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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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N.C.’s Sea Level Rise Reaction

Many people involved in climate activism have probably heard of North Carolina’s reaction to sea level projections.  The reaction has been exaggerated by some of those same activists.  I read this article and had the following thoughts.

By the end of the century, state officials said, the ocean would be 39 inches higher.

There was no talk of salvation, no plan to hold back the tide. The 39-inch forecast was “a death sentence,” Willo Kelly said, “for ever trying to sell your house.”

Coastal residents joined forces with climate skeptics to attack the science of global warming and persuade North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature to deep-six the 39-inch projection, which had been advanced under the outgoing Democratic governor. Now, the state is working on a new forecast that will look only 30 years out and therefore show the seas rising by no more than eight inches.

Up to this point, readers probably have one of two reactions.  They either agree with quoted environmentalists and think N.C. tried to “legislate away sea level rise.”  Or they agree with Kelly’s reactions and the legislature’s boundaries on projection scope.

I think the reactions were entirely justified from a personal standpoint and easy to predict if anyone had stopped to think things through.  Nearly everybody would have the same reaction if your property was under threat to be considered worthless – regardless of the underlying reason.  Why?  Because you have an emotional attachment to your property that far exceeds the attachment to a 90-year sea level projection.  You’re going to react to the former more strongly than the latter.  The article identifies the underlying process:

“The main problem they have is fear,” said Michael Orbach, a marine policy professor at Duke University who has met with coastal leaders. “They realize this is going to have a huge impact on the coastal economy and coastal development interests. And, at this point, we don’t actually know what we’re going to do about it.”

This is the problem with the vast majority of climate activists’ language: they coldly announce that civilization will collapse and won’t offer actions people can take to avoid such a collapse.  Well, people will respond to that language, just not the way activists want them to.  People will fight activists and identify with climate skeptics’ arguments since they view the announcements as a threat to their way of life.

Where I differ with Kelly and others is this: she and other coastal residents had better look for viable long-term solutions before that 30-year period is over.  If they prevent long-term planning beyond 2040, inland residents of N.C. will be unfairly burdened with the cost of subsidizing Kelly and others for their lifestyle choices.

Kelly’s view is not without merit, to be sure:

Long before that would happen, though, Kelly worries that codifying the 39-inch forecast would crush the local economy, which relies entirely on tourism and the construction, sale and rental of family beach houses. In Dare County alone, the islands’ largest jurisdiction, the state has identified more than 8,500 structures, with an assessed value of nearly $1.4 billion, that would be inundated if the tides were 39 inches higher.

That’s 8,500 structures in just one county – worth $1.4 billion – an average of $165,000 per structure.  I would absolutely fight to keep my $165,000 worth as long as I could.  Nationwide, the estimate is $700 billion; not a trivial sum is it?  The article has this choice quote:

“What is it you would ask us to do differently right now? Tell people to move away?”   “Preaching abandonment is absurd. People would go in the closet and get the guns out.”

The Coastal Resources Commission bungled their attempt to evaluate the science and establish policy.  By the time they announced results with no action plans, rumors fed by misunderstanding and bias confirmation ran rampant.  The result was Kelly’s actions to change the time horizon that planners could use.

So what are the solutions?  The Commission should establish and maintain relationships with stakeholders.  Get to know the mayors and planners and scientists and property owners.  Find out what their interests are and what motivates them to do what they do.  Identify actions they can take in the next 30 years that sets them up for success afterward.  But don’t release information without context.  Because sea level rise is likely to accelerate in the 2nd half of the 21st century.  But most people will focus on potential direct threats to themselves and their livelihoods, not global concerns.  So get into the weeds with folks.


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N.C.’s Sea Level Rise Reaction

Many people involved in climate activism have probably heard of North Carolina’s reaction to sea level projections.  The reaction has been exaggerated by some of those same activists.  I read this article and had the following thoughts.

By the end of the century, state officials said, the ocean would be 39 inches higher.

There was no talk of salvation, no plan to hold back the tide. The 39-inch forecast was “a death sentence,” Willo Kelly said, “for ever trying to sell your house.”

Coastal residents joined forces with climate skeptics to attack the science of global warming and persuade North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature to deep-six the 39-inch projection, which had been advanced under the outgoing Democratic governor. Now, the state is working on a new forecast that will look only 30 years out and therefore show the seas rising by no more than eight inches.

Up to this point, readers probably have one of two reactions.  They either agree with quoted environmentalists and think N.C. tried to “legislate away sea level rise.”  Or they agree with Kelly’s reactions and the legislature’s boundaries on projection scope.

I think the reactions were entirely justified from a personal standpoint and easy to predict if anyone had stopped to think things through.  Nearly everybody would have the same reaction if your property was under threat to be considered worthless – regardless of the underlying reason.  Why?  Because you have an emotional attachment to your property that far exceeds the attachment to a 90-year sea level projection.  You’re going to react to the former more strongly than the latter.  The article identifies the underlying process:

“The main problem they have is fear,” said Michael Orbach, a marine policy professor at Duke University who has met with coastal leaders. “They realize this is going to have a huge impact on the coastal economy and coastal development interests. And, at this point, we don’t actually know what we’re going to do about it.”

This is the problem with the vast majority of climate activists’ language: they coldly announce that civilization will collapse and won’t offer actions people can take to avoid such a collapse.  Well, people will respond to that language, just not the way activists want them to.  People will fight activists and identify with climate skeptics’ arguments since they view the announcements as a threat to their way of life.

Where I differ with Kelly and others is this: she and other coastal residents had better look for viable long-term solutions before that 30-year period is over.  If they prevent long-term planning beyond 2040, inland residents of N.C. will be unfairly burdened with the cost of subsidizing Kelly and others for their lifestyle choices.

Kelly’s view is not without merit, to be sure:

Long before that would happen, though, Kelly worries that codifying the 39-inch forecast would crush the local economy, which relies entirely on tourism and the construction, sale and rental of family beach houses. In Dare County alone, the islands’ largest jurisdiction, the state has identified more than 8,500 structures, with an assessed value of nearly $1.4 billion, that would be inundated if the tides were 39 inches higher.

That’s 8,500 structures in just one county – worth $1.4 billion – an average of $165,000 per structure.  I would absolutely fight to keep my $165,000 worth as long as I could.  Nationwide, the estimate is $700 billion; not a trivial sum is it?  The article has this choice quote:

“What is it you would ask us to do differently right now? Tell people to move away?”   “Preaching abandonment is absurd. People would go in the closet and get the guns out.”

The Coastal Resources Commission bungled their attempt to evaluate the science and establish policy.  By the time they announced results with no action plans, rumors fed by misunderstanding and bias confirmation ran rampant.  The result was Kelly’s actions to change the time horizon that planners could use.

So what are the solutions?  The Commission should establish and maintain relationships with stakeholders.  Get to know the mayors and planners and scientists and property owners.  Find out what their interests are and what motivates them to do what they do.  Identify actions they can take in the next 30 years that sets them up for success afterward.  But don’t release information without context.  Because sea level rise is likely to accelerate in the 2nd half of the 21st century.  But most people will focus on potential direct threats to themselves and their livelihoods, not global concerns.  So get into the weeds with folks.


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CO Politics: Flooding and Gun Safety

I’ve read numerous “news” articles regarding the political implications of the historic flooding of Sep. 2013 and the votes that elected representatives took in the 2013 legislative session.  As is usually the case, the right-leaning Denver Post “news” staff parrots Republican talking points while they seek to undermine Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper and the Democratic-led legislature.  The Post enjoys writing about perceived partisan rancor, but they have to search pretty hard to do it.  How many people would read about the overwhelming majority of legislation that passed with huge bipartisan support in 2013?  Not many.  So in a self-fulfilling prophecy, many people think Democrats and Republicans are constantly at each others’ throats.

Aside from that, I found the most recent Post piece on flood and legislation effects interesting for the language used.  Here is a quote from CO Secretary of State Scott Gessler (who has been part of more than his fair share of conflicts of interest as Sec-State):

“Those [Hickenlooper poll] numbers reflect the fundamental feelings of all Coloradans, whether they live in rural communities or more populated cities,” said Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican who is among a field of candidates vying to unseat Hickenlooper in 2014.

“I’m not going to criticize his flood work; he did his job. But what he supported and signed into law — laws that make rural Coloradans pay higher rates for electricity and make them feel like they’re less safe — are fundamentally flawed.”

First, more people support Hickenlooper’s re-election effort than not.  Fundamentally, Coloradoans want Hickenlooper to continue governing the state of Colorado.
Second, when did Scott Gessler last examine how rural electricity co-operative rate changes?  Did the rates ever increase prior to a standardized renewable electricity standard?  You bet they did.  Where was Gessler’s concern back then?  He didn’t have any, did he?  What’s the real issue: higher rates or mandated sources?  If Gessler and rural Coloradoans have an issue with mandated sources, they need to prepare to discuss that, not push a proxy argument that fear mongers.
Third, “make them feel like they’re less safe” is actually the best way I’ve heard the gun safety legislation passed in 2013 framed.  And here is the legislation’s effects: background checks on all buyers (which many people erroneously believe already occurs and receives ~80% support from Democrats, Unaffiliateds, AND Republicans; limits on gun magazines to no more than 15 rounds (which also receives majority support).  Everybody still has their arms, regardless of their current magazine capacity.
Here is something Gessler and the Post never discuss: gun safety legislation helps urbanites actual public safety.  Note my own language: actual safety, not perceived safety – that’s a critical distinction.  Nobody is going to a movie theater in Brush or Cheyenne Wells or Clifton and murdering 12 people and injuring 70 others12 high schoolers and 1 teacher weren’t slaughtered in Rangely or Kremmling or Carr.  Those tragedies occurred in an urban location and Colorado urban elected officials decided enough was enough after 20 1st graders and 6 adults were ruthlessly slaughtered in Sandy Hook.  Why?  Because their constituents demanded action.  Actions taken were common sense, reasonable, and respect the 2nd Amendment.
In a civilized, modern society, public safety is paramount.  My family has a right to life that supersedes anybody’s perceived “right” to an assault rifle with unlimited ammunition.  This is real life, not some video game.  Colorado urban mass murders resulted in real people who are really dead.  Nobody’s safety in the aforementioned unpopulated portions of this state is threatened by mandatory background checks and 15 round magazine limits.  Senseless butchery of urban dwellers needs to stop.  There are ways to accomplish that goal while maintaining Coloradoans’ access to firearms for safety and hunting.
Scott Gessler and other Republicans would obviously rather see more Colorado massacres than implement any regulation on firearms.  I would love to see them defend that position to 2014 voters.


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Government Crisis Viewed Through D.C. Media Bubble

In the postmortem of Republican’s surrender from their extremist hostage taking and ransom demands, people everywhere are analyzing what they think happened.  One article contained glaring ideological framing.  I agree with the foundational analysis of “Short-term debt deal won’t mask big barriers ahead” by Charles Babington of the Associated Press: yesterday’s deal didn’t address the underlying problems in D.C.  But I do disagree with important parts that Charles uses as supporting evidence for his argument.

First:

Republicans still adamantly oppose tax increases. Powerful interest groups and many Democrats still fiercely oppose cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The first sentence is mostly true.  Republicans oppose tax increases on the rich (witness the 2011 deal to lock in lower tax rates for people making $400,000 or more per year), but are more than happy to shift taxation onto the lower and middle class.  But the second sentence is even more painful to read for its vapidity.  What the heck are “powerful interest groups”?  Does Charles know who opposes Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts the most?  People that receive them!  Want to “fix” Social Security?  Lift the taxable income cap and Social Security is solvent for centuries.  But that means “raising taxes” to pay for a social good.  Does Charles seriously believe there are no “powerful interest groups” that oppose tax increases?  No, but he and the AP sure expects readers to.  And Republican supporters demonstrate that effort works.  It’s hip to trash Social Security and Medicare in the D.C. cocktail circuit, but remains wickedly unpopular in the rest of the country.

In fact, most of the “powerful interest groups” on the right – the same ones that pushed for the partial government shutdown and threatened the US’s role as the safest investment on earth -

Also, as usual, there is no mention of the national deficit’s growth under Republican President George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan.  But this fact is an obvious part of the Teabagger’s outrage at establishment Republicans.  It also serves another purpose: if Republicans can generate enough outrage over national debt (that they themselves accumulated), they can demand Social Security and Medicare cuts while the obscenely wealthy get their taxes cut, even though Social Security doesn’t contribute one penny to the national debt they’re supposedly so concerned about.

Second:

The Simpson-Bowles plan remains widely praised nationwide, and largely ignored in Congress.

What?!  Most of the nation doesn’t even know what the S-B plan is or what it would do.  S-B remains widely praised in the same D.C. circles where it’s cool to want to take insurance programs away from the disadvantaged, and that’s it.  Does Charles write that it’s Congress’ job to plan for and pass a budget every year?  Because they haven’t done that on time since 1996 – a time when Republicans dominated the legislature.  Instead, folks in D.C. turned to gangs as the answer – gangs of legislators trying to do the work the rest of their colleagues can’t be bothered to do.

Left out of this article, as usual, are the long list of concessions Democrats yielded all to willingly to Republicans in previous “negotiations” without acquiring Republican concessions.  This latest “reset” is no different: sequestration cuts to the budget (which nobody likes but too many voted and signed for) remain in place.  Those cuts reduce our national economic activity: reduced GDP of about 1%.  At a time of historically low interest rates, the government could rebuild our decaying infrastructure for nearly at-cost, while putting millions of people back to work who want to work.  We are squandering an immense opportunity that will not repeat itself.  That infrastructure will be rebuilt, but today’s politicians want to make sure we pay more than we have to.

Charles and the AP mention none of this.  Instead, it is “powerful interest groups” and crackpot plans.  The framing by the D.C. crowd belittles the American people.  It’s no wonder the media and Congress aren’t liked or trusted by a majority of Americans.


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Incrementalism Advocacy

I haven’t written on this topic in a long time, but read something today that inspired me to do so. From a DailyKos article written yesterday (emphasis mine):

In that light, while Obamacare is not the best option, it is the best option that was attainable given a corrupt Congress and a corrupt political process. It is imperative that Americans enroll in the exchanges. It is imperative that Obamacare as a first step in our health care reform is marginally successful.

While it is not spoken about much, Obamacare is the first step on a path toward a single-payer system. Those on the left that are upset that it isn’t a single payer system already must stay in the game. They must continue to fight for single payer. That said, they should not be fighting against this law because it was not their ideal or because in the initial stages of this law private insurance companies will still reap an unearned profit from skimming. Battles are won either incrementally or revolutionarily. The second option is simply not in the current American DNA. As such all must play the long game. HR 676 will be a closer reality if Obamacare is effected.

This is a false choice.  It it not an either or situation.  The situation is whatever we make it.  Reducing health care work to an either/or choice creates an absurdly simple view to a very complex problem.

I characterize people who advocate this position “incrementalists”.  And here is my biggest problem with them: what is the strategy in this amorphous “long game”?  What steps take us from our current position to single payer health care, which every other industrialized nation on earth except the U.S. implements?  There are never any steps, strategies, or tactics that take us from here to there.  I adapt a common argument used on DKos:

1. Obamacare

2. ???

3. Single payer! Yay!

Incrementalists make excuse after excuse after excuse, all the while apologizing for all the people who are immersed in the aforementioned corrupt system, but then lecture folks who oppose Obamacare because it was written by industry and not by other health policy entities.  Futhermore, Obamacare doesn’t ensure health care to all people, just health insurance to some more people.  It took 18 months for the incrementalists to capitulate to industry and the political establishment, after which the Democratic base sat out the 2010 elections.  Historically, we address health care legislation once per generation.  In 25 years, what steps will we take toward single payer, if that is really the goal of the incrementalists?  How many generations need wait until we implement a 20th century health care system?  In the meantime, what improvements to today’s system will the rest of the industrialized world implement?

Going back to that first paragraph, let’s highlight the following.  “It is imperative that Americans enroll in the exchanges.”  If this were true, why didn’t the Obama administration work to make sure Americans were ready to enroll come tomorrow?  They’ve only had three years to figure out an enrollment strategy that is absolutely critical to the entire program’s success and implement it.  What were they doing?  Incremental work, I suppose.  Which is why 60+% of Americas have no idea what tomorrow’s open enrollment consists of.

“It is imperative that Obamacare as a first step in our health care reform is marginally successful.”

Really?  18 months of negotiation, three years of shoddy implementation, and the best the author can come up with is it’s imperative Obamacare is only marginally successful?!  The insurance companies get 30 million new customers (read: profits) and the best we can do is marginal success?  Millions of Americans are shut out from Obamacare because they have the misfortune of Teabagger governorship, but marginal success is incrementally better than no success, right?  It is this blind acceptance of sub-par results that lays the foundation for incrementalists.  I expect more from my country and fellow Americans.  Unfortunately, I am part of a minority.  The majority accepts mediocrity as the best they can achieve.


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Energy and Climate Stories Via Charts

The following charts show different pieces of a sobering story: the US and the world has not and is not in the foreseeable future doing enough to reduce carbon-intensive energy.  This shouldn’t come as any great surprise, but I think these charts enable us to look at the story graphically instead of just hearing the words.  Graphics tend to have a larger impact on thought retention, so I’m going to use them to tell this story.

 photo GlobalEnergyByType-2013ProjectionbyBNEF_zps7ec53b2d.jpg

Figure 1. Annual global installations of new power sources, in gigawatts.  [Source: MotherJones via BNEF]

This figure starts the story off on a good note.  To the left of the dotted line is historical data and to the right is BNEF’s projected data.  In the future, we expect fewer new gigawatts generated by coal, gas, and oil.  We also expect many more new gigawatts generated by land-based wind, small-scale photovoltaic (PV) and solar PV.  Thus the good news: there will be more new gigawatts powered by renewable energy sources within the next couple of years than dirty energy sources.  At the same time, this graph is slightly misleading.  What about existing energy production?  The next chart takes that into account.

 photo GlobalEnergyTotalByType-2013ProjectionbyBNEF_zpsdb2d8856.jpg

Figure 2. Global energy use by generation type, in gigawatts.  [Source: MotherJones via BNEF]

The story just turned sober.  In 2030, coal should account for ~2,000GW of energy production compared to ~1,200GW today.  Coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, so absent radical technological innovation and deployment, 2030 emissions will exceed today’s due to coal alone.  We find the same storyline for gas and to a lesser extent oil: higher generation in 2030 than today means more emissions.  We need fewer emissions if we want to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations.  The higher those concentrations, the warmer the globe will get until it reaches a new equilibrium.

Compare the two graphs again.  The rapid increase in renewable energy generation witnessed over the last decade and expected to continue through 2030 results in what by 2030?  Perhaps ~1,400GW of wind generation (about the same as gas) and up to 1,600GW of total solar generation (more than gas but still less than coal).  This is an improvement over today’s generation portfolio of course.  But it will not be enough to prevent >2°C mean global warming and all the subsequent effects that warming will have on other earth systems.  The curves delineating fossil fuel generation need to slope toward zero and that doesn’t look likely to happen prior to 2030.

Here is the basic problem: there are billions of people without reliable energy today.  They want energy and one way or another will get that energy someday.  Thus, the total energy generated will continue to increase for decades.  The power mix is up to us.  The top chart will have to look dramatically different for the mix to tilt toward majority and eventually exclusively renewable energy.  The projected increases in new renewable energy will have to be double, triple, or more what they are in the top chart to achieve complete global renewable energy generation.  Instead of a couple hundred gigawatts per year, we need a couple thousand gigawatts per year.  That requires a great deal of innovation and deployment – more than even many experts are aware.

Let’s take a look at the next part of the story: carbon emissions in the US – up until recently the largest annual GHG emitter on the globe.

 photo carbon-intensity-us-states-economy-eia-20130530_zps280fe2fb.png

Figure 3. Percent change in the economy’s carbon intensity 2000-2010. [Source: ThinkProgress via EIA]

As Jeff notes, the total carbon intensity (amount of carbon released for every million dollars the economy produces) of the economy dropped 17.9 percent over those ten years.  That’s good news.  Part of the reason is bad news: the economy became more energy-efficient in part due to the recession.  People and organizations stopped doing some of the most expensive activities, which also happened to be some of the most polluting activities.  We can attribute the rest of the decline to the switch from coal to natural gas.  Which is a good thing for US emissions, but a bad thing for global emissions because we’re selling the coal that other countries butn – as Figure 2 shows.

 photo carbon-emissions-us-states-eia-20130530_zps17d52b6b.png

Figure 4. Percent change in the economy’s total carbon emissions 2000-2010. [Source: ThinkProgress via EIA]

Figure 4 re-sobers the story.  While we became more efficient at generating carbon emissions, the total number of total emissions from 2000 to 2010 only dropped 4.2%.  My own home state of Colorado, despite having a Renewable Energy Standard and mandates renewables in the energy mix, saw a greater than 10% jump in total carbon emissions.  Part of the reason is Xcel Energy convinced the state Public Utilities Commission that new, expensive coal plants be built.  The reason?  Xcel is a for-profit corporation and new coal plants added billions of dollars to the positive side of their ledger, especially since they passed those costs onto their rate payers.

In order for the US to achieve its Copenhagen goals (17% reduction from 2005 levels), more states will have to show total carbon emission declines post-2010.  While 2012 US emission levels were the lowest since 1994, we still emit more than 5 billion metric tons of CO2 annually.  Furthermore, the US deliberately chose 2005 levels since they were the historically high emissions mark.  The Kyoto Protocol, by contrast, challenged countries to reduce emissions compared to 1990 levels.  The US remains above 1990 levels, which were just under 5 billion metric tons of CO2.  17% of 1990 emissions is 850 million metric tons.  Once we achieve that decrease, we can talk about real progress.

The bottom line is this: it matters how many total carbon emissions get into the atmosphere if we want to limit the total amount of warming that will occur this century and the next few tens of thousands of years.  There has been a significant lack of progress on that:

 photo energy_sector_carbon_intensity-20130530_zpsae891a88.jpg

Figure 5. Historical and projection energy sector carbon intensity index.

We are on the red line path.  If that is our reality through 2050, we will blow past 560 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentration, which means we will blow past the 2-3°C sensitivity threshold that skeptics like to talk about the most.  That temperature only matters if we limit CO2 concentrations to two times their pre-industrial value.  We’re on an 800-1100 ppm concentration pathway, which would mean up to 6°C warming by 2100 and additional warming beyond that.

The size and scope of the energy infrastructure requirements to achieve an 80% reduction in US emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 is mind-boggling.  It requires 300,000 10-MW solar thermal plants or 1,200,000 2.5-MW wind turbines or 1,300 1GW nuclear plants (or some combination thereof) by 2050 because you have to replace the existing dirty energy generation facilities as well as meet increasing future demand.  And that’s just for the US.  What about every other country on the planet?  That is why I think we will blow past the 2°C threshold.  As the top graphs show, we’re nibbling around the edges of a massive problem.  We will not see a satisfactory energy/climate policy emerge on this topic anytime soon.  The once in a generation opportunity to do so existed in 2009 and 2010 and national-level Democrats squandered it (China actually has a national climate policy, by the way).  I think the policy answers lie in local and state-based efforts for the time being.  There is too wide a gap between the politics we need and the politics we have at the national level.


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Obamacare’s ‘Cadillac Tax’ Exposes Policy Weaknesses

In 2009 and 2010, I had many discussions with people about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  At the outset let me explain that health care reform would have been expanding Medicare to every American.  It has the lowest overhead of any service and would have resulted in providing health care to everybody regardless of income or any other metric.  My fallback position was a Medicare opt-in as part of state-based or national-based health exchanges.  Let the private for-profit corporations compete against Medicare in the free market.  As conservatives usually say (but ran away from in this instance), let the market decide.  Well, we all know how non-free the market is.  Conservatives and Libertarians love to pick winners: as long as they’re winning.

Instead, President Obama spent two years’ worth of political capital on a search for his First Grand Bargain.  And make no mistake: he got exactly what he wanted.  Instead of health care reform, Americans were saddled with a health insurance giveaway.  Millions of Americans won’t be allowed to make a choice in the market; they will be forced to buy something.  That is a disgusting development in our country’s history.

Here is an anecdote that demonstrates the fundamental weakness of the “reform”: “While it might reduce health care spending, for many people it doesn’t reduce the cost of care.”  If you’re healthy, things will be great because you’ll receive free or cheap preventative care.  If you’re really sick, things will get worse because you’ll pay more and more for the same care you’ve been receiving.  Oops.  As Joan says, “if you have a serious health issue and were previously uninsured because of your pre-existing condition, you can at least get insurance now.”  Note the critical missing piece in that sentence: you won’t get quality care; you’ll get insurance.  Which, depending on your socioeconomic status, means you could get good care or crappy care.  That is the big reform as part of the President’s Grand Bargain.

Joan goes on to say, “The actual health care they receive needs to be made less expensive. That’s where the next steps in reform have to be made.”

Um, duh.  But just when we make those next reform steps?  That was the elephant in the room in my 2009-2010 discussions with Obamacare zealots.  Nobody was willing to say how they would make those next steps … or when.  The only thing they would say was it would eventually happen because incrementalism was the proper strategic political choice.  It became clear to me later that incrementalism works for folks in the establishment.  It keeps them employed for years and decades as tiny steps are taken every decade or two.  Meanwhile, Abbey and Casey Bruce’s bills will double in cost.  How many millions of Americans face higher medical bills in 2014 because the establishment folks decided incremental steps are the best?  President Obama and a bunch of other folks were reelected in 2012.  Are they pushing additional health care reform?  No and they won’t either.  They did health care reform.  We’ll have to wait until some undetermined point in the future to try for true health care reform again.


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Voting For Lesser of Two Evils Led Directly To Yesterday’s Gun Filibusters

For years I’ve heard fellow Democrats argue that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, that it’s better to vote for the lesser of two evils, and other inane arguments to convince me to vote for people who have (D) behind their name but are not strong advocates of Democratic values.  “It’s always better to vote for a (D) than an (R),” they say.  Really?  I haven’t thought so for a long time and have voted accordingly come election time.  That means I haven’t voted for “Democrats” than I don’t think will stand up for the issues I think are most important: climate change, privacy, jobs, universal health care, gun safety, etc.

Many pundits are saying today that President Obama was very angry yesterday following the US Senate’s ridiculous failure to pass watered down, gun industry influenced amendments.  Oh, a majority of Senators (50+ out of 100) voted for the legislation, which in sane circumstances would mean the amendments pass.  Not in the US Senate yesterday, where a very small number of fringe Senators stopped honest consideration of any amendments.  That is because of the Senate’s cloture rule, which once invoked requires 60 votes (a supermajority) to break.  Democrats could have changed or removed that rule at the beginning of the current session with only 51 votes.  Unfortunately, Sen. Reid (D-NV) didn’t agree that the majority needed to change or remove the rule.  Instead, he made a deal with Minority Leader Sen. McConnell (R-KY) that cloture would be invoked on legislation and nominees only in “extreme circumstances”.  Since January, Republicans have invoked cloture again and again and again and again.  Apparently, there is a permanent state of “extreme circumstances” in the Senate according to today’s Republicans.  Sen. Reid publicly complains that the rules could be revisited mid-session, but his complaints are ever-moving carrots for the Democratic base, who must enjoy being lied to.  Sen. Reid will not change the cloture rule because he doesn’t want to; it has nothing to do with courage or will.  The sooner the base accepts that, the sooner they’ll vote for Democratic Senators who care more for their constituents than the access to power a Senate position entails.

Observe then that these same Republicans are the people with whom the President wants more desperately than anything to craft a Grand Bargain – be it health insurance in 2009-2010 (note: not health care) or the national debt and social welfare programs (which this “Democratic” President proposed be slashed!) and gun safety legislation now in 2013.  The very same Republicans that so angered the President on his surprising signature issue (gun safety – when did he campaign on that?) have worked since 2009 to stop anything the President wants done.  Yesterday’s public display of anger, which I’m not sure was honest, will not cause the President to evaluate his most desired goal: that Grand Bargain.  The Republicans will not work with the President and the President and his most ardent supporters refuse to acknowledge that basic political reality.

Moreover, the President has only his zealous desire to reach his Grand Bargain to blame for yesterday’s cloture votes.  In the absurd push to enact health insurance legislation in 2009 and 2010, which took months too long precisely because the President wanted that Grand Bargain so badly, health care reform was explicitly removed from consideration a priori to negotiation.  That health care reform was a central plank of the Democratic Party’s most loyal activists, who worked tirelessly in 2008 to get the President and other Democrats elected at all levels across the nation.  There was no mention of a Grand Bargain in the 2008 campaign.  Democrats justifiably felt misled and were extremely disappointed.  Hence, they didn’t vote with similar intensity in 2010 as they did in 2008, which had enormous ramifications.

Governorships and state legislatures flipped from Democratic to Republican.  As a result, the required realignment of political boundaries for the US House and state legislatures following the 2010 census were redrawn in ways that led to more Republicans, many of whom were Teabaggers whose core philosophy is government cannot and should not work, elected in newly safe seats.  That is, people in 2010 made sure that the mix of voters in districts leaned heavily enough Republican that any other candidate would have a very hard time being elected.  Hence today’s Republican-led chamber despite the fact that Democratic candidates nationally received 1,000,000 more votes than Republican candidates.  There simply aren’t enough Democrats and left-leaning unaffiliateds in these districts to challenge what will be Republican dominance.  Remember that when Democrats tell you there are “only 17 seats” they need to flip in 2014 to take back control of the House.  Absent some significant change in the political landscape, Democrats will not take the House back in 2014.  Teabaggers will remain in control of the chamber and a Democratic Senate Majority Leader will not change chamber rules (again) in January 2015, regardless of how many bills Republicans filibuster; regardless of how many judicial and agency nominees Republicans filibuster who are proving that government cannot and will not accomplish anything.

Senators didn’t lack courage yesterday.  They simply do not see any downside to voting  against their constituents’ wishes.  When most Democratic voters “vote for the lesser of two evils” no matter what, they are not holding their elected officials accountable for their actions.  Thus, Republicans will continue to abuse the filibuster.  The President will seek more Grand Bargains.  And we will make very little progress in a time when much progress is needed.  But come November 2014, I will hear once again that I have to vote for the same people who voted against my values, who only want to stay in power, because the alternative is just unthinkable.

Senators who abuse a parliamentary tactic do so for one reason: to remain in power.  Senators are not there to represent anyone or anything except their access to power.  People on the “news” networks are saying Republicans thwarted the will of 90% of the American public yesterday.  The President and the Senate Majority Leader both could have done very different things had they wanted to avoid yesterday’s political result.  They didn’t want to, so they didn’t do things differently.  They did exactly what they wanted to do and stuck the rest of us with the devastating results.  Remember that the next time someone tells you it’s better to vote for the lesser of two evils.  Evil still happens: someone slaughtered 20 innocent children with a tool designed exclusively to kill other humans.  If a plastic toy killed 20 children, we would ban the toy.  The right to own a gun ends at the life of others, especially children.  More than 30,000 people die because of gun violence in the US every year.  Their blood is as much on the hands of “Democrats” who advocate for political cowardice as it is on the shooters; for voting for the lesser of two evils because what other choice have we?  We have choices, but are purposefully misled by people who only want to remain in power, then show public displays of anger.  Finally, minorities can be vocal, but they shouldn’t be able to thwart democratic processes single-handed.

Actually, one more thought.  Does anyone seriously think the NRA won’t target Democratic Senators in their 2014 elections even if those “Democrats” voted against gun safety amendments yesterday?  The same amendments that a majority of constituents in those Democratic Senators states supported?


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Not Breaking: Obama Misjudges Republican Willingness To Negotiate

In the sordid mess leading up to this week’s sequester, the NY Times editorial board diagnoses part of the problem:

The White House strategy on the sequester was built around a familiar miscalculation about Republicans. It assumed that, in the end, they would be reasonable and negotiate a realistic alternative to indiscriminate cuts. Because the reductions hurt defense programs long held sacrosanct by Republicans, the White House thought it had leverage that would reduce the damage to the domestic programs favored by Democrats.

Obama chose excellent election staffs throughout his political career.

He did not choose competent political strategists.  He himself is not a competent political strategist.  His team spent 18 months on health insurance legislation, during which he gave away concession after concession without getting anything of value in return.  Why?  Because he wanted a Grand Bargain as part of his political legacy.  One result of this shortsightedness was the Republican wave election of 2010, when state legislatures and governorships flipped from Democratic to Republican control.  The Democratic base didn’t think Obama had done much for them for 2 years, so they didn’t show up to vote.  The biggest problem with this: your average Republican wasn’t elected; the far right-wing fringe of the Republican Party was: enter the Teabaggers to the US Congress, governorships, and state legislatures.

Obama’s team made multiple deals on financial items: the debt ceiling (Republicans don’t want to pay for the bills they charged up), the Bush tax cuts (expired after 1 extension), and the 2011 deal to initiate blind spending cuts because the Republican-led House of Representatives can’t execute their Constitutional duty to pass an annual budget on time.  Hence the leading NYT paragraph.

Time after time after time, the Teabagging Republicans have refused to negotiate or work with President Obama or Democrats.  How many times will it take before Democrats take the Teabaggers at their word: despite the trillions of debt run up by their party in the 2000s, they won’t allow Obama to run up any more debt, regardless of the cost to the US economy or its citizens.  Well, it will take at least one more time, apparently.

No more Grand Bargains, Mr. President.


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President Obama Still Can’t Negotiate

The President this morning had important statements on what the group to be led by Vice President Biden will do in the wake of the Newtown terrorist attack.  After his announcement, the press asked many questions regarding the fiscal curb negotiations.  Here is a gem of a response from President Obama (emphasis mine):

I have gone at least halfway in meeting some of the Republican concerns.

Did Americans vote for President Obama to go more than halfway in meeting Republican concerns?  They did, even if they didn’t consciously think about it beforehand.

This is a frightening admission.  The start of fiscal curb impacts won’t start for another two weeks and Obama has already given up more than half the field to his opposition.  How many football games would you win if you let the other team start at your 45-yard line?  In the last four years, Obama’s defense hasn’t kept Republicans out of the end zone when he should have been scoring his own points.  How far will Obama yield just to satisfy his own intense desire to make a deal with anybody, no matter how ridiculous they are?  The American people are on the record rejecting Republican fiscal proposals, yet Obama continues to add them to his own proposal.  If the stakes weren’t so high, it might be entertaining to watch how this unfolds.

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