrats don't want to acknowledge that possibility, but it is way beyond real, and for two good reasons:

  First, most of the states in which a Senate seat is considered in play are red states: North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas and Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, for six.

   A blowback against the Affordable Care Act? In these tender hours of its existence, it will be a factor.

    In truth, however, if the Senate flips, the biggest factor won't be health care reform. It will be the difference between 63 percent and 42 percent.

    That's the difference between the voter turnout in the 2008 election when the nation chose Barack Obama and the turnout two years later when the Republicans took control of the House.

    In the last 20 years it's been an almost automatic differential: 20 percent — the difference between the off-year turnout and the turnout in the preceding or subsequent presidential election.

   The turnout of eligible voters in 2012 was 59 percent. Count on a turnout this November in the low forties.

    Assume, also, that it will favor the crankiest party.

    This year that party is the GOP, having screamed and moaned and held its breath till its gills turned green over something it could not stop: the ACA.

    How could one know that 2014 will favor the angriest party? One of the basic truisms of political science is that in a low-turnout election, the negative vote is accentuated.

    This is simple to explain. In a low-turnout election, the angriest voter will get to the polls in the face of blizzards and blackouts. The not-angry voter, the one who is generally satisfied, will be more inclined to stay home and watch "Wife Swap."

   Consider what happened in Colorado recently. More importantly, consider what the two parties want to do about it.

   A few months ago, in response to a package of gun control laws, gun-rights advocates succeeded in recalling two state senators, nearly tipping the balance in the state Senate.

  Accentuating the negative, the cranky vote, the recall was the classic low-turnout election. It was made even more so because mail-in ballots weren't used. Votes had to be made in person on Election Day.

   The Colorado House just passed a bill to change recall rules to match what is done in general elections — mail-in ballots, absentee ballots, early voting.

    Every Democrat voted for that bill. Every Republican voted against.

    You see? Banking on the cranky, and on low turnouts.

    Understand, this partisan distinction may not always apply. If the Republicans take over the U.S. Senate and make Congress even less productive than it is today, the cranky shoe may be on the other foot in a subsequent off-year election.

   For now, whatever the consequence, one vigorous pursuit of Republican policy makers, aside from wishing the ACA away, is to figure out ways to make it harder to vote — voter I.D. laws.

    This is, wink, wink, about  ballot security. Sure it is. And Old South literacy tests were meant to promote educated voters.

    Before the U.S. Supreme Court gave Dixie-fied states cover from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a federal panel observed dispassionately that Texas' voter I.D. law places "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities" who are more likely to vote Democrat.

    Vote suppression it is, and it's politically motivated. 

     Ah, low turnout. Sweet and low. The better, my dear, for the cranky to have their day.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.









Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weed vs. 'white lightning'

  Everyone has experienced the oddness of meeting up with a long-lost acquaintance after many years, only to find impressions downright strange.

  So it is with me and marijuana.

  At least the smell of marijuana, that is.

  Though long an advocate of its legalization, I've never inhaled it, except in the ambient sense.

   This is no Clintonian dodge. I don't smoke, haven't smoked, won't smoke — anything.

  Even the thought of directing smoke down this ol' windpipe makes me gag.

   That doesn't mean I think the smell of pot smoke isn't heavenly. I do. Or at least I did.

   One of the odd impressions of a nonsmoker, now that recreational pot is legal where I reside, is that it doesn't smell like it used to.

   I used to associate the aroma of cannabis with rock concerts and laid-back gatherings. The smell made me smile.

   And now? It's less earthy and more skunky. Today's pot is stronger, or so they say. My nostrils agree. It's more stout to the snout.

   Whatever the case, Colorado and Washington State are getting acclimated to a new ambiance. It's about time.

  A new day? The Denver Post now has a marijuana beat writer. Each issue advertises a staff blog called The Cannabist.

  All of this might alarm you, Bubba, but what I'm seeing out my window affirms what was always evident to me. Pot's no crime.

   That hundreds of thousands of lives are derailed and disrupted every year by pot-related detours into the criminal justice system is indefensible. 

    Pot's prohibition is one of many examples of how so-called conservatives are far from libertarians they claim to be. Indeed, they are addicted to the most costly forms of state authority. They deride "big government," but venerate it when it comes with bulging prisons and insatiable military machines.

   Anyone who ventures into the new territory of legalization has to be concerned about having more stoners, but at its root, simple, 40-proof hypocrisy underlies this prohibition that's still the law in 48 states. (Encouraging: Several states, Maryland the latest, have dropped possession of small amounts from a felony to a misdemeanor.)

   In those states, weed is a vice and "white lightning" is nice. It's an obscene double standard when one way of mellowing out is a jailing offense and the other is the communion cup of lawmakers and lobbyists.

   Add the physically addictive nature of the latter, the abusive and dangerous behaviors associated, and there's no question in the world which of these vices is more destructive.

    Now, get ready for this:

    Two things have happened since Colorado legalized recreational pot. One, the state is already raking in millions of dollars in tax revenue from regulated pot sales. The governor's projection: $70 million in Year 1.

    The state gets that money. Who doesn't? Organized crime — the neighborhood pusher, the killer cartel.

   Second, and most importantly, by and large, one can tell no difference. The state hasn't seen a surge of pot-related DWI cases. It hasn't seen a surge of people testing the prohibition on toking up down on the corner. It really hasn't seen anything different. I take that to mean that most pot smokers were lighting up regularly before this happened.

     What's also happening is that law enforcement and the courts aren't expending limited resources enforcing an unjust law. 

     Heck, it's a conservative's dream: If you really support less government and free enterprise, you support what Washington and Colorado just did.

     We know, of course, that today's authoritarians can't control their urges, whether it be their addiction to tough-on-crime slogans, to prisons, to military might, to firearms, to the never-ending quest to carve Bible verses into government walls.

   Other states will join Washington State and Colorado in the years to come. Rest assured, however, a wide swath of proud red states will continue to imbibe in the old hooch.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

GOPs 17.2 percent solution

   As of mid-March, the nation’s rate of uninsured had declined to 15.9 percent from 17.1 percent in December.

  We can’t know exactly where the rate stands now, but it’s lower. And, well, the nation’s Republican leaders will not have that.

   They will do everything they can — and credit them for having done everything they could — to get us back to the good old 17.1 percent days.

   Seventeen point one, of course, won’t be good enough. We can trust that the GOP partisans cannot — will not — rest until the nation’s uninsured rate is at least a percent of a percent higher than that.

    Yes, the 17.2 percent solution.

    Hear the call to arms: We must reverse the reversal of the uninsured rate by any means.

    We went to the Supreme Court appeal for that. We succeeded in part by relieving states of having to treat all working poor equally under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid.

    We shut down the government to stop something that had been the law of the land for four years. Admittedly, the only thing that accomplished was to highlight Sen. Ted Cruz’s penchant for children’s literature, but our cause was just.

   We must not, cannot, have government making it possible that more Americans have health coverage this year than last.

   Granted, we will feign outrage that in the process, some Americans had their policies canceled. (Privately, we will do the Snoopy dance in celebration.) Granted, because of the ACA, all of those people have an option to be covered still.

   We still like the good old 17.1 percent days better. Back then, when one had one’s insurance policy canceled, one’s options were squat. And we liked it.

   That’s why 17.2 percent is our goal, because less is more when it comes to the annoying needs of the uninsured.

   Don’t believe this? Set aside the desert mission to blow up the ACA. Look at the budget proposed in Congress by Rep. Paul Ryan.

   If his proposal were to become law, dramatic cuts would hit Medicaid and subsidies to help Americans buy health insurance — $2.7 billion over 10 years. Presto — fewer insured Americans tomorrow than today. Now, that’s sweet music. Sing it, Sen. Cruz.

   Now, you might think of Medicaid as just a gravy train for the undeserving. Apparently you have not studied the creature you curse. 

  The biggest chunk of dollars Medicaid disburses — nearly two thirds; look it up — isn’t for “welfare moms.” It’s for grannies and granddads in nursing homes.

   It’s tough love, you might say, but the pain someone else’s elders suffer would be worth it to get things back to what they once were, back in the 17.1 percent days.

   Speaking of health care, we’ve heard a lot from ACA’s sworn enemies about how it stole billions from Medicare. (Factcheck.org says there’s a big difference between “stealing” and saving billions of dollars. In fact, it says the savings built into the ACA will prolong the life span of the Medicare trust fund.)

   Well, if the foes of ACA are the protectors of Medicare they pretend to be, then they should be alarmed by the Ryan proposal, also trotted out in the 2012 election, to block-grant Medicare. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at the time said that the long-term restrictions built into that proposal would cost seniors an average of $6,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses.

   All of this represents a longing for a return to things as they were, when seniors didn’t depend so heavily on the government. Those were the same halcyon days when a national health insurance program for the working poor was a silly dream.

   Don’t rest, GOP, until we not only are back to the the 17.1 percent sweetness of yesteryear (2013), but a percent of a percent more.

     Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.