Government Reform

Is Charles Koch Feeling the Bern?

Charles Koch contends that he and Bernie Sanders agree on the fact that “the political and economic system is often rigged to help the privileged few at the expense of everyone else, particularly the least advantaged.”

“Democrats and Republicans have too often favored policies and regulations that pick winners and losers. This helps perpetuate a cycle of control, dependency, cronyism and poverty in the United States. These are complicated issues, but it’s not enough to say that government alone is to blame. Large portions of the business community have actively pushed for these policies.”

“That’s why Koch Industries opposes all forms of corporate welfare — even those that benefit us.”

“The United States’ next president must be willing to rethink decades of misguided policies enacted by both parties that are creating a permanent underclass.”

“I applaud the senator for giving a voice to many Americans struggling to get ahead in a system too often stacked in favor of the haves, but I disagree with his desire to expand the federal government’s control over people’s lives. This is what built so many barriers to opportunity in the first place.”

“It is results, not intentions, that matter. History has proven that a bigger, more controlling, more complex and costlier federal government leaves the disadvantaged less likely to improve their lives.”

Is it Time to Change our System of Government?

Charles Lane in The Washington Post comments on “The Perils of Presidentialism,” by Yale University’s Juan J. Linz, in which Linz argues that the Westminster-style parliamentary system is inherently more stable than our ‘presidentialist’ systems that divide executive and legislative power between separately elected presidents and assemblies.

“Linz identified the fundamental disadvantage of “presidentialist” democracy: “Whereas a prime minister owes his power to the same majority that produces parliament, the president and legislature in a presidentialist democracy can both claim to represent the national majority, a source of competition that can spawn conflict, even chaos, when rival parties control the two branches.”

“Presidential systems include a fixed term for the chief executive, to add predictability and to curb dictatorial tendencies. However, this intended stabilizer actually makes politics ‘rigid,’ … The rise and fall of prime ministers might give parliamentary countries … [an] appearance of political instability; but … their revolving door is actually a source of stability, since short-term kerfuffles help ‘avoid deeper crises.’”

“Adding to the drama, presidentialism makes the chief executive a personal repository ‘for whatever exaggerated expectations his supporters may harbor. They are prone to think that he has more power than he really has or should have.’ For his part, a president may ‘tend to conflate his supporters with ‘the people’ as a whole,’ making the ‘obstacles and opposition he encounters seem particularly annoying.’”

‘Redistribution’ is no Longer a Dirty Word

Vox: “Bernie Sanders wants a political revolution. And most Americans think one might be necessary, according to a new poll conducted by Morning Consult and Vox.”

“Fifty-four percent of respondents to our online poll — which reached a sample of 1,884 registered voters nationally from Friday, January 29, through Sunday, January 31, 2016 — agreed that a ‘political revolution might be necessary to redistribute money from the wealthiest Americans to the middle class.’ Just 30 percent said they disagreed.”

“Liberals and liberal-leaning demographics were most likely to agree with the statement. But majorities of independents, white voters, evangelicals, and even Tea Party supporters in our sample agreed too — showing that redistribution may no longer be a dirty word in American politics.”

“Yet Sanders supporters shouldn’t get too excited just yet. Because we also asked our entire sample: ‘Which do you think is a greater potential threat to the country’s future — Big Businesses or Big Government?’ The results weren’t as promising for his agenda on this front. Fifty-five percent of registered voters thought big government was more dangerous, compared with 29 percent who thought big business was.”

Flint Water Crisis Underscores the Need for Big Government

Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that “the water crisis in Flint represents more than a catastrophic political failure. It is also a direct consequence of decades of policies based on the premise that government spending is always a problem and never a solution. Long before Flint tried to reduce spending by moving to a cheaper water source, the pipes that ultimately poisoned the water were neglected. Across the country, crumbling infrastructure is a pervasive threat that is creating serious issues in other cities and could produce similar crises . As Michigan State University economist Eric Scorsone explained , ‘Flint is an extreme case, but nationally, there’s been a lack of investment in water infrastructure. This is a common problem nationally — infrastructure maintenance has not kept up.’”

“Frustration and distrust of government is understandable when politicians like [Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder] and their cronies are so blatantly unaccountable to the public. Indeed, when government is polluted by officials who put corporate interests above their constituents and cost-cutting above the common good, it too often fails to fulfill even its most basic functions, such as protecting access to safe drinking water. But instead of giving in to anger and austerity, in this election, we should be having a vigorous debate about how government can be truly accountable to the people it serves.”

Proof That Obamacare is Here to Stay: Kentucky

Sarah Kliff in Vox: “Kentucky was the first state in the country where a Republican governor won on a platform of undoing his Democratic predecessor’s Medicaid expansion. The fact that Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has decided to drop the issue suggests something important about the politics of Obamacare: Once a state uses the health law to expand its Medicaid coverage, it’s incredibly difficult to shrink the benefit back down.”

“The Bevin situation shows that reversing course on Medicaid expansion has a completely different dynamic: There are half a million Kentuckians who rely on the program, who have an easier time paying their health care bills, and who would face difficulty accessing doctors if the expansion disappeared. Those people don’t exist in Texas, which never expanded the program. But they exist in Kentucky, and that matters.”

“This underscores how crucial the first decision to expand Medicaid becomes and the legacy it creates. That’s powerful for Obamacare supporters, who are pushing more states to expand. They most likely won’t have to lobby, over and over again, for states to continue their Medicaid expansion.”

Survey: Government is Top Problem

Gallup: For the second consecutive year, dissatisfaction with government edged out the economy as the problem more Americans identified as the nation’s top problem in 2015.

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“Americans were most likely to mention some aspect of the federal government in 2015 when asked to name the country’s top problem, but this category still averaged less than 20% of all responses during the year. Even when mentions of terrorism, immigration and gun laws briefly flared, the percentages citing these stayed below the 20% threshold.”

“This lack of a prominent public concern provides an interesting setup to the 2016 presidential election … This contrasts with the last three presidential election cycles when at least one issue commanded significant public attention in the year prior to the election. In 2011, for example, the dominant issues were the economy and unemployment; in 2007, the Iraq War; and in 2003, the economy. Those concerns provided a clear framework for the campaigns, something that is thus far lacking in the race for 2016.”

‘Crony Capitalism,’ Not Corruption, Stunts U.S. Economic Growth

Wall Street Journal: “Cozy relationships among private interest groups and government officials have stunted economic growth, according to a new report by the Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan group of corporate executives that offers policy prescriptions for fiscal problems.”

“In the report, the organization calls for curbs on the so-called revolving door between Congress and lobbying firms and for overhauling the campaign-finance system, two popular ideas on the 2016 campaign trail.”

“The report, titled ‘Crony Capitalism: Unhealthy Relations Between Business and Government,’ says the spiking cost of running campaigns, combined with lobbyists’ mounting influence in Washington, have ‘exerted an important toll on the U.S. economy.'”

“One such example is the federal sugar subsidy program, which the report estimates costs consumers almost $4 billion per year … While sugar crops comprise a small percentage of the total value of U.S. crops, the sugar industry accounted for more than a third of all U.S. crop lobbying from 2002 to 2011. Political-action committees affiliated with sugar companies made more campaign donations than did lobbyists for all other U.S. crop interests combined between 2002 and 2012.”

“The committee also cites analysis of 200 firms by the Sunlight Foundation, which found that between 2007 and 2010, companies that spent heavily on lobbying paid far lower effective federal tax rates than those that didn’t.”

Why (Republican) House Speaker is the Worst Job in Congress

Jonathan Allen in Vox: “God, it sucks to be the Republican speaker of the House.”

“There are a lot of reasons the job of speaker has become less desirable over the years, from fundraising demands to losing power over perks like earmarks and watching the dysfunction of Congress rob the institution of some of its clout. But the real issue is as brutal as the total disrespect rank-and-file Republicans have shown for the office and the institution it represents — and, I would argue, for the American public.”

“Our system of governance only works when our elected leaders are willing to either compromise or find common ground … The idea, hard as it is for some in the House to understand or accept, is that the republic functions when people and parties of disparate views can agree. Sometimes that requires giving up a little bit of ground. But this small band of House Republicans is unwilling to do that. Its members threaten to take down the speaker when he tries to govern.”

“I think the best way to look at it is this: Anyone who wants to be speaker of the House, by definition, should be someone who wants to participate in governing the country. The Freedom Caucus and its ilk are preventing anyone who holds the job from doing that. So what’s the point in being speaker in a Republican House? It sure as hell isn’t to govern responsibly. Thus, no one in the GOP who feels a commitment to that ideal wants it.”

Congress Dodges a Legislative Response to Mass Shootings

Aaron Blake in The Washington Post: “President Obama on Thursday night passionately implored gun-control supporters to ‘politicize’ the mass shooting in Oregon. But as we wrote this morning, it’s still very unlikely the latest tragedy will have much impact on what is a long-stalled gun debate. And in Congress, it’s clear that the impetus for action just hasn’t been there.”

“The below chart … shows that congressional mentions of mass shootings in the context of gun control and mental health issues peaked during the debate after the late-2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn., when the White House unsuccessfully pushed for increased background checks for gun purchases.”

“There was less chatter about these issues after the next major mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, and even less after the massacre at a black church in Charleston, S.C., earlier this year.”

Less Booze, More Meth

Christopher Ingraham: “‘Dry counties’ that prohibit alcohol sales seem to have a bigger meth problem than other counties.”

“That’s the thought-provoking conclusion of a new paper by researchers at the University of Louisville. In the state of Kentucky, some counties (‘dry’) prohibit alcohol sales completely. Others allow it only within certain municipalities (‘moist,’) or don’t place restrictions on alcohol sales at all (‘wet’).”

“The Louisville researchers noticed that dry counties had higher rates of meth lab busts, as well as higher rates of meth crimes overall. And the effect is significant: ‘if all counties were to become wet, the total number of meth lab seizures in Kentucky would decline by about 25 percent.'”

“The researchers found that this is more than just a simple correlation: ‘Our results add support to the idea that prohibiting the sale of alcohol flattens the punishment gradient, lowering the relative cost of participating in the market for illegal drugs,’ they conclude.”

Why Defunding Planned Parenthood Won’t Work

Sarah Kliff: “The ‘defund Planned Parenthood’ movement has a standard response to the question of where women would go if their local clinic closed: somewhere else.”

“But a Vox review of academic research, recent Planned Parenthood closures in Texas, and interviews with half a dozen health policy experts suggests the opposite. Historically, researchers have found that when Planned Parenthood clinics close, other clinics do not step up to fill the gap. Meanwhile, when there are fewer reproductive health clinics available, women get less reproductive health care — from birth control to cancer screenings to STD testing and treatment. Unintended pregnancies would likely increase, too.”

“Planned Parenthood exists in many places where other family planning clinics don’t: a new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute estimates that there are 103 counties in the United States where Planned Parenthood is the only provider of publicly funded contraceptives. In an additional 229 counties, Planned Parenthood serves the majority of women who are low-income and qualify for government help paying for birth control.”

“This relates to the other important fact to know about Planned Parenthood: It tends to serve way more women in public programs than do other places, like public health clinics or primary care doctors. They see, on average, 2,950 birth control patients per year, compared with the average of 750 seen at public health centers and 330 at federally qualified health centers.”

In Defense of Big Government

In light of recent corporate scandals, Paul Krugman calls for “effective regulation to police that kind of bad behavior, not least so that ethical businesspeople aren’t at a disadvantage when competing with less scrupulous types. But we knew that, right?”

“Well, we used to know it, thanks to the muckrakers and reformers of the Progressive Era. But Ronald Reagan insisted that government is always the problem, never the solution, and this has become dogma on the right.”

“A case in point: This week Jeb Bush, who has an uncanny talent for bad timing, chose to publish an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal denouncing the Obama administration for issuing ‘a flood of creativity-crushing and job-killing rules.’”

“The thing is, Mr. Bush isn’t wrong to suggest that there has been a move back toward more regulation under Mr. Obama … But the regulatory rebound is taking place for a reason. Maybe we had too much regulation in the 1970s, but we’ve now spent 35 years trusting business to do the right thing with minimal oversight — and it hasn’t worked.”

U.S. Takes Top Spot in Renewable Energy Ranking

Clean Technica: “The Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index is a quarterly ranking of 40 countries based on the attractiveness of their renewable energy investment and deployment opportunities, according to a number of macro, energy market, and technology-specific indicators.”

“The most interesting change from an outsiders point of view is that of the top two spots, with China and the US swapping places to place the US back atop the pile. EY highlights ‘President Barack Obama’s much-awaited Clean Power Plan (CPP)’ as the primary reason for the United States’ reascension, which it says ‘sends a strong message of accountability at the state-level for the shift to a low-carbon economy and is expected to galvanize a significant increase [in] renewable energy investment over the next 15 years.’”

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“’The CPP is the most comprehensive, far-reaching and flexible emissions legislation in the US to date and gives a clear steer on the country’s long-term energy strategy,’ Warren continued. ‘Targets alone will not construct new projects, but long-term visibility increases investor confidence that demand is there, and maintains momentum as we hurtle towards universal grid parity for renewables.’”

Half of Americans See Government as an ‘Immediate Threat’

Gallup: “Almost half of Americans, 49%, say the federal government poses ‘an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,’ similar to what was found in previous surveys conducted over the last five years. When this question was first asked in 2003, less than a third of Americans held this attitude.”

Do you think the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens, or not?

“Overall, Americans who agree that the government is an immediate threat tend to respond with very general complaints echoing the theme that the federal government is too big and too powerful, and that it has too many laws. They also cite nonspecific allegations that the government violates freedoms and civil liberties, and that there is too much government in people’s private lives.”

“The most frequently mentioned specific threats involve gun control laws and violations of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, mentioned by 12% who perceive the government to be an immediate threat.”

“The persistent finding in recent years that half of the population views the government as an immediate threat underscores the degree to which the role and power of government remains a key issue of our time.”