Open Secrets, Closed Eyes

I have tended to be a big fan of Open Secrets, a website by a lefty group that shows how money is spent in politics. The nice thing is that they provide data. And the nice thing about data is that it gives you good apples-to-apples comparisons. Based on data, you can argue things like “the largest donors and lobbyists in Wisconsin are the teachers unions” and have something to back that up with.

So I was really disappointed to read this recent piece by Michael Beckel at Open Secrets entitled “Union Muscle Eclipsed by High-Profile Conservative Groups During 2010 Election”. They reviewed the publicly disclosed spending information and concluded that the unions spent less money than American Crossroads, the Chamber, et al. in the 2010 cycle. In particular, they found that the unions spent $46.7m while business groups spent $97m or so.

There’s a catch though. AFSCME, the largest of the public employee unions, told the New York Times that they spent $91m. That number was actually up $3.5m from four days before then when a union representative told the Wall Street Journal, “we’re the big dog, but we don’t like to brag.” Open Secrets claimed that AFSCME only spent $12.6m, less than 1/7th of the total amount that the union says that they spent.

Now I am not saying that the apples-to-apples study of disclosed data to disclosed data isn’t valuablein some cases. But when your study understates the expenditures of one organization by a factor of 7 you have to think that you are barking up the wrong tree in how you are collecting your data. It isn’t so much that your methodology is bad. It is that it is irrelevant and misleading.

Of course, the guy who did the analysis used to work for the extremely liberal Mother Jones. Maybe he just knew what answer he wanted and picked the parameters to hit it.

Keynsianism is dead in Europe

The G-8 and G-20 meetings in Canada were remarkable in historic terms. European governments criticized the United States for being spendthrift. Brazil provided political cover to the US on behalf of the developing countries. This has been a consequence of something truly remarkable happening in Europe. Keynsianism has lost in Europe. There is no political support for it. And Barack Obama got hit in the face with this reality.

Since the beginning of the financial crisis, conservative and liberal parties have defeated socialist parties in nearly every election in the European Union. They won the European elections and elections in the UK, Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Hungary, etc. A reformist, pro-market right has beaten a traditionalist right in Poland. There is no credible political voice for more spending in Europe. The Greek and Portuguese financial crises have destroyed a political argument for deficit-funded stimulus packages. (note that this opportunity is not being wasted: European countries are raising retirement ages and trying all sorts of other strategies to cut their extensive entitlement systems)

Furthermore, the only European Union members with Socialist governments are Portugal, Greece, and Spain. (note that Austria has a “Grand Coalition” where the right and the left share power) You will note that this is three of the four “PIGS” countries that are the weakest economic performers in Europe. Furthermore, the Greek Prime Minister is the leader of the Socialist International, which coordinates policy and political positions internationally across all the parties of the left. How is that working out?

It is pretty astonishing that Barack Obama went to this crowd to demand that they spend more. It was both tone deaf about the epochal changes in European politics and indicative of a broader incompetence in our foreign policy.

“Tough Decisions” coming for politicians

In the last couple of years, many of us have been laid off, worked at places where people have been laid off, had friends who were laid off, or had to lay people off. It is tough, but often it has to be done by management for them to be responsible stewards of the organization. Last week, the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles (and former Speaker of the California Assembly) Antonio Villaraigosa described the “tough decisions” that he had to make in “extricat[ing]” the people of LA from 3,500 government employees.

In Villaraigosa’s own words, “we’re doing furloughs and layoffs, we’re doing everything we can, including early retirement, to reduce the size of our payroll.” Sometimes a responsible leader in the private sector or the public sector has to do this. But that isn’t what you are going to hear from Democrats this year. Democrats like Barbara “Ma’am” Boxer are going to demonize Republicans, like Carly Fiorina, who were involved in layoffs because it was the responsible thing to do. Of course, the dems will have supporters and fundraisers, like Mayor Villaraigosa, who sometimes do the right thing. Not because they want to, but because they have to.

Erick has lead the charge in picking candidates who will do the right thing in office. They will fight against ridiculous bailouts for the public employee unions. (that’s what these state stimulus bills are, just like the auto-bailout was a bailout for the pension plans of the United Auto Workers) These leaders will also need to make the “tough decisions.” We And when they do it, regardless of party, we need to support their efforts to shrink public expenditures and public payrolls.

And when the Democrats attack on “layoffs” and similar demonization of responsible leadership, we need to fight back harshly and expose their hypocrisy.

Are MA voters rejecting MA’s universal health care?

All politics is local, or so said former Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA). One wonders if Democrats lost the thread of what was happening in Massachusetts when they tried to nationalize the Massachusetts Senate special election around Barack Obama’s universal health care plan.

You see, Obama’s plan borrowed much conceptually from Massachusetts plan that Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney worked on. The key concepts: a mandate implemented through the tax code, exchanges, and an increase in the regulatory burden on insurance plans and therefore costs. Indeed, the costs of health care in Massachusetts are rising and people are dissatisfied.

Read on …

Peter Suderman wrote at the Daily Caller that the costs of Massachusetts health care are already 20% higher than projected three-and-a-half years ago when it was passed::

And in summer 2009, the state announced plans to drop coverage for 30,000 legal immigrants with a goal of cutting $130 million in health-care expenses.

One problem the state has faced is that it failed to accurately anticipate the true cost of the program. At the time the program was signed into law, estimates indicated that the cost of Commonwealth Care, which is responsible for the program’s biggest single cost, its health insurance subsidies, would be about $725 million per year. But by 2008, those projections had been revised. New estimates indicated that the plan was to cost $869 million in 2009 and $880 million 2010, an upwards increase of nearly 20 percent.

In November, Rasmussen found that only 32% of the state, less than Democratic registration, agreed with the statement that the reform had been a success. Brian Faughnan wrote at the Daily Caller that Democratic polling firm Democracy Corps is finding a deep rejection of Democratic health care plans. It is unclear how different Massachusetts is from the national pattern on this issue.

However, by nationalizing this race around universal health care of the Massachusetts model, albeit with the Obama label, Massachusetts voters finally have the option to express their feelings about their own health care plan in addition to the national plan. This could end up being a strategic blunder of the first order. Hopefully the exit polls will give us the opportunity to discern the degree to which this is the case.

Charlie Rangel to Puerto Rico: Wouldn’t it be a shame if something happened to your grandmother

Several weeks ago, the Washington Times reported that Puerto Rico has turned on the contributions also. What’s going on?
The answer is that Charlie Rangel is holding Puerto Rican grandmothers hostage (via Medicare payments) to protect his rum buddies.
First, let’s start with the Washington Times. There’s a lot of Puerto Rican money going into Rangel coffers:

Donors in Puerto Rico poured $36,600 into Mr. Rangel’s war chest, an amount surpassed only by the $138,400 from donors in his home state of New York.

In four of the five previous years, the Virgin Islands ranked in the top 10 sources for contributions to Mr. Rangel. Puerto Rico didn’t make the list in any of those years.

Contributions to Mr. Rangel from the Virgin Islands totaled more than $167,00 between 1999 and 2008. More than half of that – $84,800 – was given during the 2007-08 election cycle, just as the islands sealed the deal to relocate Captain Morgan and give the liquor company about $2.7 billion in tax credits and other subsidies over 30 years.

The Times notes that there are two bills, a bill that extends a system that gives Diageo and other rum companies more subsidy per unit rum than it takes to produce it (supported by the Virgin Islands), or one that ends the subsidy system (supported by Puerto Rico).
Sounds like a boring, good ole’ corporate smackdown, right? Wrong.
You see, there’s another issue in play. Puerto Rico gets much lower Medicare reimbursements than the rest of the country. Pushing this is a top priority. There have been promises that this would come as part of any health care reform bill.
So Charlie Rangel has opened up a new front on the Puerto Ricans. Or, really, on their grandmas. He has told several people now that if Puerto Rico doesn’t stop pushing for changes to the rum laws (that help his buddies), he will not address the Puerto Rican Medicare situation.
In other words, Charlie Rangel is holding Puerto Rican grandmas hostage for his rum-running buddies. An interesting inversion of the historical pattern.