Monday, June 29, 2015

Can Someone Explain This?

So, I mentioned in previous reports about our Florida government's refusal to accept Medicaid expansion funding, and about Rick "Medicare Fraud" Scott and his state House allies being obstructionists this past state budget impasse.  Up to and including Scott filing a lawsuit against the federal government to force the feds to pay about $2 billion towards a low-income fund (LIP) that the Health Dept. wanted to phase out as the Medicaid program covered basically the same ground.

The latest follow-up on that is that some deal had been struck and Scott dropped part (just not all) of that lawsuit:

During the course of the lawsuit, federal officials said Florida would receive about $1 billion for the LIP program during the fiscal year that starts July 1, without the money depending on Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers have included that money in a budget that is expected to pass Friday (after June 17th)...
The notice added the state is "not prepared to withdraw the underlying lawsuit until the defendants render an actual decision about future LIP funding without the unconstitutionally coercive consideration of the state's constitutionally protected decision not to expand Medicaid."

'Cause here's the thing: if the Florida Republicans just manned up - or ironically enough, got greedy - they would be getting a lot more than a billion dollars out of the federal government.  Via the Jacksonville Business Journal:

The White House report estimates that by not expanding Medicaid, Florida will miss out on $5.9 billion in federal funding in 2016.
Rolling out Medicaid on a larger scale would provide insurance coverage to 750,000 residents who are not covered. That would have the effect of reducing the number of people who have trouble paying other bills due to the burden of medical costs.

So here's the Rick "Brainless" Scott logic of it: Here's the federal government just offering up nearly SIX BILLION DOLLARS to cover health care costs for the state, something that would be a massive stimulus to our state's health care industry along with improving coverage and overall health of nearly everyone here.  This is Six Billion already allotted, covered by taxes, the only stipulation being that the following year the state takes up ten percent of that funding while the feds send ninety percent of it (that's still over FIVE BILLION from the feds).  Instead of owning up to that ten percent, Scott and his buddies REFUSE the Six Billion and file a lawsuit to snag TWO BILLION, or about Four Billion less than if they'd agree to the expansion plan.  And the end result of all this is to force the US government to cough up just ONE BILLION to continue a program that by all rights is temporary and can get phased out in favor of a larger, better-funded one.

Basically, Scott attempted to extort LESS money out of the federal government than what he could have gained for the state of Florida if he accepted the Medicaid deal.

Was it too much of pride at stake, sir?  Was it too much of your political ambition to run again and again as an anti-Obama politician?  Are you objecting to that one string attached that requires Florida to ante up ten percent of the bill the following year, are you terrified of the possibility that you'd have to raise taxes to pay for something that would STILL generate BILLIONS of federal funds for us? Was it just sheer stupidity to TAKE LESS MONEY FOR THE STATE YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO SERVE?

I can't believe it all comes down to the fact that the Medicaid program is getting screwed all because of who offers it, all because it's got Obama's name on the label.  For God's sake, people are going to suffer, our economy is going to suffer, all because our elected "leaders" refuse to swallow their pride and agree to a deal that could quickly infuse the state with FOUR to FIVE BILLION dollars towards our poor families, towards our hospitals and nursing homes, towards our health care employees.

All for pride?  All for politics?!  At what point should common freaking sense take consideration?

All because Rick "Negotiation Skills My Ass" Scott isn't a businessman or a Governor, because someone who was serious about being either would have taken the Medicaid money by now.  No, it's all because Rick "Demagoguery" Scott is all about scoring points with a fear-driven ill-informed wingnut base that barely represents less than a quarter of the state's entire population, all because goddamn voter turnout is abysmal out here.

Damn Scott.  Damn the rest of this state that voted for him.  Damn the rest of this state that refused to even show up to vote him out.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Good Kind Of Crazy: Bittersweet Yet Hopeful

Update: hello to the Crooks And Liars readers linking here from Mikes Blog Roundup.

Remember how, back in 2013, during the week of the Boston bombing, that was like one of the craziest weeks in American history?  Kind of how The Onion called it, it was crazy and it was heartbreaking and it was a kind of week to not remember.

We just basically had a crazy week just now, from the Charleston shooting until today. And while there was tragedy, there was also inspiration, and reflection and awareness, and justice, and drive, and emotional cleansing, and hope, and above all love. Especially love, today, tonight, this weekend.  It was a week to remember.

Hundreds gather out front, holding aloft their smartphones
so they can document the celebration.

Last week Wednesday night started us off with the tragic breaking news of the shooting at the Emanuel AME Charleston church.  It sparked a round of angry calls across the nation, over the intent of the shooter, the signs of racism that surrounded the city and the state of South Carolina (and the Deep South) itself, and the horror of gun violence visited again on another sanctuary where should not imagine such a happening.

The Far Right, led by their political figures especially the Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidency, tried to avoid talking about the shooting altogether.  Worse, some tried to claim that "nobody could tell what the shooter's intent was," even though survivors reported the shooter explained himself as he pulled the trigger.  Having spent 40 years pushing a Southern Strategy of White Male resentment, Republicans suddenly realized the bill was coming due.

With the shooter's arrest, more details got out, verifying the shooter knew exactly what he was doing and why: his racist declaration of war, and what inspired him to find a Black church to begin his misdeeds.  The shooter had bought into the fear-mongering about Blacks, bought into the "heritage" of Southern resentment, bought into the need for violence against those who were unarmed.

By Monday after the police interrogation went public - proving exactly what happened and why - and after more photos surfaced of the shooter reveling in displays of the Stars and Bars, calls to have the Confederate Battle Flag - the key symbol of the Lost Cause, the symbol of race hatred for 150 years - taken down from public buildings multiplied to the point where the South Carolina governor Nikki Haley had to go public herself, calling for legislation to take the damn thing down off of her state's public forums (in a mockery of law, the state made it mandatory that the Confederate flag remains flying at all costs: when the American flag was lowered in honor of the dead, it just made the contrast more stark and shameful).  In other states like Alabama, they just quietly lowered the damn flag and looked away.

Much of the week ended up with a back-and-forth battle on the media channels and the Internet over the "heritage" of the flag, over the right of free speech vs. the actuality of hate speech that flag represented.  It was becoming clear that everything that battle flag represented - Jim Crow, racial oppression, a section of our population obsessed with a violent and bloody past - was and still is in risk of imploding on itself (which is, you know, a good thing).

And then Thursday we get good news, with the Supreme Court ruling - and a strong one at that - affirming the core point of Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was to provide affordable healthcare to most Americans.  A lot of celebration about how this was a huge victory for Obama, a huge win for Americans needing that healthcare coverage.

(there was an image here but it had been removed so... working on a replacement image)

And then Friday, two things.  The Supreme Court issued the key ruling on gay marriage - on marriage itself - as a self-evident right to all under the 14th Amendment.  Twitter and social media exploded.  Haters raged.  Lovers danced.  The United States officially became Pro-People.

In the midst of all this, our nation returned its attention to Charleston once more, as President Obama showed up to perform the eulogy for the fallen pastor Reverend Clementa Pinckney.  In that moment, in that place, Obama offered the most stirring, most profound speech he's ever given.  (link here to full speech)

He openly condemned the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag.  He openly condemned the shameful rate of gun violence in our nation, harking back to the tragedies of Sandy Hook and so many other mass shootings.  He openly condemned the fear-mongering and the hate poisoning the national forum.

And Obama spoke of love.  Obama spoke of faith, and forgiveness, and family.  Obama spoke of grace.  Human, Christian Grace.

...Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group: the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.  The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court: in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that...  
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley - how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond: not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life...
Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood: the power of God’s grace.
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. 
The grace of the families who lost loved ones.  The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons.  The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know:  Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me...  I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see...
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned.  Grace is not merited.  It’s not something we deserve.  Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.  Grace.
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other... but we got it all the same.  He gave it to us anyway.  He’s once more given us grace.  But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
And then Obama tried - bless him, but he was a bit off-key - to sing Amazing Grace, the Christian hymn above all other hymnals.

The speech, the presence, the words and the faith: all inspiring.  Closing out a day of grace and good-will.  We're still fighting - the haters are still railing against the tide of history and that long arc towards justice - but now there's a sense of real hope, that we're growing wiser, that we're seeing the problems for real this time, that there's something to fight FOR and a future worth keeping our promises.

This was a crazy week. But even with the pain of loss it was a good crazy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The March Of History Now Dancing To the Tune of "We Are Family"

Obergefell v Hodges: basically the court case about whether or not gays have the same right to marry as heterosexuals.  There was a previous Supreme Court ruling in 2013, but that essentially said civil unions were possible but did not go further into marriage legal rights.  That was akin to a prelude: this case went straight to the heart of the matter.  On this, let's refer to SCOTUSblog's summary in Plain English by Amy Howe:

The Supreme Court, Kennedy’s opinion explains, has long recognized the right to marry as a fundamental right.  And although until today it has always done so in the context of opposite-sex couples, he continues, all of the same principles on which the Court has relied in cases involving opposite-sex couples apply equally to same-sex marriage and the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.  For example, being able to decide whether to get married is an important part of an individual’s autonomy regardless whether you are the same sex as your intended spouse.  Along much the same lines, marriage is a unique way for two individuals – in both same- and opposite-sex partnerships – to demonstrate their commitment to one another.

Justice Kennedy writing for the majority uses the 14th Amendment, arguably the most key civil rights amendment outside of the Bill of Rights, to argue that marriage as a fundamental right needed to apply to all:

These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them. Baker v. Nelson must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by Petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite sex couples.
This is just one more step forward in this moral universe, in that long arc that bends towards justice.

To quote Kennedy's key point:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.

To be fair, this ruling will affect just a significant minority of Americans.  Statistically there's about 3 percent of the population that is gay/lesbian: in a population of 313 million or so Americans that's roughly 9 million.  But by extension of families, of friends and colleagues, this affects so many of us.

This is a moment where a right that should be viewed as universal finally is: much like the right to be free as a person regardless of ethnicity, much like the right to vote for women as well as men, much like the right to be protected before the law, there is a right to marriage that covers so many aspects of our world - of property, of community, of relationships between ourselves, of the simple identity of humanity - that ought to be protected and confirmed by our Constitution.  This ruling makes it so.

This is not the end of the fight.  The Haters who rail against gays will continue to do so.  But now they have one less weapon in their arsenal.  The Constitution - the law of the land - is no longer on their side.  All they have is their stringent religious dogma, stuck forever in Rage mode quoting Leviticus or Romans as though they were the only passages that matter.

Never mind they cherry-pick such quotes, ignoring all other bans of Leviticus and the Bible.  Never mind their cries about gay marriage harming families conveniently overlooking the Biblical warnings against Adultery, which more Americans commit than there are gays in our nation (our Far Right leadership and fear-mongers in the media refuse to punish adulterers like Gingrich or Trump or half their male membership, shame on them).  Never mind the passages in the Bible that speak to Grace, Acceptance, Good Will.  The Haters gonna hate.  That battle will not end today.

But today is a day to feel good.  To feel good about being an American.  To feel good about being Pro-People.  To feel good about being on the right side of history on the right arc bending towards justice.  Like this guy Rich Juwziak at Gawker says, this ruling feels so good:

...All of that fills my heart beyond what I understood to be its capacity. It’s why my mother called me crying happy tears this morning. It’s a beautiful thing to have experienced in my lifetime. I’m so thankful for today.
I can’t help but be happiest, though, about the defeat of the anti-marriage equality crusaders. The defeat of people who signed up to lose, who wasted their time and ours on a platform of animus and contempt. The defeat of people who put principle over the practical, who fought to preserve their limited understanding of an already imperfect institution over the actual human lives that would benefit from it. The defeat of people who did what bigots do: discriminate, vilify, fear-monger, argue irrationally and without respect to human dignity, and then bristle when they’re called out for what they are (bigots).
The jig is up. The world has turned and left you fuming, seething, weeping...
Really should not dance or strut before the Haters.  That's not what Christian Grace should be about.

Better to dance and strut with the Lovers.  With the People who love for the sake of grace and humanity and happiness.  The Four Loves that the Greeks defined for us, love like Agape (for the love of others, for the love of God), Storge (love of family, between parents and children and siblings), Philia (for the love of friends, for companions), and yes Eros (for the love of passion between two people).

So, DJ Agape, give us a beat:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Obama Goes Meep Meep, As Americans Keep Their Health Care

Today has seen a bit of buzzing on the Intertubes over the Supreme Court ruling in King v Burwell, the latest attempt by the Far Right to nuke Obamacare from orbit.  Via SCOTUSBlog's Amy Howe:

Since it was enacted in 2010, Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement.  With no success on the legislative front, opponents of the ACA have tried their luck in the courts, but that avenue hasn’t proven any more fruitful.  Three years ago, the Court upheld the Act’s individual mandate, which compels everyone to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, against a challenge based on the argument that Congress lacked the power to impose such a requirement.  And today the Court turned back a challenge to the subsidies that many people receive to pay for their health insurance, ending a case that had the potential to seriously undermine the ACA, if not dismantle it altogether...

The victory seems to be for Obama, whose signature act of his Presidency remains (mostly) intact, but for Ezra Klein and for the court majority it was a win for the real beneficiaries: health care insurers, uh six million Americans using those subsidies to keep their health care:

This was a win for the more than 6 million people who will keep their health insurance. It's a win for parents who can be sure their children can go to the doctor, and for minimum-wage workers who can call an ambulance without worrying about debt. Basic health security for millions of people was on the line in this decision. Everything else was secondary to that...
...The decision begins with a lengthy description of Obamacare's "three-legged stool" — the way the law's subsidies, individual mandate, and regulations work together to create stable insurance markets. It then segues into the history of insurance death spirals in states that have tried to reform their health systems without building all three legs of the stool...
Roberts gives a very crisp definition of how these death spirals worked: "As premiums rose higher and higher, and the number of people buying insurance sank lower and lower, insurers began to leave the market entirely. As a result, the number of people without insurance increased dramatically."
...The plaintiffs argued that Obamacare was designed to work in a way contrary to its fundamental goals — that it was, in essence, built to fail, at least in states that didn't establish their own exchanges. The plaintiffs argued this even though no member of Congress ever mentioned this insane plan, no state was ever told about it, and the Obama administration expressly denied it. The majority rightfully saw this as what it is: less a serious argument about the law than an effort to wound Obamacare by successfully pulling a Jedi mind trick on the Supreme Court.
As the Court says, quoting New York State Dept. of Social Servs. v. Dublino, "We cannot interpret federal statutes to negate their own stated purposes..."

Ezra ends his points on what I viewed as a beautiful sentiment by Chief Justice Roberts (someone whom I disagree with vehemently about racism and the dire need to reform our election laws):
In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—"to say what the law is." That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.

Roberts is basically quoting Marbury v Madison: the importance of judicial review and the key power of the Supreme Court itself.

Roberts' performance in this ruling deserves some scrutiny, this coming from a constitutional law scholar writing for The Atlantic, Garrett Epps:

...Writing for a 6-3 majority, Roberts, like the consummate A student he is, offered an excellent third-year administrative law exam answer to the questions the challengers posed.
There had been speculation that the crucial votes to save the Act would come from Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, and that they would have to be lured across the Court’s liberal-conservative line by soothing words about the prerogatives of the states. But federalism was the dog that didn’t bark Thursday...
He made clear as he did so that this reading was the correct one as a matter of law—not an administrative interpretation that could be changed by a hypothetical Republican administration. In other words, for better or worse, the ACA is now part of federal law, to be uprooted, if at all, only by a full congressional vote to repeal and, possibly, to override a presidential veto...

Epps doesn't mention it in his article, but he may be referring in that last point to the legal concept of a Chevron Deference: where the courts allow the administrative offices latitude in interpreting confusing laws.  There were Court observers who figured the Justices would opt to use that as an "out" on making a decision here - leaving it to future (potentially Republican) Presidencies to nuke Obamacare - but Roberts doesn't go that way.  He leaves it squarely on Congress to make the laws here, and as Epps notes defers to the legislative intent behind the ACA's passage in the first place:

Roberts read the statute in a broad context indeed, including the history of healthcare policy and the legislative process that produced the ACA. Massachusetts had the first successful state healthcare plan, he noted. The three reforms at the heart of its plan are a ban on insurers refusing coverage or raising rates on individuals on the basis of their heath; an “individual mandate” that all taxpayers secure coverage; and tax credits for those who otherwise could not afford coverage.
Those reforms are at the heart of the ACA as well. If the Court agreed with the challengers, the gap between states operating state exchanges and those without would be huge: “only one of the Act’s major reforms would apply in States with a federal Exchange.” That’s because without the tax credits, lower-income taxpayers would get a “hardship” exemption from the “mandate.” Only the insurance reforms requiring companies to insure the sick as well as the healthy (“guaranteed issue”) would apply—and the experience of the states shows that guaranteed issue in isolation leads to a “death spiral.” Customers wait to get sick before buying insurance; companies, saddled with only the bad risks, must jack up rates; and then the private insurance market contracts or even collapses.
“It is implausible,” he wrote with some understatement, “that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner...”
...But he concluded: “We must respect the role of the legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done.” The ACA was passed “to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them...”

There's been enough years now to establish what kind of Chief Justice that Roberts was going to be, and it's looking as though he is working as someone with a strong conservative - that's small-c classic conservative, not the radicalized modern conservative looking to shift everything further rightward) - legal philosophy: a limitation of decisions focusing on legislative intent first, relying on executive interpretation where legislative intent is too vague, with an eye towards maintaining the judicial review powers of the Court at the end.  

It's not perfect - Roberts' world-view still focuses on the intent of laws to the exclusion of how those laws really work (SEE denial of racism as an ongoing concern for voting rights AND the impact millions of dollars have on political campaigns) - but in the matter of the Far Right going after Obamacare with chainsaws Roberts is refusing to over-reach and perform "judicial activism" in making his own interpretations trump the intent of the other two branches of government.

Which leads me to wonder about how much of this Obama knew about ahead of time when he pushed for the ACA "Obamacare" package in the first place all those years ago.  True, by 2009 our Health Care system was facing utter collapse without any substantive reforms.  With a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, Obama could have pushed for a more liberal - read: single-payer - package.  But he insisted on pushing an agenda modeled on the conservative reform alternative that the Republicans offered - and never followed up on - back in 1993 to oppose Clinton's ultimately doomed plan.

At the time, it looked like Obama jumped out too early for a compromise package in an attempt to secure Republican votes for a bipartisan "victory" bill.  It seemingly backfired because the Republicans decided in toto to deny Obama any "victory" at all, sticking to an obstructionist position that painted themselves into a corner.  David Frum's classic "Waterloo" rebuke of the obstructionist position made it clear how that GOP agenda backfired on Republicans and not Obama, and we're seeing the results of that even today.

Because by going for a "compromise" bill like the ACA - based on market-based reforms that Republicans themselves argued for in 1993 - Obama took away the one real alternative Republicans today could offer.  They've got nothing else, other than basically eliminating the reforms altogether... which basically brings back the out-of-control costs and lack of health care for far too many Americans.  Republicans keep saying they can "Replace" Obamacare after the "Repeal", but when pressed on what the replacement can be the Republicans can't offer a legitimate plan

One of the narratives bouncing around the Beltway media is how this was not only a victory for Obama but how it got the Republican Congress - and the primary candidates - off the hook.  If Roberts had led a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in this case, it would have severely crippled the ACA across every (Red) state that didn't have its own subsidies plan in place.  The pressure on Congress to pass any replacement law to fix that gap - by the millions losing coverage, by insurance companies losing millions of dollars, the sheer bad optics of failing to act - would have been enormous, but the Republicans in both sides of Capitol Hill had spent too many years demonizing Obamacare altogether to where any real solution was out of the question.

This ruling still doesn't let Republicans off the hook, however.  This only makes it worse for them, because now the pressure is on from the Far Right - the Teabagger crowd - to go Full Repeal again (for what, the 197th time?) and make that repeal a major platform issue for the primaries.

The problem is, as Klein notes over and over the last few years, Obamacare is working.  Costs are going down and are lower than the projections worried about.  The numbers of insured are up (which aids in handling costs and coverage, and improves the chances more Americans are getting healthier).  The only reason the picture isn't rosier for Obamacare is because there's not enough Medicaid coverage for the poorer Americans in Republican-led states, and that's more to do with the Republicans in charge who are blatantly refusing to accept billions in federal aid.  In all respects the longer Obamacare chugs along the likelier Americans are going to notice that it's working as intended, and are going to question why Republicans are too keen to kill something that, you know, works.

This is going to be a long-term victory for Obama no matter what.  This ruling makes it incredibly unlikely any court challenge can break the ACA.  It is going to have to take the Republicans retaining control of Congress AND winning a Presidential race that is sliding further into clown car status for the GOP.  By 2016 the odds favor the fact that Obamacare will prove itself an effective federal program, and any attack by the Republicans against it will only bounce around in their own epistemic bubble while more Americans decide to vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate (and Senate campaigners) who will keep it working.

As Andrew Sullivan kept noting with wonder and awe before he quit the blogging profession, with regards to Obama's ability to wring long-term victories over self-imploding opponents: Meep Meep.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Florida Republicans Finding Out Now How Rick "No Ethics" Scott Can Be a Total Dick

After going through the hassles of a special session to get a budget done for the state, the Florida Legislature finished a budget - a haphazard, nowhere near effective budget nonetheless - and sent it on to the Governor's office for signing.

Florida uses a system of Line Item Veto: a method the Governor can use to nullify or block specific parts of a bill - usually a spending project - without blocking the entire bill.  It makes it harder for the legislature to override line items, whereas a full veto is easier to break if enough legislators are pissed about the Governor being a total dick.

Under normal circumstances, and with sane leadership in office, the Line Item Veto would work as suggested: Keeping a lid on wasteful or questionable spending projects (pork barrel).

But we're talking about Rick "Screw the State" Scott here.

Once he got the bill for signing he promptly shaved about $461 Million from the $78 Billion budget.  Granted, 461 million doesn't look like much out of 78 BILLION, but we're talking a LOT of money for projects now looking at massive funding gaps.  Take all the pennies out of your pocket and start counting up to $461 million, and you'll kinda get an idea how much money we're talking about.

In fact, the $461 million cut via Line Item Veto is close to a record.  No other Governor cut as much before in one blow.

And if you're thinking that Scott is doing this out of some sense of fiscal prudence, you're overlooking some very key facts:

  • Rick "No Ethics" Scott is only in this for himself and his plans for future political meddling;
  • A lot of the cuts look to be vindictive against various Senate and House Republicans who tried to push a Medicaid Expansion plan in opposition to Scott's hardline stance.
  • The cuts blind-sided legislators who were not notified beforehand. In fact, Scott did his cuts in near privacy, surrounded only by his own staffers.  There's a sense that decorum and respect to the Legislature were ignored.

Scott went and slashed funding for projects that had previously been funded before without him taking a chainsaw to them.  Scott slashed funding to colleges, to job training programs, to social aid for substance abuse treatment, to public libraries (he cut $1 million from the East Lake Public Library near my homebase of Palm Harbor: Scott was already on my Enemies List before this, now he's solidified the top spot for the rest of his soon-to-be-short career).

There's a lot of anger among his own party members tonight.  I'm not entirely sure the old adage of "Protect Your Own" is going to serve Scott much when he's got heavy hitters like the Senate President Andy Gardiner ordering an infinite supply of Rick Scott voodoo dolls and needles.  I mean, here's the quotes from the elected officials:

"The governor has declared war on the Legislature." - Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, after Scott cut funding for several Tampa Bay projects, including a marina, library and water taxi initiative.
"While Governor Scott will undoubtedly spend the next several weeks traveling the state touting his record number of vetoes as win for Florida's families, there are many families across Florida who have seen their dreams shattered by his decisions today." - Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, on vetoes of programs meant to help children with special needs, which were his top priority.
"I am profoundly disappointed . . . Our forest firefighters put their lives on the line. They are demonstratively under paid relative to peers." - Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, on learning that pay raises for the state's 606 Forest Service firefighters were being nixed.
"How does he allow a good program to pass muster last year and then vetoes the same without any reason or cause? I've seen our governor many times show that inconsistency and honestly I believe many members of the Florida Legislature are coming to realize you cannot trust the guy." - Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano on Scott's cut of $2.5 million (including $1.5 million approved last year) for a conservation easement in Heritage Lake Estates. (I mentioned Fasano before: one of the earliest critics of Scott from within the State GOP itself.)
If you read that linked article, you'll notice the only favorable quotes were from lobbyists happy to see Scott slash-and-burn the government they despise.

If Rick "In It For Myself" Scott thinks his Line Item Veto is going to win any fans, he's going to find out that angering up your fellow pols - people who can find ways to make your life miserable - isn't going to provide him the networks among other politicians he needs to win more people over.  All he's done is satisfy his lobbyist buddies and the extremist base opposed to ANY government spending at all: people already in his pocket.  I doubt he's winning over any new friends with this.

We're going to witness over the next year the consequences of Scott's brutal cuts.  A lot of state agencies will have to cut jobs and cut services that even middle-income Floridians are going to notice being gone.  Some agencies will need to raise fees higher to compensate their own budgets.  Social services - already one of the poorest-funded in the nation - are going to go bone-dry in the worst ways.  Families and children are going to get hit the worst.

At what point is all that pain going to wake the voters and residents up to the fact that Rick "Fund Raising For Fun And Profit" Scott is destroying the very state he's supposedly sworn to serve?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Personal: Travel to DC

(edit 9/2/15: Just noticed I'm suddenly getting all this traffic from Facebook for some reason.  Where are you all coming from?  What's going on?  If you can't comment here at least tweet me at @PaulWartenberg and let me know, thanks...  In the meantime, hang out, check the other article, try the veal...)

Just saying, I'll be up in the DC Metro area soon for the 4th of July, and I wanted to point out the necessity of travel by the Metro rail system.

And also to link to a hilarious translation of the Metro map underlying the whole system.

You may notice there are NO STOPS to the Georgetown campus area, which is a damn shame because that's where the Exorcist stairs are (IT HAS ITS OWN WIKI PAGE).  Just Google search "Exorcist steps" or "Exorcist stairway" and you'll even get a map location.  I guarantee you if there was a nearby Metro station the grid would say "Exorcist steps" instead of "Boring Academia campus". ;-)

I hope to get some pictures and upload them here when I get the time.

I really hope I DON'T GET SICK ON THE FLIGHT.  I'm learning that I pretty much better not TOUCH ANYTHING on the plane.

In other news, Rick Scott's being a jerk again, but I'll save that for a separate post.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Problems We All Live With, Because of Racism, Because of Guns

Charleston South Carolina, last night.

In one of the worst mass shootings in the state's history, a gunman opened fire during Wednesday night services at Emanuel AME Church, one of Charleston's oldest black churches in downtown Charleston.
Eight people died at the church, and a ninth person died later at MUSC hospital, Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen said during a news conference just before 1 a.m. Thursday. The number of injured people and their conditions were not known.
Charleston police chief Gregory Mullen said he will investigate the shooting as a hate crime...

Turns out it is a hate crime.  The shooter - whom I shall not name - intentionally walked into the historic Black church (he hails from Columbia, which is a good distance from Charleston, so he went out of his way here), intentionally sat in on a prayer session, intentionally pulled out a gun, intentionally shot most of the people present, intentionally reloaded, intentionally told the surviving witnesses "I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go," and intentionally fled so he could get safely captured by police in another state.

The shooter - no, the terrorist - chose a church with vast history: formed by one of the earliest anti-slavery leaders, Denmark Vesey.  A free Black who formed the first Black church south of the Mason-Dixon, he was accused in 1822 of fomenting a slave revolt and executed on secret evidence, and after his hanging his church was destroyed.  His sons eventually rebuilt the church after the Civil War, where it became the center of African-American culture and politics in the shadow of Jim Crow and in the light of the Civil Rights movement.  The terrorist just happened to select out of the hundreds of churches in South Carolina to target, and he targeted the one with the deepest racial meaning.

This is just another day in America, isn't it?

It's just another day where Blacks get shot at, just like all the other days from Sanford and Cleveland and Ferguson and Baltimore and a hundred other cities.  It doesn't matter if I or anybody else rail about this over the years - this I wrote last year for God's sake - nobody's gonna do a goddamn thing about it, are they?

It's just another day where we have a gun massacre in our communities, regardless of it being a school or a church or a movie theater or a college campus.  It's just another day where the rights of the gun-fetishists under the Second Amendment to open-carry weapons that can kill anybody they don't like take priority over the rights of the vast majority of Americans who don't own guns yet try to peaceably assemble as due their rights under the First Amendment.

It's just another day for comment from blogger Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice:

We have a problem with guns.  It isn’t going away.  You can dig through the twitter streams and comment threads as I have, but you already know what you’ll find.  For too many Americans, the solution to our gun problem is obvious:  the answer to a bad shooter in church are good ones.  If only those at prayer had been packing, Dylann Roof wouldn’t have been able to kill more than three or four before taking a couple of hundred grains of lead to the throat in return fire. If only…
The ammosexual defense of their kink is predictable and almost certainly incorrigible.  Driven (and heavily armed) that’s a view that’s managed to hold political sway over the mushy majority for whom the notion the the liberty of the gun-sniffing few outweighs the freedom of the rest of us to assemble, travel, speak without fear of suppressing fire.  What drives that is, at least in part, the normalization of gun fetishization.  Which is what you see above.  And is what must be shamed out of the public square...
It's just another day for Charles Pierce at Esquire to rage with absolute truth:

We should speak of it as an assault on the idea of a political commonwealth, which is what it was. And we should speak of it as one more example of all of these, another link in a bloody chain of events that reaches all the way back to African wharves and Southern docks. It is not an isolated incident, not if you consider history as something alive that can live and breathe and bleed. We should speak of all these things. What happened in that church was a lot of things, but unspeakable is not one of them.
Not to think about these things is to betray the dead. Not to speak of these things is to dishonor them. Let Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, look out her window at the flag of treason that is flown proudly at her state capitol and think about these things, and speak of them, before she pronounces herself so puzzled at how something like this could happen in South Carolina, the home office of American sedition...

It's just another day, isn't it, out of the 200-plus years of our nation's history where racism and violence are part of the pride and arrogance of the haters who insist on flying a flag of treason and war over our state capitols.  In South Carolina, they've lowered the official state flag to half-mast, they've lowered the national flag - our Stars and Stripes - to half-mast, and they're still flying that goddamn Stars and Bars battle flag at full-mast.

I am with Ta-Nehisi Coates: That damned Confederate Battle Flag must come down, NOW, from every Southern state flying it.

The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition this act—it endorses it. That the Confederate flag is the symbol of of white supremacists is evidenced by the very words of those who birthed it...
...Surely the flag’s defenders will proffer other, muddier, interpretations which allow them the luxury of looking away. In this way they honor their ancestors. Cowardice, too, is heritage. When white supremacist John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, Booth’s fellow travelers did all they could to disassociate themselves. “Our disgust for the dastardly wretch can scarcely be uttered,” fumed a former governor of South Carolina, the state where secession began. Robert E. Lee’s armies took special care to enslave free blacks during their Northern campaign. But Lee claimed the assassination of the Great Emancipator was “deplorable.” Jefferson Davis believed that “it could not be regarded otherwise than as a great misfortune to the South,” and angrily denied rumors that he had greeted the news with exultation...
Moral cowardice requires choice and action. It demands that its adherents repeatedly look away, that they favor the fanciful over the plain, myth over history, the dream over the real. Here is another choice.
Take down the flag. Take it down now.

Goddamn us, as a nation.  We are led by cowards and fear-mongers who would profit from racism by making the rest of us suffer for their rage and greed and pride.

To the leaders of Florida, if that Confederate Battleflag of Treason and Race Hatred is flying over our buildings in Tallahassee or anywhere, TAKE THOSE DAMN FLAGS DOWN NOW.  To the southern states from Texas to Virginia, if any of you are flying that damn flag, SHAME ON YOU AND TAKE IT DOWN.

Back to Pierce for his closing (but not final, because Goddamn us this is going to keep happening until we face these demons of fear and wrath) thoughts:

...There is a timidity that the country can no longer afford. This was not an unthinkable act. A man may have had a rat's nest for a mind, but it was well thought out. It was a cool, considered crime, as well planned as any bank robbery or any computer fraud. If people do not want to speak of it, or think about it, it's because they do not want to follow the story where it inevitably leads. It's because they do not want to follow this crime all the way back to the mother of all American crimes, the one that Denmark Vesey gave his life to avenge. What happened on Wednesday night was a lot of things. A massacre was only one of them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Predicting Character: Trump As Humbug

I got to be honest: how the hell can anyone predict the Presidential Character of a complete charlatan and con artist?

Whatever disdain I have for the likes of Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, I at least recognize that these are guys who at some level take politics and governing seriously.  I don't trust them with office, and I see them as being as deceitful and self-serving as your average thief, but still they are not total clowns.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is clearly not someone who takes politics or governing with any level of seriousness.  To him, it's all a means to shill his brand name, to keep his ego on display.  When we're talking about the clown car that the Republicans are putting together, the first name everyone pictures in a rainbow wig and red nose is the Trumpster, showing off in the center ring as always.

Because that's all Donald Trump has ever been: a salesman whose only product is Trump(TM).

There are so many things bad to say about Trump, most of which you can find on this Balloon Juice thread.  But let's delve a little deeper by bringing in Charles Pierce from Esquire to comment:

He is the inevitable result of 40 years of political conjuring, mainly by Republicans, but abetted by far too many Democrats as well. He is the inevitable product of anyone who ever argued that our political institutions should be run "like a business." (Like whose businesses? Like Trump's? Like Carly Fiorina's Hewlett Packard?) He is the inevitable product of anyone who ever argued why the government can't balance its books "the way any American family would." He is the inevitable result of the deregulated economy that was deregulated out of a well-cultivated wonder and awe directed at the various masters of the universe. Sooner or later, all of this misbegotten magical thinking was going to burp up a clown like Donald Trump.

Simon Maloy at Salon gets a little more specific:

But I’ve made the case previously that if Trump wants to play this game, then we should treat his platform and policy positions as we would any other candidate for the presidency. One problem with this approach, as made clear by Trump’s announcement remarks, is that he’s largely incapable of expressing coherent ideas when it comes to policy. He seems to believe that it is the policy of the Mexican government to send all its drug dealers, criminals, and “rapists” over the border into the United States. He’s in undisguised awe of China’s economic central planning but also claims to be a small-government conservative. On Obamacare, he said this, which… I have no idea what this is: “You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high, it’s virtually useless.”
So yes, Trump is a lunatic braggart who parades his insecurities around in a vain attempt to slake his unquenchable thirst for attention, but that’s not anything we didn’t know... 
...But by taking the next step, Trump officially made himself eligible for inclusion in the GOP primary debates. The party and Fox News have said that, given the sheer volume of candidates this cycle, participation in the first scheduled primary debate in August will be determined by polling strength, with the top ten candidates making it to the big stage. Right now, Trump is in the top ten – he’s actually polling higher than Rick Perry and isn’t too far behind Chris Christie. That means Priebus and honchos at Fox News are faced with the dilemma of having a cloddish reality TV star stand on the same debate stage with the GOP’s top-flight candidates...

Trump is essentially in the same category as the likes of Fiorina and Carson: an outright political amateur who's never held elected office.  His only point of contention on his resume is that he's been a business CEO, but that's it.  We've had business-background Presidents before - Hoover, Bush the Lesser - and candidates with similar business pedigree - Romney, Willkie - but each of them at least had experience with government either elected to lesser offices or serving as Secretary in Presidential Cabinets (Willkie had the less experience of them all, but was active in opposition to FDR's New Deal policies in a serious, legally experienced way).  And yet, because of his name recognition among the Fox Not-News viewers - who have seen Trump be an Obama-basher the last 6 years - Trump is going to be on the serious stage debating with the adults while more honestly qualified figures like Gov. Kasich and even Rick Perry (whom this blogger views as almost as low-intelligent as Trump) are sitting outside the arena kicking dirt.

Trump's Character - as we use Professor Barber's model of World-View - is repeatedly viewed by others as "clownish" and for good reason.  His attempts at discussing policies and matters rarely rise to the level of expert, revealing a person unable to perceive much of the complex nature of anything outside of working a television stage.  When discussing immigration, Trump jumps straight into stereotype and insult: what he said about Mexicans during his announcement was cringe-worthy.  To refer to Paul Waldman over at The Week:

The elements of Trump's style — from his jingoism to his willingness to present all kinds of weird ideas as facts to his obsession with right-wing shibboleths (remember how much time he spent trying to convince everyone that President Obama was born in Kenya?) to his relentless oversimplification of complex issues — are all what you get when you take a typical Republican politician and make him a little dumber and more extreme — but just a little. Take, for instance, this passage from his announcement Tuesday, where he elucidates his ideas about foreign policy and national security:
"I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall, mark my words. Nobody would be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump. I will find within our military, I will find the General Patton, or I will find General MacArthur. I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that's going to take that military and make it really work. Nobody, nobody will be pushing us around. I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and we won't be using a man like Secretary Kerry that has absolutely no concept of negotiation, who's making a horrible and laughable deal, who's just being tapped along as they make weapons right now, and then goes into a bicycle race at 72 years old and falls and breaks his leg. I won't be doing that..."

Basically, in that part of his speech, Trump dog-whistles every Far Right talking point of the "failures" of an Obama administration as though those incredibly "simple" solutions are there all along.  Putting up a border wall as though that will solve all our immigration issues (and forcing Mexico to pay for it?  Way to start an honest-to-God border war again, boss).  Degrading Kerry's work as State Sec as though diplomacy doesn't work (when in fact Kerry's work has kept our allies focused and our foreign opponents dealing with us).  As though all we need is a fighting General like Patton as if that will fix our military (where the problems are that we're wasting trillions on planes that won't fight and failing to support the troops that do all the dirty work).

All Trump has ever really done is market himself.  He's the host of a television show where all he does is grade other people's abilities to suck up to him for their jobs.  He shills books about himself more than develop any actual innovation in business or finance.  His trick in land development has been to attach his name to various construction developments as though it adds cachet, and then avoids putting any actual money into those developments that then fall apart leaving hundreds of people on the hook for useless unfinished condo towers.

We're talking about a "successful" businessman who's been to bankruptcy court roughly four, no wait five times.  (Businessman Jeb Bush by comparison has been involved in only one bankruptcy of note, and while it's a doozy - Lehman Brothers - he didn't seem to be a primary catalyst or player in that collapse)  This is a guy who lives recklessly on junk bonds and inflated values, looking to be put in charge of the American economy and the federal budget.

Of his personal habits - the series of bad marriages and divorces that rivals Gingrich, exaggerations that slide easy into big lies, the flaunting of an extravagant lifestyle - they all point to a man self-serving and elitist far beyond any level of narcissism any political figure ever displayed in American politics.  Nixon and LBJ were never this bad, Kennedy and FDR and John Adams were never this bad, Harding and Grant and Buchanan and Tyler were never this bad.  I can't think of anybody else who were either egotistical enough to qualify as a narcissist or bad enough to be a disaster, which is what Trump is going to be if he ever reaches the White House.

Every other political figure - even our Passive-Negative Presidents who never honestly pursued the job as a means to resolve their ambitions - had within themselves a vision of America: as it was, as it could be.  It could have been a vision for themselves and their own (Active-Negatives), it could have been a vision for every American they wanted to serve (Active-Positives and Passive-Positives).  This is arguably the first time a serious "candidate" - there's still an "if" because Trump hasn't really filed to run yet - is showing up with even a slim chance to win a nomination who doesn't have a vision, just talking points and a brand name.

The conventional wisdom is that Trump is really only doing this to keep his name in lights, to shill for his TV show and his defaulting empire.  If he doesn't make a serious go of this, and enough people buy his snake oil, we are in serious trouble.  Because it means the legit candidates - and I'm kicking myself for even calling them that - like Walker and Bush and Rubio aren't winning over the rabid GOP voting base...

That said, to give Donald Trump his evaluation - and here I pity David Graham at The Atlantic because it's his paying gig to do this - it's gotta go like this:

Donald Trump - Shill, New York
Positives: He gives Jon Stewart a legitimate excuse to un-retire from The Daily Show.
Negatives: What part of "con artist" are you overlooking?  Trump has no legislative or elective or executive experience in politics.  His business expertise has been to file for bankruptcy every 5-8 years.  For all his posturing, has few real political allies to back him up.  He's openly hostile to immigration as an issue, has a "bomb 'em all" mentality that makes even Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham seem cautious and diplomatic, and promises everything while delivering nothing.
Chances: Impossible.  While he's arguably able to fund his own campaign well into 2016, if he becomes even a minor threat to either of the marquee leaders for the nomination it's a given the party proper will nuke Trump from orbit before his brand can damage THEIR brand (well, damage it further than what Mitt did in 2012).  And given Trump's lack of self-restraint and wisdom, he's bound to pull a bonehead move that could turn away even the die-hard wingnuts who are - God Help Us - backing him.
Character Chart: Trump fulfills a few of the traits that defines Active-Negative.  He deploys power (wealth in particular) as a means of self-realization, he shows pessimism with regards to policy issues, is obsessed with success (measuring himself as "the richest of us all"), and has Compulsive habits.  However, he is one of the most extreme A-Ns ever to show up on the grid: he shows disdain for anything that cannot serve his own needs and does not even consider the effects his actions has on others.  Where other A-Ns at least showed interest in politics and policies, Trump shows neither.  He just wants his ego stroked.  In that regards, he can't fit Barber's Character Chart because Trump has no real character worth charting.

Final link: this is seriously NOT SAFE FOR WORK, so please do NOT click on this link, but Rude Pundit's takedown of Trump is the nastiest yet most brilliant takedown of any political target I have read in years.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Honest Bumper Stickers 2016: The Hits Just Keep Coming

I warned you.  I warned you there were more of these coming.

Leave it to Bush Numero Tres to ignite the fire tonight to get more of these posted.  Thanks to that laughably over-exuberant logo he launched this weekend for his 2016 campaign, I am here to bring you this:

The original font is Baskerville, but all I have
with this ancient CorelDraw 9 software that's
closest is Calson.  The trained eye will notice the difference...
It's more cluttered than the ones the Washington Post bloggers are dreaming up, but it's the meme I'm going with so screw it.

Now that's out of my system, let's move on to the other victims uh major campaigners for the Presidency in 2016...

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It's JEB! The Musical

Remember how I griped about the bad logo idea Hillary Clinton's people decided to use for marketing their 2016 campaign?

Leave it to her main competitor Jeb "Third Time's The Charm" Bush to go even sillier.  Per Balloon Juice, it's:

Via Huffington Post tweet.
The comments on Balloon Juice have gotten pretty snarky.  Then again, it's not a Bush-friendly blog over there.

Oliver Willis over on his Twitter account noted how it's the same damn logo Jeb! used back in 1998 for his governorship run: "jeb couldn't even be bothered to come up with a new logo for his presidential run?"

For me, it comes down to just one thing: BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

I have to admit there's a bunch of other peeps on the tweets who are thinking the same thing I am: this is just the banner title of a brand new off-off-Broadway musical: Jeb!

Ah yes, the brand new crowd favorite of old old rehashed Republican campaign platitudes: Cut taxes!  Cut Social Security!  Invade the same countries again!  With hit songs guaranteed to win Tonys and Grammys as the nation gets marched over the cliffs of Republican doom!

The fans will rave to such hit tunes as "Blame It On The Willie," "Invading Iraq (A Father's Lament)," "In Grover's Bathtub," "How Low to Death Row/Pretending To Be Hard On Crime," "Who Needs Voters/Purging the Rolls," "Invading Iraq (A Brother's Lament)," "To All The Schiavos I've Humiliated Before," "Making Money On The Last Name," "I Can't Run On The Last Name," "The Recession That Killed Our Legacy," "How Obama Ruined My Brother's War," "Who Invited Fifteen Clowns To My Coronation," and the show-stopping finale "Invading Iraq (Third Reprise)."

Puts me in the mood to make more Honest Bumper Stickers, but I'm nowhere near my graphics editing program at the moment.  I'll save that for tomorrow.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Aftermath of Citizens United: No Longer About the Presidency It's All About the Benjamins

If you notice the title of this article, there's an irony in that Benjamin Franklin who graces our hundred-dollar bill is one of the primary Founders who never served as U.S. President.

I'm writing this because a few things happened this weekend: first, the GOP decided to kill off the much-worshiped but horribly-skewed Iowa Straw Poll after 40 years of making the Beltway media foam at the mouth over the horse race that is our Presidential campaign system.

It consists of a tiny and unrepresentative sample of voters in a small, overwhelmingly white state. Its importance depends almost entirely on the perceptions of the political elites and the news media. The spin after the vote often matters as much as the vote itself. Its rules can be surprisingly informal, to the point that baked goods are sometimes exchanged for the promise of a vote. And it has a terrible track record at predicting the GOP’s presidential nominee...
...From the standpoint of the parties, the purpose of the Iowa Straw Poll is not necessarily to pick winners but to narrow (or “winnow”) the field. (In some years, this applies to the Iowa caucus too...) In that sense, the biggest danger from the straw poll is not a “false positive” — an insurgent candidate like Michele Bachmann winning when she has little shot at the nomination — but rather a “false negative,” meaning an establishment candidate like Tim Pawlenty making a big bet on the straw poll and coming up with a disappointing performance, as happened four years ago...

What was happening was that the big-name guys - not just the Establishment candidate like Jeb but also headliners like Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee (who oddly enough did well in the Iowa straw poll and caucus back in 2008 to mark his near-successful foray back then) - were opting out to focus on a more broad national campaign and better positioning for the more-important televised debates.  The other big name in the race - Scott Walker - was hesitating, because he stood to benefit the most from the poll and from winning Iowa early but was worried if the results weren't positive enough.

There was something else at play as well: The Sugar Daddy.

The results of the Citizens United ruling - that fund-raising for political campaigns can pretty much be unregulated as "free speech" - outside fund-raisers can plug in as much money to their hearts' content into a campaign and nobody can stop it.  As long as those outside groups (once called Political Action Committees but once billions are poured in they're now SuperPACs) didn't directly co-ordinate with the specific campaign(s) - say with me now, HA HA - they are untouchable.

What this means is that a campaigner for the White House can run all year long with a SuperPAC footing most of the bill and make him/herself a national figure able to get easy speaking gigs at $100,000 guest lectures and a permanent invite to the Sunday Talk Show green rooms.  And that's the legal stuff, God knows how much of this money is flowing into people's pockets (hi, Rubio!) and not, you know, actual GOTV efforts.

As the National Journal put it last year:

Forget Des Moines. The epicenter of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign last week was in Dallas.
Harlan Crow, the real estate magnate and conservative financier who calls the city home, arrived there fresh from watching the Super Bowl in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's private box. On Tuesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker flew into town for a reelection fundraiser at Crow's $24 million mansion. Later in the week, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky shared a flight from D.C. to Dallas—and then bumped into each other outside the office of one of the city's GOP donors whom they were both wooing...
...Two years before any primary votes will be cast and long before any official campaign launches, Cruz, Paul, and others are already crisscrossing the country to win the hearts and wallets of the wealthiest Americans.
The race for a 2016 super-PAC sugar daddy is on...
...The rise of SuperPACs has amplified and accelerated the quadrennial donor chase. Candidates now know a single billionaire can make or break their fortunes—as they saw in 2012, when mega-donors Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess propped up the candidacies of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum...

Playing to the base voters for primaries has gotten to be the easy part of a campaign: just stick to the basic messaging of "Blame Obama, Blame Librul Fascists, Blame Feminists, Blame Satan, Blame Minorities, Blame Obama Some More" and let the hate flow through the crowds.  All that matters now is getting money.  Always the dollars.  Always the dollars.

(I'm not even able to fit in a scathing put-down of Ted Cruz's whining for more money here, well maybe I can as an aside...)

And the deep-pocket fund-raisers know it.  And the party leadership itself is starting to catch on because the Republicans themselves are suddenly realizing they're getting their jobs outsourced.  Via (with a hat-tip to Yahoo! News): 
The party started to lose its bearings as long ago, as in the ’90s when it took on the self-righteousness of a religious crusade with its unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Democratic president. The undisciplined behavior that characterized that time was sanctioned by Party officials and led by long standing movement figures and conservative media stars. They apparently didn’t realize that they were creating a monster of a grassroots base that would someday call itself the Tea Party. In fact, it seemed to come as complete surprise when the monster turned on them in recent years and took the Party into its own hands. Republicans who had spent half a century deriding their opposition for being “appeasers” suddenly found themselves walking on eggshells, scared to death to cross their own voters who took all their messaging seriously and expected results. Even with a congressional majority, Republican elected leaders found they no longer had the power to negotiate or make a deal on the party’s behalf.
They also did not seem to realize that this monster is extremely wealthy and very, very powerful. And it is taking control...
The RNC is now openly arguing … that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over — some even say control of — the GOP.
“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff.
The Republican base has exerted its strength at the ballot box the last few cycles by challenging and beating incumbents, even some in the leadership like former House majority leader Eric Cantor. Now the Koch Brothers, the wealthy patrons of the Tea Party cause, are taking over the voter data files. You can certainly see why the party establishment might be alarmed...

Like it or hate it, the United States political system thrives on a two-party system: One party stood for something on the issues, One party stood for conflicting position on those issues, the American people tried to decide between them which would solve those issues best.  For the most part it's worked since the days of Adams and Jefferson's transition of power, with the glaring exception of the fall into Civil War because one party - the Democrats of the 1800s - fell under the control of extremist oligarchs (rich Southern slaveowners) who denied the sins of slavery and drove to either rule or ruin the nation.

We're facing the same situation today.  Rich and powerful elites - in the form of corporate overlords who can and do profit from unregulated industries - are pretty much buying ownership control of one party: the Republicans (and they're putting enough money into the other party - the Democrats - to cover their bets).

...Let’s just say that in the Kochs’ minds, taking over the Republican Party and benefiting their massive multinational corporation are the same thing. (If you would like to see what it might mean in practical terms if the Koch party were to politically dominate the nation this Rolling Stone article about their business practices will give you nightmares.) And considering that the Kochs have openly worked at taking over the party since the 1980s, this is not exactly a secret.

This is the end result of Citizens United: not a lot of Free Speech, but basically the rich people Buying political control and Selling to the nation a false bill of goods.

The only good thing we Americans can hope for is Caveat Emptor: that a majority of us voters are savvy enough customers to recognize the lemon that the Kochs' SuperPAC Republican candidate is going to be, and avoid voting for that train-wreck of a candidate.  What happened last election kind of gives me some hope: for all the money the GOP threw at the election, it didn't translate into GOTV ground efforts (100 million yard signs do not equal eager voters) nor make Mitt likable enough to win.

Still, voters need to remember this one rule: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT VOTE REPUBLICAN.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Marco Rubio's Debts

From the great state of rip-off artistry - uh, sunshine - comes this champion of fiscal prudence and restrained personal habits Marco Rubio.  And yes, I'm being sarcastic, let this link to Business Insider show you why:

The New York Times reports that while the senator was juggling multiple loans and mortgages, he bought a speedboat, a luxury SUV, and made questionable investment decisions.
Rubio has a history of accruing massive debts and then spending big when money comes his way.
According to The Times, Rubio faced huge debts in 2012. Then a miracle appeared: He got an $800,000 advance on a book deal. But instead of using all of the money responsibly, Rubio went out and bought a $80,000 speedboat.
The Times notes that despite the senator's financial woes, Rubio also leased a $50,000 Audi Q7 SUV...
...Rubio's troubling spending habits are well known within Republican political circles. According to The Times, when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's team vetted Rubio as a potential vice presidential candidate, they found that the Florida senator's financial decisions were bad enough that they could damage the campaign...

This is something, by the way, that's raised a red flag as far back as 2006 (dear God, where do the years of political headdesking get to?) as this 2010 article from the St. Pete Tampa Bay Times attests to:

...On the campaign trail, Rubio likes to say "politicians don't create jobs." But politics, directly and indirectly, has generated Rubio's sizeable income, even as he has accumulated substantial debt and saw one of his homes nearly go into foreclosure...
...When Rubio joined the Florida House of Representatives in 2000, he did not own a home, had few possessions and made $72,000 as a lawyer.
But he had $30,000 in "assorted credit and retail debt" (as described on his financial disclosure form) and in 2001 listed $165,000 in loans from the University of Florida and University of Miami Law School.
As Rubio climbed the ranks, he began to use little-noticed political committees to fund his travel and other expenses and later had a Republican Party of Florida credit card.
What emerged, records show, is a pattern of blending personal and political spending. Over and over again Rubio proved sloppy, at best, in complying with disclosure requirements...

I've written before about the Florida Republicans - and it's looking like Republicans in general - have these bad personal AND political habits of spending like drunken teenagers in possession of their parents' credit cards.   Rubio's name came up often during these reports from 2010 and onward, and now that's he running for the Presidency the national media outlets are starting to dig into his past.

It's troubling how a politician from a party that hypes itself as fiscally responsible is himself a debt-riding hypocrite.  It's troubling because it's been made clear how Rubio plans on clearing that debt: using other's people money.  Feeding off deep-pocket sugar daddies whose money he can use to keep living the high life despite the weak regulations in place.  This is a man who received an $800,000 book advance and still went out and wasted the money on personal indulgences instead of taking care of his debts.

How the hell can we trust this man - trust anyone from the Republican ranks who view these political campaigns as money-making schemes - with our nation's economy?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Other Ways of Keeping Track of the 2016 Race To The White House

I've gotten to the point where I'm bored giving the major Presidential candidates a review of character traits to predict how they'd act in office.

I'm now at the point where I've pretty much confirmed the entire Republican field of potentials are all Active-Negatives and in the worst way.  And that they'll get worse because of their need to pander to the hardcore primary voting base, a voting base that will demand utter fealty to their issues of God, Guns, and Nuke Obamacare.

I'm tempted to go the way David Graham has done in the Atlantic: adding each name to an ongoing list with some updated reports on how bad they're doing.

I've decided to try this: listing each candidate by party, by how well they're doing and how they're supposed to be doing, comparing them to previous campaign figures, and which opposing candidate is their biggest threat - and who they threaten - and why.

And if anyone gets Graham's joke about Harold Stassen, congratulations!

The Republicans

Scott Walker - Governor, Wisconsin
How well he's doing: Currently at-top or near-top of most polls. However, is still the focus of the John Doe investigation, and his home state is starting to show signs of bad governance.
Compares with: Robert A. Taft, a hard-campaigning and hard-nosed GOP candidate from the Midwest for the Presidency back in the 1940s and 1950s.
His Biggest Threat: Jeb Bush.  The Establishment candidate is tied with him in most polls, and Jeb threatens to control the deep pockets running the primaries that Walker also covets.
He's a Threat To: Most other governor candidates on the list, especially Christie.  He's got the two-fer of re-election wins in an otherwise Democratic Blue state, which the campaigners think equals moderate appeal.  He's also a threat to Jeb, because Walker is the most coherent opponent who can actually campaign well among the Establishment fund-raisers and still appeal to Far Right voters wanting a "Populist" approach.
Odds to win: Currently the favorite not-Jeb candidate on the list, making him one of the three likeliest ones to win the nomination.  Winning the whole show, however, is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Jeb Bush - Governor, Florida
How well he's doing: Currently at-top or near-top of most polls. .
Compares with: George W. Bush.  Which should be repeated and reminded to the voters early and often.
His Biggest Threat: Scott Walker.  Walker leads him in some polls, and can well appeal to the deep pockets funding the SuperPACs now running the elections.
He's a Threat To: The field.  He's starting with the deepest war chest and one of the better-known names on the ballot.
Odds to win: Near-lock.  He's got the money, he's got the Establishment, he's got the name.  The only thing he doesn't have are the primary voters, who might either view him as a "soft" moderate or might recoil from the possibility of Yet Another Bush in the White House.  Winning the whole show, however, is still tricky even for the likes of Jeb because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.  And that there's no guarantee moderates will want Yet Another Bush come November.

Marco Rubio - Senator, Florida
How well he's doing: Currently at-top or near-top of most polls. His polls are genuinely surprising considering his competition, and he's pretty much the consensus "number two" guy - that is, the one candidate most voters would have as a second choice if their first choice guy flames out - across the board.  The party leadership is cottoning to the idea - which is still an illusion - that Rubio can appeal to needed Hispanic voters.
Compares with: John McCain in 2008, the "number two" guy back then who ended up winning because Romney turned out to be too plastic even for the GOP.
His Biggest Threat: Jeb Bush.  Jeb has most of the fund-raisers, and is also from Florida.
He's a Threat To: Ted Cruz, as a Hispanic candidate who actually takes issues serious.  Also a threat to most of the field as the "fresh" minority candidate, overturning decades of Republican habits to honor and nominated guys who made their bones.
Odds to win: Is the other favorite not-Jeb candidate on the list, making him one of the three likeliest ones to win the nomination.  Winning the whole show, however, is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Ben Carson - Doctor, Maryland or Michigan
How well he's doing: Currently near-top of most polls. However, his organization just got hit with bad news and what seems like serious mismanagement.
Compares with: Pat Robertson.  A non-politician who ran on religious issues.
His Biggest Threat: Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, both of whom are coming from the religious-conservative, anti-Obamacare side of the field.
He's a Threat To: Nobody.  His lack of campaign experience is already starting to show.
Odds to win: He's only this high because his name has been touted by the Far Right media ever since Carson derided Obamacare right in Obama's face.  Even if he turns it around and wins the nomination, winning the whole show is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Rand Paul - Senator, Kentucky
How well he's doing: Immaterial as long as he can keep his dad's Libertarian voting base energized for his campaign.  However, he's not doing so well finding deep pocket financiers.
Compares with: his own father Ron Paul, running on a pro-Gold Standard interventionist platform.
His Biggest Threat: Lindsey Graham, who is going to campaign on a Bomb Everyone foreign policy stance and make Paul look bad for the mostly Bomb Everyone voting base.
He's a Threat To: To be honest, almost nobody.  He's still something of a fringe candidate with a fringe faction.  His best chance is to impress primary voters that his non-interventionist stance is valid and that he's a serious small government politico.
Odds to win: It's unlikely.  Paul's best chance is that the rest of the ballot names flame out except for Jeb, which would make him the not-Jeb candidate the Far Right could embrace.  Past that, winning the whole show is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE LIBERTARIAN PLATFORM - banning government, banning fluid currency exchanges, banning sanity - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Ted Cruz - Senator, Texas
How well he's doing: Polling well but has fallen off the radar save for a bad insult aimed at Joe Biden during a death in Joe's famly.
Compares with: Strom Thurmond, a hypocritical obstructionist with a habit of calling for secession.
His Biggest Threat: Mike Huckabee.  Cruz wants to campaign on a strict pro-Christian social conservative message, but Huckabee owns that section of the market, and Huckabee is a good enough campaigner to give Cruz fits.
He's a Threat To: Everybody.  He's the one true Wild Card in this race, mostly because he can afford to throw bombs at everyone as an anti-government radical and get away with it.
Odds to win: Not that good, but Cruz is in a position to run the whole year and stick hard on the issues to where whoever does win will do so on the harshest Far Right platform ever.  Winning the whole show, however, is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Mike Huckabee - Governor, Arkansas
How well he's doing: He's in a troubled situation at the moment and maybe imploding.
Compares with: William Jennings Bryan, a Bible-thumping almost-ran.
His Biggest Threat: The top three names of Walker, Bush and Rubio.
He's a Threat To: Every religious-social conservative name on the ballot, especially Santorum who can not impress crowds the way Huck can.
Odds to win: Used to be a dark horse potential as a not-Jeb name with a solid audience.  His biggest problem is finding deep pockets to back him.  Siding with the Duggars over sexual abuse might lose him "values" voters who can't reconcile "forgiving" a sexual predator.  Even then, winning the whole show is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Chris Christie - Governor, New Jersey
How well he's doing: What day is it?  We're about due for another scandal in five days... no wait, four.
Compares with: Newt Gingrich, in terms of being an egotistic blowhard with a penchant for self-implosion.
His Biggest Threat: Everybody.
He's a Threat To: Right now, nobody.  If Christie had kept his nose clean and toned down on the bullying tactics, he'd be a serious threat on the ballot and making both Walker and Bush nervous.
Odds to win: Dropping down an ocean trench.  The Bridgegate scandal is sticking around, and more scandals are piling up.  He won't even have to worry about winning the whole show because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Donald Trump - CEO, New York
How well he's doing: All he has are his own deep pockets and the fact he's polling over two percent simply because of name recognition.
Compares with: Steve Forbes.
His Biggest Threat: Ted Cruz.
He's a Threat To: Nobody.  Of the clowns on the GOP stage, he's the one with the most makeup and the biggest shoes.  He's mostly been a blowhard against Obama and liberals in general, and doesn't have anything new to bring to the table in terms of leadership.
Odds to win: Laughable.  If there are any media types taking him serious outside of his friends on Fox Not News, I haven't seen it.  He's nowhere near winning the whole show, especially because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Rick Perry - Governor, Texas
How well he's doing: He's actually going to make another try?
Compares with: Andrew Johnson, the least intelligent man ever in the White House.
His Biggest Threat: Keeping track of more than two things at a time.
He's a Threat To: Have another meltdown during a live debate.
Odds to win: Yeah, it's like that.  Even coming from a major state like Texas isn't gonna help, and it's still gonna be tricky if he even lucks into the nomination because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

John Kasich - Governor, Ohio
How well he's doing: Hasn't really gotten in yet, and it's not looking good despite his solid conservative resume.
Compares with: Scott Walker, which isn't good for Kasich since Walker is running this year.
His Biggest Threat: Walker, obviously.  Pretty much all the other big names who are crowding the stage.
He's a Threat To: Nearly every other Governor - former or sitting - in this race.  His leadership record, while intolerable to Democrats, hits every item on the GOP checklist while showing few signs of bad performance that the likes of Christie and Jindal show.  Only Walker has no reason to fear him, except that Ohio is a more key state for the GOP to win than Wisconsin (which is more likely to again go Blue in 2016).  If he finds a sugar daddy, performs well in any debates that invite him, and makes a serious go during the primaries, he might sneak up on people.
Odds to win: Incredibly low, but only because none of the real powers in the GOP - Fox Not News and the SuperPACs - take him serious.  Winning the whole show, however, is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Rick Santorum - Senator, Pennsylvania
How well he's doing: He's still not a name you should Google.
Compares with: Harold Stassen.  Yes, by sheer fact that this is Santorum's third go at the big chair.
His Biggest Threat: Huckabee.
He's a Threat To: Nobody.  His best chance was 2012 when he emerged as the last-standing not-Mitt candidate.  This year, Huckabee and Cruz have all his mojo.
Odds to win: His chances are/were/remain long gone.  His only advantage is that he's got one deep pocket backing him.  Winning the whole show, however, is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Carly Fiorina - CEO, California
How well she's doing: Well, she hasn't dropped out yet.
Compares with: Steve Forbes.  I can't compare her to Wendell Willkie because Willkie actually had a chance.
Her Biggest Threat: Any other female Republican - other than Sarah Palin (headdesk) - who decides to make a run.
She's a Threat To: In theory, Hillary Clinton, as the only other female candidate.  Thing is, Fiorina won't even make it to second round.
Odds to win: Laughable.  Winning the whole show, however, is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Lindsey Graham - Senator, South Carolina
How well he's doing: He just started fear-mongering this week.  Give it time.
Compares with: John McCain as the Foreign Policy Senator expert.
His Biggest Threat: All of them.  He's not polling very high.
He's a Threat To: Rand Paul.  He's a direct counter to Paul's anti-interventionist stance.
Odds to win: Unlikely despite the long political career and paying of dues.  Winning the whole show, however, is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

Bobby Jindal - Governor, Louisiana
How well he's doing: Poorly.  His name's been out there for seven years as a potential and he's not even polling over two percent.
Compares with: Tim Pawlenty, a campaigner from 2012 who made no in-roads or impressed anybody.
His Biggest Threat: Everybody.
He's a Threat To: Nobody.  Rubio has the non-white cred, Cruz the crazy wingnut cred, Huckabee the religious voters, Jeb the money, Walker the reputation.
Odds to win: Long gone.  Even Republicans in his own state are bad-mouthing him every chance they get.  He's nowhere near pushing the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - THAT IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

George Pataki - Governor, New York
How well he's doing: Hasn't officially announced yet.  And when he does, he's not expected to poll over one percent.
Compares with: Thomas Dewey.  You know, the one who beat Truman in an alternate universe.
His Biggest Threat: All of them.
He's a Threat To: Nobody.  Despite a solid political career, no-one is expecting him to make much of a difference in this primary season.  How bad is it for him?  I forgot what his first name is, had to look it up.
Odds to win: He's barely even in contention for the Vice-President spot. He's a possibility if Jeb or Rubio or Cruz - from Southern states - need to balance out the geography on the ticket.  Winning the whole show, however, is gonna be tricky because the ENTIRE REPUBLICAN PLATFORM - banning abortion, banning immigrants, banning diplomacy, banning free will - IS REPELLENT TO MOST VOTERS.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton - Senator, New York
How well she's doing: Despite the concern-trolling of the mainstream media, Hillary remains the frontrunner across the entire board.
Compares with: LBJ in 1964.
Her Biggest Threat: In theory, any of the candidates that can appeal most to the Far Left voters in the primary.  In practice, the only one that even looked like potential - Elizabeth Warren - refuses to run, and even she wasn't that serious a threat.  There isn't a solid Obama-esque candidate of charisma and destiny that can top her.
She's a Threat To: The entire field.  She can bitch-slap - maybe I should rephrase that - every single candidate in BOTH parties right now and get home in time to watch Orphan Black.
Odds to win: There are no certainties, obviously.  It was hers to lose in 2008, as well.  If she falters somehow, or if a genuine scandal rolls up that isn't manufactured by the Vast Right Wing Noise Machine, then maybe...

Bernie Sanders - Senator, Vermont
How well he's doing: Surprisingly well as a fund-raiser, despite the lack of respect from the major news sources.
Compares With: Dennis Kucinich, except that Sanders is serious about the issues in a way Kucinich never was.
Biggest Threat: Hillary.  There is no-one that's a threat from the Left because Bernie's THE Left.
He's a Threat To: Hillary, as her most vocal opponent on the issues involving Wall Street and the pro-business forces that make up the Centrist Democratic faction.  He's a threat to everyone else in the Democratic ballot because he's got a head start as the major not-Hillary name.
Odds to win: It's good, but Hillary is honestly the Juggernaut of candidates this election cycle, something that hasn't been seen in decades.  Sanders is mostly in this race to make certain that key issues for Democrats - good jobs, ending inequality, regulating banks, fixing broken government - are discussed and that Hillary is on board with most of that.

Joe Biden - Vice-President, Delaware
How well he's doing: Hasn't announced, but is known to be keen on running as he's finally got a big enough platform - running on the legacy of the Obama administration - to give him a chance.
Compares with: Bush the Elder, a dues-paying guy who ran as Veep on the legacy of his boss Reagan.
Biggest Threat: Hillary.  She can run on the legacy of her husband Bill... AND run on the legacy of Obama's administration having served as Sec of State.
He's a Threat To: Most of the second-tier names on the ballot.  He can be a threat to Hillary if Obama goes public to back him (which is unlikely as Obama will want a unified party to rally quickly to one name and one cause).
Odds to Win: Not really there, even if he decides to run.  Previous campaigns fell flat because while his resume looks good he's not that impressive a campaigner.  It's not even looking like he could run, and he's been coping with recent personal tragedy that might hurt his focus.

Martin O'Malley - Governor, Maryland
How Well He's Doing: Started off slow, and is lagging behind Sanders at the moment.
Compares With: John Edwards in 2004.  Not the 2008 Edwards, who... oh God, what a mess that was.
Biggest Threat: Hillary.
He's a Threat To: Most of the field as the early name given to run as the not-Hillary choice as far back as 2012 (post-Obama win). He's almost a threat to Hillary in that he's the one candidate the media will likely take serious - unlike Sanders, who's been deemed to radical to win - except that O'Malley hasn't shown he can be an Obama-esque opponent.
Odds to Win: At the moment O'Malley doesn't have anything to crow about.  It depends on how fast he can get his national campaign set up and if he can impress early enough in the primaries to prove he can go all the way.

Jim Webb - Governor, Virginia
How Well He's Doing: Hasn't officially announced yet, but could get there.
Compares with: Eugene McCarthy of 1968, a harsh critic of an unpopular war (Vietnam for McCarthy, Iraq for Webb).
Biggest Threat: Hillary
He's a Threat To: On paper, he's a respectable enough candidate to put everyone on edge.  He has military experience no other candidate has, and some electoral experience that shows campaign skills.  What Webb doesn't have is a national identity, and an early history dismissive of women in the military still haunts him (against Hillary as a solid Presidential candidate, it can ruin his run).
Odds to Win: Not good.  As noted, Webb doesn't have a strong campaign background and can well flame out over a blunt exchange of views.  He might get consideration as a Veep candidate, but only if it's Hillary and he comes public regretting his earlier anti-women statement.

Lincoln Chafee - Governor, Rhode Island
How Well He's Doing: Why even ask?
Compares with: Nelson Rockefeller.  A liberal Republican.  ...Yes, they did exist, once...
Biggest Threat: Both O'Malley can trump him with a better governorship record, and Sanders trumping him with a better Leftist standing with the base.
He's a Threat To: Nobody.  He thinks he can campaign against Hillary on her Iraq war vote, but past that there's nothing else he brings to the table that Sanders and O'Malley already do.
Odds to Win: Why even ask?

The Unaffiliated

Paul Wartenberg - Librarian, Florida
How well I'm doing: I've got maybe 7, 10 people tops saying they'll vote for me.
Compares with: That guy, no that other guy, you know, the one without any SuperPAC paying for the petition registrations and ad campaigns.  Yeah.  I'm just like that guy.
My Biggest Threat: Someone with enough money to pay their own way.
I'm a Threat To: Fictional characters in my head.  In some of my stories, I gotta kill off certain characters to show how serious and deadly the situation is and why the hero has to save the day.  It's a sad truth of writers in the scifi/fantasy/political thriller/cookery genres.
Odds to Win: You never know, I could get lucky...

So, how's your campaign efforts going?