2011 - %3, December

Americans Elect: On the Ballot in California, and Still Hush-Hush About Its Dark Money

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 6:00 PM EST

Here comes Americans Elect! As I've reported, the upstart political reform group wants voters to nominate a third party presidential candidate over the Internet. But to make any sort of impact, it first has to get on the ballot in all fifty states. Difficult? Certainly. Inconceivable? Hardly. This week, the group secured a ballot line in California, a crucial state in what's clearly going to be a contentious presidential election.

To celebrate their emerging relevance, the Americans Elect braintrust held a celebratory conference call with reporters today, Dave Weigel reports. And they made some news, announcing that the group's influence is apparently so expansive that "labor leaders" are talking to them about running candidates on the AE ticket.

But lingering questions remain about who, exaclty, is bankrolling the group's efforts. In recent news reports, the group says it has raised some $20 million dollars. But because it's registered as a tax-exempt 501 (c)(4) group, it doesn't have to disclose its donors, inviting scrutiny from campaign finance reform groups who suspect that much of the money comes from wealthy hedge funders.

Of course, Americans Elect isn't going to let that slow them down. So said Darry Sragow, a strategist for the group:

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Reframing the Mandate

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 2:36 PM EST

Sarah Kliff points us today to yet another Kaiser poll on Obamacare, which yet again finds that people hate the individual mandate. However, the Kaiser folks also find that some arguments in favor of the mandate reduce the level of opposition:

This got me thinking. I just finished reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, which naturally got me thinking about Prospect Theory, one of my favorite socio-econo-behavioral theories of the past few decades. There's a lot to Prospect Theory, but its most famous aspect is its focus on loss aversion. Most people, it turns out, aren't so much risk averse as they are loss averse: they prefer a sure gain over a gamble for a bigger gain, but they prefer a gamble when the alternative is a sure loss. Bottom line, people really, really hate to lose things that they already have.

This sounds obvious, but it turns out to have a lot of useful and nonobvious applications. And now, I'm wondering how it could apply to the mandate. In its usual form, the individual mandate forces people to take a guaranteed loss. Basically, this is the question people are being asked:

Would you rather take a sure loss now (i.e., be forced to pay for health insurance) or take a gamble that you'll be healthy for the next year and won't have to pay anything?

Put that way, people tend to be loss averse and they dislike the mandate. So here's the question: is there a way this can be reframed into a sure gain vs. a gamble for a bigger gain? If it can, then most people will prefer the sure gain. However, I'm not very creative and I can't really think of anything. It would probably be something along these lines:

Almost everyone gets sick eventually. Would you rather be guaranteed proper treatment when you get sick, or take a gamble that you'll never get sick and you'll come out ahead on health insurance premiums?

That's not very convincing. But maybe the hive mind can think of something better. There's not really much going on for the rest of this week, so this is as good a question to ponder as anything.

Bankers, Billionaires Try to Form Movement Against OWS

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 1:47 PM EST
"I got your job creation right here."

Whaddaya know? It seems the rich now want to eat the folks who want to eat the rich. Wrap your head around this Bloomberg report:

Jamie Dimon, the highest-paid chief executive officer among the heads of the six biggest U.S. banks, turned a question at an investors' conference in New York this month into an occasion to defend wealth.

"Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it," the JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) CEO told an audience member who asked about hostility toward bankers. "Sometimes there's a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole."

Dimon, 55, whose 2010 compensation was $23 million, joined billionaires including hedge-fund manager John Paulson and Home Depot Inc. (HD) co-founder Bernard Marcus in using speeches, open letters and television appearances to defend themselves and the richest 1 percent of the population targeted by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

If successful businesspeople don't go public to share their stories and talk about their troubles, "they deserve what they're going to get," said Marcus, 82, a founding member of Job Creators Alliance, a Dallas-based nonprofit that develops talking points and op-ed pieces aimed at "shaping the national agenda…"

Several irate members of the Job Creators Alliance were interviewed for this piece and discussed how upset they are about Dodd-Frank, OWS agitators, and populist rhetoric coming from the left. "Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let's call it an attack on the very productive," John A. Allison IV, a director of BB&T Corp. (BBT) and a professor at Wake Forest University's business school, told Bloomberg. "This attack is destructive."

The fact that hedge fund managers and politically active gazillionaires are trying to organize a forceful push-back against Occupy Wall Street isn't all that surprising; what is somewhat surprising is how little Max Abelson, the author of the Bloomberg story, bothers to hide his disdain for his interview subjects. Virtually every dickish quote from a corporate counter-protester is undermined by the clause or sentence immediately following it. Read how the piece doubles as a crash course in unintentional lulz:

"If I hear a politician use the term 'paying your fair share' one more time, I'm going to vomit," said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Ken Langone, 76, [a] Home Depot co-founder and chairman of the NYU Langone Medical Center, said he isn't embarrassed by his success.

"I am a fat cat, I'm not ashamed," he said last week in a telephone interview from a dressing room in his Upper East Side home. "If you mean by fat cat that I've succeeded, yeah, then I'm a fat cat. I stand guilty of being a fat cat."

It gets worse.

Chart of the Day: The New Normal

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 1:41 PM EST

EPI has a handy year-end collection of "11 Telling Charts From 2011" that's worth checking out. Everyone loves a good chart, after all. I've taken the liberty of adding some holiday festoonment to one of them, which shows the total number of people who are unemployed or underemployed or who have just given up completely. As you can see, things have been improving over the past couple of years, and if we continue at our current rate we should reach a decent level of unemployment by around 2020 or so. Assuming, of course, that there are no additional setbacks or economic turndowns along the way. Needless to say, we could do better than this if we wanted to, but guess what? It turns out that not everyone wants to do better. Merry Christmas from the GOP, everyone!

Life in Old Carthay

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 12:56 PM EST

John Hood notes an anniversary today:

Today might be a good day to whistle while you work. On this date in 1937, the first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, premiered at the Cathay Circle Theater in Los Angeles.

Oddly enough, this is incorrect. The film premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. This is because there's a residential district near Fairfax in LA called Carthay Circle. I drive by it whenever I go up to the Farmers Market for lunch, and I've always wondered why it was so oddly misspelled. Now I'm inspired to take the ten seconds required to find out. Ladies and gentlemen, Wikipedia to the rescue:

In 1922, J. Harvey McCarthy developed the area as an upscale residential district along the San Vicente Boulevard line of the Pacific Electric Railway....McCarthy originally named the district Carthay Center (Carthay being a derivative of the developer's last name).

Really? Carthay is a derivative of McCarthy? That's just bizarre. But now I know. And so do you, even if you didn't want to.

Ron Paul Takes the Lead in New Iowa Caucus Poll

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 12:16 PM EST

Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian favorite in the GOP presidential field, is giving establishment Iowa politicos headaches with his steady rise in popularity in their state, leading to predictions by some that the Texas congressman will win the state's caucuses next month. A new Iowa State University/Gazette/KCRG poll won't quell that speculation.

In the poll, Paul has overtaken former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the top spot, with 27.5 percent of those polled saying they'll back Paul. Gingrich grabbed the second spot, with 25.3 percent. Mitt Romney (17.5 percent), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (11.2 percent), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) rounded out the top five.

The ISU/Gazette/KCRG poll's organizer, however, says caucus-goers' opinions remain fluid, and that Paul's rise hardly guarantees his victory, KCRG reports:

While Paul's lead is easily within the margin of error, James McCormick, professor and chair of political science at Iowa State and coordinator of the poll, says the polling found that 51 percent of those naming the libertarian-leaning Texan as their first choice are "definitely" backing him.

The percentage for the next two candidates is much weaker, at 16.1 percent for Romney and 15.2 for Gingrich, McCormick said.

"Moreover, the percentage of respondents 'leaning to' or 'still undecided' in their support for these latter two candidates remains high, at 58 percent for Gingrich and 38 percent for Romney," he said. "In other words, I'm going to make the case that these numbers are still very soft for those two candidates."

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Romney's Plan: Say Anything

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 12:11 PM EST

Mitt Romney has a shiny new stump speech. Behold:

Just a couple of weeks ago in Kansas, President Obama lectured us about Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy of government. But he failed to mention the important difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Roosevelt believed that government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities. President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes.

In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing—the government.

The truth is that everyone may get the same rewards, but virtually everyone will be worse off.

This comes via Jon Chait, who says: "This isn’t just a casual line. In eight sentences, Romney asserts over and over again that Obama wants to create 'equal outcomes' and give everybody the 'same rewards.' This is nuts, Glenn Beck-level insane."

In a macabre sort of way, this is all kind of fascinating. Politicians and corporations engage in meaningless puffery all the time, but to be effective it has to be based on at least a tiny core of truth. Obamacare may not have been a "government takeover of healthcare," as Republicans said, but it did give the government a great big slug of additional influence and control over the healthcare system. There's just enough truth there to hang the more audacious claim on, and this lends it enough of an air of plausibility to make it stick.

But Romney's not doing this. Like his "Apology Tour," this is just flatly made up. Ditto for his claim last week that Obama thinks we're living in a post-American century. 

So what's the strategy here? In the primaries, I assume he's calculated that it just doesn't matter. The true believers will believe anything, and the more outrageous it is the better. Romney typically uses over-the-top criticism of Obama to deflect criticism of his own record ("I've never flip flopped in my life, but what's really important is that Barack Obama has said he wants to give Texas back to Mexico"), so this is just more of the same. Romney is hoping that by demonstrating a bit of insanity in the hate-Obama department, primary voters will cut him some slack on being relatively non-insane in the policy department.

But what about the general election? Independents aren't going to go for this stuff. They'll just shake their heads and wonder what the hell he's talking about. So is he going to ditch this stuff completely after he's won the nomination and pretend that he never said it? Or will he keep pressing, literally hoping that if you say anything often enough you can get people to believe it? It is a mystery.

The Defense Bill and Rendition of US Citizens

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 12:11 PM EST

My colleague Nick Baumann writes about the National Defense Authorization Act giving congressional sanction to the idea of handing over US citizens to foreign security forces for the purpose of detention or interrogation:

Eviatar adds that there are "a whole lot of scenarios" where the government might want to transfer a suspected terrorist—even a US citizen—to foreign custody. For example, the administration might not want to go through the political mess of determining whether to send a suspect to Gitmo, try him in a military commission, or use the civilian system. The administration might also want to avoid the mandatory habeas corpus review that would come if the US held the suspect itself. In such a case, transferring the suspect to a foreign security force might present an appealing option.

Baumann notes that Americans have already been detained by foreign governments—including during the Obama administration, saying, "Although the program raises civil liberties concerns, especially in cases where American detainees claim to have been abused in foreign custody, it's not necessarily illegal—and now, with the passage of the NDAA, the transfer of terrorist suspects to foreign countries has formal congressional sanction."

GOP Congressman Bashes Payroll Tax Cut Extension, (Mis)Quotes "Schoolhouse Rock"

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 9:11 AM EST
The true face of bipartisanship.

Behold: the unnerving fusion of Congress' payroll tax-cut debacle and '70s children's cartoons.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) contended that "[e]very single business group says a two-month extension [of the tax cut] is totally unworkable, and will do more harm than good." Hensarling's comments came after the GOP House leadership had decided on Monday night to vote to appoint conferees instead of actually voting on the Senate compromise.

"Since the dawn of the republic, these are how differences are settled between the House and Senate," Hensarling condescendingly insisted on the House floor. "If you don't remember your civics 101, maybe if you have small children like I do, you can go back and watch the Schoolhouse Rock! video. It's very clear."

Fox and Sarah Palin Freak Over White House Christmas Card

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 7:21 AM EST

Courtesy of Fox NationCourtesy of Fox NationThe 2011 White House Christmas card features a content looking First Pup Bo Obama sitting by a roaring fireplace, flanked by Christmas presents and festive Christmasy ribbons and pine wreaths and bulbs. If you listen hard, you can almost hear sleigh bells.

It's all pretty non-controversial. Boring, even. Unless, of course, you're Fox News—in which case the bookshelf is filled with Lenin's B-sides, the Constitution is burning in the fireplace, Winston Churchill's bust is conspicuously absent, Bo has become dependent on the federal government for handouts, and the empty seat is a stirring reminder of President Obama's nonexistent leadership. I'm exagerrating, but only slightly:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told Fox News & Commentary that she found the card to be a bit unusual.

"It's odd," she said, wondering why the president's Christmas card highlights his dog instead of traditions like "family, faith and freedom."

...

Palin said the majority of Americans can appreciate the more traditional, "American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree."

As for the Obama card, she replied, "It's just a different way of thinking coming out of the White House."

Why does Sarah Palin hate puppies?

Update: But since Fox News has brought up the subject of Christmas cards, perhaps we should take a look at the official Fox Business Network Christmas card this holiday season. Here's one, via New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter:

Courtesy of Brian StelterCourtesy of Brian StelterThat's a pair of foxes roasting the NBC peacock over an open fire—which, for you non-Christians out there, is an oft-overlooked aspect of the of the story of the first Christmas. And via reader Jason Sparks, take a look at Ronald Reagan's White House Christmas cards. They're nearly identical to Obama's, except there's no puppy. "Family, faith, and freedom" are, presumably, represented by the antique furniture, fireplaces, and tacky lighting.