Sunday, July 26, 2009

Three questions (in no particular order)

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
July 26, 2009

By Bill Kraus

1. It is pretty clear to almost everyone that we have a Rube Goldberg version of universal health care in this country. No one is left to die on the steps of a doctors office, a clinic, a hospital. Everyone gets treated. Late and inefficiently and expensively perhaps, but everyone who gets to a provider gets treated.

It is obvious that the people and institutions are well paid for treating all of us, insured or not.

The fact that this system is very expensive, more than twice as much per capita than health care costs in other industrialized countries, is well documented.

So if we were to change our system in ways that would reduce our costs even if what we changed to was socialized it would be rationalized as well and would cost less than what we have now.

So what are the extra trillions for?

If they are for keeping the insurance companies in the mix, my next question would be, Why would we do that? What is it that insurance companies bring to the table that has anything to do with delivering health care?

2. A lot of people seem to have noticed that a lot of stimulus money is going to governments and to the infrastructure maintenance for which governments at every level are responsible. Many of the people who have noticed this are not happy about it. My question is, “Have these people noticed that the private sector businesses and the people who lend them money and invest in their businesses are very reluctant to put money into what seems to be a dead market?”

Advertisers are not advertising. The only businesses that are still promoting their wares are pretty much in the fast food, virility, and Facebook sectors. Everyone else is looking at the wreckage of a consumer-driven, automobile-obsessed, housing-bubble market and trying to figure out where we go from here. Manufacturing? Manufacturing what? For sale to whom? Services? Services are pretty much taking in each others’ laundry.

The economists got what they wished for. They got people to start saving more and spending less. Another answered prayer gone awry.

Has anybody anywhere, not just anybody in the government who is throwing money around, figured out what the next American economy is going to look like and when it is likely to arrive?

3. Do those who talk about “recovery” think we are going back to status quo ante? Are they deluded?

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Monday, July 20, 2009

What a tangled wedge we weave

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
July 19, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The Rove-ite formula, which the GOP campaign management mercenaries swallowed whole, goes something like this: The way to win elections is to accumulate zealous interest groups, stack them up, and when this disparate collection gets to 51 percent, you win.

The interest groups of choice were not the Republicans’ traditional broad and fuzzy business groups and low-tax libertarians so much as the true believers whose mantras tended to be more social than governmental or economic.

The three favorites, chosen no doubt for their stridency, were: Right to Life, the National Rifle Association, and hard-line evangelicals.

After delivering a few election victories for the GOP, this strategy sprung some leaks.

Over-motivating the social-issue organizations, known as the base, created a couple of large, vociferous counter movements.

This was dramatically evident in Wisconsin in 2006 when the reaction to the anti-gay marriage amendment brought out enough young voters to cost the Republicans control of the state Legislature.

Even more striking was the revolt of the elderly and the moderates, who were appalled by the party’s animus toward science generally and the possibilities of stem cell research specifically.

Add to this the absurdity of the position on protecting the distribution of automatic weapons in our cities and suburbs on the contention that this is necessary to protect hunting and hunters’ rights elsewhere and to defend homesteads everywhere, and more “former Republicans” announced that they were not leaving the party, but that the party had left them.

The new Republican base exacerbated the departure of the swing voters by behaving like true believers have always behaved. They don’t discuss. They excommunicate.

Delegates to Republican conventions who suggest that abortion rights and gay marriage are not partisan issues and that gun control is more a geographical issue than a constitutional one are courting a tar and feathers exit.

The numbers are the nail in the wedgers coffin: They no longer add up to more than 51 percent.

Until and unless the party redefines itself as an organization of realistic problem solvers which, to take a prominent current example, proposes fixes for the health care cost virus that cripples the country’s competitiveness in this flat economic world, it is going to be a permanent minority disdained by the decisive, mildly partisan voters in the middle who want a government that works.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Redistricting with no benefits

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
July 12, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The way the system works now is that every 10 years the legislative leaders spend a lot of time and money cutting the state up into legislative districts. If they had their partisan way, the members of the majority party would create as many safe districts for their side as possible and let the minority party pick up what’s left. They can’t get by with this. So both sides make the map they want and then let the court decide which map is best or make a new map altogether. Very time consuming, contentious, and expensive.

What has evolved around this is a kind of win-win compromise. The winners being the legislative leaders who have to raise most of the money to fund increasingly expensive, majority-deciding races in competitive districts. The way to do that is to reduce the number of competitive races to the bare minimum.

The result of all this maneuvering is that about one-third of the races are so preordained that they are settled in July when candidates file their nomination papers. Only Dems file in some of that one-third, only Republicans in the rest. These candidates take the summer and fall off.

About another third of the races are settled in September in the primary election. If there are contests they are intra-party. Whoever wins the primary is unbeatable in the general election and gets token opposition or no opposition at all.

That should mean that a third of the legislative seats are decided in competitive races in the general election. Actually only about a third of that third are really competitive and draw most of the money.

This process decides two things:

1. The range of spending. In elections for state legislative offices this ranges from almost nothing in most up to ridiculous seven-digit levels for the handful that will decide which party will be in the majority. Being in the majority in these no-talk, no-listen, no-compromise times is inordinately important, which, of course, accounts for the obscene spending in those elections that will determine that status.

2. The other thing is who will win in 90 percent of the races. The voters are not really picking their candidates. Candidates are picking their voters. Almost all of the elections are rigged.

There are a few ideas kicking around under the dome that would change this. There are also a few redistricting models if we chose to follow examples in other states that would as well. The closest to being exemplary is also the closest geographically. Iowa has a dispassionate process that is worth looking at.

Nothing will come of any of this, of course, if redistricting reform is left in the hands of the beneficiaries of the current system who, alas, have the power to enact or ignore any ideas that threaten the status quo.

The only hope is that legislative deafness has not reached pandemic levels.

A change in the system is cheap, desirable, and possible if enough of us make enough noise to force a change in the usually indomitable status quo.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Parsimony's residue

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
July 6, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The lurch from a wants economy to a needs economy, where parsimoniousness has taken over for the credit-card driven profligacy that we had come to know and love, has created a whole new endangered species list that has nothing to do with snail darters.

Everybody knows about the fall from grace of the automobile and the bankers and a few reckless insurers, along with anyone in the construction business, particularly home construction.

All that discretionary stuff people used to buy to fill up their McMansions has pretty much gone the way of the McMansions themselves.

It would seem that those of us who are waiting for these former lynchpins of the economy to come back are in for a very long wait indeed.

What should not be overlooked are some other one-time favorites that are no longer the beneficiaries of our fiscal generosity.

Any business that depends on healthy advertising and promotion spending is on life support.

To take an example at random, sports events are beginning to wonder where the next big purse will come from. The Greater Milwaukee golf open, which was rechristened the U.S. Bank Open, will certainly go back to its old name now that U.S. Bank is on the government dole and will probably go away altogether. Lining up sponsors for these kinds of events when the sponsors have to borrow money to pay to get their names in lights is not working.

Trade and professional organizations of all kinds, sizes, and shapes are finding that their place on their members’ priority lists is at or below the cutoff line.

Worthy charities are suffering. The NY foundation that puts on a big annual dinner to raise money for research on Lou Gehrig’s disease canceled this year’s gala because its managers calculated that it would do no better than break even.

Do-good organizations are doing a lot less well, too. Now that those catalogue companies that haven’t run away altogether have run to the internet for sales, if it wasn’t for pleas from political, social, and economic advocacy groups and the regular stream of offers from Bank One’s credit card division, I wouldn’t get any mail at all.

This brings up the question of whether every dark cloud has a silver lining. Campaign spending hasn’t been put to the test yet. There have been no serious campaigns since the economy hit the wall, the super-rich became merely rich, and the nickel and dime donors’ piggy banks went on empty. Is there any reason to think that politics will be spared? At the very least, those candidates who have become accustomed to eight-digit campaign spending might have to scale back to seven digits, perhaps even the low-seven digits.

Too bad about that for the TV-ad addicted campaign managers, because the once-lush and mighty TV broadcasters have a lot of space and time they will be selling at bargain prices.

No one seems to know what the new economy will look like, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it will not be a simple reincarnation of the old economy. And the most important reason it will not is because of dramatic changes in our priorities.

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