Keep The Electoral College

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsHere we go again.

Once again, our unique system of electing a president is under attack as an antiquated, unfair anachronism, unjustifiable in our modern age. A growing number of Americans believe that the Electoral College should be abolished and that a national popular vote should replace our 230-year-old system of electing our President. We beg to differ.

The constitutional provision establishing an Electoral College (Article II. Section 1.) can, of course, be revisited by amending the constitution. Indeed, our governing document has been amended 27 times (including the Bill of Rights) in the past 230 years, including the twelfth amendment, which consolidated, within the College, the voting for President and Vice President into one ballot to avoid a reoccurrence of contests between President and Vice President.

There has been a movement to gut the Electoral College called the National Popular Vote Compact, which would require that all states adopting the Compact mandate their electors to cast their ballots in favor of whoever won the national popular vote— even if that vote conflicted with the outcome of the vote in the electors’ own state. We, and many others, see this movement as an attempt to emasculate the intent of the framers without going through the bother of an arduous amendment process, which could, of course, never succeed.

Theoretically, the National Popular Vote Compact would not have to be adopted by every state in order to change the way we have conducted elections since the founding of the country. The Compact would, theoretically, become effective as soon as enough states joined which, together, commanded a total of 270 electoral votes (the number required to win the presidential election.

We think such tampering with the Electoral College would result in even greater divisiveness than currently exists in the country. More on that later. Right now, let’s review precisely what the Electoral College is…and what it isn’t.  The Electoral College is not a physical place like a school.  It is simply a group of elected individuals in each state organized by the constitution to achieve a singular common goal – to express (by casting their ballots) the will of their respective states.  Each of our states does, in fact, conduct a popular, winner-take-all election. The number of each state’s electors (in the Electoral College) is equal to the number of representatives and senators each state has in the US Congress, so every state is represented in the nation’s Electoral College in a manner reasonably proportionate to its population. That is what makes every electoral vote so important, especially in close elections. In a very close election, small states with only two or three or four electoral votes can decide who becomes president. Thus, it is very consistent with our federalist system. It makes it impossible for two or three very densly-populated geographical regions to totally control a presidential election. Every state has someone at the table in the Electoral College. So why are some people so opposed to the Electoral College? Primarily, because (at first blush) a system in which whoever gets the most popular votes wins, seems very fair and very appealing.

So what’s wrong with that? Well, for one thing, it would pit regions with high population densities against less populated regions assuring that the big population centers could, essentially, dictate who occupies the White House. That is, to some extent, as true today as it was at the founding when the United States of America consisted of only four million men and women in 13 states spread along 1,000 miles of the east coast with the bulk of the population residing in four states — Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The creation of the Electoral College was essential to persuading the other nine less populated states to join the union.

Even today, with a population of 320 million, 52% of Americans live in coastal counties and 40% live directly on the shoreline of the United States. That means about half the country lives in the immense 3,000-mile divide between the coasts.  Of the nation’s 3,144 counties, only 22% (691) are coastal with the remaining 78% located inland.  While Clinton won the popular vote, she lost in over 3000 of the nations 3144 counties. That’s why the electoral map is so red, even though Clinton won in areas with heavy population densities. Our federalist system was created to assure that every state was, politically, important.

The Electoral College also  makes it very difficult for fringe party candidates to win a national election by cobbling together pockets of votes in many states that could add up to a majority without carrying any single state.  The way our Electoral College works, if a candidate doesn’t carry a state, he or she isn’t entitled to any of that state’s electoral votes. We like that a lot! (Nebraska and Maine are exceptions in which electoral votes are apportioned by congressional district).

While the founders changed history by meticulously constructing the world’s first constitutional democracy, they never lost sight, or fear, of the potential tyranny of the majority.  They constructed a number of safeguards to give every state, large or small, a place at the proverbial table. Every state, large or small, having two Senators is one such example.  The Electoral College is another.

Twice in fairly recent history, fringe candidates were able to accumulate an impressive number of votes (here and there) without carrying a single state.  Consequently, they received no electoral votes. For example, Ross Perot, in 1992, ran as a third party candidate and cobbled together nearly 20 million votes, but he failed to carry a single state and, therefore, was awarded no electoral votes.  John Anderson of Illinois ran for President as an Independent in 1980 and won nearly 7 million votes.  He, too, failed to carry a single state and was relegated to obscurity, winning no votes in the Electoral College. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, combined, won millions of votes scattered throughout the country , but no electoral votes.

The Electoral College has stood the test of time, and has served the nation well. Let us, however, acknowledge that the Electoral College represents an imperfect process that has, on five occasions following very close elections, resulted in the elections of Presidents who had not won a national majority of the votes cast. They would be George Bush (43), Benjamin Harrison and Rutherford Hayes.  John Quincy Adams also won the presidency when the election was thrown into the House of Representatives after neither he nor Andrew Jackson received the necessary number of electoral votes to ascend to the Presidency.  The House gave the nod to Adams. And, of course, we now have Donald Trump with a plurality of 74 electoral votes and a deficit of two million popular votes.

Nonetheless, the correlation, over time, between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote remains extremely strong notwithstanding the 2016 election. Three interesting research papers co-authored by Andrew Gelman, Professor of Statistics at Columbia University, along with other prominent statisticians, demonstrate that whoever wins 51% of the popular vote has a 95% statistical probability of winning the Electoral College.

Both large states and small states can, depending on the circumstances, be the beneficiaries of the Electoral College system.   In a close election, there are many small states whose three or four electoral votes could carry the day for a candidate.

On the other hand, the prevailing winner-take-all (electoral votes) system, of course, favors the large states.  For example, no matter how tiny the margin of victory in California, the state awards all 55 of its electoral votes to the winner. That represents more electoral votes than the 15 smallest states combined. The Electoral College can provide (in very close elections) an ever-so-slight tilt making the outcome in an individual state critically important, and the federalist oriented founders would, unquestionably, have been very comfortable with that. We are too.

In our unique presidential voting system the Electoral College does help assure that large voting blocks do not necessarily dictate the outcome of our Presidential elections and that is what the founders intended and, in our opinion, that is a good thing.

If ever the national will is to amend the constitution and do away with the Electoral College so be it.  But there are those who want to do away with the Electoral College and who have devised an alternate scheme for accomplishing that. Here’s how. The US Constitution allows each state to decide how to apportion its electoral votes. In 48 of the 50 states all of the electoral votes in each state are awarded to the winner of the popular vote in each particular state (winner takes all). Two states, Nebraska (5 electoral votes) and Maine (4 electoral votes) allocate their electoral votes taking into consideration how the vote went in each state’s respective congressional districts.

The so-called National Popular Vote Compact movement would establish a Compact wherein every state that adopts the Compact agrees to allocate all of its electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote, even if that candidate does not carry the particular member state.  In other words, if a candidate who won the national popular vote got clobbered in any states that had joined the Compact, those states would still be compelled to award all of their electoral votes to that candidate.

Ironically, those who are pushing this corruption of the Constitution will succeed if they can secure the passage of the Compact in any combination of states that, collectively, have 270 electoral votes (the number of electoral votes needed to win a national Presidential election).  Those who are promoting the so-called Compact are using the language in the constitution that delegates to the states the determination of how to apportion their electoral votes to make the case that the electors can be required to cast their votes in support of a candidate that didn’t even carry their state. This political slight of hand negates and undermines the process of election designated by the Constitution. The Constitution most certainly intended that electoral votes cast in each state reflect the vote outcome in each state.

How far fetched is it that such a bastardization of the framers’ intent could ever become reality?  As of this week, eleven of the most liberal states in the nation have legislated in favor of the Compact. Together they account for 165 of the needed 270 votes necessary to do away with the framers’ intent.  Legislation supporting the Compact is pending in six other states. We expect to see this debate rekindled in the aftermath of this presidential election. We believe, however, that the Founders, once again, had it right. The effort will fail–as it should.

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An Open Letter to President-elect Trump

 

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsDear President-elect Trump,

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a centrist American (sometimes center right and sometimes center left) who did not vote for you, or for that matter, for your Democratic opponent. I am, however, writing to you because I appreciate your stated determination to be the President of all Americans whether they voted for you or not.

You have expressed a decision to appoint Supreme Court justices who are committed to overturning Roe versus Wade. I appreciate that ending a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, even under the limitations established by Roe, is a bedrock position of some of your strongest supporters. I think you also appreciate that respecting a woman’s right and a family’s right to privacy with respect to highly personal and intimate judgments is also a bedrock position of most Americans. For many years, that was your position as well.

I urge you to try to put aside labels and slogans and the support of this group or that group and focus, presidentially, on what is really at stake here—the personal and private judgment of a woman, or a family, regarding one of the most personal of all decisions. Many, who call themselves conservative, view this as a defining battle between political conservatism and political liberalism. It is not. The father of the modern conservative movement, Barry Goldwater, bristled at the thought that political conservatism might devolve into religious conservatism. Goldwater believed, and frequently expressed, that politicians sticking their collective noses into such personal, individual reproductive decisions was the very antithesis of political conservatism. As the late senator told the LA Times over twenty years ago, “…A lot of so-called conservatives don’t know what the word (conservative) means. They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right.” He was, of course, correct and we think you know that.

Not surprisingly, he also became a strong believer in gay rights, especially the right of gay men and women to serve openly in the military. He stated, correctly, that gay men had served and died for our country in every war since the Revolutionary War. You have also opined on this issue, stating that gay rights (the right of gays to marry) was now settled law. That was a correct judgment on your part. It was presidential.

A woman’s right, within certain limitations, to choose whether or not to bring a child into the world is also settled law. At least conservative Justice Sandra Day O’Conner thought it was, as did conservative Chief Justice John Roberts when he testified at his conformation hearing. Specifically, he was asked by Senator Arlen Specter, “Judge Roberts, in your confirmation hearing for the circuit court you testified: ‘Roe is the settled law of the land.’ Do you mean settled for you, settled only for your capacity as a circuit judge, or settled beyond that?”

ROBERTS: “Well, beyond that (emphasis added). It’s settled as a precedent of the court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis (the principle that legal precedent should, with rare exception, be respected). And those principles, applied in the Casey case, explain when cases should be revisited and when they should not. And it is settled as a precedent of the court, yes.“

SPECTER: “You went on to say then, ‘It’s a little more than settled. It was reaffirmed in the face of a challenge that it should be overruled in the Casey decision, so it has added precedential value.’”

ROBERTS: “I think the initial question for the judge confronting an issue in this area, you don’t go straight to the Roe decision. You begin with Casey, which modified the Roe framework and reaffirmed its central holding.”

Now, we fully appreciate that the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy within the limits established in Roe is not a universally accepted view. It has become one of the most politically charged issues in the land—a litmus test for many seeking public office, especially judgeships. We understand that highly respected jurists have widely differing views on the subject, and that you as President will have substantial latitude to appoint judges who will alter what many consider to be settled law. That is your right—your decision to make.

But we implore you to think this through carefully—presidentially. Women may face the decision to terminate a pregnancy for a variety of reasons, but it is invariably an incredibly stressful decision often driven by very complex realities. No one should sit in judgment of those realities other than the individual—the woman who is confronting them.

Sloganeering and wordsmithing crafted by political strategists have sullied rational discussion. The word fetus has been excised from politispeak. A just-fertilized ovum becomes an unborn child. That ovum may have been fertilized during a rape, but, nonetheless, that ovum would be viewed by many as an unborn child that the victim of the rape must carry and to which she must give birth. That is not a moral decision—it is a political decision. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the U.S. National Institutes of Health over 32,000 pregnancies result from rape each year in America. Let’s continue to leave the decision about what to do in such cases to the woman who was raped.

Of the 4.4 million confirmed pregnancies in the United States each year, close to 1,000,000 end in miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, during the first twenty weeks of pregnancy. Add to this the number of spontaneous abortions that occur in unconfirmed pregnancies before the mother is even aware she is pregnant, and the number of miscarriages or spontaneous abortions is estimated to be much, much, higher. These early spontaneous abortions are generally caused by chromosomal abnormalities, and they represent nature’s way of terminating a serious, and invariably deadly anomaly in the developing pregnancy. Sadly, nature’s surveillance of these anomalous pregnancies is imperfect. Advances in medical science have, however, made it possible to detect fetal anomalies that escape nature’s purview. Expectant parents can be informed, if they wish to be, very early in a pregnancy of equally anomalous fetal development that will, with absolute certainty, produce seriously abnormal, and often fatal outcomes—sometimes involving months and even years of horrible, unremitting, infant or childhood suffering.

And yes, sometimes decisions driven by extreme poverty or emotional stress, or the pregnancies of expectant mothers who themselves are children also all become part of the right-to-life versus the-right- to-choose political debate. The sad thing is that this complex and highly personal issue should not be a political debate at all. It belongs in the realm of protected privacy.

To blithely pronounce that overturning Roe, in today’s hotly-charged environment, would merely turn this issue over to the States fails to recognize the undue burden on the women (and their families) such a decision would create. Sadly, many politicians in many states have no hesitancy at all in constructing undue burdens—near impossible hurdles for women (and families) dealing with this most private and stressful decision.

For example, the State of Texas passed a law three years ago that required that all clinics providing abortion services be retrofitted to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers, which caused about half the clinics in the state to close before the courts stepped in. When it finally reached the US Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer aptly laid bare the sophistry inherent in the Texas law noting, “nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely than abortion to result in death, but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient’s own home. Colonoscopy, a procedure that typically takes place outside a hospital (or surgical center) setting, has a mortality rate 10 times higher than an abortion. The mortality rate for liposuction, another outpatient procedure, is 28 times higher than the mortality rate for abortion.” In other words, protecting the health of the woman had nothing to do with the Texas law. Creating a stumbling block, an undue burden, had everything to do with the Lone State’s legislation.

Vacating Roe will plunge this issue back into a maelstrom of political posturing that will rage for years. The varied circumstances that inform a woman’s judgment with respect to continuing a pregnancy are complex and often heartbreaking. Every case that makes its way to the Supreme Court deserves to be heard, but not by jurists who, by their own admission, have made up their minds before hearing the case.

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Mr. Trump Goes To Washington

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsSound familiar? Readers old enough may remember the original, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” the story of a hopelessly naïve Jefferson Smith (played by James Stewart) who is thrust, unprepared, into the US Senate only to find Washington a cesspool of corruption. We’re not suggesting that the old 1939 film, which many consider one of best in the annals of film making, was a prologue to the present. President-elect Trump isn’t hopelessly naïve, although his degree of preparedness, well, that might be another story.

In any event, Mr. Trump, ready or not, will be going to Washington, and any similarity between Mr. Trump’s sojourn to the nation’s capital and Mr. Smith’s will, for sure, be purely coincidental. The unprepared Mr. Smith was in a position to do little harm nor little good. The unprepared Mr. Trump can do a world of both.

To do a world of harm, all he has to do is spend a lot of time, money and credibility delivering on many of his crowd-pleasing but nonsensical campaign promises. To do a world of good, all he has to do is think presidentially—not just act or behave, but think presidentially. That’s one thing all of our great Presidents had in common— They were great thinkers. Be a great thinker, President-elect Trump.

That means President-elect Trump will have to stop antagonizing and marginalizing millions of our fellow citizens and neighbors. Seal our borders as tightly as necessary, but we have higher priorities than rounding up millions of undocumented men and women who have been here a long time, and the 380,000 children who are now protected by the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals executive order.

Like it or not, for the entire history of our country, anyone born in America is an American citizen, regardless of how their parents or grandparents arrived here. Leave those families alone. Leave them intact. You have more, much more important things to do than hunting down and deporting or breaking up law-abiding families. You will have prosecutorial discretion just as your predecessors have had. Accept your predecessor’s discretion regarding undocumented, law-abiding families that are here, most having been here for a long time, and then deal with immigration policy going forward as you deem appropriate.

We have written extensively about the sausage making that became the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Until you can figure out what to do about fixing it, we suggest you stop talking about it. There is no way to repeal it without throwing twenty million people to the wolves. Announcing (post-election) that people with pre-existing conditions will still be covered, and those under the age of twenty-six will be allowed to remain on their parents policies, was a wise thing to do, but it is the universal mandate that makes that coverage possible. It has been estimated that covering pre-existing conditions without the mandate would add $25 billion to the federal deficit.

Our guess is that defeating ISIS will take time. We understand that it played well to the crowd to promise that ISIS will be gone once you were elected and that they would be gone quickly. We know you promised a fool-proof plan for quickly defeating ISIS and taking the oil currently in their possession, but it’s probably a bit more complicated than that, and we’ll probably need considerable support of Muslim countries to do that, unless we plan to invade and occupy what’s left of Syria and what’s left of Iraq.

Thousands are marching in cities across the country to protest your election. So far these protests, with very few exceptions, have been peaceful. They’re protesting because of the divisiveness and closeness of the campaign. You’ll have your job cut out for you to unite the country now that this election is over. Let them know you don’t plan to prosecute your former opponent and throw her in jail as you promised to do during the campaign. Or if you intend to prosecute her, let President Obama know that so that he can pardon her now, and spare us the spectacle. Yes, we think her carelessness was mind-boggling, maybe even criminally so. But if you really believe the nation “owes her a major debt of gratitude for her years of service” as you said the night you declared victory, put an end to the speculation about prosecuting her.

This week we learned of various instances of lawlessness about which we should all be concerned. Swastikas painted on storefronts with the slogan, “Make America White Again,” and school children surrounding and taunting an immigrant classmate with shouts of “Build the Wall!” And children handing out faux deportation orders at a school at which children of Latin American ancestry were classmates. Everyone responsible for these calumnious, offensive insults will, we assume, be properly disciplined or otherwise rebuked. Well, maybe not everyone President-elect Trump. Truth be told, President-elect Trump, you share much of the blame. We don’t think you envisioned, nor do we think you condone such behavior, but words matter. Dog whistles matter even more. You’ll have to pick your words more carefully now.

We are strong believers in the Electoral College, about which we’ll write more in the next week or so. This election will give impetus to a movement to do away with the Electoral College or to require electors in each state to vote for whichever candidate wins the national popular vote. This election will cause many Americans to support such a movement. Many Americans wish our elections were decided by a national popular vote. Following this election, many more may feel the same way. After all, as of now, Hillary Clinton has polled over 600,000 more popular votes than you did President-elect Trump. And given that most of the remaining uncounted votes are on the west coast she may beat you with close to a million popular votes. While that wouldn’t affect the final Electoral College vote (this plurality seems to be in states she has already won) it will startle many Americans.

You are not, however, the only candidate to be elected President while failing to win a majority of popular votes nationally. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in 1824, but couldn’t win in the Electoral College. In fact, with four candidates running in 1824 (Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford and Henry Clay) no one achieved a majority in the Electoral College. The House of Representatives finally elected Adams. Rutherford Hayes lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden, but became President of the United States with a plurality of one vote in the Electoral College. Then a decade later, Benjamin Harrison (grandson of William Henry Harrison) beat Grover Cleveland in the Electoral College after losing the national election count by 90,000 votes. And, of course, George Bush beat Al Gore in 2000 by ultimately winning Florida’s electoral votes after losing the national election tally. So President-elect Trump will be the fifth President of the United States who failed to win the national popular vote. It happens.

So on January 20, 2018 the real Mr. Trump will go to Washington just as the fictitious Mr. Smith did in 1939— seventy-eight years ago. We hope there is more to the real Mr. Trump than we saw during this election campaign. Every tough decision imaginable will wind up on your desk Mr. Trump, some of them literally life and death decisions. Some will be decisions that define who we are. You are now the President-elect of all the people—even those who say you are not. You will be one of forty-four men who have led this nation.

The premise of our essays has always been that America’s best days are before us if we hold true to our founding principles. Prove us right Mr. Trump.

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Our Venerated Two-Party System: The Road Kill Of The 2016 Election?

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors  Who would have believed it?

Hillary, as we’ve observed, has been pulled by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren irretrievably to the left forcing her to oppose some major initiatives—even measures she had previously supported. And Donald Trump is, well, continuing to be Donald Trump.  Neither Party will be quite the same after this election because neither Party has nominated a candidate of whom their own rank and file largely approves. In fact, both Parties largely disapprove of their own candidates.

Now, in a bizarre turn of events,  we learn the FBI is reopening it’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server and non-government and non-secured texting and email devices.

Earlier today (Friday, October 29) FBI Director James Comey informed lawmakers the bureau is reviewing new emails related to Hillary Clinton’s personal server, which has disrupted her campaign 11 days before the election.  The Bureau is focusing on newly discovered emails to see if they are relevant to the investigation into Clinton’s server that we all thought was closed earlier this year.  FBI Director Comey issued  a letter to eight congressional committee chairmen explaining  that the newly discovered emails “appear to be pertinent” to the email probe.

Apparently, while investigating the contretemps of Anthony Weiner (husband of Hillary Clinton’s most trusted aide, Huma Abedin), the FBI learned of the existence of the emails.  “I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”

Nonetheless,  staunch Democrat voters will almost certainly stay with Clinton simply because they can’t embrace Donald Trump. She is pulling more Democrat votes than Trump is pulling Republican votes (although some of that support is probably getting flushed away with the steady torrent from Wikileaks).  What makes the impact of all of this so unpredictable is the fact that so many voters are voting for the candidate they dislike the least.  Those voters may be far more ambivalent about whom they dislike the least and, thus, late breaking news might be more impactful then would ordinarily be the case. “Yesterday I disliked Hillary the least, today I dislike Trump the least,” many may be apt to think.

The Grand Old Party will most assuredly never be the same. There are simply far too many “never Trump” Republicans, and, perhaps, an equal number of “forever Trump Republicans.”  The very fractured Republican party may, in fact, become the wellspring of a new political party just as the Whig Party was the wellspring of the Republican Party in 1854.

The American body politic has never been more poised for the emergence of a viable third party. And that’s really saying something because in our system of elections it is extremely difficult for a third party to gain any real traction.

Here’s why. Now, stay with us here. It’s called Duverger’s Law. Maurice Duverger, a French sociologist, observed in the mid 50’s that when an electoral system is based on plurality-rule, as is the case in the United States, wherein only one person can be a winner even when that person’s opponent received as many votes — less one. In other words, we have a winner-take-all system that controls congressional elections, senatorial elections and “elections” within the Electoral College. So, a third Party candidate must win more votes than the two established primary Parties to win anything at all. A very strong showing by a third-Party candidate in the United States, but not strong enough to outpace either of the two major Parties in an election, wins absolutely nothing.

The exception, of course, is when one of the two major Parties implodes because a major slice of its core ceases to identify with the Party leadership, and cleaves off and forms a new Party. That really only occurs when there is an issue that severely polarizes a political Party. But it does happen. In 1854, such an issue — slavery, fractured the Whig Party. Dissident Whigs met in Ripon Wisconsin and from that meeting evolved a new political Party. Six years later that new Party’s candidate, a former rail-splitter-turned-politician named Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican President of the United States.

Today, the Party of Lincoln is split over another burning issue — it’s very identity. Many in the Republican Party including many of the Party’s most respected leaders no longer identify with their Party’s standard-bearer, Donald Trump, nor with the positions to which he has committed himself, and, thus, the Party. It is no secret that George H.W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Cara Hills, and many others all probably plan to vote for Hillary Clinton.

The Democrats have a similar problem. Millions of young Democrats and blue-collar Democrats really can’t stand Hillary. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may be the two most unpopular candidates ever to run for President. That fact, in and by itself, wouldn’t mean much. Elections end, candidates and their supporters brush themselves off and stand to fight another day. But this time, it may be different. Tens of millions of American voters are not just seeking a change in their Party—they’re seeking a new Party altogether. Current research strongly suggests that Americans are more eager to see a new third Party than at any time in over a century.

The Gallop organization says that 57%, of voters say that a third major U.S. political party is needed, while only 37% disagree This poll was conducted last month, and found that Americans’ views of the Republican and Democratic Parties’ are near historical lows. The two third (and forth) party candidates are polling four to five times higher than third Party candidates traditionally poll.

The Politico-Morning Consult poll reports that most voters are dismayed at their major-party choices. More than half of voters think the Republican and Democratic parties could have nominated better candidates than Clinton and Trump. Only one out of four Republicans think Trump was the best choice for Republicans, compared with one-third of Democrats who think Clinton was the best Democrat for the job.

Pew Research has determined that an unusually high share of under-30 voters are saying they’ll vote third party. What makes the under-30 vote’s flirtation with third-party candidates especially interesting is that this group, today, is the most diverse ever. These are traditional safe Democrat voters who, in large numbers, have a poor opinion of both candidates.

An ever-growing number of American voters now consider themselves to be independent voters. Party loyalty seems to be on the wan. As John Kennedy famously said when he first ran for Congress, “Sometimes Party loyalty demands too much.” No one wins an election in America without winning the independent vote. So just what is the mood of America’s independent voter today? Well, rather anti Democrat and anti Republican. Now, independents have always, by and large, been receptive to third Party candidates, but never so much as today. Today a whopping 78% of independents consider a third Party to now be necessary.

There are, of course,  millions of strong Trump and strong Hillary supporters.  Many of them  are not apt to move back to the political center where moderates dwell.  Moderates, therefore, may begin to coalesce and form the nucleus of a new political Party committed to  moderation and a willingness to work together to solve problems rather than to stymie progress.

Not surprisingly, there is growing interest in a new centrist party made up of moderate Democrats and Republicans.  A new political movement that calls itself “No Labels” held its first convention a year ago and attracted eight presidential candidates and over 1500 delegates. Two recent books, “The Centrist Manifesto” ( Charles Wheelan) and “A Declaration Of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream (Greg Orman) are gaining traction as this election season spins and stumbles toward election day.

Hold on to your hat. These political winds will be blowing long after election day.

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GOP: A Party In Desperate Search Of Itself.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIt’s a mess, this election. One candidate will, of course, win and become President of the United States. The other candidate will, of course, lose. We believe, as we last opined, that Hillary Clinton will win this election and become the 45th President of the United States.

All things considered the alternative, that is, the election of Donald Trump would, to us, represent an unacceptable turn in American politics—a hail-Mary pass into a strange, dark and risky labyrinth. Great nations have, from time to time, found common cause with shallow, blustering, demagogic politicians, and those flirtations have never ended well. We do not believe the vast majority of Americans have made common cause with either candidate, but we believe the discomfort with Trump will trump the discomfort with Clinton.

We are not, however, among those who thrill to the prospect of a Hillary Clinton Presidency. But we’ll hope for the best, and for better alternatives to emerge by 2020. Hillary Clinton is committed to positions that abandon the political center for the siren call of the far left. And, according to the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, her pursuit of that siren call will increase federal spending $1.65 trillion over the next decade, raise taxes by $1.5 trillion and increase the national debt by $200 billion. And anyone who thinks the resulting tax squeeze will be limited to the proverbial one percent should stay away from people with bridges to sell.

We will not excess over her lack of foreign affairs accomplishments or her policy and management missteps or her other flaws that simply don’t commend her to the oval office. Suffice to say, she has a seriously convoluted notion of candor. But then again, her opponent in this election has not made virtue the cornerstone of his campaign either. In fact, other than bumper sticker pronouncements we’re not sure what his governing policies would be. He is, unquestionably, the most divisive personality ever to seriously seek the Presidency of the United States. All of which brings us to the purpose of our essay today.

The Republican Party is in serious trouble. The substantial, and to us troubling, number of Republicans who are devoted Trumpsters will not go away when this election is over. Most, we believe, will not be chastened either. The center will not reconstitute itself, and, indeed, the Republican center has been steadily eroding for years. This is not the party of Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt, or Dwight Eisenhower, or Jack Kemp or Richard Lugar, or William Ruckelshaus or, Bob and Elizabeth Dole or, for that matter, Ronald Reagan. This is, today, a largely angry party—sent to Washington by a largely and understandably angry electorate—angry not just because the national debt has grown so large, but angry because no one seems to care. Their constituents are angry because slow-to-no growth seems okay to our elected representatives in Washington. They are angry because student debt now exceeds almost all other “consumer” debt— even more than all credit-card debt combined. And they are frustrated that fewer and fewer of our workers have the skills to command the decent salaries that our technology-based, information economy pays.

This is not the sole fault of either Party. Both Parties have stultified with representatives who are more focused on re-election than the hard work of legislating and governing. They have, much too often, focused on their own business rather than the Peoples’ business.

To be sure, both Parties have migrated away from the political center, but the Republican Party has, generally, drifted to the right further and faster than the Democratic Party has drifted to the left — at least until 2016. The influence of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, however, is changing that. These self-styled political purists have large and very active constituencies that Hillary Clinton will have to satisfy if she is not to be a one-term President, and rest assured, Hillary will have no intention of becoming a one-term President.

America has generally been a centrist nation, always more moderate than extreme. That has been our greatest strength—our unique true North. America’s secret, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835, “lies in her ability to repair her faults.” It is not hard today to discern our faults, either from the left or from the right. We are bereft of moderates in government. Moderation has become a term of abuse on both sides of the aisle, but particularly on the right. Too many Republicans, in particular, today eschew moderation as though it were synonymous with capitulation. But it is no such thing. Governing requires problem solving, and, barring autocratic rule, problem solving requires moderation—a willingness to work together and an understanding that problem solving is, or should be, the business of politics and governing.

Ours is not a perfect system. Indeed, it is rather messy. In 1787, the 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin harbored many concerns about the proposed Constitution and had argued vigorously for provisions that did not make the final draft. Yet, in the final hours of debate at the Constitutional Convention, Franklin urged his colleagues “who may still have objections to it … to doubt a little of their own infallibility” and adopt an excellent, if imperfect, document. That advice, when writing legislation, is as sound today as it was at the founding. Making good the enemy of the perfect in a democratic, two-party system is a disservice to the country. It is foolish, even stupid.

We suspect a functional third party may emerge from this election consisting mostly of those disaffected Republicans who simply will not be able to identify with many of their post-election colleagues.

 We understand the frustration of serious men and women who are frustrated by the extreme positions of their party’s standard bearer, and we would not be surprised to see scores of them coalesce around more moderate leadership. The criticism hurled by many talk radio and cable television personalities that moderates lack principles is, of course, absurd. We have huge problems to solve including our long-term fiscal challenges, global terrorism, a broken immigration system, escalating health care costs and many more.

A more moderate Republican Party will build on the Party’s historical fiscal conservatism while remaining highly skeptical of ever expanding, ever encroaching government. But it will also remain committed to civil and personal rights, providing a safety net for those citizens who are struggling to gain their footing in a rapidly changing economy and a realistic commitment to environmental protection.

We believe a growing number of Americans will support sensible positions emanating from both parties, and that many will, of course, reject certain ideas from both parties. We recently quoted from Charles Wheelan’s Centrist Manifesto, “that the time has come to take the best ideas from each party, discard the nonsense, and build something new and better.”

All of the founders feared the rise of political parties, because they knew how divisive they would become. They also knew that the rise of political parties would be inevitable in the democratic system they were creating. Well, our Parties have, indeed, become as divisive as the founders feared. The remedy, the only remedy, might just be a new third Party that serves to ameliorate the extremes to which both Parties have migrated.

The Eden Legacy now available at Amazon, Kindle, Apple ITunes and leading book stores.

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Sometimes Party Loyalty Demands Too Much

Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors  Like now!

We do not plan to vote for Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton is, for many reasons, a problematic candidate for us. Yes, both sides have lectured us. Trump supporters tell us not voting at all, or voting for 3rd Party candidate, Gary Johnson, is a vote for Clinton. Funny thing is that Clinton supporters tell us the same thing in reverse, i.e. not voting (or voting for Johnson) is a vote for Trump.

Well, no it isn’t. A poor turn out on Election Day, which we fear and would deplore, would, nonetheless, send a message to the ruling Parties — you haven’t secured our vote simply because the other Party’s guy (and the platform handed him) is so bad; your guy (and your platform) isn’t so good either. Similarly, while Gary Johnson seems to have little chance of becoming President (he’s had one Aleppo moment too many) a strong enough Johnson showing would deny either a President Trump or a President Clinton any semblance of a mandate. And neither is deserving of a mandate, assuming “mandate” means setting the future direction of our country. In fact, an election, short of a mandate, might cause the two Parties to work together for a change. Okay, maybe wishful thinking.

Donald Trump isn’t deserving of a mandate because the sanity rate in America is still many notches above moronic. Hillary Clinton, in our judgment, isn’t deserving of a mandate because, we fear, she has been pulled irretrievably to the nethermost reaches of the leftward kingdom. She is committed to initiatives she has to know would be detrimental to the health of the nation, the prospects for growth and, ultimately, the well being of the people. Besides, winning an election because your unfavorable ratings, while stratospheric, are not as stratospheric as your opponent’s should never be construed as a mandate.

College debt in America has grown to more than a trillion dollars, so promising to do away with college debt in the future plays pretty well. So does expanding Medicare to cover more Americans, and providing family leave, and rebuilding our infrastructure does too (given that the nearly one trillion we’ve already spent on shovel-ready jobs doesn’t seem to have given us first-world highways, bridges, rapid rail or modern airports). And as for entitlement reform, don’t even think about it in Hillary’s presence, and don’t think about international trade agreements or energy independence either, unless you believe solar panels and other so-called green energy such as requiring higher ethanol blends (as Hillary does) can make us energy independent.

Hillary Clinton knows she can’t deliver on these promises by simply raising taxes on hedge fund managers and the very wealthy. Clinton’s promises will, according to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, increase federal spending by $1.65 trillion between now and 2027. Debt interest alone would rise by $50 billion with Clinton’s policies according to the Committee’s analysis. Personal and business taxation would rise by $1.5 trillion. Add it all up and her plan, according to the non-partisan committee, would raise the national debt by $200 billion. For those who believe the much vaunted American dream is gone forever and must, therefore, be replaced by a government that sees its responsibility as providing for more and more of everyone’s needs, then Hillary is your gal. And maybe, that’s where we are today, but we’re far from ready to concede that.

America, today, is not the centrist nation we once knew. There was a time when a politician strayed from the political center at great peril. Today, the center has become the path of also-rans. Americans long prided themselves on self-reliance and were motivated by the belief that they could make it — that America was, indeed, the land of opportunity, for themselves and for their children. That was the very essence of American Exceptionalism as Alexis de Tocqueville expressed it.

We must face the reality that we seem to be, today, at best a center-left nation and, quite possibly, on track to becoming a European-style leftist nation. Ironic, given that the Euro-Scandinavian model is falling out of favor over there as the left rushes to emulate it over here. Nonetheless, as former President Clinton famously advises, watch the trend line not the headline, and the trend line in the United States is, today, leftist. Hillary Clinton knows that bucking that trend will consign her to a single term should she win as we, frankly, expect she will. She will, we expect, deliver or try very hard to deliver on every promise Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren exacted in return for their endorsements. That doesn’t represent a leftward drift. It represents a hard left turn.

And speaking of former President Clinton and his reference to focusing on trend lines and not headlines, he provided some choice wisdom on where his Party’s healthcare initiative is taking us. Notwithstanding his effort to walk back his rather frank assessment of the Affordable Care Act, his observations were totally unambiguous. Here’s what he had to say: “So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world,” Clinton said. “On the other hand,” he said, “the current system works fine if you’re eligible for Medicaid, if you’re a lower-income working person; if you’re already on Medicare, or if you get enough subsidies on a modest income that you can afford your health care. But the people that are getting killed in this deal are small business people and individuals who make just a little too much to get any of these subsidies.”

So what does this bit of candor suggest? Simply that a Hillary Clinton administration will be committed to getting more people on Medicare, or an expansion of subsidies for more Americans. Maybe that’s a bargain most Americans are willing to make, but we believe it’s a Faustian bargain at best–or as the ancient Chinese warned, “be careful what you wish for.”

There is no wonder that so many prospective voters are as dejected as they are with our current candidates. The Gallop organization conducted an in-depth survey last May, the results of which should give pause to anyone contemplating a mandate for either of these candidates. Approximately 40% of Democrats in this study responded that Clinton would be an average, poor or terrible president, or, in normal parlance according to Gallop, “nothing special or worse.” Republicans’ outlook for Trump revealed a similar percentage (41%) expecting him to be only average, poor or even terrible. In other words, a sizable minority in each party held no great expectations for their nominee.

What’s more 71% of these Democrats do not believe she “can bring about the changes this country needs.” Worse, 75% disagree that she “has strong moral character.” Trump fares no better. Among Republicans, according to the Gallop survey, three themes appear most problematic among those who expressed reservations about Trump. Eighty-seven percent feel he “lacks the experience it takes to be president, 82% feel he is “not likable,” and three quarters of Republican worrywarts do not believe he “would display good judgment in a crisis.” These three themes are the most negative of any tested among those who have concerns about their Party’s standard-bearers. This is not the stuff of mandates for either candidate.

So, if we have to have either Trump or Clinton as our next President, let’s not send them to govern believing they have a strong mandate to set the future course of the nation. An election that is to these candidates sobering would be far better than an election that is to them intoxicating.

Hal Gershowitz’s “The Eden Legacy”  – currently available at Amazon, Kindle and Apple I-Tunes book store.

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No Need For a Third Party —  We Have a New First Party.

 

 Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors

Sort of.

We may very well have a new powerful political Party in the United States. The only glitch is that none of the members of this new Party know it exists. Not yet anyway. Actually, the party doesn’t know it exists yet either, but in many respects it does. What we do know is that both major political Parties have abandoned a huge swath of their members (and their supporters). Now, to be sure, we have had many elections in the United States where the nominee of a Party wasn’t the choice of everyone in the Party. But this time it is different. This time the nominees of both Parties have taken positions, subsequently codified by their Partys’ platforms that are contrary to the principles to which a significant portion of either Party subscribes. Succinctly put, the majority of Democrats and Republicans are far more centrist than their nominees and their Parties are as we approach this election. Sadly, according to a Pew research study conducted this summer, fully half of those describing themselves as likely Clinton supporters or Trump supporters consider their votes as votes against the other candidate and NOT a vote in support for their Party’s candidate. This has turned into an election in which voters will cast their ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. Most Americans eschew the extremes, yet, more and more, the extremes are setting the course of both Parties.

The Democratic Party has abandoned its traditional commitment to a safety net for the neediest among us, for a vast expansion of entitlements for, well, just about everyone. The Republican Party is embracing isolationism, a proliferationist rather than a non-proliferationist position on nuclear weapons, trickle-down economics and an extremely muscular presidency—far beyond what the Constitution, or the founders who wrote it, would tolerate. So aggravated are voters in both Parties with their government that they seem quite willing, in this election, to throw caution to the wind.

The Bipartisan Policy Center commissioned a study in 2013 to research the phenomenon of political polarization in America. It is described in Greg Orman’s very worthwhile book, “A Declaration of Independents.” The researchers devised two education reform proposals that described options on reducing class size, increasing teacher pay, and other disparities in our country. The first proposal they labeled Pan A; the second was described as Plan B. But when they asked voters about them, Plan A was described as the Democratic Party plan, and Plan B as the Republican plan to half the survey sample. The Plans were identical. Thus primed, Democrats preferred “their party’s plan 75% to 17%. Yet when the exact same details were called the Republican plan” only 12 percent of Democrats liked it. An identical dichotomy was evidenced among Republicans. Only Independents answered the question irrespective of which party label was put on it. The conclusion, “Policy positions are not driving partisanship, but rather partisanship is driving policy positions.” We’re better than that — or we should be.

So what does this mean? As Orman observes, “Republicans and Democrats have been maddeningly successful in their relentless habit of demonizing each other. As a result, political tribalism has infected millions of American voters, making them literally incapable of considering any position espoused by the other party. This threatens the possibility of intellectually honest government for the rest of us, the plurality of Americans—43 percent by last year—who want solutions to problems instead of political parties waging “permanent campaigns” designed to keep problems festering so they can raise money and stir up their respective activist bases. We’ll call those who constitute this strong plurality the nation’s New Centrists. An Esquire-NBC poll found that twenty-eight percent of these Centrists are currently registered as Republicans, thirty-six percent are Democrats, and thirty-six percent identify themselves as independents. Twenty percent call themselves liberals, 25 percent conservative, 55 percent moderate, and even 15 percent identify themselves as tea party members.

We do not remember a time when a solid majority of both Democrats and Republicans did not like the nominees of their own party. But that is where we are today. Sixty percent of Republicans and nearly sixty percent of Democrats (57%) are unhappy about who is leading their party into the 2016 presidential election.

To be sure, there is always some dissatisfaction by some within either Party with the nominee of each Party.

But this time the differences aren’t so much about which candidate has the better chance of winning, but about profound differences between what the members of each party believe and what their standard bearers believe. Most Democrats are not for vast expansions of entitlements, or greatly increasing the deficit or abandoning long-held positions on trade. Likewise, most Republicans are not economic isolationists, anti-immigration or very comfortable believing Russian Prime Minister Putin is now an ally. Eight years ago, a newly formed Obama Administration thought we could “reset” relations with Russia by merely willing it so. Seeing their standard bearer, Donald Trump, now pushing the same reset button is, to many Republicans, jaw-dropping nonsense.

Gary Johnson’s bid to be the Libertarian alternative isn’t resonating much either. The Libertarians eschew national leadership or responsibility by rationalizing that every gray, tough area of decision-making is probably best left to the states. By that logic we would still be a slave-holding country with that issue having been largely resolved by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. And how did that work out? Actually, it led to the demise of the Whig Party and the birth of the (then) far more forward-thinking Republican Party. We haven’t had a political environment as conducive to the formation of a third party since — until now.

In recent elections it was the right and left fringes of the body politic that constituted the disaffected part of the electorate. Not anymore. The left and right fringes aren’t fringes anymore. They have dominated the media. While less than 30% of the Democrat and Republican electorate urned out for the primaries that selected these two stellar candidates those determined voters were clearly dominated by the outer fringes of each party. It is not the far left and the far right that feels disaffected in this election. It is the centrist middle that finds itself sidelined, watching the political scrum that is now playing out before our very eyes.

There are new winds blowin’.

But from the sidelines thinking political activists, some Democrat and some Republican, have begun to talk about the game being played on the field, and they don’t like what they see. Neither do we. America’s political system is worse than polarized— it’s paralyzed. As best-selling author and public policy expert

Charles Wheelan writes in his best selling “Centrist Manifesto,“now is the time for a pragmatic Centrist party that will identify and embrace the best Democratic and Republican ideals, moving us forward on the most urgent issues for our nation.”

The Centrist Manifesto outlines a realistic ground game that could net at least five Centrist senators from New England, the Midwest, and elsewhere. With the power to deny a red or blue Senate majority, committed Centrists could take the first step toward giving voice and power to America’s largest, and most rational, voting bloc: the center.

Then there’s the No Labels movement, a national movement of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters dedicated to a new politics of problem solving. No Labels is building a movement for the legions of people who are tired of a political system that simply doesn’t respond to the priorities of the vast majority of the American people. No labels, now a national network of over a million citizens and local leaders across America and more than 80 supporters in the U.S. Congress, is focused on building a durable bipartisan bloc in Congress and getting our leaders to embrace and work toward a new National Strategic Agenda for America.

Hal Gershowitz’s “The Eden Legacy” now available at Amazon, Kindle and Apple Ibooks at ITunes Store.

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ObamaCare – The November Surprise

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThis is the time in every election cycle when the pundits begin drilling down on what possible “October surprises” might be lurking just around the corner to upend either of the presidential contenders. This year, will it be provocateur Julian Assange releasing embarrassing emails linking Hillary and the Clinton Foundation to some pay-to-play scandal?…or, maybe, some revelation that when Donald Trump files his tax return he doesn’t return any taxes with his return?

Actually, we’re not that focused on any anticipated October surprises this year. We’re, instead, rather intrigued by a probable November surprise. This won’t be a surprise sprung on the body politic by political dirty-trick operatives, but rather a surprise triggered by a provision embedded like a virus in the Affordable Care Act, aka, ObamaCare. You see, the open enrollment period for ObamaCare begins November 1, and that’s when most people will learn what their premium rates will be for the coming year. This year Election Day is November 8th, and we suspect that millions of voters are going to suffer some sticker shock just before they go to the polls.

ObamaCare might be the real November surprise. That’s because, until now, insurance premiums have been held in check by three provisions of ObamaCare, two of which expire just before Election Day. These three provisions are: (1) Reinsurance – that safeguards insurance companies from the impact of insuring individuals with inordinately high medical expenses (high-risk individuals). Insurance companies were to be reimbursed a substantial portion of the costs of insuring policy holders whose medical expenses were inordinately high; (2) Risk Corridors – which requires profitable insurance companies to share a portion of their profits with insurance companies that realize losses on the policy holders they insure and, finally (3) Risk Adjustment – which assures that insurance plans serving a population with lower than average actuarial risk, makes payments to those plans that have higher than average risks. Two of these three risk-mitigation plans (reinsurance and risk corridors) expired this year, so premiums going forward must now be calculated without these artificial protections.

Many companies have already applied in the states where they do business for approval of their new rates for 2017 and, well, the party’s over. California is a good example. For the past two years Californians enrolled in ObamaCare policies boasted that the ObamaCare premiums were very modest, increasing only about four percent a year. Not anymore. Californians’ ObamaCare health coverage policies are now scheduled to rise by an average of 13.2% next year — more than three times the increase of the last two years, or well over 20% for the three years. There really is no free lunch and not very many bargain lunches either.

Blue Shield of California and Anthem Inc. will both get large increases next year — more than 19%, for Blue Shield and 16% for Anthem. Los Angeles and the rest of southwest Los Angeles County will see an average increase of almost 14%. A Blue Shield spokeswoman said Blue Shield’s average 19.9% premium increase was driven by the phase-out of the federal mechanisms that had kept rates down. Fortunately, 90% of Californians getting insurance through the exchange will have their premiums largely offset by taxpayer-provided premium subsidies.

Frankly, we don’t know why anyone should be surprised by the sticker shock they are experiencing or are about to experience. It was always clear, as we wrote in these essays, that a program mandated to take all comers, healthy or infirm, and to make no distinction in the cost of risk, would become burdened with sicker policy holders than actuarially sound underwriting would dictate We believed, as did any sensible observer, that such a program would require substantial subsidies, and that when many of the subsidies were substantially lifted, many of the premiums would substantially increase.

According to rating agency, A.M. Best, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, which dominate many state exchanges, saw profits plunge by 75 percent between 2013 and 2015. Health Care Service Corp (HCSC), which operates Blue plans in five states, dropped out of New Mexico’s exchange this year after regulators refused to approve rate adjustments the company felt were justified. In Texas, Illinois and two other states where HCSC does business, medical costs for individual customers exceeded premiums by more than $1.3 billion last year. Just over half of the 23 nonprofit startups financed with Obamacare loans have folded. The 11 surviving plans continue to struggle, losing more than $400 million last year. Even Oscar, the much vaunted, tech-savvy health-care startup financed with billions in venture capital dollars, is sputtering. Medical costs for Oscar’s individual customers in New York, outstripped premiums by nearly 50 percent last year.

In many places, the situation is getting worse, because younger, often healthier people who would keep costs down are just not signing up In spite of all the hype only 12.7 million Americans signed up for Obamacare plans during the last open enrollment period. That’s far below the 22 million projected by the Congressional Budget Office, and it’s certain to decline because of rate hikes.

“The pool is far less healthy than we forecast,” said Brad Wilson, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which says it lost $400 million on its exchange business during the first two years and is weighing whether to compete for ObamaCare customers in 2017. “That’s an issue not just here in North Carolina, but all over. … We need more healthy people in the pool.”  The largest U.S. insurer, UnitedHealth, said  it would no longer sell exchange plans in New Jersey in 2017. It has now withdrawn from 27 states. Last year, UnitedHealth lost about $475 million on the exchanges; and this year it expects to lose $500 million.

Health insurance companies lost as much as 11% on their exchange plans last year. That’s more than double the amount they lost during the exchanges first year. So, no surprise—insurers are exiting the market. UnitedHealth is down to three states. Humana abandoned several markets after earnings dropped 46%. Premera Blue Cross is leaving Oregon and twelve counties in Washington State. Thirteen of ObamaCare’s 23 state-sponsored CO-OP health plans have failed, requiring three quarters of a million people to scramble to find new coveage.

Policyholders in Alabama and Alaska had access to at least seven insurers before ObamaCare. Now that’s down to one and the same pattern is emerging in many parts of Arizona, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Insurers remaining on the exchanges are asking for double-digit premium hikes. UnitedHealth wants to raise premiums 45.6% for exchange clients in New York, where the average rate-hike request is about 20%. In Detroit, Humana is asking for a 50% premium increase for its “low-cost” silver plan.

The list goes on.  Double-digit premium increases in Oregon have become the norm. Humana is seeking an average hike of 65.2% in Georgia. If Highmark’s rates are approved in Pennsylvania, its customers will pay nearly 40% more.

And because insurers are losing so much money on the exchanges, state regulators will probably have to approve these rate hikes, or these insurers may also leave. Many supporters of ObamaCare simply shrug their shoulders. As a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said the final rates are “not a reliable indicator,” since Obamacare’s subsidies obscure the actual cost of a plan for many consumers. What ever happened to the assurance President Obama gave to the American people that rates would substantially decline during his first term in office?

Today, one in two disapproves  of the law. More than half of Americans rate the coverage they’ve gotten through ObamaCare as only “fair” or “poor.”

The risk corridor was designed as a method of risk-pooling for insurance companies to entice them to join ObamaCare’s marketplace exchanges in order to create a competitive marketplace where consumers would have ample choices. Remember, the basic idea of the risk corridor was that overly profitable insurers would put their “excess profits” into a fund that would, in turn, pay out funds to insurers that were losing excessive amounts of money. Insurers wound up applying for $2.87 billion due to excessive losses, but wound up receiving just 12.6% of what they requested. There just were not many companies with such excess profits.

Small wonder more than half of ObamaCare’s healthcare co-ops had closed as 2016 began. Twenty-three co-ops that were designed to be a low-cost alternative to national providers closed. Recently, three more healthcare co-ops — Healthy CT in Connecticut, Land of Lincoln Health in Illinois, and Oregon Health Co-Op — announced that they were also shuttering their doors. Sixteen of Obamacare’s 23 alternative health-plan options have now shut down, costing taxpayers more than $1.7 billion, and causing more than 800,000 people to look for a new health plan in the coming months.

What is, to us, the most aggravating aspect of this experience isn’t the difficulty in establishing such a transformative program, but, rather, the calculated misrepresentations that were made to “sell” the program to the American people. The people were never going to be able to keep their plan if they liked it, or keep their doctor if they liked him or her, or, perhaps most disingenuous, save $2400 in premiums during the President’s first term in office.

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We’re Back! OMG What A Time To Have Been Away

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWhen we announced last year that we were going on sabbatical while co-editor Hal Gershowitz finished his historical novel, “The Eden Legacy,” we had no idea that a stranger-than-fiction drama was about to unfold within the American body politic. Our two major political parties each got the presidential opponent they could have only prayed providence would provide. Hillary, of course, was a forgone conclusion. It was her turn (again), and the most powerful political machine since the Society of St. Tammany was poised to deliver the White House. The only problem was (and is) that few voters (figuratively speaking) were very enthused about her candidacy. Her favorability ratings were hellishly low and her perceived untrustworthiness was (and remains) embarrassingly high. It was the GOP’S to lose. The Republicans, it seemed, would have to come up with an uncompromisingly  poor candidate to lose this one. And so they did.

So disgusted is the electorate with what its ruling class has wrought that the lowest coins in the favorability bank have become the golden calves of the day. That a senescent socialist curmudgeon like Bernie Sanders could have given Hillary Clinton the run for the money that he did, speaks volumes about her pre-Trump electability.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a phenomenon the likes of which we haven’t seen at the national level in American politics. He was, during the primaries, absolutely gaff proof. Gaffs didn’t matter because so many primary voters were chaffing at the bit to stick in the eye what Donald Trump calls the rigged political system. Trump has become the Jesse Ventura of national politics; except there’s a difference –Jesse Ventura had some electoral experience (Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota), and he volunteered for military service as a navy seal during the Viet Nam War.

So, barring a surprise surge about the size of the Milky Way by Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, America is about to elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as President of the United States of America and Commander-in- Chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known. According to the most recent polls, it seems a majority of American voters will be casting ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. We are at a bad place.

We will not, in this essay, dwell on the complaints and criticisms that have been, and will be, leveled at these two candidates. You have, no doubt, heard them all and have determined (1) that you don’t believe they are substantive, or (2) you don’t care, or (3) you believe he or she will still be good for the country or (4) you will vote for the one you dislike the least. Fair enough.

So, as we wrote above, we believe that the country is in a bad place. Hillary Clinton was a hard-working, competent Senator, and acquitted herself well in the legislative branch of our government. The same cannot be said of her tenure in the executive branch as Secretary of State. There have really been few, if any, foreign affairs accomplishments to commend her to the presidency of the United States. Our foreign affairs are a shambles, and her administrative competence and, frankly, her judgment appears to be woefully lacking as evidenced by the disastrous management of State Department email traffic to and from her ever-growing and ever disappearing inventory of Iphones, iPads and Blackberrys.  Nonetheless, either Hillary Clinton’s vision for America or Donald Trump’s vision for America will, presumably, set our course for the foreseeable future. We can, and should, assume that to secure Bernie Sanders endorsement and Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement, Hillary is now pretty much committed to the Sanders-Warren side of the far left. And she has told us so. As she assured the reluctant Sanders supporters after she clinched the nomination, “Your agenda is my agenda.” At a minimum that agenda includes free college and a type of Medicare for all.

Denmark seems to be the model over which the far left swoons. Bernie extolled the Denmark model for America, and Hillary’s policy statements (which are quite detailed) mirror the Sanders embrace of Denmark, even if she likes to say, “We’re not Denmark, we’re the United States of America.” So let’s pause to think about whether a society roughly built on the Danish model is what we want to emulate. We won’t dwell on the reality that recent elections in Denmark show an ascendant movement away from Danish liberalism. Let’s just look at what an American economy and social order reconstituted on a Danish model would look like, given that increasing taxes on the very wealthy won’t begin to pay for what Hillary (and Bernie) have promised.

First, the government’s “take” (spending it controls) as a percent of our total economy would double from the current 25% to about 50% as is the case in Denmark. Danes also pay a top tax rate of 60% and that top rate begins at a much lower income level than in the United States. Here’s how it’s done in Denmark. The top tax rate applies to all income earned in Denmark over 1.2 times the country’s average income. Well, in America average income is about $50,000 a year, which would mean that everyone earning $60,000 (1.2 times $50,000) or more, would be taxed 60%, and that would be in addition to a 25% sales taxes as is imposed in Denmark. The Danish system would hit the American middle class very hard.

As innovation and technology increases in any society the premium paid for higher skilled workers also increases, while the wages paid to less skilled or marginally skilled workers stagnate or diminish. While so-called corporate greed is the popular focus of income-inequality scolds, the reality is that societies with the greatest portion of highly skilled labor and the greatest number of talented innovators and, therefore, fewer poorly or marginally skilled workers by comparison will have the least income inequality.

We can’t continue to graduate a high percentage of high school students who are ill equipped to do well in college or in the work place without inculcating greater income inequality. Nor can we continue to graduate college students who spend four to six years enhancing their knowledge without enhancing their ability to contribute to their own economic growth or that of the country. Income inequality is largely a curse we are inflicting on ourselves.

Denmark hasn’t escaped the problem of income inequality either. Denmark, along with Iceland, saw the largest increase in inequality in Europe — rising 12% in each country between 2008 and 2012, according to Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union.

Hillary seems, in many respects, to embody the morality of the ethical egoist. That is, one for whom moral decisions (like truth telling) are dictated by what is in the individual’s own self-interest. We recognize that, to varying degrees, this is probably true of many, if not most, politicians. But Hillary’s long track record of explaining away endless foibles with breathtaking explanations is, well, breathtaking. Whether it was Hillary telling us (with a straight face) that she learned how to turn $1,000 into $100,000 trading commodities by reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, or landing in Croatia while dodging gun fire, or using a single communications device for convenience while really using 13 of them, or turning over all of her work-related emails to the State Department, she constantly gives credence to what one-time Clinton supporter David Geffen famously said — “everybody in politics lies, but they (the Clintons) to it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

Most of the people we talk to who are Trump supporters seem to be supporting The Donald because he isn’t Hillary. When pressed, they tell us, well, he’ll make good deals, or, he tells it like it is (which it generally isn’t), or, simply, that he’s a businessman. Donald Trump is a hit- and-miss businessman. Sometimes his ventures are successful and sometimes they have failed. Sometimes his self-vaunted deal making prowess has been impressive, and sometimes apparently less so. On balance, he has made a lot of money. That alone neither qualifies him nor disqualifies him from roosting in the oval office.

His temperament is another story. It hints at how he thinks and how he views those with whom he interacts. He seems to think that “being” presidential is just an act — something he’ll do when the script calls for it. He doesn’t seem to realize that the being in being presidential” is first and foremost, actually who one really is. As Merriham Webster explains one’s being, “it is the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.” One has little confidence that his positions are the result of reflection or introspection, but rather simply what his instincts or polls or sycophants tell him will play well at any given time.

He has chosen demagoguery as the cornerstone of his campaign. Whatever people fear, real or imagined, he will vanquish for them. No one who has criticized him has escaped his fury. He calls it counter punching. Whether his snidery is directed at a war hero, or a physically disabled reporter, or the parent of a fallen soldier, or a political opponent; it seems more to us like gutter fighting.

His campaign has been built on the emptiest of promises. He will replace Obamacare with…something terrific. He will replace bad deals with…the best deals in history. He will improve employment in America by being…the best job creator God ever created.

Perhaps Trump is a deep thinker and a wise man, but he has gone the extra mile, time and time again, since declaring his candidacy to demonstrate otherwise. He blames the country’s chronic balance of payments problems on stupid trade negotiators making the worst trade deals in history. Well, we don’t think that’s quite true, and he knows it.  There are many factors that make the US dollar strong and therefore less competitive when we’re trying to export to other countries. He chalks it all up to currency manipulation by some of our trading partners. That’s just disingenuous. The United States is, and has been for quite awhile, the world’s safest harbor (to use a metaphor). Investors the world over, both private and sovereign, prefer to invest in American business and ventures because they believe that over time it will be a more reliable and productive deployment of capital than investing elsewhere. Anyone, private or sovereign, needs US dollars to invest in our economy. That’s primarily why the demand for US dollars is strong relative to other currencies. If people are going to hold currency as an investment, most people will choose to hold US dollars. That’s because US dollars are considered safer than most other currencies. It also means we as a nation are less competitive traders when we’re selling goods and services abroad because prospective foreign buyers of our goods and services have to use more of their currency to buy US dollar denominated goods and services. Chalking up our trade difficulties to inept negotiators is, well, rather inept.

Trump supports believe other world leaders will respect him. We doubt it. We think they would consider him the occasional oddity in American politics that he is. The world has seen demagogues and bullies bluster their way into power before. It has seldom ended well.

Frankly we hope Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the libertarians, make it to the debates. Not because we endorse them for President and Vice President, but rather because their inclusion seems to hold out the only hope for rational debate rather than what we fear will be the saddest spectacle in the history of Presidential election campaigns.

WE’RE BACK!… OMG what a time to have been gone

 

 Of Thee I Sing Heading Authors

When we announced last year that we were going on sabbatical while co-editor Hal Gershowitz finished his historical novel, “The Eden Legacy,” we had no idea that a stranger-than-fiction drama was about to unfold within the American body politic.   Our two major political parties each got the presidential opponent they could have only prayed providence would provide. Hillary, of course, was a forgone conclusion.  It was her turn (again), and the most powerful political machine since the Society of St. Tammany was poised to deliver the White House.  The only problem was (and is) that few voters (figuratively speaking) were very enthused about her candidacy.  Her favorability ratings were hellishly low and her perceived untrustworthiness was (and remains) embarrassingly high. It was the GOP’S to lose.  The Republicans, it seemed, would have to come up with a comically bad contender to lose this one.  And so they did.

So disgusted is the electorate with what its ruling class has wrought that the lowest coins in the political realm have become the golden calves of the day.  That a senescent socialist curmudgeon like Bernie Sanders could have given Hillary Clinton the run for the money that he did, speaks volumes about her pre-Trump electability.  

 Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a phenomenon the likes of which we haven’t seen at the national level in American politics. He was, during the primaries, absolutely gaff proof. Gaffs didn’t matter. About a third of Republican primary voters were, and are, chaffing at the bit to stick in the eye what Donald Trump calls the rigged political system.  Trump has become the Jesse Ventura of national politics; except there’s a difference –Jesse Ventura had some electoral experience (Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota), and he volunteered for military service as a navy seal during the Viet Nam War.

 So, barring a surprise surge the size of the Milky Way by Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, America is about to elect either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as President of the United States of America and Commander-in- Chief of the most powerful military the world has ever known.  According to the most recent polls, it seems a majority of American voters will be casting ballots for the candidate they dislike the least. We are at a bad place.

 We will not, in this essay, dwell on the complaints and criticisms that have been, and will be, leveled at these two candidates. You have, no doubt, heard them all and have determined (1) that you don’t believe they are substantive, or (2) you don’t care, or (3) you believe he or she will still be good for the country or (4) you will vote for the one you dislike the least.  Fair enough.

 So, as we wrote above, we believe that the country is in a bad place.  Hillary Clinton was a hard-working, competent Senator, and acquitted herself well in the legislative branch of our government. The same cannot be said of her tenure in the executive branch as Secretary of State. There have really been few, if any, foreign affairs accomplishments to commend her to the presidency of the United States.  Our foreign affairs are a shambles, and her administrative competence and, frankly, her judgment appears to be woefully lacking as evidenced by the disastrous management of State Department email traffic to and from her ever-growing and ever disappearing inventory of Iphones, iPads and Blackberrys.  Nonetheless, either Hillary Clinton’s vision for America or Donald Trump’s vision for America will, presumably, set our course for the foreseeable future.  We can, and should, assume that to secure Bernie Sanders endorsement and Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement, Hillary is now pretty much committed to the Sanders-Warren side of the far left.  And she has told us so.  As she assured the reluctant Sanders supporters after she clinched the nomination, “Your agenda is my agenda.” At a minimum that agenda includes free college and a type of Medicare for all (vastly expanding federally mandated access to healthcare).

 Denmark seems to be the model over which the far left swoons.  Bernie extolled the Denmark model for America, and Hillary’s policy statements (which are quite detailed) mirror the Sanders embrace of Denmark, even if she likes to say, “We’re not Denmark, we’re the United States of America.”   So let’s pause to think about whether a society roughly built on the Danish model is what we want to emulate. We won’t dwell on the reality that recent elections in Denmark show an ascendant movement away from Danish liberalism.   Let’s just look at what an American economy and social order reconstituted on a Danish model would look like, given that increasing taxes on the very wealthy won’t begin to pay for what Hillary (and Bernie) have promised.

First, the government’s “take” (or spending it controls) as a percent of our total economy would double from the current 25% to about 50% as is the case in Denmark.  Danes also pay a top tax rate of 60% and that top rate begins at a much lower income level than in the United States.  Here’s how it’s done in Denmark. The top tax rate applies to all income earned in Denmark over 1.2 times the country’s average income.  Well, in America average income is about $50,000 a year, which would mean that everyone earning $60,000 (1.2 times $50,000) or more would be taxed 60%, and that would be in addition to a 25% sales taxes as is imposed in Denmark. The Danish system would hit the American middle class very hard.

Denmark also is not escaping troubling economic inequality.  As innovation and technology increases in any society the premium paid for higher skilled workers also increases. While so-called corporate greed is the popular focus of income-inequality scolds, the reality is that societies with the greatest portion of highly skilled labor and the greatest number of talented innovators relative to the total work force will have the least income inequality.  

We can’t continue to graduate a high percentage of high school students who are ill equipped to do well in college or in the work place without inculcating greater income inequality.  Nor can we continue to graduate college students who spend four to six years enhancing their knowledge without enhancing their ability to contribute to their own economic growth or that of the country. Income inequality is largely a curse we are inflicting on ourselves.  

Denmark, along with Iceland, saw the largest increase in inequality in Europe — rising 12% in each country between 2008 and 2012, according to Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union.

Hillary seems, in many respects, to embody the morality of the ethical egoist.  That is, one for whom moral decisions are dictated by what is in the individual’s own self-interest.  We recognize that, to varying degrees, this is probably true of many, if not most, politicians.  But Hillary’s long track record of explaining away endless foibles with breathtaking explanations is, well, breathtaking.   Whether it was Hillary telling us (with a straight face) that she learned how to turn $1,000 into $100,000 trading commodities by reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, or landing in Croatia while dodging gun fire, or using a single communications device for convenience while really using 13 of them, or turning over all of her work-related emails to the State Department, she constantly gives credence to what one-time supporter David Geffen famously said — “everybody in politics lies, but they (the Clintons) to it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

Most of the people we talk to who are Trump supporters seem to be supporting The Donald because he isn’t Hillary.  When pressed, they tell us, well, he’ll make good deals, or, he tells it like it is (which it generally isn’t), or, simply, that he’s a businessman.  Donald Trump is a hit- and-miss businessman. Sometimes his ventures are successful and sometimes they have failed. Sometimes his self-vaunted deal making prowess has been impressive, and sometimes apparently less so.  On balance, he has made a lot of money.  That alone neither qualifies him nor disqualifies him from roosting in the oval office.  

His temperament is another story.  It hints at how he thinks and how he views those with whom he interacts. He seems to think that “acting” presidential is just that…an act — something he’ll do when the script calls for it.  He doesn’t seem to realize that “being presidential” is first and foremost actually one’s being.  As Merriam Webster explains one’s being, “it is the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.”  One has little confidence that his positions are the result of reflection or, introspection, but rather simply what his instincts or sycophants tell him will play well at any given time.

He has chosen demagoguery as the cornerstone of his campaign. Whatever people fear, real or imagined, he will vanquish for them. No one who has criticized him has escaped his fury. He calls it counter punching.  Whether his snidery is directed at a war hero, or the parent of a fallen soldier, or a political opponent; it seems more to us like gutter fighting. 

His campaign has been built on the emptiest of promises. He will replace Obamacare with…something terrific.  He will replace bad deals with...the best deals in history.  He will improve employment in America by being…the best job creator God ever created.

Perhaps Trump is a deep thinker and a wise man, but he has gone the extra mile, time and time again since declaring his candidacy to demonstrate otherwise. He blames the country’s chronic balance of payments problems on stupid trade negotiators making the worst trade deals in history.  Well, we don’t think that’s quite true.  He seems not to understand that there are many factors that make the US dollar strong and therefore less competitive when we’re trying to export to other countries.  He chalks it all up to currency manipulation by some of our trading partners. That’s just disingenuous.  The United States is, and has been for quite awhile, the world’s safest harbor (to use a metaphor). Investors the world over, both private and sovereign, prefer to invest in American business and ventures because they believe that over time it will be a more reliable and productive deployment of capital than investing elsewhere.  Anyone, private or sovereign, needs US dollars to invest in our economy.  That’s primarily why the demand for US dollars is strong relative to other currencies. If people are going to hold currency as an investment, most people will choose to hold US dollars. That’s because US dollars are considered safer than most other currencies.  It also means we as a nation are less competitive traders when we’re selling goods and services because prospective foreign buyers of our goods and services have to use more of their currency to buy dollar denominated goods and services. Chalking up our trade difficulties to inept negotiators is, well, rather inept. Trump supports believe other world leaders will respect him.  We doubt it.  We think they would consider him the occasional oddity in American politics that he is.  The world has seen demagogues bluster their way into power before.  It has seldom ended well.  

Frankly we hope Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, the libertarians, make it to the debates.  Not because we endorse them for President and Vice President, but rather because their inclusion seems to hold out the only hope for rational debate rather than what we fear will be the saddest spectacle in the history of Presidential election campaigns.

 

 

Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.