June 2012


A recent Fox News poll of 912 registered voters conducted  on June 24-26, before the Supreme Court’s healthcare ruling, shows President Barack Obama leading challenger Mitt Romney 45-40, with 10% undecided.

In addition, the poll found that 47% of respondents thought Obama “will do a better job looking out for you and your family during tough economic times,” compared to only 36% who felt that way about Romney.

Obama also lead Romney by a 14-point (41-27) margin when asked which candidate had a clear plan to improve the economy.

The poll also showed a presidential approval rating of 48% and a disapproval rating of 43% with 9% undecided.

Finally, the poll found that 54% of respondents favored the Obama administration’s recent decision to stop deportation and grant work permits to undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought here as children. Only 36% opposed this decision.

The poll was conducted among randomly selected landline and cellular phones and had a 3-point margin of error.

I’ve mentioned before that I find national presidential polling to be somewhat pointless. However, I always find it interesting when Fox News releases a poll that shows Obama with a wider lead than the averages of respected poll aggregators like Real Clear Politics (3.6-point lead) or the Huffington Post (1.5-point lead).

Advertisements
United States Supreme Court upholds Obamacare

Image Credit: dbking via Flickr

As everyone is no doubt aware by now, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld nearly every provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) earlier today in a 5-4 ruling.

Despite many predictions to the contrary, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate. The Court ruled that the mandate is constitutional as a tax, but not under the Commerce Clause.

“In this case, however, it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.”

Republicans are desperately scrambling to put a favorable spin on the Supreme Court ruling, insisting that the ACA is nothing more than a new tax that must be repealed. Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) went so far as to say that “Obamacare is a malignant tumor that feeds on America.”

Republican attempts to paint the Affordable Care Act as a tax increase rather than a healthcare bill are patently absurd.  The ACA is far from a mandatory tax increase — anyone can choose to opt out of the tax, simply by buying health insurance.

Furthermore, unlike nearly every other Federal tax, there are no real penalties associated with not paying this tax. According to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax cannot be enforced with liens or property seizures, interest cannot be assessed, and civil or criminal penalties cannot be imposed for non-compliance.

The Supreme Court also ruled that the Federal government cannot withhold Medicaid funds from states that opt out of the Medicaid expansion proposed in the Affordable Care Act.

All things considered, this is a much better outcome than many pundits expected. However, many are concerned that states with conservative governments will refuse to participate in the Medicaid expansion.

At least one Republican governor, Bob McDonnell (R-VA), appeared to indicate that his state will implement the Medicaid expansion.

“This is going to be a huge expansion of Medicaid,” he said. “In coming months, Virginia’s health care leaders will work to develop the best possible system to meet the health care needs of our citizens.”

While this is far from an explicit assurance that Virginia will implement the Medicaid expansion, it is strongly suggestive that it will.

Gov. McDonnell also claimed that the Medicaid expansion would cost Virginia $2.2 billion over the next 10 years, while conveniently forgetting that the vast majority of Medicaid funding will come from the Federal government.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Specifically, the federal government will assume 100 percent of the Medicaid costs of covering newly eligible individuals for the first three years that the expansion is in effect (2014-16). Federal support will then phase down slightly over the following several years, and by 2020 (and for all subsequent years), the federal government will pay 90 percent of the costs of covering these individuals. According to CBO, between 2014 and 2022, the federal government will pay $931 billion of the cost of the Medicaid expansion, while states will pay roughly $73 billion, or 7 percent.

Many of the states that would benefit most from the expansion, such as Texas and Florida, are also states with severely conservative governments. Expanding Medicaid in these two states alone will extend health insurance coverage to approximately 2.8 million more people, according to the Urban Institute.

Only time will tell which states decide to implement the Medicaid expansion. In the years to come, it’s likely that even the most conservative states will recognize the overwhelming benefits this expansion will have for their residents.

Amendment 64, legalizing and regulating marijuana, has overwhelming support among ColoradansThe recent June 9 Rasmussen Reports poll, released four months before the election, shows that 61% of likely voters in Colorado support Amendment 64, also known as the Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act of 2012. Only 27% of Colorado likely voters are opposed, while 12% are undecided.

To put this in perspective, a poll conducted in California four months before the 2010 election found that only 44% of Californians supported legalization, 48% were opposed, and 8% were undecided. The California amendment, Proposition 19, was defeated 53.5% to 46.5% on Election Day.

In Colorado, as in California, a major factor in the eventual success or failure of the marijuana legislation is the groups that are for or against it. Amendment 64 is supported by the Colorado Democratic Party, the state medical marijuana industry, and a variety of activist groups. According to the Denver Post, supporters of Amendment 64 have raised approximately $2 million, all but $16,500 of which is from out of state.

Opposition to Amendment 64 remains light, with State Senator Steve King and the group Smart Colorado, run by Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, as the only major opposition thus far. The Denver Post reports that Smart Colorado has raised $15,000, $10,000 of which is from outside Colorado.

Opponents of Amendment 64, like Robert Sherman of CRL Associates, argue Amendment 64 is “bad for business as far as employers are concerned and it impacts how employers deal with their employees. We’re talking about huge ramifications on our children, on our state, and just the whole impacts on health and education.”

Supporters of this amendment, such as Tony Ryan, a former Denver police officer, argue, “Keeping marijuana illegal doesn’t do anything to reduce marijuana use, but it does benefit the gangs and cartels who currently control the illegal marijuana trade.” It will also provide much-needed tax revenue.

A similar measure from 2006, Amendment 44, sought to legalize marijuana but did not seek to regulate it in the same fashion as alcohol and tobacco. A poll conducted 40 days* before the election showed 29% of likely voters supported this amendment, 36% were opposed, and 35% were undecided.

Amendment 44 was defeated 59 to 41 with about $200,000 raised in favor and $1 million** raised by opposition groups. It is a fair assumption that many of the same groups that opposed this legislation in 2006 will oppose Amendment 64 in 2012.

However, a fundraising advantage does not necessarily indicate which side will be more successful. Approximately $4 million was raised in support of Proposition 19 in California, while only $320,000 was raised by the opposition. As mentioned above, that measure was defeated by a 7-point margin.

Nationally, it appears public opinion is shifting toward legalizing and regulating the sale of small amounts of marijuana. A nationwide poll released on May 17, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports showed 56% of likely voters supported legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, while only 36% were opposed.

Barring any significant shifts in public opinion or massive increases in opposition fundraising, it appears Amendment 64, to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol, is well on its way to becoming law.

Update: The Public Policy Poll of registered voters released today shows 49% in favor of legalization and 43% against with 8% undecided. Independents support legalization 49-40, young people favor it 58-33, and voters over 65 oppose it 58-33. It appears the fate of this amendment will likely be determined by voter turnout in these two groups. Young voters historically have higher turnout during presidential election years, an advantage Prop 19 didn’t have in 2010.

 

*It’s somewhat problematic to compare a poll conducted four months before an election to a poll conducted 40 days before an election, but I was unable to locate any other polling for Amendment 44.

**Some of the committees that opposed Amendment 44 also opposed other measures on the Colorado ballot, so it is impossible to determine how much of this $1 million was spent solely against Amendment 44.

Credit: Tod Baker via Creative Commons

I read in the Denver Post earlier that the head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dan Arvizu, said at a conference recently, “if we don’t start phasing out even a scale-up of natural gas by 2040, 2050, we will not achieve any of the carbon loading goals we have set for ourselves.

On a related note, Think Progress reports that the “International Energy Agency Finds Safe Gas Fracking Would Destroy A Livable Climate,” based on the conclusions drawn by the IEA in its recent Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas report.

They’re right, of course. Natural gas alone is not the solution to climate change or to our reliance on other, dirtier, fossil fuels. It may be better than coal or oil, but it should never be viewed as more than an intermediate step.

Besides, if we allow the gas industry to become as powerful as the oil and coal industries, we’ll probably have to fight the gas industry in 2040 in much the same way that we’re fighting coal and oil now.

So is there any place for natural gas in a renewable energy economy?

Some argue that there is no place at all for natural gas; while it may generate lower carbon emissions than coal, it is still a fossil fuel and therefore must be phased out as quickly as possible.

It’s hard to argue with that, but the problem remains that we still don’t have a fully viable alternative to energy generated using fossil fuels or nuclear power.

Don’t get me wrong: wind, solar, wave, and geothermal energy are fantastic. I have every confidence that these forms of energy production will reach the point where they provide all the energy we need.

But they’re not there yet. There are still some problems with these forms of energy that have not been fully addressed. The wind isn’t always blowing, the sun isn’t always shining, geothermal and tidal power are only available in certain regions, and the U.S. power grid isn’t nearly efficient enough to transport energy from one region to another. Unfortunately, that means that electricity from those sources is currently not as reliable as energy produced from coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plants.

It’s true that a diverse energy grid drawing from of a variety of renewable sources can easily provide base load power. However, due to the intermittent nature of most varieties of renewable energy, renewables can’t produce power in a way that effectively meets peak energy demand.

Coal and nuclear power plants are also much more efficient at providing base load than peak load, because these power plants rely on turbines powered by steam. Once a coal or nuclear plant is ‘turned on’, it often takes days before it is operating at full efficiency.

Battery technology hasn’t yet reached the point where excess energy generated using renewable sources can be stored and then released later to address peak demand, so what do we do until it reaches that point?

That’s where natural gas comes in. In natural gas turbine power plants the combustion of the gas itself spins the turbine, so gas power plants don’t take nearly as long as coal or nuclear to reach peak efficiency. This makes power from gas turbines the ideal candidate to handle peak load. In fact, that’s exactly how they’re used today.

Even though the primary methods of producing natural gas are oil wells and fracking, these are not the only options. Natural gas can also be captured from ranches and landfills, or created with fermentation. When produced using these options, natural gas is much cleaner than when produced with fracking.

So yes, natural gas does have a place in a renewable energy economy, but only when used responsibly – as a complement to, not a replacement of, renewable energy.

Until better battery technology arrives, we don’t really have another option.

I got an email from the Romney campaign last night, crowing about how the Romney campaign out-raised the Obama campaign for the first time in May.

There was one part that I thought was especially fitting. I’ve suppressed my gag reflex and copied the email below:

Friend,

Thanks to supporters like you, the Romney Victory effort has out-raised Obama’s Campaign Machine in May.

This country wants a change, and nearly 300,000 donations show Americans are ready to put their money where their hearts lie.

This is just the beginning. However, Obama’s campaign manager was right about one thing: “What happens next is up to you.”

Let’s continue toward victory this month. Donate $10 or more today.

Matt Rhoades

I think Mr. Rhoades just came up with the new Romney campaign slogan: “Mitt Romney: he puts his money where his heart lies.”

Scott Walker – Image Credit John Rossomando

The New York Times reports that Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch survived the recall election.

Wisconsin Speaker of the House Jeff Fitzgerald has also survived. As I write this, no other results have been announced.

The political left and right will look high and low for ways to spin these results to reflect themselves in the best light. The left will say the recall results are a result of unprecedented election spending. The right will say they’re a vindication of Walker’s policies and a bellwether for the presidential election.

In the end, the Wisconsin results were probably influenced by both of these factors.

But in my opinion there’s a more relevant reason Scott Walker and the rest survived the Wisconsin recall elections.

According to the Wisconsin recall exit polls, 60% of Wisconsin voters think recall elections are appropriate “only for official misconduct”. Of this group, 67% voted for Walker.

Interestingly, though, 53% of recall voters said they’d vote for Obama if the elections were held today, while only 42% chose Romney.

So it’s possible the majority of Wisconsin voters chose to put aside their partisan differences and vote their consciences. Maybe they, regardless of party, just don’t think Walker did anything to justify a recall election.

 

The Wisconsin recall exit polls are based on questionnaires filled out by 2,448 voters as they left 35 randomly selected precincts. The exit polls have a margin of error of 4 percent. Results based on smaller sub-groups have a larger potential sampling error.

 

Update: I found the rest of the recall results for the Wisconsin senate races. Looks like all the races have been called in favor of the Republicans except one.

Neil Bush – Photo Credit: Kiev Ukraine News Blog

On Thursday, May 31, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney stood outside the abandoned headquarters of Solyndra, a bankrupt solar company that was backed by some $500 million in federal loan guarantees, and said, “free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.”

What he didn’t say is, to the Republican Party, free enterprise is exactly that.

The very next day, Konarka, a Massachusetts-based solar manufacturer, announced that it was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and would lay off all its employees.

That marks the second bankruptcy of a solar company that was backed by Governor Romney’s administration. The other company, Evergreen Solar, declared bankruptcy in August 2011.

Maybe Obama and Romney’s administrations should have been a little more careful about who got these loans, but that’s also part of free enterprise. Romney’s experience at Bain has undoubtedly taught him that sometimes bad investments happen.

Even so, the administrations didn’t do anything wrong by making these loans. It is common practice for federal and state governments to provide loans and loan guarantees to companies in fledgling industries such as renewable energy.

It is, however, downright hypocritical for Romney and the Republicans to try to make Solyndra into a campaign issue.

At this point, the more conservative among you are probably saying that it’s not the same because “Solyndra’s chief backer was George Kaiser, an oilman who made billions of dollars and was a big donor and fundraiser for the Obama 2008 campaign.”

Or they might point to Romney’s claim that Solyndra funds were steered to “friends and family, to campaign contributors.” This claim, by the way, was debunked in detail by ABC.

But it would be hypocritical for Romney and the Republicans want to talk about steering federal funds to friends and family if they’re guilty of the same thing, right?

Does anyone remember the Silverado Savings and Loan bailout? From Wikipedia:

Silverado Savings and Loan collapsed in 1988, costing taxpayers $1.3 billion. Neil Bush, son of then Vice President of the United States George H. W. Bush, was on the Board of Directors of Silverado at the time. Neil Bush was accused of giving himself a loan from Silverado, but he denied all wrongdoing…

As a director of a failing thrift, Bush voted to approve $100 million in what were ultimately bad loans to two of his business partners. And in voting for the loans, he failed to inform fellow board members at Silverado Savings & Loan that the loan applicants were his business partners.

Neil Bush paid a $50,000 fine, paid for him by Republican supporters, and was banned from banking activities for his role in taking down Silverado, which cost taxpayers $1.3 billion. A Resolution Trust Corporation Suit against Bush and other officers of Silverado was settled in 1991 for $26.5 million.

So Neil Bush almost single-handedly destroyed Silverado Savings and Loan, costing American taxpayers $1.3 billion under the Reagan administration’s savings and loan bailout program.

…And the Republicans accuse President Obama of “crony capitalism”?

What Romney should have said is, “free enterprise to the Republicans means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to their families.”

Next Page »