Category Archives: Elections

Foreign Elections — French Edition

On Sunday, French voters will go to the polls in the first round of their presidential election.  There are several key differences between the U.S. and France.  First, the French have more than two main political parties.  Out of the eleven candidates running, at least five represent significant political groupings.  Second, the French president is elected by popular vote.  Third, if no candidate gets a majority of the popular vote (likely based on current polls), there will be a run-off.  Fourth, the center of French politics is significantly further to the left than U.S. politics.  While folks try to put things in U.S. terms, the best way to view it is that the top five is like Donald Trump, John Kasich,  Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and someone to the left of Bernie Sanders, and even the Donald Trump candidate is more liberal on fiscal issues than President Trump.

Of course, what is the same is the existence of the National Front — an organization that Donald Trump loves.  As it’s name implies, the National Front is a xenophobic party opposed to French membership in the European Union and the Islamic influence in France.  It is also pro-Putin.  The National Front typically polls somewhere in the teens.  While this has historically been enough for the National Front to contend for run-off slots (both in Presidential and Parliamentary elections), the National Front is so far out of the mainstream of French politics that it normally loses most of those run-off elections (it only holds two seats in the outgoing French Parliament.)  In this election, the National Front is (again) running Marine Le Pen — daughter of the founder of the National Front and its leader since dear old dad retired.

There are some signs that the far right nationalist views of the National Front are making gains in France.  There is a symbiotic relationship between ultranationalist candidates like Le Pen and Trump on the one side and Islamic fundamentalist terror groups like ISIS.  Each terror attack make the law and order and anti-Islam messages of the ultranationalist sound like the only option that voters have if they want security.  However, that very anti-Islam message feeds into discrimination against Muslims who are native-born citizens.  Young Muslims feeling rejected by their own country then turn to leaders who call for a return to an era when Islam was dominant and promote violence as a means to that end.  When these young people follow through on that call and engage in acts of terror, the cycle begins again.   Given a spate of terror incidents on the eve of the election, the National Front may pick up an extra couple of percent in the first round of the election.

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Why Vote? Seven Reasons

Why vote? I get asked this a lot.

Especially in an odd year like 2017.

Where to start?

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Special Elections — Kansas Edition

As I write this post, the results are coming in for the special election in the Fourth District of Kansas.  While the election has been close all night, it now appears that, by a very narrow majority, the Republicans will keep this seat.   This seat is the first of four special elections to fill vacancies in seats formally held by Republicans who are now serving in the Trump Administration.  (There is also a special election to fill a Democratic seat formerly held by the new Attorney General of California — who was appointed to that office after the previous A.G. won the U.S. Senate seat last fall.  The primary for that seat was held earlier and two Democrats advanced to the runoff.)

It is hard to tell whether this seat was close because of the unpopularity of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback — a stellar example of why the Freedom Caucus’s plan for government is a roadmap for a complete disaster — or the unpopularity of President Trump.  The Republican candidate is the current State Treasurer and as such is unable to avoid association with Governor Brownback’s reckless scheme to bankrupt Kansas.  And Donald Trump will probably claim that his assistance via a last minute robocall saved this seat.

The bigger question is what this close race means going forward.  In the last two elections, the Republicans won this seat by 30%.  This race looks like a final margin between 4-8%.  That type of swing if replicated across the country would lead to a Democratic majority in the next Congress.  In the shorter term, the question is whether this result can be replicated in next week’s special election in Georgia or the upcoming elections in May and June in South Carolina and Montana.  With the exception of the Georgia seat, even if a Democrat wins the special election, these seats are going to be difficult for a Democrat to hold in 2018.  Having a Democratic incumbent in these seats would, however, require the Republicans to devote a significant level of resources to get them back, making it easier for us to pick up seats elsewhere.  More importantly, if the Democrats can keep these races close and even win some, it is going to increase the jitters of Republicans in lean Republican seats.  During the Obama Administration, it was easy for Republicans to just say no and not have to accept responsibility for the gridlock in D.C.  The Republicans are now fully in charge and are responsible for getting things done.  The problem for Republicans in Congress is that the American people do not want what the Republican Party wants — even the voters in Republican seats do not want what the Republican Party wants.  That puts Republican Representatives on the hot seat.  They can either tell their Republican colleagues to slow down and take a second look at things or they can follow Speaker Ryan and President Trump like lemmings to their downfall in the 2018 election.  My hunch is that, like most politicians, the Republican members of Congress are tuned into their own survival.  The warning signs from the 4th district of Kansas this week and the 6th district of Georgia next week is going to make it very difficult for President Trump and Speaker Ryan to get their plans through Congress.

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Health Care 2019

Barring something unexpected, as discussed in Doc Jess’s post, the major action for the rest of this Congress on health care is likely to be at the administrative level with Tom Price doing his best to undermine the Affordable Care Act.  However, there have been some unanticipated holes that have developed over the past seven years that do need to be fixed.  As such, if Democrats regain control of the House and Senate in 2019 what issues should they be looking to address.

At the top of my list is the Medicaid expansion hole.  Back in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states did not have to participate in the Medicaid expansion.  The Affordable Care Act assumed that every state was going to participate in the expansion and only provided for subsidies for those who did not qualify for Medicaid.   When a significant number of states opted to not expand Medicaid coverage, this created a group who earned to much to sign up for Medicaid, but too little to get subsidies to purchase insurance.  The obvious fix is to expand the subsidies to cover this gap group.

The second issue concerns the exchanges.  Again, the Affordable Care Act assumed that most (if not all) states would opt to set up exchanges just on principles of state autonomy.  (Why would Republicans who complain about the feds taking over the insurance market let the feds take over the insurance market in their states?)  It turned out that Republicans in the state wanted the symbolism of resisting more than actual local control.  This problem offers a chance to offer the Republicans a two-edged sword.  The Republicans complain that one of the problems with health insurance is that companies are unable to offer policies that cross state lines.  (Placing the blame on regulations is not accurate, and the biggest restraint on such policies is the need of insurance companies to have deals with the local hospitals.)  So I would offer up for discussion an exemption for policies offered on the federal exchange.  If a state does not have its own exchange, policies on the federal exchange will be exempt from state regulations and will only be subject to federal regulations.   If a state wants to regulate those policies, it can take over the exchange.  If not, a state will not be permitted to sues state regulations to obstruct the federal exchange.  My hunch says that the states will not opt to set up their own exchanges and that the exemption of insurance companies from state regulations will not increase the number of policies that cross state lines.

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Hate in America

Last night, we in Philly heard that hundreds of headstones were turned over Saturday night at a Jewish cemetery, a week after similar vandalism in St. Louis. Many people are saddened, appalled and surprised. They should be sad and appalled, but not surprised. This is Trump’s America.

I have been working with Indivisible locally, and I am heartened by the number of people completely new to politics who are suddenly aware, and ready to take action to both resist the Trump agenda, and help elect people who will serve America, and not what is actually the Bannon administration.

I keep hearing two themes through my work with Indivisible. First, people are concerned about what they can do to stop hate. And by “hate” I mean not just the vandalism, but the verbal abuse people see foisted upon innocent people, just for the colour of their skin,  The ICE roundups are another form of hate: people question what they can do to help those who will be caught up in the dragnets. Hate also in the form of the administration’s moves against sick people (“repeal Obamacare” and dismantle Medicaid), Hate in the form of transgender bathroom rights. I’m a doctor, and I’m telling you, the only thing that matters is that you wash your hands. (If you’re a long-term reader, you remember back to SARS and fingers, nails, fingers, fingers, fingers.) And let’s not forget the hate of literacy in terms of claiming the media is the “enemy of the people”.  The hate is creeping down from the Cheeto Team, and up from the GOP state legislatures.

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The End

This year’s elections saw a lot of unusual, unexpected, and unprecedented developments.  So nobody should be shocked at any unexpected developments when the electoral college meets on Monday.  Having said that, Democratic activists have been barking up the wrong tree by emphasizing the national popular vote.  The reason why this strategy was guaranteed to backfire is the nature of the electoral college.

The electors are not randomly chosen people.  They are local politicians and activists who are nominated by their state party.  In short, they are not the people who are likely to surrender control of the White House to the other party.  By the rules that are currently in place, the Republicans have won the White House.  So while, the Constitution, theoretically, allows these electors to vote for Hillary, practically these electors will not vote for Hillary.

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Audit vs. Recount

Over the last two weeks, there has been much discussion of the recounts requested by the Green Party in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.   Some of this request is based on discrepancies in results depending upon the type of voting technology use, but others think that those discrepancies can be explained by the demographics of the counties.  Historically, the gap in the states in which the recounts are being requested is larger than the typical swing from a recount.

What these requests do demonstrate is the need for a regular and public audit process for the election.  Many states do have an audit or verification process, but it needs to be public.  (One of the few states that do have such a process is Arizona which not only does an audit but requires the counties to submit the results to the state and the state publishes that information on-line.)   Saying that there should be an audit does not however define what a proper audit should do.

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Protecting Democracy

democracy-header1Every day, more nominees. I never thought I’d actually be rooting for Mittens so there will be at least one adult in the room.

If you’d told me that “President of these United States” was an entry-level elected position, I would have laughed.

Who could have predicted that the Weekly World News would have gotten more right over its years of publication than what is shown on most news stations. (At the very end of this post is the best story EVER about the Weekly World News.)

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Early Post-Mortem

This election is a bitter pill to swallow because everybody got it wrong.  Apparently even the internal polls of the RNC in the last week of the campaign showed Secretary Clinton ahead.  At the end of the day, President-elect Trump managed to avoid shooting himself in the foot just long enough during the last two weeks for Republicans who were telling pollsters that they were voting for Governor Johnson or were undecided to hold their noses and come back home.  Certainly, the polls with two weeks to go encouraged the Clinton campaign to dream about states that they could go into and help Democrats in down ballot races.  The perception that Clinton would win in some ways gave permission for Republicans to hold their noses and vote for Trump to keep the margin down and for Democrats to cast protest votes for third party candidates.

It’s also a bitter pill because the race got very personal.  Since the election, I have gotten e-mails from local activists about the issues that the party needs to address.  On most of the issues, there was a plan on that issue from the Clinton campaign.  The issues, however, never got aired as the campaign focused on the flaws of the two candidates.    I don’t think that the choice of the Democratic candidate mattered on this aspect of the campaign.  In the primary, Trump also ran a very personality based campaign, slandering his opponents and coming up with labels to characterize the rest of the Republican candidates.   Certain issues that were mentioned in the DNC WikiLeaks memos were not good issues for a Democratic primary but would have proven useful tools for the Trump campaign in the general election.  Trump was such a big personality and so uniquely “not ready” to be President, it is hard to see how any Democratic campaign could have avoided the temptation to focus on Trump’s flaws and gotten the media to focus on the issues rather than the personalities.

Given the closeness of this election what needs to change between now and 2020.

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What Now?

As it all sinks in….at the polls yesterday, I heard from Democrats who were voting for Trump for a variety of reasons. I have looked at the preliminary exit poll data and the turnout numbers and think I have an idea of how this happened. The final cross tabs might change things but bottom line — people who NEVER vote came out in droves. And what they voted against was the same thing that gave Britain Brexit — their hatred of modernity.  So what do we do? While we organize (and re-read James Madison’s Federalist Paper #10) we wait somewhat quietly to see if in his first hundred days he DOES:

  • deport massive numbers of undocumented human beings,
  • ban Muslims,
  • repeal the Affordable Care Act,
  • add a Supreme who will vote to keep Citizen’s United, repeal gay marriage, ban all abortions even to save the life of the mother
  • cut taxes for only the weathly
  • leave NAFTA
  • et, al.

Because if he does, THEN we know the plan.

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