Optimist Prime

» WaPo: In health-care reform, no deficit cure (Lori Montgomery)
» WaPo: Even if health bill passes soon, wait for reforms could be long (David Hilzenrath)

I guess the Washington Post has graduated from the “Some say/Others say” school of journalism (via Montgomery’s story) …

Optimists say the $848 billion package drafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) contains all the most promising ideas for transforming the health-care system and encouraging doctors and hospitals to work more efficiently. They say it would eventually reduce both private premiums and the swelling cost of government health care for the elderly and poor.

Even pessimists don’t necessarily disagree. But they see scant evidence that those ideas would quickly bear fruit, and in the short term they fear that the initiative would leave Washington struggling to pay for a new $200 billion-a-year health program even as existing programs require vast infusions of cash to care for the aging baby-boom generation.

Those concerns were magnified by the release of Reid’s bill, which the Senate will begin debating on Monday. Democrats were thrilled when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the package was fully “paid for” — meaning lawmakers had identified spending cuts and tax increases sufficient to cover the cost of expanding coverage to 30 million additional people.

But the measure would not deliver on Democrats’ most ambitious claims, the CBO found. While the package would not worsen the nation’s record deficits, it would not significantly improve them, either now or in the future. Reid’s bill would shave less than 2 percent from deficits projected to top $9 trillion over the next decade. And it would make only “small reductions” after that, the CBO said — about 0.25 percent of GDP — to deficits projected to balloon to roughly 14 percent of the economy by 2035.

“The hope that health-care reform would take care of our budget problem has evaporated,” said Isabel Sawhill, a fiscal expert at the Brookings Institution.

But seriously, there’s a reason some of us who don’t quarrel with comprehensive solutions to improve health care availability aren’t seeing eye to eye with this bill. Sure, most of the arguments from the elected class are beyond farcical. But the reality is that the current versions of the bills are asking us to trust the federal government to do something it hasn’t ever been known to do well in the past: stick to a commitment to cut health care costs.

If the entirety of HarryCare were offered at a much reduced tab, minus the individual mandate, I’d probably have little concern for it and be cheering it on. It’s one thing to renew hope that pilot projects for cost savings can be scaled up in the future when the promise exceeds the cost. But the latest offering seem upside down, and that’s a shame for much of the good that the bills have to offer beyond my objections.

Golden Fleece 2.0?

» NYT: Feingold Picks Up ‘Fleece’ Mantle

Senator Russ Feingold on Monday launched a new “Spotlight on Spending” that recalled the long-running — and better-named — campaign against perceived government waste by an earlier maverick Democrat from Wisconsin, the late William Proxmire of “Golden Fleece” fame.

With all due respect to Sen. Feingold, I’m not sure anyone can really claim to carry on Proxmire’s tradition in the truest sense. Kudos to him for at least opting for a different name.
Don’t get me wrong … Feingold does have some pretty good credibility for doing what he’s doing. But there just doesn’t exist anyone in the Senate today with Proxmire’s particular critique on federal spending. They literally just do not make them like that anymore. I suspect the late Senator was aware of this when he declined giving any of his fellow Senators the mantle of the “Golden Fleece” awards back in his final year despite several of them asking for it.

Approaching the Problem From the Wrong Angle

» NYT: From the Hospital to Bankruptcy Court

An interesting sidenote of the health care debate …

In the campaign to broaden support for the overhaul of American health care, few arguments have packed as much rhetorical punch as the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God notion that average families, through no fault of their own, are going bankrupt because of medical debt.

President Obama, in addressing a joint session of Congress in September, called on lawmakers to protect those “who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy.” He added: “These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans.”

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, made a similar case on Saturday in a floor speech calling for passage of a measure to open debate on his chamber’s health care bill.

The legislation moving through Congress would attack the problem in numerous ways.

Bills in both houses would expand eligibility for Medicaid and provide health insurance subsidies for those making up to four times the federal poverty level. Insurers would be prohibited from denying coverage to those with pre-existing health conditions. Out-of-pocket medical costs would be capped annually.

I’m sure the various approaches that come out of the sausage factory will play a role in cutting down the number of health care-related bankruptcies, but each one strikes me as small ball. I mean, if you really wanted to deal with the problem head-on, you’d simply write a new chapter of bankruptcy law that allows people to designate a health care-related bankruptcy. You could write it such that it wouldn’t register on your credit score in the manner that other bankruptcies do. You would still be able to meet your obligations for the remainder of your finances and it would have no affect whatsoever.

The problem? Insurance companies wouldn’t like it and it would also bump up rates to allow for bankruptcies and defaults. But I’m not sure the rate bump would be significant since a) people are already filing *a* form of bankruptcy already, and b) there would be no theoretical increase in the likelihood of default. But good luck selling that to the insurance lobby.

Shorter Perry: “I Liked the Old Federal Standards More”

» DMN: Perry says Texas, not U.S., should set state public education standards

Funny, it seems like such a short time ago that a Texas Governor was suggesting federal standards for education and all the rightwing sheep were in immediate compliance. And from whence, No Child Left Behind was born!

Now?

Gov. Rick Perry still wants no part of a move to establish national standards for English and math instruction in public schools.

Perry issued a letter Tuesday – just as rival Kay Bailey Hutchison was announcing education policy proposals – to state Education Commissioner Robert Scott reiterating his opposition to federal standards.

Texas education officials, with Perry’s backing, told the U.S. Department of Education in June that the state would not participate with most other states in developing the standards, spelling out what students at all grade levels should be taught in those subjects.

By doing so, Texas has severely hurt its chances of getting a piece of a $4.35 billion federal grant program for schools, known as “Race to the Top” funds. But Perry said in his letter that that’s a price worth paying.

Ironically, all of this comes as SecEd, Arne Duncan has had the following to say about how standards will be crafted in the Obama administration:

As states come together around higher common standards, I want to flip it – and be tighter about the goals – but more flexible in how you can meet them.

I trust states and districts to find the way – and I don’t trust Washington to tell you how to do it. You have the ideas, the leadership, and the ability. I’m here to support you.

I just cannot help but find it comical that the one time leading Republican electeds finally come out against elements of NCLB, it’s when the standardization process is devolved more to the local level.

Light Blogging Notice

Light blogging today due to some heavy research-type stuff at the day job. In leiu of that, here’s some mind-blowing video of Sammy Hagar in the period between Montrose and “I Can’t Drive 55.”
Why? Because understanding your basic principles of rock & roll history should be required knowledge.

LA Rolls Out the New Line

» LA Times: After decades of waiting, their trains have arrived

The East LA line of light rail opened up recently. It’s still too early to see if it gets taken to as favorably as the new line in Phoenix. But there’s one notable and similar feature tucked into this outtake:

A major impetus for the $898-million rail line was to make it easier and cheaper for residents to reach jobs in downtown and beyond. But the Gold Line extension is also important because of the promise it portends, Huizar said. He believes it could spark a renaissance, ushering in businesses and an arts district and leading to the discovery of neighborhoods that have “been neglected” for decades.

Roger Moliere, chief of real property management and development for the MTA, said several development projects are planned near stations, though he added that the recession was gumming up the process.

“My hope and expectation is that it will be an extraordinary economic boon to the area,” he said.

Eric Avila, a professor of history and Chicano studies at UCLA, said the Gold Line extension is a victory for social justice, and signals a shift in transportation planning. The freeways built around Boyle Heights “cordoned off the area from the rest of the city,” he said.

But development of the rail line hasn’t come without safety concerns. The Eastside extension dips underground in only a few spots. Most of it travels like a stitched-in zipper through narrow streets, at surface level and usually just feet away from cars.

That’s right … at-grade light rail. Somehow, I would have expected howls of fiscal irresponsibility had the plan been to run a more expensive elevated route (as we’ve seen before!).

Two Sides of Globalization

» WaPo: Globalization brings a world of hurt to one corner of North Carolina
» WaPo: A rising China is changing the way Americans live overseas and at home

I may be a small minority here, but I think it would have been even better if the Post had done a week-long series of articles such as these, touching on how various parts of the country are impacted positively and negatively by increased trade with Asian countries. As it stands, we end up with two sides of the coin represented, one from the rural midwest and another from the textile-reliant southeast.

In the case of Wisconsin ginseng farmers, there’s some positive in that China’s growing demand for better quality poses a great opportunity for American exporters. At the end of the day, it’s easier to improve quality when you have a better educated workforce. There may be some exceptions out there in the world, but quality improvements over time generally bode well for American companies as long as there’s not a large, entrenched incentive to resist change (see the American steel industry for an example or two).

In the case of the North Carolina furniture upholsters, the news may not be as good. In particular, I tend to view the average age of the employee being displaced as something that’s difficult to repair. It’s one thing to send a 28-yr old kid to job training in the hopes that he’ll land another solid career. But what to do with a 48-yr old? The article gives some good insight into the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, with this part jumping out for me:

The GAO analysis from 2000 found that 75 percent of displaced workers in TAA found jobs. Of those, only 56 percent earned 80 percent or more of their previous wage.

In 2002, Congress called for another impact analysis of the program. The report is two years away, a Labor Department spokesman said.

The inattention to the program’s effectiveness is evidence, critics say, that its primary purpose is political and that its actual benefits for workers are an afterthought.

That definitely sounds like a situation that could stand to improve, regardless of your views on free trade.

About Those College Football Games …

» Chron: Cougars’ 37-32 loss to UCF may derail C-USA title hopes (Steve Campbell)
» Chron: UH drops down to No. 24 in AP poll

Jackson Jeffcoat, your father needs you!

As things stand right now, SMU has control over their own destiny for the CUSA title game out of our division. Their remaining two games are against Marshall (5-5) and Tulane (3-7). I’m torn, obviously. There’s a certain amount of pride that comes from winning your conference (regardless of it’s strength), while at the same time, watching the Coogs play in Hawaii strikes me as more appealing than a dreary game in Memphis. I’ll be perfectly fine if this season merely serves as a wake-up call for next season.

But Case still deserves a plane ride to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.
» BoGlobe: Pro-style QB leads Holy Cross revival

» Worcester Telegram: Crusaders clinch PL’s bid to NCAAs
Interesting tidbit from the first article: the Philadelphia Eagles are scouting Holy Cross QB Dominic Randolph. Interesting tidbit from the second article: Holy Cross was seen showing off some Wildcat offense in their conference-clinching win against Lafayette. On to the FCS (the division formerly known as 1-AA) playoffs. Randolph’s stats seem to indicate a few issues with protecting the ball. But his scouting synopsis has grown in the past year from “lacks arm strength for the NFL” to “could be a solid backup in the NFL.” It wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world to see him improve on that between now and next year.

Elsewhere:

TCU is for real.

– Quick, name the second leading rusher for Nebraska! Surprisingly, it’s not Rex Burkhead. Instead, it’s the guy from Trinity High. The two have split time, with Plano’s Burkhead getting time in the first half of the season until going down to injury. Robinson has picked up the time since then, though he’s apparently seeing limited time due to his own injury. Odds are good that the team will be playing in the Big XII title game.

The GOP Gets “Run Everywhere” Religion

» WaPo: A Republican on every ballot (Eli Saslow)
At least in South Bend

For more than a year, [St. Joseph County GOP Chair, Chris Riley] has worked 30 hours a week to recruit local Republicans for this moment. A flyer on the door welcomes all comers to Candidates College, a series of lectures for Republicans who want to run for office. Riley has asked the volunteers in the kitchen to prepare for 25 people, but privately he wonders whether that many will come.

“We are rebuilding this party from the ground up, and there’s nothing more important than finding people who will run for office,” Riley says. “We’ve been such a dilapidated party that people have been embarrassed to put their name next to us and run. If we can’t change that, then we don’t have anything.”

Early in his tenure as county chairman, Riley compiled a list of every elected position in St. Joseph County, a largely rural expanse of housing subdivisions and cornfields near the Michigan border. It is the fourth-largest county in Indiana, encompassing 10 towns and 13 townships, each with its own judges and town councils, its own clerks and coroners. By the time Riley finished his list, it included more than 100 political positions, fewer than 35 of those occupied by Republicans.

Riley thought Republicans could regain legitimacy only by finding candidates to run for all 100 slots, so he created a depth chart of would-be politicians. He began a habit of arriving at his law office in Elkhart each morning at 6:30 and devoting several hours to candidate recruitment before starting his regular workday. He developed a group of “five-star recruits” whom he e-mailed weekly: a dentist, the owner of local steakhouse and the public relations director at a South Bend hospital. Over and over, he called near strangers and asked: “Would you like to help rescue the Republican Party by running for office? And if not, do you know anyone who might make a good county assessor?”

Riley promised to provide each candidate with financial support for the campaign, yard signs, fundraisers and tutoring on political issues.

“I try to win people over with a little Irish charm, some lawyerly persuasion and a lot of free lunches,” Riley says. “I think we’ve convinced people that this is a cause worth fighting for, but we still need some good candidates to commit and give us their names.”

So minutes before the beginning of Candidates College, Riley stands by the entrance, waiting. The size of this crowd, he says, will render one small verdict on the state of his party.

“We’ll see,” he says, “just how much progress we’ve made.”

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again … being in the wilderness usually leads to this sort of thing. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone to see Republican activists wanting their party to field candidates all up and down the ballot. It should be a warning sign if we ever see teh Democratic Party return to it’s more complacent, “only swing at good pitches” pattern.

A Path To Victory: A Tale of Three Neighborhoods

One fairly broad point to add to the maps below – particularly why I think they bode well for Annise.(*) For starters, the results on November 3rd stand in rather stark contrast to the winning scenarios that Team Locke has been known to push both in the early stages of their campaign AND the one pushed in the closing days of the first round. Those on the receiving end of the pitch know full well that the results do not mesh with what they were sold. There was no west side Republican vote that went for the black guy in the race. There was no competitive standing in the Hispanic community. The Asian outreach may have gotten them a few precincts, but if that’s the high-water mark of success, this is reaching pretty deep into the barrel of wishful thinking.

In the end, the only substantial core of any vote Gene got was in the African-American community. He got about 70% of ’em. Given the fight that Peter put up for those votes, this is something of an accomplishment. So I won’t minimize it for what it’s worth. Gene’s problem, however, is that he failed to really go beyond this base. Unfortunately for them, they were shifting money at the end to close the deal with this vote.

The result for the coming month is that Gene has the following two options for a path to victory:

1. Put together something approximating the Lee Brown coalition (minus the Anglo Dems, that is).

2. Try again with the GOP types.

At the close of vote counting on 11/3, my sense was that Gene might be able to benefit from his first round of introductions with the GOP types. Going through the numbers and looking at the maps, however, that seems to not be the case.

For years, I’ve heard it said that having an “in” with the inside crowd of city politics actually means something. Gene started off with Bob Lanier on his side. We now have conclusive proof of what that support got Gene Locke: a second place finish (as opposed to a more common fourth place finish) in Precinct 227. To the unfamiliar, that would be the precinct with the River Oaks country club in it and probably the highest average home value in all of Harris County. Gene finished second behind … you guessed it, Annise Parker.

Furthermore, there were three neighborhoods that I was very interested to see how the winners fared in: Garden Oaks, Meyerland, and Sharpstown. Each because they might have given an indication of where Annise Parker’s strength in the Anglo Dem regions was most limited. Here are the findings.

(Bear in mind that the precinct selection is not intended to encompass the entire neighborhood. These were selected in order to cover many neighborhoods while giving a representative result of each individual neighborhood.)

Garden Oaks:
This area is essentially the northern border of the Anglo Dem region and includes a few holdout GOP precincts (324 in particular) which tend to get brighter red in non-Presidential elections.


View Garden Oaks precinct cluster in a larger map

Parker: 40%
Morales: 30%
Brown: 19%
Locke: 9%

Meyerland:
Meyerland represents the Democratic-leaning Jewish area of town (Bellaire being the Republican side of the coin). This is the most Democratic-leaning of the three areas profiled here, but is worth looking at for indications of whether there was any vote movement away from Annise Annise.


View Meyerland precinct cluster in a larger map

Parker: 46%
Morales: 21%
Brown: 20%
Locke: 11%

Sharpstown:
Moreso than Garden Oaks, this neighborhoods tends to lean more conservative for city elections. The numbers may be skewed here by the fact that Peter Brown did have a field office in the southwest side and did fairly well in much of District F. That may mean that his support is a different read in this neighborhood.


View Sharpstown precinct cluster in a larger map

Parker: 31%
Brown: 30%
Morales: 22%
Locke: 13%

Morning Takes

A few quick takes this morning. Sunday was a mess of a day for blogging: meetings, to-do lists, maps, work projects, wrap my head around UH winning a last-second game on the foot of a backup kicker, still trying to contemplate the grand meaning of a world with Big Top Cupcakes, etc ….

You can imagine how difficult it must be on the psyche.

– Plano’s downtown taxing district has an excess of funds. Now there’s an open discussion about how to spend it in a way to improve property values. The ISD wants some money to build a new elementary school. The city council wants to accumulate parcels of real estate so as to lure developers. Yeah, because a few more Public Storages and increased competition in the two pillars of downtown Plano’s economy: the skatepark and pawn shop sectors, are really going to drive property values in a positive direction. I’m not about to pass myself off as an expert in Plano’s “home-to-Elementary School” ratio, but a quick glance east of Central Expressway does suggest a likely shortage.

– In July, I noted that North Richland Hills was implementing a program to finance home improvements among residential households. Now they appear to be getting some notice for their efforts to give local businesses a facelift. It’s tough keeping up with the joneses in Metroplex suburbistan.

– If you live in fear of a red-light-camera planet, wait until the behavior detection cameras move beyond the airports.

– Among the more newsworthy stories from the weekend: Health Care Reform passed 220-215. Pro-life Dems got a bone thrown to them. The least-likely-to-be-re-elected Republican bolted his party, while 39 Dems opted to vote no. My sympathies are obviously with the no-voting Dems, though I would hope that they took David Brooks’ advice on working to make the bill somewhat more constructive.

What amazes me about the result is that so many progressives cheer on the passage, the costs being somewhat irrelevant to the fact that “more people get covered.” What I find unsettling is that the “coverage” fix did not cost one penny, for all intents and purposes. It was accomplished by legislative fiat, dictating that any American who wishes to settle on our soil must fork over money to an insurance company. So what do we get for the roughly trillion bucks over the next decade? Nothing, really. Or least a far cry less than what doctors and insurers will get. Someone tell me what’s “progressive” about that?

I mean, let’s set aside the discussion of the individual mandate for a second. And nevermind that the idea was first launched into “serious” policy discussion by Louisiana Senator, Democratic heretic, John Breaux in 2003. The first instance raised by Rhode Island Senator, John Chafee, was shot down fairly quickly in 1993. Note that the second link there is a 2003 American Prospect article slamming the idea of the mandate after Breaux raised it again in 2003. How far have we come since then?

– Now, in fairness, the 2003 Prospect take, the summary does conclude that the concept might be made more tenable if cost-cutting measures were in place, policies for the poor were subsidized, and mechanisms to pool risk were put in place. To the current bill’s credit, I think they at least try to accomplish a lot of that. Ezra Klein, in particular, addresses the argument that “govt can’t contain health care costs” as “a form of political nihilism.” I don’t doubt that the Republican Party Fox News take on “govt can’t do anything” certainly warrants the criticism. But the current bill itself does not do a concerted enough job to contain health care costs. There may not be an entire news network devoted to making that argument, but it’s still strikes me as a valid criticism. In the meantime, I’m stuck on this lousy island with Howard Dean. My kingdom for a coconut radio!

Krugman updates with another one of those columns of his that I have to count as among the 5 or 6 per year that I have a hard time finding fault with.

– UH remains at #13 in the AP poll.

– The boss gets some ink in the Sunday Chronicle.

Steven Tyler quitting Aerosmith to do solo work? Isn’t Joe Perry the one who’s supposed to quit the band?