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Eric Ferguson

Obamacare trutherism is a thing

by Eric Ferguson on April 18, 2014 · 3 comments

It's a conspiracy!Yes, Obamacare trutherism is a thing. Conservatives don’t believe it can possibly work, so all the good news is lie. There’s the national version, that the numbers are made up, and in Minnesota we have our own version, that MNSure was bailed out by the state.
Probably many reasonable people are also incredulous at the idea Obamacare worked, because the pundit class and the beltway media joined the conservative bubble in trumpeting everything that went wrong, except the Medicaid gap; they were happy to ignore that. Reasonable people, however, will eventually figure out there wasn’t a disaster (hopefully before election day). Conservatives are off in full-throated denial after their media and politicians spent years telling them Obamacare is a disaster, already failed, lost in a death spiral, blah de blah — and now turns out Obamacare failed to fail. Even works now. Bad enough the predictions of failure were wrong, but conservative media often announced it had failed, and how can anybody be so stupid as to not see that? So the numbers must be all fake!
Yeah, um, about that. Let’s see if I can help any conservatives browsing by (let’s play concern troll!), and who buy the notion that Obama’s numbers are so fake you’d think he was trying to sell an invasion of Iraq. How can you tell if the numbers are real? Regarding the Census Bureau changing some questions, you could send a journalist to actually ask them for details. Granted, that would require having some journalists, so that’s a tough one for conservatives. Still, then you could find out they’ve been working on these revisions since before Obamacare and testing for a few years, so comparisons will be apples to apples. Nothing hidden there.


Nienow decides responding to lawsuit is optional

by Eric Ferguson on April 3, 2014 · 0 comments

32NienowSome people respond to personally difficult situations by avoiding the other party to the situation. Due dates get ignored, messages get ignored, and sometimes even subpoenas get ignored. That last one is pretty bad. Thus why the Small Business Administration (SBA) is seeking default judgment against state Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge.
The local media have been reporting that the federal government, in the form of the SBA, is seeking default judgement against Nienow for failing to repay about $750,000 in principle, interest, and fees on a loan the SBA gave him in 2009. However, they haven’t really explained “default judgement” to readers (unless I missed it, which is possible), and I get a feeling no one has explained it to Sen. Nienow, else he surely would have shown up in court. It doesn’t mean a judgement that he defaulted on a loan, though that’s pretty much the point of the lawsuit against him. A default judgement is something the plaintiff asks for from the judge when the defendant doesn’t show up to court, hasn’t been negotiating, and apparently hasn’t been answering the phone or the e-mail, whatever means the SBA has been trying. Plaintiffs request default judgement when it’s able to show the defendants aren’t trying to settle and are showing contempt for the judicial process, such as by not showing up in court.
Apparently Nienow isn’t just avoiding the SBA and the plaintiff in an earlier lawsuit, but he’s avoiding the press too. Though not entirely. KSTP TV managed to find him and get him to stand still a short time somehow, and kudos to KSTP for not softballing the interview. They have Nienow dodging the questions, including a rather obvious one. What happened to the money he borrowed? He’s paid back almost none of it, so where is it?


Happy Obamacare Schadenfreude Day!

by Eric Ferguson on April 1, 2014 · 2 comments

Bigtime Obamacare schadenfreude. You earned it, if you’re among those who helped politicians who supported health care reform try to get reelected; if you did your bit to make it work, if you swallowed hard when the ACA wasn’t what you wanted but it was all that could pass and it would help a lot of people. Go ahead and watch the whole thing and drink in the montage of always wrong and always certain conservatives announcing Obamacare’s “death spiral” over and over and … you get the point. Rachel Maddow was hilarious.
Obamacare will meet the original projection of seven million people signing up through the exchanges (to dash the hopes of anyone hoping the April 1 publishing date gives hope it’s false, this came out March 31st). The CBO lowered the projection to six million reasonably projecting that rollout problems made the original projection unreachable. Nobody expected seven million, and “nobody” means nobody; not the CBO, not the Obama administration, not reform advocates. Oh yeah, Republicans were off by about seven million. Their response, as with other things they don’t want to believe, as Maddow puts it with hands over her ears, “la la la la la”.
For a bonus, yesterday it turned out the likely number of previously uninsured people newly insured thanks to Obamacare is 9.5 million. It would have been millions more if the Supreme Court hadn’t stupidly permitted the Medicaid gap, and if Republican state governments hadn’t created it by cruelly denying the Medicaid expansion to their low income residents too poor for the health insurance subsidies.
Such stupidity and cruelty deserves no pity as you enjoy Rachel Maddow and her signage:


Minimum wage amendment a defensible idea

by Eric Ferguson on March 30, 2014 · 3 comments

WAGE-color-3-col-1024x852Let’s just clear up at the start that the headline is definitely lukewarm. “Defenisble” is not a hearty defense. There’s a case but it’s not a slam-dunk; less than obvious; maybe 55-45 rather than 100%. But let’s think about an amendment before reflexively saying no.


Let’s also look past motivations. Maybe it’s really “trolling”, as Tony Petrangelo suggests. that will become obvious if the DFL Senate leaders back off a constitutional amendment when it looks like it might actually happen. Representatives, as I’ve heard some of them say, are quite conscious that they’re up for reelection and will have a tough time explaining why nothing passed. Senators, judging from their actions, seem oblivious of this fact. Maybe the tension between the houses will stop anything from happening, but let’s pretend that they really do want the best policy, and they want to help their party in the next election. Just to be clear that this isn’t a case of having to decide what’s best for the party contrasting with what’s best for the public, this is a case where the policy is best for both. That’s what drives Democrats nuts when Democratic elected officials don’t jump all over a minimum wage increase. “Good policy is good politics”, remember? It’s incredibly popular and a great necessity for our economy, so why is this even a contention between Democrats? Yet it is. So let’s think about a constitutional amendment.

This is the proposed amendment:


State Rep. Mike Beard, R-55A, just announced he won’t run for reelection this year. If you’re wondering about “Minnesota’s Most Distinguished House Member”, that announcement comes from his county GOP. He’s leaving and his local party says something nice about him on the way out, so, fine. A bit more striking was this bit, “As a ‘Citizen Legislator’ in the Minnesota House, Beard’s decision not to seek another term was quite simple. He wants to devote more time to his wife, Karen, his children, and to his growing family of grandchildren.”
It’s a cliche that politicians retiring or resigning cite a desire to spend more time with family, whatever the real cause. When it’s sudden, at a weird time, usually something bad is going on. That’s more obvious when bad news has broken already. “What about that recording of you taking a bribe?” “Can’t take questions now, just want to announce that I’m stepping down to spend more time with family, much of which will be devoted to avoiding discussion of bribery allegations.” Not to say it’s never real, but the real ones usually have a detail, like a family member has a debilitating condition and the politician is going to be a full-time caregiver. So Beard’s grandchildren suddenly need him to leave the legislature? He can finish the term, but then the need for babysitting becomes that urgent? Um, OK, sure. But how weird Beard announced it now, when the 55A endorsing convention was Feb. 22nd. Didn’t Beard already have grandchildren when he knew the caucuses and convention were coming up? When the Scott County GOP got done sending out the announcement, I imagine they engaged in some fully justified cursing.
Oh well, more time with family, sure. I guess if Beard doesn’t run for anything else, I don’t care to do any digging. I’m more interested in whether this suddenly open seat is winnable. Beard won in 2012 55-45. Mitt Romney won 52-46. However, DFLer Kathy Busch won the State Senate seat 51-48, and Amy Klobuchar won 60-35. Becky Kelso once held a House seat in the same area as 55A, so this is a red district, but a purplish red. The 55A DFL already endorsed Jay Whiting, a member of the Shakopee City Council. His race just got a bit more winnable, given that open seats are usually easier than trying to defeat incumbents. Unless there’s a scandal. No scandal here though. Just a sudden overwhelming general need to spend more time with family.


Stop fighting about global warming

by Eric Ferguson on March 12, 2014 · 8 comments

typhoon-philippines-haiyanLet me be clear as possible about that headline. No, don’t stop fighting global warming. Don’t stop trying to do something about it. Yes, stop fighting about it. Stop wasting time with science deniers. That means stop arguing with the crazy uncle at family gatherings and the dittohead at the watercooler. Don’t let the trolls hijack the comment threads and cause you to frustrate yourself trying to convince the unconvincible.

Why stop? Did the urgency of global warming suddenly go away like a melting glacier in a time lapse film? No. Not a bit. The urgency is actually an argument to stop trying to persuade those who have required us to learn terms like epistemic closure, motivated reasoning, and debunking blowback effect. We don’t have time to waste on the minority that will never be convinced even if the prairies become home to cacti and the lizards who served as monsters in early 50′s schlocky sci-fi. The keyword there is “minority”. That’s right, in terms of getting the public to accept that global warming is real, we’ve already won. True, it’s a minority with loads of fossil fuel industry money and a major political party under its thumb, but we already have the sort of majority that usually means you’re going to win politically. Clearly that majority hasn’t been enough, which means we have to change something we’ve been doing, like, say, spinning our wheels in pointless arguments with deniers.


Cuba sanctions sustained by inertia

by Eric Ferguson on March 4, 2014 · 4 comments

Really, it’s inertia. Why do we maintain sanctions on Cuba? Because we maintain sanctions on Cuba.


That might sound trite on first reading, but we’re not maintaining sanctions because the American public demands it. The public favors normalization. A majority of all Americans support normalization, an even bigger majority of Floridians, and a majority of each party support normalizing. The Floridians were more heavily polled because one assumption about Cuba policy is you don’t back off sanctions because the Florida Cubans are one-issue voters who can swing a big swing state.  It used to be that conservative Cubans seemed to run our Cuba policy, but the results in Florida suggest that “conservative Cubans” isn’t a redundancy anymore. Younger Cubans might be voting like other Hispanics, and there are increasing numbers of non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida, in case anyone wondered why Florida Republicans now aim their voter suppression at Hispanics as well as blacks. So that’s not what’s sustaining sanctions on Cuba.


Is it the recalcitrant support of the leftover cold warriors? You might assume so, given that surely they would scream if Obama moved to normalize relations with Cuba, but anyone thinking Obama is upholding sanctions just because he’s in the grip of the people stuck in 1970 needs to notice the cold warriors’ complaint that Obama never listens to them and does everything wrong. Obama’s base hasn’t agreed with everything Obama has done, but the cold warriors are partly right, Obama doesn’t follow their advice. That he does everything wrong, well, that’s coming from people who backed Bush Jr., so they lost the credibility to speak on foreign policy ever again.


With no constituency for sanctions that anyone needs to listen to, what maintains  the sanctions? Inertia. We’re maintaining sanctions because they’re there and we’re busy with other things. Really, if you list the most important issues, where does Cuba rank? I’m guessing all readers can get to double digits on that list easily without Cuba being there. Just narrow the list to foreign policy, and Cuba probably still doesn’t reach the top ten. Ukraine is currently a crisis, I’ve seen press reports suggesting Syria is still holding much of the administration’s time, we still have a lot of troops in Afghanistan, and do I need to go on? Congress might be ignoring Cuba because the House Republicans are working on nothing but their eighth investigation of Benghazi, 15th investigation of Solyndra, and 863rd repeal of Obamacare, but the administration is just plain busy. Obama inherited crises and it’s been one thing after another.


So why give Cuba attention? Partly because public opinion has shifted, though that doesn’t make it smart, just politically acceptable. Republicans will go nuts, but that’s true no matter what Obama does. There are really two reasons, one practical, and one crisis-management.


The practical is that the sanctions haven’t worked. They may even have blown back by allowing the Castros to easily convince the Cuban public the US is out to get them, and given the pre-revolution relations between our countries, that’s an easy sell. Meanwhile, we have normal relations with lots of dictatorships. We recognize how the dictators run things, with repression of dissidents and sham elections,  but we exchange ambassadors, have normal trade relations, and allow travel. Since what we’re doing with Cuba isn’t working, do something else. And yes, trade. That’s part of what motivates support for normalization. I doubt Cuba is big enough to have noticeable effect on the US economy, but if that’s what it takes to overturn a pointless policy, OK.


By crisis-management, I actually mean avoiding crises rather than resolving them. Cuba isn’t a crisis, and it should be a relatively simple problem. We’ve normalized relations with other dictatorships we thoroughly disliked. Some cold warriors didn’t want to normalize relations with Vietnam either, but now it’s just another country, not one where we have ongoing hostility and the possibility of shooting. Cuba should be easier to resolve since we haven’t actually fought a long war there. Normalize before we have a problem with the Cuban government deploying troops where we much prefer they not, or before they approach another major power about having a base nice and close to the US. Both of those, bear in mind, have happened before.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not suggesting the president can just wave his hand and it’s done. Part of our sanctions on Cuba is legislative, which means congressional action, which younger folks understandably suspect to be a myth. But what Obama can do to normalize relations, he should.


So now that the public is looking at the situation more realistically, and we’re momentarily between Cuba-crises, normalize to get this problem off our plates.  Even if it makes Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio rant. Actually, that would be a nice bonus.


DFL caucuses outdrew MNGOP

by Eric Ferguson on February 28, 2014 · 2 comments

The DFL outdrew the state Republicans at the Feb. 4th caucuses, roughly 14,500 to 14,100. That’s actually a big deal. If you’re shrugging at that because there are more Democrats, so they should have a bit bigger turnout, not really. Yes, there are more Democrats, but what draws people to caucuses are contests for public office. Caucuses, at least on the DFL side, also elect precinct officers and start the process of building the party platform — and I’m a big believer in face time for building a strong grassroots, as are apparently other people who turned out without a high profile contest. Still, let’s admit it, attendance tends to rise or fall with the contests for public office. That’s why the MNGOP should have had much higher turnout.


The DFL currently holds every statewide office, and all are up for reelection except Amy Klobuchar’s US Senate seat. The incumbents are running unopposed except Mark Ritchie, who isn’t seeking reelection as secretary of state. So we do have a contest between two strong campaigns for state reps. Steve Simon and Debra Hilstrom, and they did their best to get supporters to turn out. But still, that’s just secretary of state, which matters when a partisan SOS is trying to interfere with voting instead facilitating it, but it doesn’t get many people excited. Besides, the GOP has a contest for SOS too, and for everything else, including governor and US Senator.


As if that weren’t enough, Republicans have more contests for Congress, and I’m presuming they have more State House races since they have a minority of seats going in. Now add in that the non-presidential party is generally more motivated in midterm elections, and everything points to much higher turnout for the MNGOP. So even for the DFL to be close is really surprising.


mining-pollutionPossibly you read this editorial in the Star Tribune on a State House hearing on Polymet’s proposed copper-nickel mine. If so, you saw this description of the beginning of the hearing, “DFL Rep. Jean Wagenius, chairwoman of the House committee holding it, was in the midst of her opening statement when she was asked by a Republican legislator to justify the need for the hearing.” You can see that moment on the video from The Uptake. The video is embedded below. That moment is about 9:20 into the video, the Republican legislator was Paul Torkelson, 16B (Hanska), and he jumped in when Jess Richards of the DNR was beginning his testimony.
The way Torkelson got around to asking his question is … odd. This would be a good time for some disclosure, specifically that Wagenius represents 63B, and I happen to be the chair of the DFL of SD63, a resident of her House district, and I know her. So if someone wants to assume I have a bias, that would be fair, though that’s a reason I’m linking to and embedding the video. View the part I’m describing and judge for yourself.


kurt-daudtState House minority leader Kurt Daudt was on MPR’s Daily Circuit Thursday, appearing with Speaker Paul Thissen. MPR has covered the story about Daudt deciding he needed a gun to go look shopping for a Bronco on its web site, but not on the air, at least not that I could find searching the MPR web site. The opportunity presented with Daudt in the studio was not taken. I’m sure Daudt would have danced around the issue, proclaiming the legality of having a loaded gun or his right to have a gun, but at least it seems Kerry Miller needed to ask the question: why did you carry a gun to go shopping for a truck? Or SUV, however a Bronco is classified. As a follow up, why was it loaded and accessible to a passenger who had already had trouble with the law?
I’m not suggesting Miller let Daudt off the hook on everything. She did call him a couple times on his repetition of the typical GOP blather about MNSure. Paraphrasing, “Some people’s premiums went up, so MNSUre is a miserable failure!” “Didn’t they have crap plans that covered bugger-all and now they have actual insurance?” “Why isn’t it enough to just hate Obamacare? Stop with all these facts!” Daudt did get a bit of rough time, getting called on false claims by Thissen and by callers.
So I’m not saying it was a creampuff interview. I am saying the elephant in the room was ignored. Maybe the reason for ignoring it was there was a previous agreement that questions would stay strictly on the upcoming session, which yes, was the point of the program (to be clear, I’m speculating, and have no idea what they agreed to or if MPR makes such agreements with guests); or I can imagine this would have been awkward: “Rep. Daudt, why were you recklessly placing an innocent family in danger of being shot by an idiot with the gun you handled with gross irresponsibility, and Mr. Speaker, shouldn’t the bonding bill be larger with interest rates so low?” Yeah, the MNGOP would have flipped over that one. Still, the fact remains, one guest tucked a loaded gun under the passenger seat, and the other didn’t. Balance really isn’t possible without ignoring the obvious.