Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

President Obama’s immigration policy

November 22nd, 2014 at 8:24 am by Lindsay Addie

Barack Obama’s announcement yesterday of amnesty for 4.7 million out of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants was widely expected. David Gergen a former presidential advisor has analysed the issue over at CNN.

It isn’t the underlying policy that is troubling. Just the opposite. We have known for years that we would never deport some 11 million people from our midst. Many have become hard-working, productive members of our society, and Congress, working with the White House, should long ago have provided them a safe pathway out of the shadows.

In that sense, this policy is good. One wonders indeed why the President, having decided to take the plunge, didn’t go further and build a pathway to fuller benefits such as health care for those who establish a solid record of work and good behaviour.

Nor is it even the questionable legality that disturbs. On many occasions during our history, presidents have tested the boundaries of their constitutional power through executive orders: Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, his Emancipation Proclamation, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s creation of the Works Progress Administration, FDR’s awful internment of Japanese-Americans, and Harry Truman’s integration of the armed forces were all accomplished through controversial executive orders.

Recent polls agree with Gergen, the public like the thrust of the policy but disagree with using an executive order.

Even so, President Obama’s executive order on immigration seems to move us into uncharted, dangerous waters. It is one thing for a president like Lincoln or FDR to act unilaterally in national emergencies. In nearly all the big examples of the past — like the Emancipation Proclamation — they were also acting as commander-in-chief. As the one foremost responsible for protecting the nation’s existence, a president as commander-in-chief has long been recognized as having inherent powers that stretch well beyond those of normal governance.

Agreed. It is hard to argue that immigration in 2014 in the USA is an ‘emergency’ on the scale of the abolition of slavery.

The Obama administration is citing examples of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr issuing executive orders on immigration but there is an important difference.

The White House has repeatedly pointed to immigration-related executive orders issued by past presidents, notably Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to support the legality of President Obama’s order and to palliate its partisan sting.

Both the executive orders cited, however, can be distinguished from the case at hand. Reagan granted amnesty to 100,000 undocumented immigrants to close a loophole in the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in 1986.

Bush’s order, which granted amnesty to at most 1.5 million people (although the actual number who benefited is likely much smaller), also attempted to clean up a piece of legislation.

So whilst his predecessors issued executive orders in relation to an existing directive from Congress (the 1986 immigration legislation) Obama has issued his own directive which is different. Gergen then addresses issues of governance and the Constitution.

One can argue whether this executive order is legal, but it certainly violates the spirit of the founders. They intentionally focused Article One of the Constitution on the Congress and Article Two on the president. That is because the Congress is the body charged with passing laws and the president is the person charged with faithfully carrying them out.

In effect, the Congress was originally seen as the pre-eminent branch and the president more of a clerk. The president’s power grew enormously in the 20th century but even so, the Constitution still envisions Congress and the president as co-equal branches of government — or as the scholar Richard Neustadt observed, co-equal branches sharing power.

The end result is going to be even more distrust between Democrats and Republicans in Washington DC. If Obama had have waited 6 months to give Congress a chance to act it could have led to a bi-partisan solution. The arguments that have broken out regarding why neither side didn’t pass legislation in the House when it had the chance (Democrats between 2008-10 and the GOP post 2010) is just a pointless debate about the past and does neither side no credit. Both parties must share the blame.

The best hope is that the new Congress does address this issue with a bipartisan bill that the President will eventually sign. That will require the GOP to show some constructive cohesive leadership, something they’ve struggled with up till now.

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How Obamacare really works

November 17th, 2014 at 8:40 pm by Lindsay Addie

A funny and clever explanation about how Obamacare works by Lisa Benson. Not meant to be taken literally!

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Copyright: Lisa Benson, Washington Post Writers Group 2014. Found at Real Clear Politics.

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The jury is still out on quantitative easing

November 16th, 2014 at 9:46 am by Lindsay Addie

With the 2014 mid-term election campaign in full swing in October the US Federal Reserve’s decision to ease back on its bond buying program (quantitative easing) didn’t receive the coverage it deserved by the media. So what is ‘quantitative easing (QE) and why is it used? The Economist explains:

When the crisis [GFC] struck, big central banks like the Fed and the Bank of England slashed their overnight interest-rates to boost the economy. But even cutting the rate as far as it could go, to almost zero, failed to spark recovery. Central banks therefore began experimenting with other tools to encourage banks to pump money into the economy. One of them was QE.

To carry out QE central banks create money by buying securities, such as government bonds, from banks, with electronic cash that did not exist before. The new money swells the size of bank reserves in the economy by the quantity of assets purchased—hence “quantitative” easing. Like lowering interest rates, QE is supposed to stimulate the economy by encouraging banks to make more loans. The idea is that banks take the new money and buy assets to replace the ones they have sold to the central bank. That raises stock prices and lowers interest rates, which in turn boosts investment.

So how has QE worked in practice? This is strongly debated by economists with the Wall Journal having canvassed economists for their views on QE. Meanwhile Robert Samuelson over at Real Clear Politics is arguing why more research is necessary.

Take the “event studies.” They observe interest rates only during the first hours or days after a Fed bond-buying announcement. Over longer periods, interest rates may reverse course. On his blog, economist James Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego, says that rates on 10-year Treasury bonds actually rose during periods of Fed bond buying — the opposite of the goal. Whatever the Fed’s influence, he writes, it was overwhelmed by “developments beyond [its] control.”

Likewise, economic models may exaggerate the tendency of lower interest rates and higher stock prices to increase spending. Maybe the financial crisis has made people more cautious. The models may be outdated.

Some of the potential pitfalls of QE are discussed here in analysis by ECR Research. The Economist shares similar concerns.

Studies suggest that it did raise economic activity a bit. But some worry that the flood of cash has encouraged reckless financial behaviour and directed a firehose of money to emerging economies that cannot manage the cash. Others fear that when central banks sell the assets they have accumulated, interest rates will soar, choking off the recovery. Last spring, when the Fed first mooted the idea of tapering, interest rates around the world jumped and markets wobbled. Still others doubt that central banks have the capacity to keep inflation in check if the money they have created begins circulating more rapidly. Central bankers have been more cautious in using QE than they would have been in cutting interest rates, which could partly explain some countries’ slow recoveries.

The challenge for economists is to increase their knowledge of QE by developing more advanced modelling and measurement systems enabling QE to be further refined. As it stands not enough is known about its inner workings and how it influences economies.

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Pew’s eight political types

November 13th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Pew has divided up US voters into eight types. You can do their quiz to see which type you are. The types are:

  • Solid Liberals -
  • Faith and Family Left
  • Next Generation Left
  • Hard-Pressed Skeptics
  • Young Outsiders
  • Business Conservatives
  • Steadfast Conservatives
  • Bystanders

When it comes to the mid-terms, the groups most likely to vote are the Business Conservatives, Steadfast Conservatives and Solid Liberals. Hence Republicans are likely to do better as the first two groups vote Republican 88% and the last one is 88% Democrat.

I’m classified as a business conservative:

Business Conservatives generally are traditional small-government Republicans. Overwhelming percentages think that government is almost always wasteful and it does too much better left to businesses and individuals. Business Conservatives differ from Steadfast Conservatives in their positive attitudes toward business and in their strong support for Wall Street in particular. Most think that immigrants strengthen the country and take a positive view of U.S. global involvement. As a group, they are less socially conservative than Steadfast Conservatives.

Would be interesting to be able to divide NZ into political types. You need a lot of data to be able to do it well.

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Updated US election results

November 13th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Republicans have a confirmed seven seat pick up to give them 52 seats and are well placed to get Alaska and Louisiana also. If they do it will be the best mid-term gain for the Republicans since 1958.

In Alaska the Republican candidate is 8,000 votes ahead with 50,000 to be counted.

There is a run off in Louisiana but they have a system where there are no primaries so there were multiple Republican candidates. The Democratic candidate got 42%, and the next two candidates were Republicans on 41% and 14% so I expect a win there also.

In the House the Republicans so far have a net gain of 12 seats with seven undecided. They have a chance of a pick up in five of those seats and if they get just one of them, it will be their largest majority if the House since 1928. That gives you an idea of how huge a victory this turned out to be.

 

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The loose lips of Dr Gruber

November 13th, 2014 at 10:38 am by Lindsay Addie

Doctor Jonathan Gruber an economist who was one of Obamacare’s architects has been outed for making controversial remarks about the planning and writing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Washington Post reports:

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO [Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as taxes,” he said during a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in October, 2013. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

Gruber’s comments were part of a broader public conversation between him and economist Mark Pauly on the economics of health care reform. Gruber was responding to a remark by Pauly about financing transparency in the law and the politics surrounding the ACA’s individual mandate. The political process, he said, striking a critical tone, resulted in inefficiencies in the law which should be corrected.

“In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which explicitly said that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed,” he said. “You can’t do it politically, you just literally cannot do it. It’s not only transparent financing but also transparent spending.”

These remarks are frankly stupid and ill-conceived and have fired up Republicans even more to repeal the ACA. Also to openly admit that there was an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the non-partisan CBO is a particularly odd and damaging admission.

With King vs Burwell also due to be heard by SCOTUS in early 2015 the ACA is going to continue to be critically analysed by both the media and political opponents.

The Washington Post is also reporting on what the GOP will do next in light of Dr Gruber’s remarks.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is slated to become chairman of the powerful Senate budget committee, also threw his support behind possible hearings. In a furious gaggle with reporters, Sessions said Gruber’s comments could make dealings with the White House more difficult, days after Republican leaders said they would seek areas of common ground.

“The strategy was to hide the truth from the American people,” Sessions said. “I’m not into this post-modern world where you can say whatever you want to in order to achieve your agenda. That is a threat to the American republic… This is far deeper and more significant than the fact that he just spoke.”

Other Senate Republicans expressed similar discomfort with Gruber, but warned conservatives to not get their hopes up about repealing the health-care law while President Obama remains in office, underscoring the tonal difference between the more rabble-rousing House GOP and the new and more even-tempered Republican Senate majority.

Heading into a party luncheon on Wednesday, retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the health care law “is going to still be there regardless because we don’t have the votes” to undo it.

So yet again there is a split between the conservatives and the moderates in the Republican Party on what is the best strategy to try to get rid the ACA.

[UPDATE 14-11-14 • 10.30am]

Jake Tapper over at CNN is reporting that a fourth video with Dr Gruber talking about the ACA as emerged, he also reports on this response  from Josh Earnest, President Obama’s Press Secretary.

Asked about Gruber’s comments from a 2013 University of Pennsylvania panel in which the economist said “a lack of transparency was a huge political advantage for the President…” in selling the bill to the American people, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “the process associated with writing and passing and implementing the Affordable Care Act has been extraordinarily transparent.”

Earnest insisted “it is Republicans who have been less than forthright and transparent about what their proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act would do in terms of the choices that are available to middle-class families. I know there is at least one very prominent Republican who campaigned for reelection saying that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, but yet keep in place the Affordable Care Act marketplace that has operated very successfully in his state.”

Asked about Gruber’s reference to the “stupidity of the American voter,” Earnest said, “I disagree vigorously with that assessment.”

Earnest’s comments about Republicans are a valid criticism, they’re trying to have it both ways by not actually stating what their alternatives are.

Also Bloomberg are reporting Nancy Pelosi’s comments at a press conference that she doesn’t know who Gruber is despite evidence that appears to disprove her assertions.

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Scott Walker and the White House in 2016

November 12th, 2014 at 9:49 am by Lindsay Addie

Previously I assessed the chances of Jeb Bush if he runs for the presidency. This post assesses another front runner on the GOP side.

Scott Walker again thwarted and frustrated his foes the Democrats and the big unions in the Wisconsin Gubernatorial race last week. As has been widely reported in the US media this is his third win in 4 years. The Weekly Standard analyses his performance as Governor and ponders what if he makes a run for the White House in 2016.

Some of Walker’s opponents have tried to console themselves with the belief that he triumphed simply because Republicans win low-turnout midterm elections, while Democrats win high-turnout presidential elections. “President Obama went into Milwaukee” and “did all he could do,” a distraught MSNBC host Ed Schultz said on election night. “He went to the base. This was a base election. He just apparently didn’t get out enough people.”

But in reality, the election didn’t come down to turnout. Walker could have survived 100 percent turnout in the liberal bastions of Milwaukee County and Dane County (which includes Madison, the capital and home to the state’s flagship university). Burke could have netted the same number of votes in Milwaukee and Dane counties as President Obama, but if everything else had stayed the same, Walker still would have won.

Walker’s victory was broad-based. Independents backed him by 10 points, and the racial composition of 2014 voters (88 percent white and 6 percent black) wasn’t that different from the electorate that showed up for the 2012 presidential contest (86 percent white, 7 percent black), when Obama won the state by 7 points.

Having broad-based appeal is clearly important in a presidential campaign. Furthermore being able to win in purple state is also an considerable achievement but he would need to spread his strong ground game nationwide.

Whether Walker can translate his middle-class appeal into a successful presidential campaign remains to be seen. He’ll be able to run for the Republican nomination as someone who can be trusted to govern as conservatively as possible, but no further than what’s possible. Walker was the only governor in a blue or purple state, besides Maine’s Paul LePage, who opposed Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. But Walker never took on any kamikaze missions, and he criticized the 2013 government shutdown. His pragmatism, as well as education reforms that included ending teacher tenure and expanding school choice, could help him appeal to moderate Republicans.

Walker will, of course, face plenty of challenges if he seeks the nomination. In a crowded field of impressive speakers, Walker will have to overcome the perception that he lacks charisma. He will also need to do more than simply point to his record in Wisconsin—he must develop a serious national economic agenda and show that despite his lack of experience in world affairs he has a clear foreign policy.

In Walker’s favour he can argue that he is battle hardened  and has executive experience at the Gubernatorial level which is vital. But being able to transform himself into a national political figure is another ballgame altogether and foreign policy is currently inordinately complex and difficult to manage as both George W. Bush and Barack Obama both found out.

Next week: Hillary Clinton.

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Obama backs net neutrality

November 12th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

US President Barack Obama has embraced a radical change in how the government treats Internet service, coming down on the side of consumer activists who fear slower download speeds and higher costs but angering Republicans and the nation’s cable giants who say the plan would kill jobs.

Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to more heavily regulate Internet providers and treat broadband much as it would any other public utility. He said the FCC should explicitly prohibit Internet providers like Verizon and AT&T from charging data hogs like Netflix extra to move their content more quickly. The announcement sent cable stocks tumbling.

The FCC, an independent regulatory body led by political appointees, is nearing a decision on whether broadband providers should be allowed to cut deals with the content providers but is stumbling over the legal complexities.

“We are stunned the president would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and calling for extreme” regulation, said Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the primary lobbying arm of the cable industry, which supplies much of the nation’s Internet access.

This “tectonic shift in national policy, should it be adopted, would create devastating results,” Powell added.

Netflix swung behind Obama, posting to its Facebook page that “consumers should pick winners and losers on the Internet, not broadband gatekeepers.”

“Net neutrality” is the idea that Internet service providers shouldn’t block, slow or manipulate data moving across its networks. As long as content isn’t against the law, such as child pornography or pirated music, a file or video posted on one site will load generally at the same speed as a similarly sized file or video on another site.

This will be interesting to see how it resolves. I back the principle that ISPs should not deliver some content to customers slower, unless the content host pays a surcharge.  But the Government should only intervene if there is a serious problem that the market doesn’t solve. The best solution is to have a competitive access market, so that if an access provider tries to charge more to speed up content, customers go elsewhere.

 

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What now for Obamacare?

November 9th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by Lindsay Addie

Introduction

With the Republicans having completed a convincing victory in the 2014 mid-term elections and most importantly taking control of the Senate. This is keeping a lot of attention on Obamacare. Whilst the GOP want to use their power in the Congress to at least water down Obamacare the president naturally wants to make this a part of his legacy. This article looks at the future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Please note there has been no attempt to deal with the fiscal implications on the US Federal Government’s spending and deficits. There are numerous projections available from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the General Accountability Office (GAO) and many others. It is an extremely complex topic that is fiercely debated by supporters and opponents of the PPACA. It will be covered in separate post in the near future.

About the PPACA

First before discussing the PPACA further it is helpful to understand some key facts about the legislation.

Overview of Provisions

  • Guaranteed issue prohibits insurers from denying coverage to individuals due to pre-existing conditions. In addition insurers are required to offer the same premium price to all applicants of the same age and geographical location without regard to gender or most pre-existing conditions (excluding tobacco use).
  • The PPACA establishes minimum standards for health insurance policies.
  • Under the individual mandate all individuals not covered by an employer sponsored health plan, Medicaid, Medicare or other public insurance programs are required to secure an approved private-insurance policy or pay a penalty, unless the applicable individual has a financial hardship or is a member of a recognized religious sect exempted by the Internal Revenue Service. The law includes subsidies to help people with low incomes comply with the mandate.
  • Health insurance exchanges are portals for individuals and small businesses in every state to compare policies and buy insurance (with a government subsidy if eligible). The next enrollment period is scheduled to be November 15, 2014–February 15, 2015.
  • Low-income subsidies are available for individuals and families whose incomes are between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level. They receive federal subsidies on a sliding scale if they purchase insurance via an exchange.
  • Medicaid (health care for low income families and individuals) has been expanded to include individuals and families with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level, including adults without disabilities and without dependent children.
  • The Medicare (health insurance for Americans 65 and over) payment system has been reformed with the intent of promoting greater efficiency in the healthcare delivery system by restructuring Medicare reimbursements from fee-for-service to bundled payments.
  • The employer mandate applies to businesses which employ 50 or more people but who do not offer health insurance to their full-time employees. These businesses will have to pay a tax penalty if the government has subsidized a full-time employee’s healthcare through tax deductions or other means. The Internal Revenue Service delayed enforcement of this provision for one year in July 2013.

Twenty one new taxes

The PPACA created twenty one new taxes. Here are some of them.

  1. Individual mandate
  2. Employer mandate
  3. Medical device manufacturers tax
  4. Indoor tanning services tax
  5. Excise tax on charitable hospitals which fail to comply with the requirements of the PPACA
  6. Tax on brand name drugs
  7. Tax on health insurers

There are also targeted tax credits available. The full list of new taxes introduced under the PPACA is here.

The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB)

This 15 member board is responsible for achieving savings in Medicare whilst maintaining coverage and quality.

Legal Challenges

There have been many attempts in US courts to derail Obamacare. The most well known being the 2012 case heard by The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) which ruled on the legality of the legislation. The Obama administration won by a narrow 5-4 majority.

King vs Burwell

SCOTUS has taken on this important case. At the heart of this latest legal challenge to Obamacare is whether or not the Federal Government has the right to distribute insurance tax credits in certain states. The case will be heard early in 2015 with a ruling in June. For a more detailed legalistic description of the case go here.

The Wall Street Journal in its reporting on this story explains what has happened in the courts previous to SCOTUS getting involved in King vs Burwell and alleges that Harry Reid broke Senate filibuster rules to appoint liberal judges one of the courts that ruled on the case in July 2014.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the government, though the opinion said it was a close call. A 2-1 panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled the other way, only to have the decision vacated by the entire D.C. Circuit, which voted to hear the case en banc in the coming months.

Mr. Reid broke Senate filibuster rules to add three liberals to the D.C. Circuit with the expectation that the en banc court would favor the Administration. At a July 22 press conference, Mr. Reid boasted about his filibuster play and proclaimed that, “It seems clear to me that that decision will be overturned.” Then there would be no splits between the circuit courts, and the Supreme Court would be less likely to take the case.

Greg Sargent writing in the Washington Post makes some pertinent points about where the GOP would stand if SCOTUS finds against the Obama administration.

As the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt explains it, a SCOTUS ruling gutting the subsidies could easily be rendered “moot” in one of two ways: Either Congress fixes the law, or governors in those states set up state exchanges to keep the subsidies flowing to their constituents. “A simple fix from either Congress or Republican governors would allow people to keep their benefits,” Levitt says.

The prospect of so many of each of these governors’ constituents losing insurance would theoretically put pressure on them to make things right. The same might be the case for GOP lawmakers in Congress. One possibility might be that the two parties use this as an occasion to enter into negotiations over the law’s future, in which Republicans try to leverage the need for the fix to get other changes to it they want — which could be dicey for the law but perhaps not too much of a threat to it.

Of course, these lawmakers would also face intense pressure from the right not to fix it. And for all I know, they might let the law’s subsidies disappear for millions. How bloody minded are the Republicans willing to be?

If the case is lost by the Obama administration it will be fascinating to observe how the GOP in Congress deals with millions of people who face being disadvantaged financially.

Possible deconstruction of Obamacare by Republicans

This is certainly a pet topic with Republicans post the mid-term elections. So how will the GOP potentially attempt to attack Obamacare?

Repeal – Pass a bill through the House and Senate repealing the PPACA lock stock and barrel. This will be symbolic gesture because only as Barack Obama will veto a repeal bill.

Scrap the Medical Devices Tax –  A 2.3% tax on devices the manufacturers say are threatening their competitiveness. There is a real chance the Republicans can get enough Democrats in Congress to support them and have a majority.

The thirty hour rule – Republicans strongly oppose this section of the ACA which has defines a full working week as 30 hours instead of 40 hours. Plenty of powerful industry lobby groups are gearing up in Washington DC to support the GOP on this one.

IPAB – It’s close to a sure thing that the Republicans will try and scrap this board of bureaucrats. There are also Democrats who aren’t totally convinced of the IPAB’s worth. So a majority may exist in the Congress.

Repeal the Individual Mandate – Getting rid of this would certainly make a dent in Obamacare. Possibly some Democrats may support this.

The Employer Mandate – This is very interesting possibility for the GOP as it is unpopular with business owners. This provision is directly tied to the thirty hour rule. If it isn’t possible to repeal there could well be room for GOP leaders and the Obama administration to talk turkey about modifying it.

Remember the presidential veto, so the GOP will have to somehow find a way to force Barack Obama’s hand. The Republicans can use the budget reconciliation process to aid their cause.

Because Republicans lack the 60 seats needed to beat a Democratic filibuster, McConnell can’t force a vote on a simple, straightforward repeal bill. But he has said several times he would use the budget reconciliation process, which only requires 51 votes, to pass anti-Obamacare measures. Reconciliation probably can’t be used to pass a clean, repeal-it-all proposal—and Obama would veto it if it did—but by pushing the measure, Republicans incumbents inoculate themselves against charges that they let the party’s least-favorite law stand, as well as fulfill campaign promises.

Comment

If the Republicans want to make any changes to Obamacare they’re going to have to figure out how to get enough leverage to force Barack Obama to go along with them. They will also need to achieve a unity purpose in their own ranks, something that they don’t currently have, this was covered in a previous post. The prize of the presidency looms and the GOP needs to be constructive and not in the words of Charles Krauthammer be the “party of no”. Having solid and sound alternatives to improve the US healthcare system will be imperative if they’re are to convince the voters to support them. The weakness is so far they haven’t achieved this.

For the Democrats a useful strategy would be to go along with reasonable change to make it more workable in practice so make it more difficult for the Republicans to make a case for repeal the law at a later date. It needs to be added that a full repeal is probably going to require the Republicans to hold the presidency and both houses of Congress post the 2016 election. The longer the PPACA remains in force the more confident Barack Obama will be that in his mind it is cemented in as a key part of his legacy. To achieve this he may need to be flexible and agree to well thought out modifications to the PPACA.

Sources

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PDF)

Wikipedia article on the PPACA

Seven provisions of Obamacare

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Differences between New Zealand and US politics

November 9th, 2014 at 10:57 am by kiwi in america

With David still gone and travelling and with the US elections fresh, I am posting a comparison between the US and New Zealand political systems that answer many of the questions I get from puzzled kiwis about the marvelously complex American political system

Head of State

USA

The President is the Head of State.

New Zealand

The nominal Head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the 2nd of the United Kingdom [EDIT – I have disrespected the Queen by not giving her her full title – Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith – thanks Lindsay]  who administers her official duties through Her appointed representative in NZ known as the Governor General. The Governor General’s post is an appointed position for a set term usually of five years and the appointment is made by the Prime Minister of the day. The office of GG is a largely ceremonial as is the Queen’s modern role. The Head of State in the Westminster Parliamentary system officially opens Parliament, reads the Speech from the Throne (given to him or her by the PM) and signs all Acts of Parliament into law (known as the Royal Assent).

Executive

The Executive is the Government or those individuals who collectively are called the Cabinet and who head the key government departments. The most senior leader of the Government and thus the leader of the country is the Prime Minister or the President.

New Zealand

The Cabinet in NZ comes out of the Legislature or Parliament. They are the senior members of the party that has sufficient members in the Parliament to form a government. In National Party governments, the Cabinet members are chosen by the Prime Minister whilst Labour governments their Cabinets are elected by the caucus and the portfolios are allocated by the PM. The Prime Minister is the leader of the governing party in Parliament – in National’s case elected by the caucus and in Labour’s case elected by a combining votes from the caucus (40%), the party membership (40%) and the affiliated trade unions (20%). NZ Cabinet Ministers are located in one building known as the Beehive and meet regularly as a Cabinet on Monday mornings.

USA

The Executive in the US is entirely separate from the Legislature. The President is elected by the popular vote of the people at Presidential elections via the Electoral College. The composition of the Electoral College comprises of electors from each state representing the total number Congressmen and Senators from that State. In almost all cases, the candidate for President that wins a simple plurality of votes from that State garners the Electors from that State (exceptions are Nebraska and Maine who allocate electoral votes proportionately). Once elected the President appoints his or her Cabinet but each appointment must be confirmed by the Senate. Cabinet appointees tend to be current or former senior politicians from the President’s own party or prominent people from business, academia or other areas of public service. US Cabinet members offices are in their respective Departmental head office buildings and meetings of the President’s full Cabinet are rare; the President usually preferring one on one briefings with each Cabinet member who are known by the title Secretary (the Foreign Minister equivalent is called the Secretary of State).

Legislature

USA

The US operates a bi-cameral legislature comprising of the lower house called the House of Representatives and the upper house called the Senate. Up until 1913, the size of the House of Representatives grew based on the population growth of each 10 year (decennial) US census. Since 1913 the size of the House of Representatives was capped at 435 members and has not grown in size since. However the relative strengths of each state’s congressional delegation is adjusted after each Census based on what percentage of the overall population that state comprises thus high growth states in the south and west will be allocated new Congressional districts at the expense of states mostly in the east and mid-west whose population is either stagnant or shrinking and they lose Congressional Districts. The Districts are numbered such as Illinois 5th and the representatives are called Congressmen or women. The Senate is comprised of two Senate seats per state regardless of the size of the state so 100 seats.

New Zealand

NZ has a unicameral legislature comprising of just the House of Representatives. Our Upper House (the Legislative Council) was abolished in 1951. Representatives are called Members of Parliament or MPs and comprise of those elected from districts called electorates and those chosen from party lists. The total size of Parliament is determined by the relevant section of the Electoral Act as is currently set at 120 total MPs. The mix between electorate and list MPs is determined by calculating the number of electorates after each 5 yearly census by taking the population of the South Island and dividing it by 16 to determine the new electorate quota. This quota is them applied to the North Island to determine if population growth warrants new electorates. If a census adds 2 new electorates then the number of MPs elected directly from electorates increases by 2 and the number elected from party lists declines by 2. NZ uses a proportional voting system called MMP or Mixed Member Proportional. Voters have two votes: a Party vote to determine who they want to be the government and an Electorate vote to determine who they want as their local MP. The party lists are used to top from MPs elected from electorates to ensure that a particular party’s total number of MPs reflects the percentage of the Party vote that party got. A party must garner 5% of the total Party vote to get members elected unless they managed to win a single electorate seat in which case no threshold applies. If however a party wins more electorate seats than its Party vote percentage would allocate, then those MPs will be added to the total of 120 MPs. This is called an overhang and has happened in a few elections with the Maori Party.

Judiciary

New Zealand

Judges in New Zealand are appointed by the Minister of Justice on recommendation from the Solicitor-General [EDIT – by the Governor General on the advice of the Attorney-General hat tip AG]. Generally speaking District and High Court judge appointments are for no set term and for the judge’s usual working life. NZ judges interpret laws passed by Parliament but cannot make policy. Whilst Parliament is the supreme lawmaking body of the land as it has the sole right to pass legislation, it cannot interfere with any court’s decision unless it chooses to pass legislation on the matter. Judges are never subject to a popular vote.

USA

All Judges for the 11 Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal and the US Supreme Court are appointed by the President but must be confirmed by a majority of Senators but subject to filibuster or an attempt to stall proceedings unless it can be broken by a vote of 60 opposing Senator although part way through the most recent Congress, the Democrat majority changed the Senate rules suspending the filibuster for judicial appointments. Supreme Court appointments are for an unlimited term with resignation at the discretion of the appointed judge or upon their death in office. All State, County and City level judges are appointed by the Governor of the state and are subject to the popular vote each election cycle and a judge that might have a reputation for being too soft on criminals in a conservative area may find him or herself removed from office.

Checks and balances

USA

The US Constitutions created the three arms of government as separate but equal each with the power to check the other. The President checks the Legislature via the ability to veto bills passed by Congress. The Legislature checks the Executive through being the only arm that can initiate legislation, the Senate confirmation process of the Presidential appointments and through the ability with a 2/3rds majority in both Houses to override the veto. Presidential checks on the Judiciary lie in his/her ability to change the ideological composition of the court by appointments. The Judiciary checks the power of both the Executive and the Legislature with its ability to declare legislation or executive orders unconstitutional. The Legislature checks the Judiciary through the confirmation process of judges. Other crucial roles are separated – the President is the Commander in Chief of the military but only Congress has the power to declare war. The President can negotiate international treaties and accords but they must be ratified by the Senate.

New Zealand

NZ has fewer formal checks built into the system and does not have a Constitution that separates the powers of the government in any formal sense and because the Executive comes out of the Legislature. The Legislature exerts limited checks on the power of the Executive. The biggest check is public opinion and the caucus of the governing party who can initiate a vote against the party leader (although in the case of Labour it would be subject to their wider party leader election process). The Judiciary has the power strike down legislation passed by Parliament although such instances tend to be more about interpretation of laws. Because Parliament is sovereign in its law making ability, it can pass laws to clarify matters that the Courts may have ruled on.

The Bureaucracy

New Zealand

NZ has an independent and non-political civil service. Civil servants at all levels are required to be politically neutral and serve the government of the day. Permanent heads of government departments, whilst reporting to their relevant Minister, are appointed by the State Services Commission in a process that the government of the day cannot interfere with. A change of government in New Zealand results in minimal disruption to the day to running of the bureaucracy.

USA

The US bureaucracy is much more politicized. The top three tiers of management of any Department of the Executive are all political appointees who are appointed by the President in consultation with his/her appointed Cabinet Secretary for that Department. These appointees are the eyes and ears of the Administration throughout the bureaucracy and are considered one of the major spoils of winning the White House. When there is a change of Administration, there are usually over 3,000 political appointments that have to be made throughout the Federal Government with a number of first tier management and sensitive legal positions requiring Senate confirmation. A change of Administration has a huge impact on the Federal bureaucracy with many decisions shelved until appointments can be made and key ones confirmed – a process often taking several months. It is the main reason why the new President is not sworn in until usually near the end of January following his/her election in early November.

States

New Zealand

NZ has had no second tier regional government like states or provinces since the abolition of the provinces in 1876. The next tier of government after the national government is city and regional councils.

USA

The US has 50 states that have unique status amongst nations that have states or provinces. The Constitution enumerates specific powers that the President and the Federal government have – anything outside these specific roles is the preserve of the States. The States preceded the Federal government with the whole notion of American nationhood being founded on it being a Federation of existing States (the 13 original colonies). The Constitution makes provision for the addition of new states the last two being added (Hawaii and Alaska) in 1960. Each State has its own Constitution, its own legislatures, its own Executive (headed by the Governor) and hierarchy of courts that are a microcosm of the Federal system. Each state’s laws can be very different and the Supreme Court often rules on disputes of jurisdiction between State and Federal governments. This is no more apparent than in the vastly differing electoral laws from State to State. Just a few will suffice: some states have lieutenant governors, some don’t – some have only joint tickets whilst others elect the lieutenant governor separately (and can be from an opposing party). Some states require special (by) elections for vacated Federal Congress seats (House or Senate) within specified time frame of the seat being vacated, others grant the sitting Governor the right to appoint an interim Congressman or Senator. Some states are actually called Commonwealths (Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky) and not all call their lower chamber the House or the upper chamber the Senate. Some states term limit their elected officials, others do not. Each state decides which Executive offices are elected and which are appointed.

Election dates/terms

USA

Elections in the US (apart from special or by elections) are always held on the first Tuesday in November and each elected office has a set term. The Presidential term is four years with a term limit of two terms. Each Federal Senate term is for six years with staggered terms so that a third of the Senate members are up for re-election each election cycle. Federal House of Representative terms are for two years. Governors’ terms are for four years. State upper and lower chamber terms are determined by each state but most have two year terms for both. Elections held outside Presidential elections are called mid-term elections. There are no snap elections. The President or a Governor cannot decide when to go to the people – the terms and elections dates are constitutionally mandated.

New Zealand

The normal term of a NZ Parliament is three years and a General Election must be called no later than three years after the last General Election however the Prime Minister of the day at any time can instruct the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and issue writs for a new General Election. There are no legal restrictions to this power proscribed in the Electoral Act however in practice so-called snap elections are usually only called in unusual circumstances. Vacancies (either by death, resignation or conviction of a crime carrying a 2 year or longer sentence of an MP) are handled differently depending on whether the MP was a List or Electorate MP. A List MP vacancy is filled by the relevant party appointing the next person on their party list and that person is sworn in as an MP by the Speaker in the next sitting day of Parliament. Any Electorate MP vacancy six months before a General Election is usually left vacant until the election by convention between the governing party of the day and the Opposition. Any other Electorate MP vacancy is filled by a by-election in that seat fought on the same boundaries as the last General Election with the date of the by-election decided by the Prime Minister.

Electoral boundaries

New Zealand

Boundaries of NZ electorates are re-drawn after each 5 yearly census when the total number of new North Island electorates is determined after applying the so-called South Island quota. A tolerance is set at plus or minus five percent above/below the quota as the outer limit of the population of each new electorate. Any electorate above or below the quota will have to have its boundary redrawn. A body called the Representation Commission redraws the boundaries to incorporate the additional electorate(s) required by population growth arising from the census determination and the same time keeping all new electorates inside the tolerance band. The Representation Commission comprises senior civil servants convened by the Surveyor-General, the Government Statistician, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Chairperson of Local Government Commission and each major political party can appoint a non-voting observer. The Commission takes into account communities of interest when redrawing boundaries. Interim boundaries are released for consultation and submission and parties can suggest minor changes around community of interest grounds that don’t breach the population tolerance.

USA

All district boundaries for the US House and State upper and lower houses are drawn by the States. Almost all states this is done by the partisan legislatures on a simple majority vote while a handful have semi-autonomous bodies somewhat akin to our Representation Commission. As each party in power at the State level seeks to gain the best electoral advantage for their party, it results in a few bizarre shaped electorates that have had boundaries drawn around communities that vote more for the party in power re-drawing the boundaries – so called gerrymandering. The party in control of state legislatures during the ten yearly post-census re-districting process can have a propound impact in some states on their chances of winning House seats.

Campaign financing

USA

Campaign financing in the US is strictly regulated by the Federal Elections Commission or FEC and all donations made by individuals or corporations to candidates must be publicly disclosed. There is a $2,600 individual donation limit per election (primary and general elections are considered separate elections) per candidate and a $32,000 limit on what individuals/corporations can donate to a party per year. There are no limits as to the amounts people or organizations can donate to PACs (Political Action Committees). While PACs are limited to donating $10,000 to individual candidates per election importantly there are no limits on other expenditures such as generic attack ads that don’t promote a particular party or candidate. Candidates for President once nominated by their respective parties can opt for Federal funds for their party’s convention costs ($18 million) and after their party’s convention, for General Election funds capped at $91 million. Candidates can choose to opt out as Obama did in 2008 and 2012 and Romney did in 2012.

New Zealand

Individuals or entities donations to parties over $15,000 must be disclosed by the party and an aggregate of donations over a 12 month period totaling $30,000 must also be disclosed. Individuals or entities can make undisclosed donations to a limit of $50,000 to the Electoral Commission and advise the Commission as to which party it is to go to. The donation limit for individuals donating to a candidate is $1,500 and candidates are restricted to expenditure of $25,700 for a General Election. There is a spending cap of $50,000 on groups or individuals arguing for a positon in Citizens Initiated Referenda. Third party groups seeking to be involved in electioneering with advertising/prompting parties or candidates spending more than $12,500 in advertising must register as a Promoter with the Electoral Commission and show the Promoter’s name and address in advertising material. There is a cap of $308,000 of expenditure by registered Promoters during what is called the regulated period (begins 90 days before the election),

Primaries

New Zealand

The only primary elections held in New Zealand are those held by the Labour Party since its 2012 Constitutional change allowing party members and unions to join with the caucus in deciding a new leader. There is no restriction on the number of candidates that can stand in an electorate seat meaning few candidates except in safe seats win over 50% of the vote.

USA

Primaries in the US are designed for General Election match ups to be a two horse race ensuring the winner gets a plurality of votes. Because the two major parties are such large board ‘churches’ encompassing conservative and liberal wings, there is intense competition within a party to win the right to be the candidate in the general election. Candidates for office compete against each other for the right to be the party’s nominee and this applies not just for President but for all levels of government from Congress down to county and city races. For races where one party has historically dominated, it is common for the opposing party to only ever have one candidate thus not requiring a primary. At the Presidential level, each state’s primary election process is used to allocate delegates for candidates at the party’s national nominating convention. Some states’ parties award these on a winner takes all basis (the Republican preference) while others allocate delegates proportionately (the Democrat preference – it was how Obama beat Clinton). There are three main ways this is done and each state decides which method is used:

Primary-a secret ballot is conducted on a date chosen by the state party (and approved by the national party) amongst approved participants. Primary voting takes place at the same polling places as general elections and is overseen by neutral county election officials. The winner is by simple plurality. Primaries can be open (any registered voter can participate), partially closed (only registered party members and independents can participate) or closed (only registered party members can vote).

Caucus-this method is only used in Presidential primaries and is only open to people registered to vote for the party holding the caucus. Caucuses are held in an evening from 630pm onwards usually at school halls in designated locations across the state. Each candidate has an advocate at each hall and promotes his/her candidate. After a few short speeches, the candidate representatives take a corner and caucus goers gather to the corner of their preferred candidate. Wooing of voters can go on for hours. The votes for each candidate are tallied and aggregated at the state level.

Jungle primary-no separate pre-general election primary is held and all candidates for all parties stand in the General Election and the two highest voting candidates (regardless of party) face off a few weeks after the general election in what is called a run-off election.

Ballot initiatives/Referenda

USA

Referenda are a frequent part of US elections. These are only held at the state, county and city level and not the federal level. Most are citizens initiated (usually requiring only 5% of registered voters certified by election officials in the jurisdiction) and others are tax or bond related as required by State law to raise sales and other taxes and to authorize the issuing of debt bonds for municipalities, state owned utilities and school districts to raise money for specified projects. Some states the results of referenda are binding on the state legislature who must then pass a law reflecting the sentiment of the passed ballot initiative and it must be signed into law by the Governor. BCIR as they are called enable the general populace of a state to ensure that popular laws vetoed by the governor of a party opposite to that controlling the state legislature can still get such measures passed into law. It is not uncommon to have upwards of 20 ballot initiatives for EACH general election.

New Zealand

NZ has CIR which is triggered when 10% of registered voters, certified by the Clerk of the House, vote to have a particular issue put on the ballot. The government of the day decides the timing of the referendum with most scheduled at the same time as a general election. As a matter of course, the results of a referendum are not binding on the government and indeed NZ governments have a tradition of ignoring the results of CIR. Other referenda are government initiated and revolve around an issue that a political party promised to put to the people. These can be indicative (as in the case of the proportional representation referendum of 1992) designed to see the people’s best choice of a range of options or binding (in the case of the MMP vs FPP referendum of 1993 that saw NZ change to MMP) where two options only are put to the vote with the government of the day committing to pass the results of the referendum into law.

Recalls

New Zealand

There is no recall provision in NZ.

USA

Various states offer voters at the state, county and city level (either Governor or lower/upper chamber) and concerning local judges the ability to challenge the result of the last election by forcing a special election seeking to oust a particular politician or judge. Recall elections arise over controversial issues that have so inflamed local voters that they are able to get sufficient voters in that jurisdiction to petition to hold a fresh election for that race only. A recall election needs to have a challenger for voters to choose from between them and the incumbent. Recall petitions can be filed by a challenger within the incumbent’s own party or opposing party. If the challenger wins the recall election then they replace the incumbent.

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Reflections on the 2014 US Mid-term elections

November 7th, 2014 at 10:39 am by kiwi in america

A wave became a tsunami that broke records

The November 4 mid-term election results were a tsunami for Republicans breaking various records in the process:

  • House: At the projected 250 seats, this is the highest number of Republican seats in the House since 1928
  • Senate: The likely 9 Senate seat gain is the largest by the party not holding the White House since Eisenhower’s GOP lost 12 Senate seats in 1958. Please note that right now the gain is officially at 7 but Republican Sullivan is 4% ahead of Democrat Begich in Alaska pending only special votes – overcoming this margin of victory is impossible. Louisiana is headed to a run-off election in December because no candidate made 50%. Sitting Democrat Landrieu faced moderate (Cassidy) and Tea Party (Mannes) Republican opponents who scored 41% and 12% respectively to her 42% in what LA calls a jungle primary. In the two horse race in the runoff, the Tea Party Republican vote will coalesce around Cassidy giving the GOP their 9th seat
  • Governorships: At 31 Governor’s seats, this is the most the GOP has held since the 1920’s
  • State Legislatures: At 67 to 69 State legislatures (final results waiting on counting of the US equivalent of special votes) this is the most state lower and upper chambers that the GOP has won also since 1928. At 4,001 state level legislative seats, it is in excess of the 1928 high tide mark and represents the highest Republican penetration since Reconstruction!
  • The GOP now have control of all three arms of state government (Governor, State Lower and Upper Houses) in 24 states versus only 7 states where the Democrats have similar dominance.

Obama’s mid-term record was the worst in the modern era

When you add the record 63 Democrat House seats that Obama lost in the 2010 mid-terms to the likely 18 he seems to have lost in 2014 AND the likely 9 Senate seats, no other President has seen his party so badly beaten in the mid-terms since President Wilson’s tenure in office (1913 to 1921).

Candidate competency makes a difference

Republicans made a series of poor candidate selections in winnable Senate races in 2010 and 2012 and not only failed to get them elected but they actually lost Senate seats in 2012. Tea Party influence in the GOP Primaries in 2010 and 2012 threw up a slew of more extremist unelectable candidates (Buck in Colorado, Angle in Nevada, O’Donnell in Delaware) who were easily beaten by vulnerable Democrat incumbents. Add major pratfalls on the campaign trail in 2012 by Aitken in Missouri and Mourdoch in Indiana on the subject of abortions for rape victims and what should’ve been dead certain pickups by the GOP against unpopular Democrat opponents in a tough cycle for Democrats left the GOP well short of its goal to take over the Senate.

Those sorts of mistakes were avoided in this cycle. A raft of moderate and reasonable candidates won GOP primaries and they ended up campaigning strongly, maintained excellent message discipline, debated well against their opponents and were adequately funded by the Republican National Committee.

The polls were wrong

In 2012 I, along with a number of reputable Republican commentators including the inestimable psephologist Michael Barone, predicted a Romney win based on various pollsters’ 2012 turnout models that took a mid-point between the 2008 Obama wave and the 2010 Republican wave. It transpired that the Obama campaign used its massive technology and money advantage to almost replicate their 2008 turnout thus many polls overstated Republican support.

This time the opposite happen with some spectacular polling failures that favoured Democrats. The RCP (Real Clear Politics – a website that aggregates all public polling data) polling averages for the following were off: Tom Cotton’s RCP had him up by 5 over Pryor in Arkansas but he smashed him by 17; Mitch McConnell’s RCP had him up by 7 but he won by 14, Mark Warner’s RCP average had him up by almost 10 points in Virginia and yet he clings to a lead of less than a percentage point. In Georgia, David Perdue was 3 up but won by 8 and avoided a run off. The governor’s races also featured big polling failures. Scott Walker in Wisconsin was up by only two in the RCP average and yet he won easily by 6. In Illinois, Pat Quinn was up by a little less than a percentage point but he lost by nearly 5. In Kansas, Sam Brownback was losing by 2 and yet he won by just under 4 points. Esteemed polling and elections analyst Nate Silver of the 538 Blog estimated polls in 2014 were out by an average of 4% in favour of Democrats.

Democrats ran from Obama but they couldn’t hide

The President’s poor personal popularity and the widespread rejection of his agenda and lack of achievements meant vulnerable Democrats contorted themselves like pretzels to avoid being associated with Obama. He was not invited to campaign events and a couple of candidates farcically refused to answer questions from reporters about whether they voted personally for Obama in 2008 or 2012. In Kansas the Democrats tried to oust unpopular incumbent Republican senator Pat Roberts by running a telegenic unknown businessman Greg Orman as an nominal (and as it turned out fake) Independent who Kansas voters rightly deduced was just a Democrat stalking horse. Any Democrat running in so-called red states (yes in the US red is the colour for the right leaning Republicans and blue for the left leaning Democrats) did so never mentioning their party affiliation or their association with Obama. When pressed on Obama’s controversial liberal policies, candidates in coal country publicly would pledge to “stand up for coal miners” (despite secretly supporting Obama’s draconian EPA regulations against coal) or “to reform Obamacare from the inside” after voting usually 95% + for Obama’s agenda. Voters weren’t fooled.

Obamacare is electorally toxic

Obama’s signature legislative achievement has become a millstone around the necks of his party’s legislators who passed it into law. Obamacare (or to give it its official title the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) was passed under a welter of devious maneuverings using arcane Senate rules. Normal legislation is subject to filibuster (needs 60 votes in favour) but budget measures need only a simple majority to pass. In early 2010 Obama lost his filibuster proof majority in the Senate when Scott Brown won the special election held to fill the vacancy left in Massachusetts after Ted Kennedy died. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid broke with all precedent and departed from a long tradition of landmark legislation passing with bi-partisan support and slipped the Obamacare Bill into a hollowed out budget Bill and it passed through both houses of Congress on simple majority without a single Republican vote.

It was an inauspicious beginning to a law that become increasingly more unpopular when it was apparent that the three big promises Obama made about the law were quickly broken. Firstly “if you want your doctor you can keep your doctor” was proven false because so many Obamacare compliant plans could only offer remotely affordable premiums if the network of providers was curtailed. Horror stories emerged of terminally ill patients under the care of specialists effectively keeping them alive being told that their doctor was no longer ‘in-network’. Secondly – the promise that “if you like your plan you can keep your plan” also proved false for millions as employers, facing huge premium hikes, released employees from company plans giving them the premium equivalent in cash thus forcing them to use the Obamacare exchanges to get their health insurance. The exchanges offered inferior plans with more expensive premiums, higher excesses and higher out of pocket expenses. The final promise to curtail premium increases (“bend the cost curve down”) proved to also be false with almost all insurance plans facing multiple year on year double digit premium increases usually because the law required all plans include a range of basic coverage items that previously could be left out if not needed (e.g. maternity care – not needed by older couples, drug/alcohol treatment – no needed by non-drinkers etc.).

The coup de grâce for Obamacare was the incredibly botched rollout of the exchanges – on line portals supposedly designed to enable people to shop for the best coverage. The federal exchange costing some $300 million and which was the only portal for over 30 states, for the first few months after launch crashed, trapping applicants in a frozen screen hell. It was full of bugs and security holes (no guarantee security of private information), was very slow and was unable to transmit information accurately to insurers. This prevented millions from enrolling and there were myriads of processing, subsidy qualification and enrolment issues. At the state level there were even greater catastrophes with three state exchanges (each involving close to $100 million in wasted development costs to create) that were so bad that they were eventually abandoned by the states. It was the perfect illustration of big government overreach and failure and a huge indictment of Obama given that this was supposedly the crowning achievement of his first term as President but was an abject failure. Democrats from the House and Senate who voted for Obamacare (almost all seeking re-election) were relentlessly targeted by Republicans for their vote for this unpopular law. GOP candidates all over the US pledged to defund or repeal Obamacare. Exit polls show health care was the No 2 issue after the economy so efforts by the left to downplay the electoral toxicity of Obamacare failed.

Democrats ran on faux issues because Obama’s record was too hard to run on

Democrats couldn’t run on the economy because the recovery on Main St and amongst the middle class is so anemic (in contrast to booming Wall St); they couldn’t run on Obamacare for the reasons stated above; they couldn’t run on making government work better after governmental pratfalls such as the scandal of falsified waiting lists at the Veterans Administration Hospitals (leading to injured soldiers dying on waiting lists) or poor protective protocols from the Centre for Diseases Control that failed to block US citizens with Ebola from entering the country using political correctness as the reason for not enacting the sorts of travel bans the Canadians, Australians and French enacted and they couldn’t run on Obama’s foreign policy successes after the red line in Syria that wasn’t, him ignoring intelligence agency warnings on the rise of ISIS, his tensions with Israel and no progress towards a lasting solution in Palestine, the botched negotiations with Iran over its nuclear ambitions and the failure to curb Russian military aggression in Ukraine. So they ran on bashing the rich Koch brothers, a phony ‘war on women’, climate change scaremongering and used tired old race baiting scare tactics with screeds of hysterical over the top negative advertising. None of these tactics worked.

The Republican ‘War on Women’ meme pounded by Democrats crashed and burned

Democrat candidates across the country waged a shameless campaign of scaremongering against pro-life Republicans of both sexes claiming, if elected, they would reverse or suspend women’s reproductive rights. This reached an almost ludicrous level in the Colorado Senate race where incumbent Democrat Mark Udall tried to brand his pro-choice rival Cory Gardner as a right wing extremist over his prior tentative support for a Personhood Bill in the Colorado House that he withdrew support for because it was too narrowly focused. Udall’s campaigning against Gardner became so focused on this one issue that even the very liberal Denver media dubbed him Mark ‘Uterus’. Pro-life Republicans, especially the women, neutralized these ‘war on women’ attacks by going public with their support for a draft US House Bill to make certain contraceptives available over the counter. This relatively routine reform was used as an effective shield against pro-choice Democrat attacks by demonstrating the moderate and reasonable actual stances these Republican candidates were taking.

Republicans nominated a record number of minority candidates who won

The election results were littered with a range of firsts for minority candidates:

  • First black Republican elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction (Tim Scott in South Carolina)
  • First black Republican woman elected to Congress (Mia Love in Utah’s 4th District)
  • First women Congressman elected from Iowa (Joni Ernst – Senate)
  • First women Senator elected from West Virginia (Shelley Capito)
  • Youngest woman ever elected to Congress at aged 30 (Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st District)

The biggest upsets were the in Governor’s races

Based on polling averages, the GOP were predicted to be down 1 net governor’s mansion and yet they ended up gaining 4/losing 2 for a net gain of 2 (or 3 better than expected). The wins were notable in that they were in Democrat strongholds such as Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland. In fact Larry Hogan’s win over Anthony Brown in Maryland by 5 points against pre-election average polls of Democrat +5 was the upset of the night. Part and parcel of the GOP’s success at the Gubernatorial level was their successful defense of several governors universally seen by the media as under threat and likely to go to the Democrats (Scott – Florida, Brownback – Kansas, LePage – Maine, Snyder – Michigan and Deal – Georgia). In the end only unpopular and controversial Pennsylvania GOP Governor Corbett was ousted by his Democrat rival with the Alaska GOP Governor Parnell being beaten by an Independent.

 November 4th’s most significant victory: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s re-election

Scott Walker was elected Governor in 2010 in a state that has reliably voted for Democrat Presidents since Reagan in 1984. He won narrowly in 2010 and proceeded to deal to the public sector unions who had amassed considerable power under successive Democrat governors and state legislatures. A neat money-go-round of compulsory union membership and automatically deducted dues gave these unions’ huge war chests that they used to donate to Democrat candidates who then in turn legislated to enhance the power and protection of unions. Walker ended the racket by passing laws that made union membership voluntary and that union members had to pay their dues themselves no longer able to have them deducted by their employer. The law’s attempted passage was met with loud and vehement opposition complete with occupations of the State Capitol and Democrat legislators illegally fleeing to neighbouring Illinois in an attempt to avoid the vote from even being taken (WI State Troopers found them and brought them back to vote). The law passed and resulted in a 70% drop in union membership and plummeting financial clout. Unions and wealthy liberal donors all over the US donated millions to a recall election in 2012 that Walker easily won despite $25 million of outside money that poured in. Walker’s legislative reforms also survived recall attempts on key GOP State Senate members and GOP appointees to the State Supreme court. In this his third election in 4 years, Walker had to overcome negative publicity arising from spurious and politically motivated Grand Jury indictments from partisan Democrat local prosecutors on trumped up election finance irregularities – charges throw out of the State Supreme and two Federal Courts and his third Democrat opponent also being very well funded by outside liberal money.

Walker is a class act – young, articulate, handsome, genuine and unflappable turing turned around a moribund state economy, slashing costs for school districts no longer burdened by union imposed inflated health care premiums and feather bedding hiring practices all policies resulting in plummeting unemployment. Walker’s success from solid conservative economic reforms, his street cred batting off sustained waves of nationally funded leftist attacks and his undeniable electoral success in the face of such opposition has catapulted him to the top tier of Republican Presidential hopefuls for the open race in 2016. Watch this space – Walker will be a formidable opponent with many electoral pluses and few minuses.

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A tale of two Senate campaigns

November 6th, 2014 at 3:31 pm by Lindsay Addie

Philip Rucker and Robert Costa from the Washington Post have written an article about the Democratic and Republican campaigns for the mid-term Senate elections.  The over riding picture one gets when reading the article is one side (the GOP) were much more organised and willing to deal with issues than the Democrats were.

Whilst Republican Mitch McConnell was dealing with the issue of Pat Roberts’ poor campaign in the Kansas Senate race mistrust between the Obama White House and Democratic Senate colleagues was growing. In particular there was tension between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Chief of Staff David Krone and the White House.

 Democrats were trying to overcome problems of their own — including difficulties with a White House suspicious of their leadership and protective of the president’s reputation, his political network and his biggest donors.

After years of tension between President Obama and his former Senate colleagues, trust between Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue had eroded. A fight between the White House and Senate Democrats over a relatively small sum of money had mushroomed into a major confrontation.

At a March 4 Oval Office meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and other Senate leaders pleaded with Obama to transfer millions in party funds and to also help raise money for an outside group. “We were never going to get on the same page,” said David Krone, Reid’s chief of staff. “We were beating our heads against the wall.”

None of this paints a pretty picture of relations between Harry Reid and Barack Obama. Also why has there been tension between Obama and his own colleagues for years?

The tension represented something more fundamental than money — it was indicative of a wider resentment among Democrats in the Capitol of how the president was approaching the election and how, they felt, he was dragging them down. All year on the trail, Democratic incumbents would be pounded for administration blunders beyond their control — the disastrous rollout of the health-care law, problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, undocumented children flooding across the border, Islamic State terrorism and fears about Ebola.

As these issues festered, many Senate Democrats would put the onus squarely on the president — and they were keeping their distance from him.

“The president’s approval rating is barely 40 percent,” Krone said. “What else more is there to say? . . . He wasn’t going to play well in North Carolina or Iowa or New Hampshire. I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean that the message was bad, but sometimes the messenger isn’t good.”

So despite the talk from prominent Democrats such as the Vice President that they were going to hold the Senate they must have known in their heart of hearts that it was going to be a tough fight.

According to Rucker and Costa the GOP had a simple strategy.

1. Don’t make mistakes.
2. Make the elections all about Obama.
3. Get good electable candidates then coach them properly.

The Republicans had some interesting methods to induct new candidates.

Minutes after landing at Reagan National Airport one day early this year, many GOP Senate hopefuls found themselves besieged at baggage claim by people with cameras yelling questions at them about abortion and rape.

This was no impromptu news conference but rather Republican staffers in disguise, trying to shock the candidates into realizing the intensity of what lay before them.

Coming back to the Republicans and the troublesome Kansas Senate race. Mitch McConnell took a leading role once he was alerted to the bumbling fumbling campaign Pat Roberts was running and insisted changes were made thus getting the show back on the road.

The overall impression is that the GOP were more determined to win, had better campaign leadership and had a much better ground game. They were no doubt motivated to do better after the 2012 presidential campaign loss.

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Republicans gains become a rout

November 6th, 2014 at 1:45 am by David Farrar

A good night for the Republicans in the mid-terms, and not so good for the pollsters with Republicans on average doing 6% better in competitive Senate races, than he polls had them.

Let’s look at the results by type.

Senate

  • Republicans are ahead 52 to 45 with Alaska, Louisiana and Virginia yet to declare. Louisiana goes to a run off which is likely to go Republican. With 50% counted they are 5% ahead in Alaska, so at this stage a 54 to 46 majority is most likely
  • Incumbent Democrats Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Mark Udall in Colorado lost their seats by 17% and 5%
  • Joni Ernst won by 9% in Iowa. Her initial campaign ad talked of her experience castrating hogs and how it would help her cut pork in Washington! She is also a a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard and the first woman to be elected to Congress from Iowa
  • Shelley Moore Capito won West Virginia for the Republicans making her the first female Senator for West Virginia and the first Republican Senator in that seat since the 1950s
  • John Kasich won strongly in Ohio, a key electoral college state
  • Pat Roberts defeated independent Greg Orman by 11% in Kansas
  • Michelle Nunn lost by a huge 18% in Georgia, which was seen as a close race.
  • In what was thought to be a safe seat for Democratic Mark Warner, Virginia was retained by just 1%
  • The one bright spot for the Democrats was the retention of New Hampshire for Jeanne Shaheen against former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown

Governors

  • The Republicans did better than expected winning five gubernatorial races where the Democrats had led in the polls – Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois and Kansas. They have so far gained three states in total
  • In a shock result, Republican Larry Hogan defeated Anthony Brown in heaving Democratic Maryland
  • Massachusetts was won by Charlie Baker for the Republicans
  • Rick Scott beat Charlie Crist by 1% in Florida. Crist is a former Republican who defected.
  • Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won re-election by 5% against a furious campaign from the left due to his union reforms
  • Wendy Davis lost in Texas which was expected, but she lost by a bigger margin that her predecessor. Her national profile and hype did not translate to votes.
  • The only pick up for the Democrats was Pennsylvania

House

  • Republicans projected to gain between 14 and 18 seats in the House. If they gain over 246 seats it will be their best result since 1929 in the House. They have 242 confirmed and 13 races not yet decided.
  • Mia Love for elected in Utah to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. Utah is less than 1% black. She won the seat off the Democrats.
  • The youngest ever woman elected to Congress is 30 year old Republican Elise Stefanik who won New York’s 21st by 24%. It has been held by the Democrats for 22 years. She is no political novice having got a job at the White House at age 21
  • Clay Aiken failed to win North Carolina’s 2nd district by 18%

General

  • Referenda on legalising personal use of cannabis passed in Oregon and Washington DC and leads in Alaska. It failed in Florida but that is because they need 60% to pass and it got 58%.
  • Referenda to have mandatory GMO labelling have lost in Colorado and Oregon
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US Mid-term Elections 2014: Live Updates

November 5th, 2014 at 11:00 am by Lindsay Addie

[UPDATE 5.27] Crist has conceeded to Scott in Florida

[UPDATE 5.22] Ernst wins Iowa. GOP controls the Senate.

[UPDATE 5.03] Its 50 – 45 to the GOP in the Senate. Only one more needed now to take the prize.

[UPDATE 4.49] Senate races – Virginia still very close ditto for North Carolina. Kansas Roberts leading Orman (Fox has just called it for Roberts)

[UPDATE 3.56] Fox calling Colorado Senate race for GOP. Now +4

[UPDATE 3.17] Been offline because an electrician was here

Scott still leading Crist in Florida Governors race. 49-46% 97%   counted. The GOP will be getting hopeful of a win. Senate GOP +3 pickups

[UPDATE 2.38] Arkansas senate seat falls to GOP who have now picked 2 senate seats

[UPDATE 2.17] Florida Governors race: 75% count done. Scott (R) 48 Crist (D) 47

Virginia Senate  race between Warner (D) vs Gillespie (R). much closer than expected

[UPDATE 1.36] GOP as expected win the West Virginia Senate seat. First seat loss for Dems.

[UPDATE 1.15] Fox and RCP are calling Kentucky for McConnell

[UPDATE 1.00pm] The first polls close in 6 states any moment

This post will be updated as results start coming in. The first polls will close at 1pm (NZ time).

My predictions:

  • Senate: Republicans end up with a 52-48 majority
  • House of Representatives: Republicans pickup 6-9 seats
  • Gubernatorial races: I’m with DPF, the GOP lose about 3 seats

INTRODUCTION

It is election day in the USA with seats in the Congress (House and the Senate) up for grabs. There are also key Gubernatorial contests. There is much interest in the battle for  the US Senate with Republicans looking to take control off Harry Reid and the Democrats.

DPF posted his take on the mid-terms yesterday.

THE SENATE

There are 36 seats being contested. Currently Democrats hold 55 (includes two independents who caucus with them) – Republicans 45.

Here are the results of the opinion polls from the key seats as analysed by Real Clear Politics and Five Thirty Eight yesterday:

Senate-Polling4

1. *= Open election (incumbent retiring)
2. Georgia and Louisiana: The 50% plus 1 vote rule applies. If leading candidate doesn’t achieve this then a runoff is held.
3. RCP = Real Clear Politics average of polls
4. 538 = Nate Silver’s blog

Scenario: The Republicans look certain to pick up four seats: Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. This would give them 49 seats if they hold Kansas.
This means they would need to win two of Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina. If they lose Kansas they would need to win three of these seats.

GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS

There are 36 states with elections for Governor. Currently the Republicans hold 29 governorships and  the Democrats 21. Here is a brief summary of some of the more interesting contests (incumbent has asterisk).

Florida: Scott (R)* vs Crist (D)- This has turned into an intense dogfight with former Republican turned Democrat Crist narrowly ahead in the polls. Both sides have brought in the heavy hitters to promote their candidate. No love lost here in this bitter contest with a total of $US150 million spent by the two campaigns.

Wisconsin: Walker (R)* vs Burke (D): The battle hardened Walker is fighting Burke and the Democrats who have been desperately trying to get rid of him for years. If successful Walker is seen by pundits as a candidate for the presidency in 2016.

Kansas: Brownback (R)* vs Davis (D): This is normally a strongly leaning GOP state but Brownback is unpopular with many partly because of a poorly implemented tax cut policy. He has been behind in the polls.

Illinois: Quinn (D)* vs Rauner (R): Normally a Democratic state but polls show this as being very difficult to pick.

Colorado: Hickenlooper (D)* vs Beauprez (R): The polls have this being practically a tie currently.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

All 435 seats are up for re-election. The House hasn’t got nearly near as much coverage in the US media probably because the GOP will almost certainly retain control and may pickup more seats.

Current seats held:

Republicans 233
Democrats 199
Vacant 3

SOURCES AND WEB LINKS

Real Clear Politics Election 2014

FiveThirtyEight Senate Races Coverage

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball

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Republican odds improving

November 4th, 2014 at 2:24 pm by David Farrar

Lindsay Addie has been doing a great job focusing in US politics. Thought I’d add my 2c as the elections are tomorrow.

Five Thirty Eight now has the Republicans at 75% to gain control of the Senate. Almost all pundits are picking they will increase their majority in the House also. The only downside for them is Gubernatorial races where they may lose three states – however they will remain in control of the executives in the majority of states.

The projections for the Senate are:

  1. Kansas – 51% probability Republican loss to an Independent
  2. Iowa – 67% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  3. Colorada – 72% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  4. Alaska – 72% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  5. Louisiana – 81% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  6. Arkanasas – 94% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  7. West Virginia – 99% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  8. South Dakota – >99% probability Democrat loss to a Republican
  9. Montana – >99% probability Democrat loss to a Republican

The Republicans only need a net gain of six. On this they could gain eight net. If they hold Kansas that is nine, and if they lose it but get a majority without Kansas the independent will caucus with them (he claims). So that may give them a buffer to retain the majority, if they gain it.

So the mid terms should be a good outcome for the Republicans, but not a landslide.

2016 could be interesting for Republicans as they will have 24 seats up, and Democrats only 10. They may only keep the majority for two years. That impacts the Supreme Court. If the Republicans can gain the Senate in 2014 and the Presidency in 2016 (a harder proposition cs Clinton) then they can block Obama replacing a Democratic nominee, and may end up with having a Republican nominee replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who would be 87 by 2020) or Stephen Breyer (83  by 2020).

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All Blacks in Chicago and the politics of USA Rugby

November 4th, 2014 at 6:24 am by kiwi in america

On Saturday November 1 something remarkable happened – one of America’s most iconic NFL football stadiums, Soldier Field in Chicago – home of the Chicago Bears, hosted the first game between the USA Eagles and the All Blacks in over 30 years in front of a sellout crowd of 62,000 AND the game was broadcast live on NBC, one of America’s big three broadcast TV networks (not on NBC Sport – one of its subsidiary channels only seen on cable). This was unprecedented exposure for rugby here in the US. I was caught completely off guard by the popularity of this event procrastinating getting tickets for only a few weeks only to hear it had sold out! What was even more remarkable was, according to expat mates at the game, the bulk of the crowd were Americans.

Since 2006 I have been an assistant coach of a High School rugby team and I referee Union 15s and 7s plus Touch rugby. I knew something big was brewing when 14 year old boys on our team asked about the game and asked me whether I’d ever seen the All Blacks play. As I recounted the many test matches I’ve watched the ABs play at Lancaster Park, Carisbrook and Eden Park, the new boys this season all gathered around and peppered me with questions about the men in black and rugby in NZ. These are boys who live and breathe football, most of them play it and attend college and NFL games regularly, are enrolled in numerous fantasy football teams and watch gridiron on TV as much as parents will allow. And yet despite that, they are in sheer awe of the All Blacks and ripple with adolescent excitement at the prospect of their first game of rugby. I have probably coached several hundred boys since moving here and 2/3rds of them also played football (the two seasons don’t overlap – they play high school football August to November and rugby January to May). A good number of these boys were starting Varsity players (equivalent of the 1st XV)  for top high school programmes here in Arizona. And yet once they began to play rugby, there was not a one of them who did not prefer rugby to football despite still loving football and some even managing college scholarships. I call it the rugby drug – a few hits and these boys get addicted. They get infinitely more game time than football’s large squads, they all get to touch the ball as opposed to just the quarterbacks and receivers in football, rugby is player managed/football is coach managed – teenagers love the independence to make their own plays in real time as a rugby game unfolds and the clincher, and any current and former rugby players will nod their heads in agreement, is the post-game adrenaline high is so much bigger and lasts longer with rugby because they are on the field exerting themselves aggressively for so much longer!

I’m sure you are wondering that, knowing all this, why the US, with all its vast wealth and its tens of millions of athletic kids (and believe me I still marvel at the massive factory of fast, physical and genetically gifted athletes here) is still only able to produce a team that an All Black B team can put almost 70 points on and trust me, had the field been the regulation 50m width (not the 43m forced by the narrower gridiron configuration), the ABs might’ve nudged the ton. The answer can be summed up in one word – politics.

Don’t get me wrong – the game on Saturday will do much good for the game here and it was fantastic that the NZRFU agreed to do it. The Blacks clearly had a great time, they were very gracious in victory and it was a great warm up for Dan Carter and a stunning reminder of Sonny Bill Williams’ supreme talent that, rusty from his post league transition, he came within one forward pass of a hat trick of tries. But this was a top down exercise born of pure financial expediency. The NZRFU made a very tidy profit to compensate for its dwindling gate sales in NZ’s major city stadiums, NBC got to preview rugby to its vast US Olympics audience so it had its eyes firmly on 7’s at the Rio Olympics rather than grassroots rugby in the US and AIG, major All Black sponsors based in New York, got to get its name in front of a large prime time US network audience.

Rugby administration in the US is dominated by men who grew up playing what passes for club rugby here. The pattern is repeated cross all major and medium cities across America. For decades, most Americans discovered rugby as adults albeit young adults picked up from: a high school football coach who spent a stint in the UK in the military and played rugby, a Canadian work mate who played rugby there before emigrating (where the game has a more solid footing); some worked for a period in rugby playing countries or in locations where Kiwi, Aussie, South African and English expats congregate and discovered rugby there, still more are expats themselves wanting to keep playing the game and others still discovered it from expat work mates in the US. The bottom line was and is the same – Men’s rugby clubs typically cover a large age range of 19 to 40’s and include fit and capable athletes with overweight and out of shape older men in it for the boozing and socializing. A few promising players would travel overseas to play rugby in heartland countries but for some reason the generation that now administers the game in the US, they mostly visited the northern European countries and so learned that style of playing and refereeing.

The biggest growth of the game in the US in recent years has come from college rugby and it from those ranks that the US 7’s and Eagles National team is usually chosen. The game is beginning to grow more rapidly at the high school level and so development squads of U19 players have also fed to the national level. But unfortunately the stultifying politics of USA rugby is dominated by men who really have no clue what top class rugby playing and administration looks like. This is manifest in a variety of ways summed up by my own experiences and observations:

  •  When you come from NZ, you naturally draw on what you saw when you were growing up and knew as an adult about rugby in NZ – you are brimming with ideas and suggestions as to how to improve the game in the US because when you first arrive, you become immediately aware of the gaping holes in quality at every level (playing, coaching, reffing and administration). The Americans mostly don’t want to know about our experience. They don’t care where you are from and what you might know coming from the world’s best rugby playing nation – they are comfortable in their dysfunctional space and don’t want upstarts telling them what to do. This acts as an immediate dampener on getting involved with the administration of the sport. For one thing who will vote for you when they all elect their local mates who won’t (and can’t) point out their inadequacies. For that reason, I and other expats have concentrated on building a good programme with our local high school teams. Even then after helping build a programme that has won the AZ state championship 3 times on the trot, lost the 2014 US High School Nationals by only 5 points and ranks 5th nationwide, my fellow kiwi coaches and I are still largely ignored.
  • Sometimes opposing coaches ask us to only do old men’s uncontested scrums even when the players our boys are playing are normal size kids or, get this, to persuade our players to not tackle too hard!
  • I referee in the southern hemisphere style. My heroes are Jonathon Kaplan, Paddy O’Brian, Steve Walsh, Craig Joubert and Glen Jackson. I play the advantage aggressively (only half the refs here know how to properly play the advantage). I also try not to be whistle-happy and talk to players to avoid excessive penalties. Here lack of fitness and English style pedantic refereeing means lots of whistle blowing despite playing on mostly hard fast fields in dry weather. When reffing High School rugby, I am commentating the game a lot because you are almost coaching and reffing due to so many inexperienced players. One of my referee coaches criticized me for being too vocal and when I told him that’s how the Super 15 coaches ref, I was told not to follow them! For real!
  • When talented former NZ coach and administrator Dick Thorburn was appointed as Performance Manager of USA Rugby he didn’t last long and left frustrated over these very same issues. Whilst some of it is a lack of a budget to pay for talent from down under, some of it is the ‘we don’t need your help’ attitude. The sad thing is often here they don’t know what they don’t know. If you don’t even know the scope of your deficiencies then it’s hard to ask for the right help to overcome them.
  • One time a fellow Kiwi coach and I were assigned to coach the U19 AZ select side for a national tournament in Denver. We had the head of the AZ Rugby Union constantly interfering and telling us how to coach and do our job – a guy who’d never coached and only ever played the crappy Club rugby here. We could never choose the best players in the State and only took those players whose parents had enough money to pay for the trip so naturally we couldn’t perform as well.
  • This problem is replicated all over the US. Salty Thompson, a gritty former Irish International player from the 80’s, is the US U19 coach. He visits our team to watch for talent and we’ve had the odd boy chosen to play for the USA U19 team but again, he can’t pick the best team, only the players whose families can afford the cost of flying the kids to the training camps in Indianapolis. He has any number of big fast Polynesian boys born in the US who are real talent and would lift the game of the USA U19 team but he can’t get the few rich white men who sponsor such things to look beyond their usual comfort zone of white middle class boys.
  •  For years the State High School final was reffed by an aging white haired ref (who is a prominent ref coach here) who was a good ref in the day but just couldn’t keep up with the pace of a high school game and missed a lot plus he was grumpy and whistle-happy. Finally the High School rugby administrator had a ref mate of his from Colorado in town who agreed to ref the 2013 final. He was the best ref we’d ever had at our level as most of our games are reffed by shockingly bad refs (I can’t ref my own teams’ games). So for the 2014 final, a good mate of mine from the North Harbour union (who has reffed Men’s Div I and High School finals in Auckland) was visiting to watch his son who plays for a Utah college against ASU and I asked the local union if he could ref – he had all his credentials from NZ that showed he was experienced. They said no because it ruffled too many local feathers!

I could go on. Suffice it to say that it’s frustrating. We’re making progress where we can. We’ve built as good a programme as we can with the limited experience of boys not raised in a rugby culture. We bring boys up from NZ to go to school here and play on our team to help mentor our local players, we travel out of state to play teams in states where high school rugby is more developed and we have formed U14 and U12 teams to feed to us and get them started younger. And finally in the last year we have an energetic Aussie expat as the local union head who is also driving youth development hard and he’s managing to break through the flabby layers of useless attitudes and administration and make a difference. America could be a rugby El Dorado. The sheer number of amazing athletes here, even at the high school level, is staggering. One day hopefully USA Rugby will do what US Soccer did when they hired German super star soccer player and Manager Franz Beckenbauer to teach them how to build a world class football programme. That was 25 years ago and now the US women are now ranked No 1 and the Men No 22 in the world in soccer. It can be done. It’s exciting to be here and watch the game we love grow and be a small part of it but boy you sure come to hate the politics!

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Barack Obama and the Six-year Itch

November 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by Lindsay Addie

The Six-year itch

One of the  most discussed recurring events in US politics is what political scientists call the six-year itch. The chief characteristic is that the President and his party lose ground usually in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the mid-term election at the 6 year mark of their presidency. This is due to voter frustration with the incumbent President and his party.

Here is the record of all two term presidents going back to FDR in 1938.

6 year itch
*  Losses by the President’s party resulted in the other party gaining control of this house.
** Although the President’s party lost seats, this house was already under the control of the opposition party.

Three records need to mentioned.

  1. Thomas Jefferson is the only President in the 6th year of his presidency whose party gained seats in both houses.
  2. Bill Clinton (1998) is the only President since the Civil War reconstruction (1865-77) who did not lose seats in either the House or the Senate due to the six-year itch.
  3. The huge loss by the Republicans in 1958 in the Senate is the largest in history.

Charlie Cook writes in the National Journal:

Obviously, American voters do not have the date of each second-term, midterm election circled on their calendars to kick the party in the White House. But the novelty, energy, and excitement of newly elected presidents tends to dissipate in their second terms. We normally see a scarcity of new (good) ideas, and, to put it bluntly, a level of fatigue starts to plague the relationship between a president and the electorate. Statements, decisions, and policies from the first term can come back to haunt the administration during second terms. Certainly, “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it” might be a nominee in this category. Bad things tend to happen once a president reaches his second term, be they scandals, unpopular wars, economic downturns, or whatever.

Cook goes on to add.

This pattern certainly doesn’t indicate an inevitable outcome, but it certainly isn’t accidental or coincidental. It is just the manifestation of the laws—or at minimum, strong tendencies—of human nature and politics. It doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t have to happen. But it usually does.

It will be cold comfort to Barack Obama but if his party loses ground at the 6 year mark of his presidency it will put him in some pretty good company.

Comparing the last four two term Presidents

So how do the last four two terms Presidents compare in regards to win and losses in the Congress?

House of Representatives (435 seats):

Housex4

The US Senate (100 seats):

senatex4

In the House the two Republican President’s have by far the best record. The Senate numbers reveal that Bush is a clear winner. It looks like after next Tuesday elections Obama’s Senate record will be equal or slightly worse than both Reagan and Clinton whilst in the House the polls are predicting further losses for the Democrats.

Bear in mind each President had different issues to deal with some self inflicted and some not, so it is matter of debate who was the best (or worst) President.

NOTE: All numbers are from Wikipedia. I normally don’t use it when doing research but the numbers seem to be correct as far as I can tell.

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US Mid-term Elections: Senate Polls Update – 1st November

November 1st, 2014 at 10:28 am by Lindsay Addie

Here are the latest numbers from the Real Clear Politics average of polls and from Five Thirty Eight in the key Senate races.

Senate-Polling3

NOTE: Georgia and Louisiana have the 50 plus 1 vote rule in place. If this is not achieved by the leading candidate a two way run off  election between the two highest polling candidates will be held.

Currently Democrats hold 55 seats (including 2 independents) and the Republicans 45. So the GOP needs to make a net gain of 6.

The GOP will pickup Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. They look good to also pickup Arkansas and Colorado. That would give them 50 seats. So what of the other seats?

  • Alaska: The gap has closed keeping Begich (D) in the race. A difficult state to poll  according to pollsters.
  • Kansas: Still too close to call. Orman (Independent) seems to be doing a Winston Peters and sitting on the fence regarding who he would caucus with.
  • Iowa: Ernst (R) has held a consistent but narrow lead in the polls. This is no certainty for Republicans though.
  • Georgia: Nunn (D) is putting up a tough fight against Perdue (R). The polls are still predicting a tight race. Possibly will end up in a run off election.
  • Kentucky: McConnell looks safe here now for the GOP.
  • Louisiana: This may well also end up in a run off election.
  • New Hampshire: Shaheen (D) is holding against Brown (R). The gap has closed somewhat. The polls are showing different results.
  • North Carolina: Hagan (D) continues to lead but isn’t by any means safe yet.

So it’s still advantage to the GOP if the polls are right but it isn’t a done deal yet. If they lose Kansas and Georgia they would need to win three out of Iowa, Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Nate Silver’s analysis is here

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Harvard University Poll of US Millennial Voters

October 30th, 2014 at 1:24 pm by Lindsay Addie

The Harvard University Institute of Politics (IOP) has released its latest poll of Millennials. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.6% and polled American 2029 voters between the ages of 18-29 years old.

One of the key findings is that both the Democrats and Republicans have work to do to better understand and relate to this important and very large demographic.

“The IOP’s fall polling shows that young Americans care deeply about their country and are politically up-for-grabs,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Director Maggie Williams.  “Millennials could be a critical swing vote. Candidates for office: ignore millennial voters at your peril.”

“While Democrats have lost ground among members of America’s largest generation, millennial views of Republicans in Congress are even less positive,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe.  “Both parties should re-introduce themselves to young voters, empower them and seek their participation in the upcoming 2016 campaign and beyond.”

The key findings based on the polling data according to the IOP are.

In Contrast to Four Years Ago, Slightly More Than Half of “Likely” Young Voters Prefer a Republican-controlled Congress.
While more 18- to 29- year-olds (50%-43%) surveyed in the IOP’s fall 2014 poll would prefer that Congress be controlled by Democrats instead of Republicans, the numbers improve dramatically for the GOP when only young people who say they will “definitely vote” are studied. Among these likely voters, the IOP’s latest poll shows the preference shifting, with slightly more than half (51%) preferring a Republican-run Congress and 47 percent wanting Democrats to be in charge – a significant change from the IOP’s last midterm election poll in the fall of 2010 when Democratic control was preferred among likely voters 55 percent to 43 percent.

President Obama’s Job Approval Rating Decreases, Nears Low-Water mark.
Overall, President Obama’s job performance among America’s 18-29 year-olds has fallen from 47% (April 2014) to 43 percent (53%: disapprove), the second-lowest rating in the IOP polls since he took office (41%: November 2013). Among 18-29 year-olds saying they will “definitely be voting in November,” the president’s job approval rating is 42 percent, with 56% saying they disapprove.

Deep Political Divisions Harden Along Racial Lines. The IOP’s fall poll finds young whites disapprove of President Obama’s job performance by more than a two-to-one margin (31% approve, 65% disapprove) while African-Americans continue to show a strong loyalty to the president, giving him a 78 percent approval rating (17% disapprove). This approval gap (47 percentage points) among Whites and African-Americans is significantly wider than the 36 percentage point gap in Obama’s approval rating between African-American and whites found in fall 2009 IOP polling.

Millennial Interest in Midterm Voting Similar to 2010 Levels; Conservatives Seem More Enthusiastic. Roughly one-in-four (26%) young Americans under the age of 30 say that they will “definitely be voting” in the fall, a very similar proportion to that seen during a similar time period prior to the 2010 midterm elections (27%: Sept. 2010). Further, compared to the last midterm election of 2010, traditional Republican constituencies seem to be showing more enthusiasm than Democratic ones for participating in the upcoming midterm elections and are statistically more likely to say they will “definitely be voting.

Hispanic Support for President Obama is Weakening. Support for the president among young Hispanics, who just two years ago supported Obama over Mitt Romney by 51-points (74% to 23%), appears to be weakening. The president’s job approval rating among Hispanics now sits at the lowest since the IOP began tracking the administration in 2009.

[Note]: Only the first part of some of the categories are cited here as some sections are long.

It will be interesting to see how accurate these results are in reference to next weeks election and how presidential candidates for the 2016 try to reach out to Millennials.

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White House Correspondents Criticise Transparency of Obama Administration

October 29th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by Lindsay Addie

Erik Wemple in the Washington Post reports on growing frustration amongst senior White House correspondents.

At some point, a compendium of condemnations against the Obama administration’s record of media transparency (actually, opacity) must be assembled. Notable quotations in this vein come from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who said, “It is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering”; New York Times reporter James Risen, who said, “I think Obama hates the press”; and CBS News’s Bob Schieffer, who said, “This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”

USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page has added a sharper edge to this set of knives. Speaking Saturday at a White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) seminar, Page called the current White House not only “more restrictive” but also “more dangerous” to the press than any other in history, a clear reference to the Obama administration’s leak investigations and its naming of Fox News’s James Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator” in a violation of the Espionage Act.

Wemple goes on to catalogue a long series of instances of the White House not being willing to release and discuss new stories or release relevant information on issues. This is all on top of reports that the administration is obscuring facts on Obamacare. The White House response to the criticism was as follows.

When asked about this stuff, White House spokesman Eric Schultz issued this (on-the-record) response: “We believe in the value of transparency, and that is why we work to provide as much access as we can. That said, the press has a responsibility to always push for more access and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.”

The official statement on transparency and open government by Barack Obama from the White House website says in part.

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. 

If the President and Eric Shultz believe in transparency, how are they certain that the administration is achieving this goal? President Obama is currently having to run a lot of defensive plays, more than a few of these are ill-conceived and clumsy that aren’t helping the perception that openness is sometimes lacking. Also he hasn’t as yet sold the transparent open government argument successfully to the White House press core.

My own view is that part of the problem for Obama is of his own making and also he probably has the balance wrong in terms of who is advising him. There seems to be a lot of political advisors and not enough policy advisors, or the policy advisors simply don’t have enough influence. This could be critical for his last two years in the White House as Obama isn’t a policy wonk a la Bill Clinton who for all his moral faults did have a much better grasp of complex issues.

Finally, how long before Obama’s enemies start quoting the first amendment of the US Constitution and using it against him again?

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Hillary Clinton Back Pedals on Job Creation Comments

October 28th, 2014 at 5:55 pm by Lindsay Addie

Three days after saying that business doesn’t create jobs Hillary Clinton has found it necessary to back pedal CNN reports.

Friday at a campaign rally for Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley, the former secretary of state told the crowd, “Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” going on to say trickle-down economics “has failed rather spectacularly.”

Republicans seized on the sentence, seemingly made for an anti-Hillary Clinton campaign ad. America Rising, the main anti-Clinton super-PAC, is featuring it on the header of its website.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Clinton’s attempt to walk back her original remarks.

“I shorthanded this point the other day, so let me be absolutely clear about what I’ve been saying for a couple of decades,” said Mrs. Clinton, who is widely expected to run for president in 2016.

“Our economy grows when businesses and entrepreneurs create good-paying jobs here in an America where workers and families are empowered to build from the bottom up and the middle out — not when we hand out tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs or stash their profits overseas.”

It is a certainty that if Hillary does become the Democratic Party nominee more will be heard of this. As CNN also point out it isn’t the first gaffe on things economic this year by Clinton.

In early June, during her book tour, Clinton made a major gaffe when she said, “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” a comment that critics cited as evidence she is out of touch with everyday Americans.

Loose lips can hurt a prospective run to win the White House. Mitt Romney found this out the hard way when his remarks were secretly taped at the private fundraiser in September 2012.

[]UPDATE]: Corrected typo.

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Jeb Bush and a Run at the Presidency

October 28th, 2014 at 10:43 am by Lindsay Addie

There has been widespread media coverage on whether or not Jeb Bush will make a run for the presidency in 2016. Chris Cilliza from the Washington Post reports.

Jeb Bush is more likely than not to run for president in 2016, according to a somewhat garbled quote over the weekend from his son George P. Bush, who is running for Texas land commissioner this fall.  But just because Bush is — or at least might be — running doesn’t mean he will win. In fact, even calling Jeb the frontrunner is a drastic overstatement.

“The 2016 field is wide open for business [and] while Governor Bush will be a formidable competitor, he will not clear the field nor have an insurmountable lead,” said Dave Carney, a New Hampshire Republican consultant who served as a senior adviser to Rick Perry’s 2012 campaign.

So what are some of the important factors according to Cilliza?

1. Polling.  This is the most obvious way to debunk the idea that the nomination would be Bush’s for the asking. In a field with Mitt Romney, Bush would place second — 10 points behind the 2008 and 2012 candidate — in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll on the 2016 GOP field.  Take Romney out — since he’s almost certainly not running — and Jeb does place first with 15 percent. But Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul takes 12 percent and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is at 11 percent — not to mention a slew of other potential candidates in the high single digits.  So yes, Jeb is the “leader” in that poll, but some large chunk of that support, at least at this point in the race, is dependent on the fact that people know his name.

I’m not sure that too much can be read into these polls at this very early stage. Furthermore frequently the early frontrunners don’t actually become the nominee.

2. Common Core + immigration reform. Bush is on the wrong side — or at least, on the side opposite the party base — on both of these issues. On Common Core, a series of nationalized education standards, conservatives — including people like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal who will likely run for president in 2016 — have condemned it as a classic case of the federal government thinking it knows best. Bush, on the other hand, has been vocally supportive of Common Core — insisting that while it is not a perfect system, it is necessary to ensure American children can compete against children from around the world.

Bush will need conservatives to be motivated to support and actually go and vote for him if he’s the GOP nominee. Supporting Common Core certainly isn’t going to endear him to conservatives, the same applies to his current stance on immigration.

3. Tone.  It’s not only — per point No. 2 above — that Jeb is out of step with the Republican base (and many of the people he would run against) on two big issues. It’s his overall tone and approach to issues and politics that will hurt him, said one senior Republican consultant who has worked at the presidential level in the past but is not aligned with any candidate for 2016.  “I think his problem isn’t so much specific issues, it’s his approach to how he discusses them,” said the source. “It shows how out of touch he is with the grass roots.

So what about the fact that he’s part of the Bush clan?

4. The dynasty thing. Yes, I realize the irony of including this point in a piece that accepts the idea of Hillary Clinton as the default Democratic nominee. But unlike Clinton, Bush would face real and serious opposition for the nomination if he ran. And that means that the idea that he is part of the past and his opponents are part of the future could be potentially damaging to his chances. “The sense I get from just ordinary folks is, ‘enough with the Bushes,’ ”  said one Republican consultant unaffiliated in the presidential contest. “Hell, even Barbara Bush herself said that!” If Jeb runs, he will need to come up with a smart response to the attack that by nominating him Republicans would forfeit one of their best hits on Hillary Clinton — that she is simply old news.

What will get thrown back at him in both the primaries and especially in the general election is the argument that neither Bush I and II had great records in economic management. Also the comment by Barbara Bush is very pertinent. A younger candidate would bring different advantages in the general election in 2016. Both McCain and Romney were big targets for the Democrats simply because they’d already had long careers.

[UPDATE]: Information on Common Core standards can be found here

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Obscuring facts on Obamacare

October 27th, 2014 at 10:42 am by Lindsay Addie

The New York Times reports:

With health insurance marketplaces about to open for 2015 enrollment, the Obama administration has told insurance companies that it will delay requirements for them to disclose data on the number of people enrolled, the number of claims denied and the costs to consumers for specific services.

For months, insurers have been asking the administration if they had to comply with two sections of the Affordable Care Act that require “transparency in coverage.”

In a bulletin sent to insurers last week, the administration said, “We do not intend to enforce the transparency requirements until we provide further guidance.” Administration officials said the government and insurers needed more time to collect and analyze the data.

Some are unhappy that key information isn’t readily available.

Consumer advocates said they were disappointed because the information would be helpful to millions of consumers shopping for insurance in the open enrollment period that starts on Nov. 15. The data will not be available before the enrollment period closes on Feb. 15.

So what does the law say?

Under the law, consumers in each state have access to a public marketplace, or exchange, where they can buy insurance and apply for federal subsidies to help pay premiums.

The law says each exchange shall require insurers to disclose their claims payment policies, “data on enrollment, data on disenrollment, data on the number of claims that are denied, data on rating practices” and information on the use of doctors and hospitals outside a health plan’s network.

Moreover, the law says, insurers must allow consumers to “learn the amount of cost-sharing (including deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance) under the individual’s plan or coverage that the individual would be responsible for paying with respect to the furnishing of a specific item or service.”

“At a minimum,” the law says, “such information shall be made available to such individuals through an Internet website” and by other means for people without access to the web.

So where does all this leave consumers?

Many people obtaining coverage under the Affordable Care Act have never had commercial insurance, and even experienced consumers are sometimes baffled by the intricacies of insurance policies, including provider networks and deductibles.

This isn’t a very good look for Barack Obama and his administration with not a lot of transparency going on here. It is very difficult not to reach the conclusion that this is something to do with the mid-term elections. Also there is no solid evidence either that the insurance companies are fired up about being open with customers.

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Illegal voters can have an impact

October 27th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

Could control of the Senate in 2014 be decided by illegal votes cast by non-citizens? Some argue that incidents of voting by non-citizens are so rare as to be inconsequential, with efforts to block fraud a screen for an agenda to prevent poor and minority voters from exercising the franchise, while others define such incidents as a threat to democracy itself. Both sides depend more heavily on anecdotes than data.

In a forthcoming article in the journal Electoral Studies, we bring real data from big social science survey datasets to bear on the question of whether, to what extent, and for whom non-citizens vote in U.S. elections. Most non-citizens do not register, let alone vote. But enough do that their participation can change the outcome of close races.

Always good to have data, rather than hyperbole. So what does it say?

How many non-citizens participate in U.S. elections? More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote. Furthermore, some of these non-citizens voted. Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.

That is a non-trivial level.

Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections. Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin. It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina. Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.

Think what may have been the impact in 2000 of Bush v Gore, if we had data for back then?

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US views on cannabis legalisation

October 26th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

FT_10.24.14_marijuana-01

This graph from Pew is telling. It shows how much views can shift in just one generation.

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