Dec 30 2013

Win, Lose or Draw – State of the Nation, 2013

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy

This is part 1 in a series of 3 posts that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR

#Winners

Inaction – If you’re one of those that thinks the government needs to do less, you probably liked the hell out of 2013. Congress took more vacation time than the average person gets in more than 10 years of working, and little if anything was done to address the sluggish economy, unemployment, or any of the other major problems facing the country. Since Congress writes the laws, most of this falls on their heads, but you’d be hard pressed to know that in the national press, which continuously placed the blame on an administration hamstrung by recalcitrant members of the House.

Outlook for 2014 – Good (which means bad for the rest of us)

Harry Reid – The strong, silent type…Reid shoved through the Senate what he could, and spearheaded an effort to cripple the crippling filibuster, which kept a record number of Obama appointees from ever coming up for a vote. He also held his own during a government shutdown that was largely blamed on those same recalcitrant House Members that were mentioned above.

Reid isn’t the most compelling character in a TV driven national conversation, but his behind the scenes skill at getting things done and keeping his party together earned him a win for 2013.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Paul Ryan – The 2012 GOP VP nominee stayed out of the spotlight for much of 2013, but surged in the waning weeks of the year to pass a Budget that accomplished most of what he wanted while giving up little in return. Bipartisanship may not be popular on the GOP side of the aisle, but any negotiation that gets you 70% of what you want is a win.

Outlook for 2014 – Not Bad

Misinformation – The media struggled against noise machines like Darrell Issa (R-CA) and others this year to get basic facts right about the stories that dominated the headlines. What’s more they struggled to even understand if those stories held any relevance. The Affordable Care Act, Benghazi, and the IRS scandal were the top three issues where the media largely parroted Issa and his acolytes despite information that would eventually discredit their assertions (Sources:Al Quaeda wasn’t involved in Benghazi Attack, IRS targeted progressive groups, Too, Documents reveal, Top 16 myths about the health care law).

The media politics of “He said/She said” continue, and the only winners are those who profit either politically or financially through stirring up misinformation and strengthening the paranoia machines.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) – This may seem an odd addition, since Fincher isn’t a member of the GOP House leadership…but he did get some headlines, and those headlines didn’t seem to hurt him much. The whole SNAP Flap over farm bill subsidies and food stamps helped put Fincher on the national map. That attention helped him raise over $2 million dollars for his campaign…and that’s just through the end of September. Fincher has benefitted from a constituency base that is isolated from media outlets that have the resources to draw the connection from his preferred policies to the impact on the area he represents. Also, having the most conservative swath of Shelby Co. in his district, which can easily provide him 41% of the votes he needs to win in any election doesn’t hurt.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Steve Cohen (D-TN) – Cohen also had a good year. He too got a good deal of national attention…some of it not always in the best ways…but far better than many of his contemporaries in the House. In addition to working for several progressive bills that will likely never see the light of day in the GOP led House, he used his time on the national TV circuit to push for more progressive legislation to deal with all kinds of problems that haven’t garnered the national attention that the should. This may not seem like a win, but in a year that saw the GOP led House do more of less, anyone doing more of more comes out a winner in my book.

What’s more, Cohen hasn’t drawn a serious challenger in his re-election bid as of yet (unless you count Ricky Wilkins as a serious challenger…and I don’t).

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Losers

Barack Obama – Coming off an election year that saw him win 51% of the popular vote, and 61% of the electoral college, you might think there would be a tailwind for the first year of his second term. That simply didn’t happen. Stymied by a GOP led House that seemed more interested in voting to repeal his signature healthcare law and investigate bogus scandals…the President might have made it through the year with at least a draw…if not a win in the wake of the GOP forced government shutdown. But the botched rollout of the healthcare.gov site erased any gains the President made and ultimately distracted the public from the foolishness that was, by far, the signature of the GOP led efforts to implicate him in something…anything.

Outlook for 2014 – Neutral

John Boehner – “Cryin’” John Boehner had a shitty year. Plain an simple. If “herding cats” is an overused metaphor for damn near everything, that’s still what Boehner was tasked with doing…and he largely failed. Unable to grab the reigns from the TEA Party elements in his party, he led the House to vote for a government shutdown that surged public opinion against him, and his GOP colleagues. Boehner looked weak, and acted weak…eschewing the “Hastert Rule” to eventually end that shutdown, and pass some of the few pieces of legislation that actually had a chance in the Democratically controlled Senate. On top of all of that, he gained a Primary Challenger, something that just about never happens to a sitting House Speaker. Every morning I wake up and thank God that I am not John Boehner…for these, and a multitude of other reasons.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Mitch McConnell – If John Boehner’s year was bad, Mitch McConnell’s year was somehow worse. The Senate Minority Leader managed to block a good deal of Obama nominees to various and sundry posts throughout the year…until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid effectively took away the filibuster for the approval of nominees…effectively hampering that effort. On top of that, McConnell is about as unpopular in his home state as a politician can be…and he drew a credible opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes, the current Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Unemployed – The US unemployment rate may have dropped from 7.9% in Jan. of 2013 to a mere 7% in November of this year, but the unemployed still got the raw end of the deal. Congress failed to reauthorize long-term unemployment benefits, which means 1,300,000 people who have been looking for work for a long-assed time are more screwed than they were before.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Working Poor – Wages for all workers in the US eked up 2¢ for the year. At the end of the year, the average hourly wage in the US was $10.31/hr. That’s the average, so a whole bunch of folks are way below that number. Median household wages are still below their pre-recession level, which means that damn near everyone is still worse off than they were before the Bush Bubble Burst. But for the working poor…who were struggling in the first place, its just not looking good…and there are no immediate sings of improvement in the future.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Affordable Care Act – The Affordable Care Act may have been an early success in helping women, and children get or keep healthcare they needed, but the rollout of the healthcare.gov site was a disaster…and has been largely pegged to the failure of the law in general…even though that’s pure BS. The law has been scratched bare by scrutiny, some of it legitimate, much of it rhetorical flourish and the fumbling of the rollout of a key component only gives credence to those who proudly say that government can’t do anything right. Add to that the 23 states that aren’t expanding Medicaid and the 4,800,000 people that are being left behind and you’ve got a full on catastrophe. Its a damn shame, because despite its flaws, this law could help a lot of folks.

Outlook for 2014 – Neutral

TEA Party – The most recent iteration of secessionists finally got their civil war…though not where they expected…in their own party. Now I’ve always held that the TEA Party folks aren’t Republicans, but newfangled “know-nothings” that are more interested in maintaining the status quo than the public populist persona they initially used to their advantage. Nonetheless, the National GOP embraced them as a means to an end, and now they have to deal with them. There’s always been an element of these folks in government, but this is the first time in my lifetime they have grabbed this much power. Even conservative groups are running away…like the US Chamber of Commerce which has pledged $50 million dollars to defeat them. Popcorn popped. I can’t wait to see how this plays out in the primaries.

Outlook for 2014 – Not Good (Which is just fine by me)

The filibuster – Most people have no idea what the filibuster is. I’m not going to get in to all that. But it is a loser this year for reasons I mentioned above. Earlier this year the Senate voted to limit its use as a delay tactic in the Senate for most Presidential nominees. This has been called “the nuclear option” but in reality, its little more than a grenade tossed in the general direction of a nuclear blast fortified door. In any case…its a loser this year which is a huge change and could mean swifter justice, and a whole host of other efficiencies in government…which is something we all want, right? (maybe not)

Outlook for 2014 – Worse (which is good for people who want to see appointees make it through…)

Dist. 8 Constituents – While their Representative may have had a good year, the people of the 8th district of Tennessee had a bad one. Unemployment is 1.7% higher than the state level, and 2.8% higher than the national outlook. Nearly 25% of all the people in rural counties in the district (All but Shelby Co.) are on food stamps. Businesses have closed, population is dwindling, and there’s no help in sight. If only the people of the 8th district would draw the connection between the decline and their elected leaders. It was NEVER this bad when John Tanner was in office.

Outlook for 2014 – Awful

Draw

Congress – This may be the worst Congress ever. It may be that only 13% of Americans approve of how Congress is functioning. But like most dysfunctional relationships, this is one that probably won’t end without something really terrible happening. This article describes why Congress as a whole is unlikely to flip. At the height of the shutdown, 60% of Americans said fire every member of Congress…but that sentiment faded when the House GOP decided to relent for its own good. People still hate Congress and love their Congressmen…for the most part. So any real hopes of things suddenly “changing” when there are 538 cats to herd, is unlikely. Also, the notion that Democrats could surge in 2014 aren’t supported by history. The President’s party typically gets hammered in the last two years of a Presidential term. 2014 could be different, but it seems unlikely.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Dec 06 2012

I do not understand Sheldon Adelson

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics

I get crazy, but not this kind of crazy.
via @Wikipedia

$150,000,000

That’s how much Sheldon Adelson spent on the 2012 election.

If total spending was around $2b, Adelson made up 7.5% of that spending.

One dude. 7.5% of all political spending in the country.

Damn.

Adelson spent all that money with the slew of conservative “dark money” groups that have popped up in the wake of the Citizen’s United decision.

Considering the investment, one might be led to believe that Adelson is a staunch conservative warrior, funding the cause.

According to this interview with the Wall Street Journal, (h/t @HuffPo) Adelson is anything but.

The pro-science, pro-choice, pro-socialized medicine Adelson spent $150,000,000 on candidates that are anti-science, anti-choice, and think people should trade chickens for healthcare.

I’m really speechless.

What’s more, he intends to spend twice as much the next time around.

Damn x2.

Of course, Adelson has been under investigation by the DOJ since 2011, so that may explain some of his animosity toward the Obama Administration. It doesn’t explain why he would work so hard against what seem to be his core political values.

When I’m irritated with a politician, either personally or politically, I just send them a letter explaining why I’m sitting this one out with them. In only one case (that I can think of) have I actively worked against anyone, and that was in a primary with no general election opposition. I can’t fathom working both against a candidate and my core values. Seriously, its unfathomable.

Of course, I also don’t have a gazillion dollars.

So I’m flummoxed. Next thing you know Adelson will come out in support of a tax increase for wealthy Americans.

If that happens, my head might explode.

Sep 19 2012

Defining The Middle Class

Posted by Steve Ross in Policy

Once upon a time home ownership was a prime indicator. Now its a bit more complicated.

There’s been a lot of talk about the middle class, and entitlements, and who benefits from what. Newscoma reminded me I wanted to talk about this yesterday. The notion that a household income of $200,000+ makes you “middle class” is not only misguided, its not supported by the facts.

Being the research goob that I am, I decided to look at what family income looks like these days, and break that down into something useable. Its important to understand where people are, and why our concepts of “middle class” have shifted to something that isn’t anywhere near the middle.

Middle Really is the “Middle”

Below is a chart that shows family income broken into groups of 20% each (quintiles), plus the top 5%. The rest is pretty self explanatory. Data comes from the US. Census. Median Family size is 3.

Now, let’s really look at these numbers.

The bottom quintile averages about $15,000/yr…or less than poverty for a family of 3 ($19,000/yr). The upper limit of this quintile is 140% of poverty, which means you’re less than 1 paycheck away from falling into poverty. So 20% of all the earners in the nation are at or near the poverty level and most likely qualify for benefits from the US government (TANF, SNAP, Medicare/Medicaid, etc.). In addition, the majority of these families have only one income earner and at least two children. A tiny fraction of these earners have a college degree.

It should also be noted that earners making the current minimum wage, $7.25/hr, working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks gross $15080/year or 135% of poverty for a household of 1. Also, the current poverty thresholds assume that 30% of income will be spent on housing. Current averages show that 45%-50% of income is spent on housing throughout the bottom 3 quintiles of earners.

Th second quintile is the working class. The average income is 200%, or 2 times the poverty level. The top limit of the working class is 250% of poverty. Everyone in the working class is about 1 paycheck away from falling into poverty. It is important to note that virtually no one in the working class qualifies for government assistance, including TANF child care credits. This means that if they have an infant or toddler, nearly $7,000 of their income is consumed by childcare, which puts additional pressure on their financial situation.

The third quintile is the middle class. The average income is 3 times the poverty level and tops out at 4 times poverty. The majority of these families have at least 1 income earner who has a college degree. Depending on the debt load of the family they may be as little as 2 paychecks away from poverty (1 month) or as much as much as 3 months.

So what we’re seeing so far is that 60% of all families in the United States are 3 months, or less of earnings away from poverty.

I don’t think I need to cover the top two quintiles. Unless earners in those classes have massive debt (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility) or are in an industry that is bleeding jobs, they’re likely safe. Both typically have two earners with college degrees, and options should they lose employment for a while. Its not that these earners necessarily have it easy, but claims of poverty should fall on deaf ears. More often than not, financial concerns don’t impact their ability to live, but their ability to maintain the life they’ve built. Two very important distinctions.

While earners making up to $140,000/year may qualify as Upper Middle Class, its important to understand that they represent the top earners in the United States. Only 11% of earners make more than $150,000 and just over 5% of families in the US make more than $200,000.

$200,000+/year isn’t middle class. Its wealthy, even though it may not seem like it to the people making that kind of money.

In order to make policy that creates conditions where more people reach that threshold, we have to have our facts straight. Based on the discussions by both Presidential candidates over the past few weeks, we don’t have a realistic understanding of that yet.

Edited to Add: Per a request in the comments, the same year by Household Income.