Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christie leads GOP pack of 2016 hopefuls

A pair of new polls hints at a likely matchup between Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential race. Christie and Clinton are the current favorites for their party’s presidential nomination. Christie is the only Republican who currently leads Clinton in head-to-head polling.

A Fox News poll released Dec. 27 found that Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton lead the nomination fight for 2016. Among Democrats, 68 percent prefer Hillary Clinton as the next presidential nominee. Clinton holds a 56 point lead over Vice President Joe Biden, the second place finisher. Elizabeth Warren, currently a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, was third with seven percent. New York governor Andrew Cuomo ranked fourth with four percent. Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick both garnered one percent.

Chris Christie, recently re-elected governor of New Jersey, topped the Fox News list of Republicans for 2016. Christie’s 16 percent was four points better than the second place finishers, but hints at a much tougher fight for the Republican nomination than Hillary Clinton is likely to face.

There is a strong fight for second place in the Republican poll. Senator Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.), and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, all scored 12 percent. Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, received 11 percent. Florida Senator Marco Rubio finished fourth with eight percent and Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, received six percent. 2012 candidates Rick Perry and Rick Santorum both have the support of three percent in the current poll.

Republicans are also much more uncommitted than Democrats at this point. Seventeen percent of Republicans (one percent prefer other candidates, five percent prefer none of the above, and 11 percent don’t know) are uncommitted to any of the top candidates. On the Democratic side only eight percent are uncommitted (two percent prefer none of the above and six percent don’t know). This means that a serious Democratic challenger would have to attack Hillary’s record in an attempt to reduce her lead, while Republican hopefuls can focus their efforts on undecided voters with a more positive message.

A second poll from Dec. 26 by CNN/Opinion Research focuses on head-to-head races between top Republicans and Hillary Clinton. The only Republican who outpolled Clinton was Chris Christie. Christie edged out Clinton by 48-46 percent. The result was within the margin of error for the poll.

Christie “performs particularly well among independents, winning nearly six in 10 in that key group," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "He also wins a majority of suburbanites and older voters, something that no other GOP hopeful [that was] tested was able to do against Clinton. Christie doesn't win in the Northeast, although he does hold Clinton to a bare majority there, but he has a solid edge in the Midwest while playing Clinton to a draw in the South and West.” Even though Clinton won among women by 10 points, Christie outpolled her among men by a 14 point margin.

Two other national polls in recent weeks also show Christie and Clinton in a statistical dead heat. A Quinnipiac poll from Dec. 19 favored Clinton 44-43 while Public Policy, a Democratic polling firm, gave Christie a 45-42 edge on Dec. 18.

The Republican who fared second best against Clinton in the CNN poll was Paul Ryan. Ryan is House Budget Committee chairman and was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate in 2012. Ryan has earned prominence for his role in negotiating an end to the government shutdown and the recent budget agreement. In current polling, Ryan trails Clinton by eight points.

All other potential Republican challengers currently trail Mrs. Clinton by double digit margins. In third place, Rand Paul trails by 13 points (41-54 percent). The other three potential candidates ranked in the poll trail by nearly 20 point each. Ted Cruz loses 39-57 percent while Marco Rubio is at 37-56 percent. Jeb Bush fared worst of all at 37-58 percent.

With two years to go before the beginning of the 2016 primary season, Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination while Chris Christie holds a slight edge among Republicans. With the current travails of Obamacare still underway and ominous signs appearing for Democrats, the current political climate may be unusually fluid.

Originally published on National Elections Examiner

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Relax. Obamacare doesn’t bring beheadings to US.

A new rumor about Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, making its rounds on the internet is that the law will make beheading an official method of execution in the United States. The rumor, apparently started by Lorri Anderson on the Freedom Outpost on Nov. 18, 2013, claims that a medical code for “legal execution” reveals that beheading and decapitation are coming to the United States. The Freedom Outpost is a conservative pseudo-news site that promotes birtherism, nullification as well as other conspiracy stories.

Anderson claims that a medical code, “ICD 9 E 978,” purports to list the legal methods of execution in the United States. The definition of the coding is found on under “International Classification of Diseases” and is as follows:

E978 Legal execution

          All executions performed at the behest of the judiciary or ruling authority
          [whether permanent or temporary] as:
           asphyxiation by gas
           beheading, decapitation (by guillotine)
           capital punishment
           other specified means

Anderson notes that the code is part of an international coding system, but doesn’t seem to understand what the codes are for or how they are used. She seems to believe that, because the United States is using the coding system, all parts of the code will apply to patients in the United States.

Writing for, Trisha Torrey explains that “ICD” codes are “International Statistical Classifications of Diseases.” The codes are used to categorize every disease, set of symptoms or cause of death that can be attributed to human beings. The coding system was developed by the World Health Organization, the coordinating authority for health in the United Nations. As electronic medical records are implemented, the codes will be used for diagnosis and treatment of health problems.

When someone dies, an ICD code will also be used to record the cause of death. This is where Anderson’s code for “legal execution” comes in. The code will obviously be used when a person has been executed “at the behest of the judiciary or ruling authority [whether permanent or temporary].” Even though “beheading” and “decapitation (by guillotine)” are not legal methods of execution for the federal government or any of the 50 states, beheading is still legal in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, rebels in Syria and the Taliban in Pakistan (possibly a temporary authority in areas that they control) have been known to use beheading, as did Saddam Hussein in pre-war Iraq. Other Islamic terrorists have also been known to behead their captives. In one notable case, Nick Berg, an American business who was Jewish, was kidnapped and beheaded by Iraqi Muslim terrorists in 2004 and the video of the murder was posted online. And no, there is no evidence that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Regardless of what international medical codes define as legal methods of execution, the method of legal execution in the United States is established by the legislature. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 35 states plus the federal government have the death penalty. All states have lethal injection as the primary method of execution. In Georgia, lethal injection is the only legal means of execution. Federal law requires that in federal death penalty cases, the method of execution follows the law of the state in which the conviction took place. No state law permits execution by beheading.

Anderson also attempts to tie in the ICD coding to Agenda 21 by asserting that “WHO is a specialized agency of the United Nations and directly linked to the League of Nations under the guise of collecting data.” In reality, the League of Nations was the predecessor to the United Nations and was disbanded in 1946 after failing in its primary mission of preventing a second world war. The United Nations was founded a year earlier in 1945.

Agenda 21 (read the full text here) is frequent fodder for conspiracy buffs. Agenda 21 is a protocol for achieving “sustainable development” in the 21st century that was drafted by the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992. The agenda is not a treaty. The Heritage Foundation noted in 2011 that Agenda 21 is “voluntary” and “nonbinding.” The United Nations Association agrees that Agenda 21 is “not legally binding” and “does not take precedence over U.S. law.” Agenda 21 passed the House of Representatives in 1992 (sponsored by Nancy Pelosi) according to the Library of Congress but was never passed by the Senate so it never became U.S. law.

Conspiracy proponents like columnist Rachel Alexander sometimes refer to Executive Orders that supposedly implement Agenda 21 without congressional approval. In reality, President Obama’s Executive Order 13575 which in 2011 established the White House Rural Council specifically says that “nothing in this order shall be construed to… affect… authority granted by law” and that the order “shall be implemented consistent with applicable law….” Obama’s Executive Order 13547 carries similar disclaimers to avoid in pretense of amending current federal law. Similar claims about other presidents are also farfetched. Two orders by Bill Clinton cited by conspiracy buffs (12852 and 12996) establish an advisory council for the president on sustainable development and create wildlife refuges on public use lands. George W. Bush is also blamed for Executive Orders 13423 and 13366, which are equally innocuous and also carry disclaimers that they do not amend existing law.

It takes little research to quickly determine that the Affordable Care Act will not implement beheadings in the United States. It can be determined almost as quickly that however ill-advised that Agenda 21 may be, it does not apply to the United States.

If you find an internet conspiracy theory that would like Examiner to investigate, contact the Atlanta Conservative Examiner at or on the Common Sense Conservative Facebook page. If your conspiracy is selected for an article, you will receive an official Atlanta Conservative Examiner tinfoil hat. Readers might also be interested in Examiner’s guide to “Becoming a discerning internet user,” a helpful article on distinguishing fact from fiction on the internet.

Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TSA Pre-check eases burden on frequent fliers


temporaryJust in time for the holiday travel season, the Transportation Security Administration has rolled out new security measures that are less intrusive and faster for travelers. The program is called “Pre-check” and I had the chance to try it first hand on an airline trip from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (airport details on The program expanded to several new airports on Dec. 16.

To participate in the Pre-check program, travelers must be U.S. citizens and members of frequent flyer programs who meet certain TSA criteria, the Pre-check application program, or the Trusted Traveler program. Members of the U.S. military also qualify for Pre-check. U.S. citizens who do not fall into one of these categories can apply for Pre-check status on the TSA website. If you are a member of a frequent flyer program, you may already be approved for Pre-check.

Pre-check is not available at all airports. A list of approved airports and airlines is also available on the TSA website. The list includes hours of operation for Pre-check lanes, but times are subject to change.

Once approved, taking part in the Pre-check is easy. Boarding passes will be printed with the “TSA Pre✓™ ” logo. When the traveler goes to the TSA security checkpoint, a TSA officer will direct them to the Pre-check lane if your trip is eligible. This lane will allow travelers to go through security screening without removing their shoes, belts or lightweight jackets, which greatly speeds the process of clearing security. Laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids may be kept in their bags and children under 12 can accompany their adult travel companions.

On my trip, I arrived at the checkpoint after a brief wait and was referred to the Pre-check line by the TSA officer who pre-screened my boarding pass and identification. I carried my roller bag to the Pre-check line which was shorter and moved quicker than the traditional screening lines.

At the head of the line, another TSA officer verified the Pre-check logo on my boarding pass and crosschecked it with my ID again. As we moved toward the checkpoint, TSA officers reminded us that we did not have to remove our shoes, belts or lightweight jackets. On this cold day in Atlanta, most travelers had heavy overcoats that did have to go through the x-ray machines with our bags, however. They did not offer reminders that laptops or 3-1-1 bags did not have to be removed.

My travel documents were examined a third time as I approached the screening area. The screening process was also made quicker by the fact that the Pre-check travelers were screened by a traditional metal detector rather than one of the controversial body scanners. A scanner was present at the checkpoint so presumably it could be used if conditions warranted. Travelers who set off the metal detector were still singled out for a pat-down by TSA officers, but this seemed to happen infrequently.

The TSA Pre-check program is definitely something that the TSA got right. The agency has taken much criticism in recent years for excesses such as pat-downs of children and the elderly who posed no threat. Many videos of TSA pat-downs went viral and outraged the public. The Pre-check program is an attempt to restore sanity and convenience to the traveling public.

Although TSA Pre-check is not available on a national basis, it does hold promise. For frequent flyers, the program should take some of the stress and frustration out of going to the airport. For less frequent travelers, relief will hopefully come soon.


Originally published on Aviation Examiner

Monday, December 2, 2013

Voters oppose further cuts to military spending

A new Rasmussen poll indicates that a majority of Americans feel that United States military spending is either just right or not enough. The poll, released on Dec. 1, found that 64 percent of likely voters approve of the current level of military spending or would like to see it increased.

The poll comes as the Obama Administration touts a new deal that would delay the Iranian nuclear program for six months in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Another Rasmussen poll from last week found that voters were split on the Iran deal. Forty-one percent favor the deal while 43 percent are opposed.

American foreign policy is also being challenged in the Far East. After China declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the disputed Japanese Senkaku Islands. President Obama sent a flight of U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortresses to challenge what Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, director of Asia-Pacific programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, called “a bolder foreign policy in light of an anticipated U.S. decline” in CNN.

In light of the recent foreign policy news, the Rasmussen poll found that only 29 percent say the U.S. spends too much money on defense. Twenty-seven percent say that the U.S. currently spends the right amount on defense. A plurality, 37 percent, say that the U.S. does not spend enough on defense and national security in spite of the fact that the federal defense budget spends more than the next 10 countries combined.

The percentage of Americans supporting the current level of military spending has increased sharply since a February 2013 Gallup poll. The poll of adults found that 36 percent felt that military spending was too high and 35 percent found it about right. Only 26 percent thought that military spending was too low. The trend toward more support for military spending was already underway, however.

Similarly, an ABC News/Washington Post poll from March 2013 found that American adults supported federal budget cuts by a two-to-one margin, but that a nearly identical margin opposed cuts to the military budget. The poll specifically addressed the sequester’s five percent cut to overall spending and the eight percent cut to military spending.

The deal between Republicans and Democrats that ended October’s partial government shutdown authorized current spending levels through January 15, 2014. As budget negotiations heat up in the new year, it is likely that defense spending will again be an issue. MSNBC’s Timothy Noah points out that the next round of sequester budget cuts will come entirely from the military budget. If the president tries to force the military budget cuts to take effect or exchange military funding for tax increases, it may put him further against popular opinion.


Originally published on Elections Examiner

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Elections hint at problems for Dems

Democrats are still celebrating the victory of Terry McAuliffe over Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, but the elections on Nov. 5 should ring alarm bells for the Democratic Party. Chris Christie’s resounding victory in New Jersey showed that Republicans can be competitive in blue states while McAuliffe’s margin in Virginia was much narrower than expected.

The McAuliffe campaign raised and spent far more than Cuccinelli. Politico reports that McAuliffe outraised Cuccinelli by almost $15 million. The funding disparity meant that Cuccinelli was not able to air campaign ads in the final two weeks of the campaign.

The Republican Party has been criticized for not providing support to Cuccinelli, but the Politico article points out that the Republican National Committee spent $3 million on the Cuccinelli campaign while the Republican Governor’s Association spent $8.3 million. Dick Morris points out that Republicans tried to aid Cuccinelli when the race became competitive in late October, but at that point it was too late to buy air time for ads.

A bigger problem than the lack of money from political groups was Cuccinelli’s lack of fundraising prowess. The Cuccinelli campaign raised only $11.7 million compared to McAuliffe’s $28 million. The Washington Post notes that businessmen who previously supported Republican Bob McDonnell backed McAuliffe this year, making it difficult for Cuccinelli to raise funds.

The bad news for Democrats is that the mountains of cash that McAuliffe spent barely eked out a victory, even with a Libertarian candidate drawing Cuccinelli voters by a margin of two to one. As previously reported by Examiner, McAuliffe’s double digit lead in mid-October had all but evaporated by the end of the month. The likely reason for McAuliffe’s difficulties was the steady stream of bad news relating to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Unless a dramatic change occurs over the next year, Obamacare may prove to be a drag on Democratic candidates in next year’s midterm elections.

Voter demographics in the Virginia race are also troubling for Democrats. Strategist and pollster Dick Morris points out that a major question in surveying the race was whether turnout would mirror 2012 or 2010. Exit polls show that turnout closely resembled the off-year election of 2010. The surge of minority Democrats that propelled Barack Obama to two election victories in Virginia did not materialize when he was not on the ballot in either 2010 or this week.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post agrees. “A Republican looking at these numbers should feel disappointed by last night's election but hopeful about next year's,” he says, noting that the core demographics of Obama’s electoral success, women, minorities, and young voters, all decreased as a percentage of the electorate, as did the percentage of Virginia voters identifying as Democrats.

With Barack Obama off the ballot, his ability to get out the vote is considerably curtailed. Obama’s ability to rally voters may get worse as his approval rating drops with disappointment in Obamacare. A Gallup poll from Nov. 5 showed Obama’s approval rating at 39 percent, a historic low. If the makeup of voters in 2014 resembles the electorate in Virginia from this week, the Democrats may suffer a defeat similar to the 2010 Republican congressional landslide. Democratic hopes for winning control of the House are in jeopardy and with 20 Senate Democrats up for reelection Republican control of both houses of Congress is a very real possibility.

Chris Christie’s victory in New Jersey presents a different set of problems for Democrats. Although Christie is reviled by Tea Party Republicans as a “RINO,” the New Jersey governor has proven adept at reaching into traditional Democratic vote strongholds.

Exit polls from New Jersey show that Gov. Christie made deep inroads into Barack Obama’s core constituencies. Christie won women voters by 15 percent even though the Democratic candidate, Barbara Buono, was a woman. He also won Hispanic voters outright with 51 percent (compared to Buono’s 45 percent). Although Christie did not win the black vote, at 21 percent his percentage of the black vote was almost two-and-a-half times greater than Cuccinelli’s (eight percent).

Some Republicans would charge that Christie’s success is a result of abandoning traditional conservative principles. Christie claims to be a conservative and John Nichols wrote in The Nation that he is right. According to Nichols, Christie cultivates a moderate image to appeal to New Jersey’s voters, but his policies are in line with other Republican governors.

Nichols details how Christie has enacted Wisconsin-style “austerity” in New Jersey and clashed repeatedly with unions. He pulled the state out of a regional carbon emissions program, scaled back renewable energy targets, and vetoed a plan for early voting. Christie’s record on social issues is also conservative. He is pro-life and defunded Planned Parenthood from the New Jersey budget. He also vetoed New Jersey’s gay marriage law.

Christie’s conservative record is not perfect, however. As the L.A. Times pointed out on Nov. 5, Christie his support for in-state tuition for illegal aliens will trouble the right. He also dropped a state appeal to a New Jersey Supreme Court decision that allowed marriages to proceed and signed a bill banning gay conversion therapy. Christie also has a mixed record on gun control. Many Republicans will not easily forget or forgive Christie’s “bro-mance” with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Nevertheless, a Gallup poll from June found that Christie is the most popular Republican politician. The poll found that Christie had approval ratings of greater than 50 percent with members of both parties as well as the public at large. No other Republican topped 50 percent outside the party. Even if Christie is not the Republican nominee in 2016, his success shows that Republicans can win in blue states without abandoning their principles.

Taken together, the two elections this week portend a difficult future for Democrats. President Obama’s legacy, the problem-ridden Affordable Care Act, could spell disaster for many Democratic candidates just as the president becomes unable to help them.

Originally published on Elections Examiner

Pilots face increased risk of skin cancer

“I’m referring you to a dermatologist,” the doctor said. “It’s probably nothing, but I don’t like the looks of this mole on your back.”

My employer’s insurance company was requiring employees to get preventive physicals. After the revelation of my mother’s sudden diagnosis with colon cancer a few months earlier, the idea of a physical to get a clean bill of health actually sounded like a good idea. With no health complaints, I didn’t expect any problems to arise. After all, I was seeing an AME twice a year for my first class physical and if there were any serious problems, he would have found them. Right?

I didn’t hurry to the dermatologist. I had a few moles, but didn’t really worry. They weren’t irregular and they didn’t get larger. A couple of months later, I found time to make the appointment.

When the doctor looked at the mole on my back, a mole that my AME had seen at least 12 times, he promptly announced, “We’re going to take that off right now.” He said that the small, black mole could be an early stage of melanoma. Literally before I knew that he had removed it, the mole was gone and I was going home to wait on a biopsy.

As I waited, I learned that there is a strong link between pilots and skin cancer. In 2000, Yahoo News reported on an Occupational and Environmental Medicine study that found that airline pilots have up to 25 times the normal rate of skin cancer. The most common type of cancer among pilots was malignant melanoma. Melanoma represents about ten percent of skin cancers, but accounts for 75-85 percent of skin cancer deaths. The scientists at the University of Reykjavik in Iceland who authored the study found that Iceland Air pilots flying international routes had skin cancer rates 15 times higher than expected. For pilots who typically flew across more than five time zones, such as flying from Iceland to the United States, the rate was 25 times higher than expected.

There have been a number of similar studies, the most recent published in 2009 in Occupational Medicine surveyed members of the Air Line Pilots Association in the United States. Many of these other studies also show an elevated skin cancer risk for pilots, but not as high as the University of Reykjavik study.

It seems to be common sense that pilots would be at an increased risk for skin cancer. Pilots spend a lot of their working lives in the sun. Airports are almost devoid of shade and the sun can beat down mercilessly on a pilot performing a preflight inspection. When pilots are flying, they are above much of the atmosphere that protects surface dwellers from harmful solar rays. Few, if any, airline pilots slather on sunscreen before climbing into the cockpit.

As with the general population, there are other factors that lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. These risks apply to pilots as well. The Skin Cancer Foundation lists five factors that increase the risk of melanoma. First, both blistering sunburns as a child and cumulative exposure to the sun can increase risk. The more moles a person has, the greater the risk of melanoma. Dysplastic nevi, atypical moles, can be precursors to skin cancer. People with fair skin are more prone to skin cancer. A personal or family history of skin cancer also means an increased risk for future cancers. People with weakened immune systems, from chemotherapy or HIV/AIDS for example, also have an increased risk. As with other types of cancer and heart disease, smoking also dramatically increases the risk of skin cancer.

Among pilots, flying at higher altitudes and the higher latitudes near the poles presents the greatest risk. According to the Health Physics Society, the amount of cosmic radiation at the poles can be two to three times greater than the radiation at the equator. This is because the Earth’s electromagnetic field helps to block this radiation. The field is strongest at the equator and gets progressively weaker towards the poles. Science Daily notes that the radiation is on par with an x-ray or CT scan, but frequent exposure by flight crews that fly hundreds of hours each year can lead to increased effects. Solar storms, like the one that diverted flights in 2012, also mean increased dosages of radiation. The ionizing radiation of solar flares cannot be avoided by flying at night or wearing sunscreen.

Robert Barish, a physicist and author of “The Invisible Passenger: Radiation Risks for People Who Fly,” told Science Daily that professional flight crewmembers are exposed to more radiation than any other occupation, even nuclear plant workers. “People who work in the nuclear power industry on an average basis are getting 1.6” [milliSieverts of radiation per year], he said. “There are people who fly in airplanes who are getting 2 or 3 or 4 milliSieverts per year. So they are truly radiation workers.”

The fact that the University of Reykjavik study examined Iceland Air pilots who customarily fly in far northern latitudes may explain the extremely high incidence of cancer among these pilots. Flying at high altitudes near the North Pole for the long time periods associated with oceanic flights, Iceland Air pilots would be subject to all of the highest risk factors associated with skin cancer.

Other factors might be at work as well. Several of the studies indicate that some of the increased risk for pilots may be due in part to disturbed sleep patterns. “The excess of malignant melanoma among those flying over five time zones suggests that the importance of disturbance of the circadian rhythm should be taken into consideration in future studies,'' Dr Vilhjalmur Rafnsson said on Yahoo News. Rafnsson speculated that the disturbance of circadian rhythms could affect the production of melatonin by the body.

The American Cancer Society notes that recent studies have shown that low melatonin is linked to higher risks of some cancers, but that some studies have shown that melatonin supplements were beneficial to cancer patients while others show that it made no difference. Melatonin is available over the counter as a natural sleep aid. According to the FAA website, melatonin “appears to be beneficial in alleviating jet lag” and its use “is not proscribed” but “care should be taken to avoid entering duty status with any residual effects.”

Pilots are not the only people at risk from high altitude radiation. Flight attendants and frequent flyers share the same risk factors. Travelers who fly more than once or twice per week are at the greatest risk according to Science Daily. Occasional airline passengers or general aviation pilots who typically fly at altitudes of less than 6,000 feet do not have an elevated risk.

The risk of radiation is not limited to skin cancer. As far back as 1992, the FAA published a report, “Radiation Exposure of Air Carrier Crewmembers,” that addressed the possibility of genetic defects to a child whose parent had been exposed to high altitude ionizing radiation. The unborn child of a pregnant woman who is part of a flight crew is at the greatest risk of severe health problems ranging from mental retardation to childhood cancers. Women are also at high risk for breast cancer according to WebMD.

To minimize their risk of skin cancer or other radiation-induced problems, pilots should follow the prevention guidelines of the Skin Cancer Foundation. Avoid sunburns by wearing hats and sunglasses and seeking the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Indoor tanning booths are also bad.) Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 for everyday use. For extended outdoor activity, SPF of 30 or higher should be used. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours (or immediately after swimming or sweating). Self inspections of your skin on a monthly basis and yearly medical checkup are also recommended.

Pilots can also avoid taking heavy doses of solar radiation by flying at lower altitudes or taking more southerly routes (in the northern hemisphere) to remain at lower latitudes. An FAA report, “What Aircrews Should Know About Their Occupational Exposure to Ionizing Radiation,” sets a recommended maximum level of radiation and gives estimated dosages for a number of typical flights.

My dermatologist also recommended Heliocare, an oral over-the-counter sun protection supplement available on Used with sunscreen, Heliocare helps to prevent sunburns and repairs previous sun damage to skin.

In the end, my skin story has a happy ending. The biopsy revealed that the mole was not a melanoma, but an atypical mole. Nevertheless, I will have several smaller moles removed as well and will incorporate routine visits to the dermatologist into my health care routine.


Originally published on Aviation Examiner

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Shutdown legacy, Libertarian spoiler may sink Cuccinelli in Virginia

In Virginia’s gubernatorial election today, current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is expected to lose to former Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe. Virginia, a hotly contested state in recent presidential elections, is an important prize for both parties. The state was reliably Republican until recent years when Virginians voted for Barack Obama twice.

After a dead heat for much of the spring and summer, the race trended towards McAuliffe in late summer. Polling data archived on Real Clear Politics and the Wikipedia page dedicated to the race show polls split between the two candidates between January and July. In September, Mr. McAuliffe began to edge away from Mr. Cuccinelli and in October he picked up a commanding, often double digit, lead for most of October. In recent days, two polls have shown Mr. Cuccinelli closing the gap, but still trailing.

The most recent poll, released on Nov. 4 by Quinnipiac, found McAuliffe leading 46-40 percent with Libertarian Robert Sarvis at eight percent. Another recent poll by Emerson College released three days earlier showed McAuliffe with only a two point lead.

There are likely two big reasons for Ken Cuccinelli’s impending loss. The most obvious is Robert Sarvis, the third man in the race. Sarvis, a lawyer and software developer is Libertarian candidate for governor. According to Real Clear Politics, Mr. Sarvis has polled between four and 13 percent in recent polls. In many of the polls, if the Libertarian percentage were applied to Mr. Cuccinelli, he would lead Mr. McAuliffe.

Third party candidacies damage the party that they more closely identify with because they draw voters from the same pool. The Republican and Libertarian parties are both competing for voters who oppose the Democratic big government agenda, Obamacare, gun control, higher taxes, and a host of other common issues. Since the Republican Party has the largest base, the Republican candidate ends up being hurt by the Libertarian. The Emerson College poll confirmed that Sarvis was drawing support from twice as many Republicans as Democrats.

Libertarian candidates do not have enough support to win. Instead, they can only act as a spoiler to prevent Republicans from winning. Many third party advocates are fond of saying that “a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.” In reality, a more appropriate aphorism would be that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

The second factor that will likely cost Cuccinelli the race is the government shutdown. Cuccinelli’s dive in the polls coincided with the run-up to the government shutdown. At the same time, Democrats surged in generic congressional ballots and a number of polls reported Republican approval ratings at historic lows. Polling in Virginia shows that Mr. Cuccinelli’s resurgence began in late October after a compromise on Oct. 16 reopened the federal government.

The Virginia race was contentious from the beginning with McAuliffe reprising Barack Obama’s successful “war on women” strategy against Cuccinelli. For his part, McAuliffe has been plagued by a string of scandals relating to his business dealings with an electric car company that took federal money and allegedly received favorable treatment from the government. Over the weekend, on Nov. 3, President Obama visited Virginia to campaign for McAuliffe. Given the president’s recent low approval ratings and Obamacare’s continuing difficulties, the trip may be as likely to hurt McAuliffe as help him.

In a last ditch effort to rally support, Cuccinelli has attempted to turn the election into a referendum on the Affordable Care Act. CBS News reported that Cuccinelli, who led the more than half of the states in a lawsuit that challenged Obamacare, told supporters, “If you want to fight Obamacare, if you want to tell Washington that Virginians have had enough of Obamacare, then I need your vote.”

The election will likely hinge on turnout, which is expected to be low. According to CBS News, the state believes that turnout may be as low as 30 percent.

Originally published on Elections Examiner

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cognitive dissonance

As I get older and wiser (some would dispute the latter), it seems more miraculous that anyone could ever be saved.

As humans we are so set in our ways and committed to our rationalizations that it is amazing that God could ever change our minds about anything. Even in the face of overwhelming objective evidence, we choose to deny reality and have faith in our own baseless beliefs.

For example, a committed liberal can stare at figures of the mounting federal debt and still believe that Barack Obama cut spending. They can look at crime data and still believe that we need gun control. They can look at our ravaged economy and still believe that we need more entitlements and stimulus.

Conservatives do the same thing. Many still believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya or that the NDAA allows for indefinite detention of Americans, that Ted Cruz saved the Republican Party instead of splitting it.

If we can stare past mountains of evidence that are right in front of our eyes to cling to our erroneous beliefs, then how miraculous it is that we could ever be persuaded to believe the evidence of things not seen?

There, but for the grace of God go I.

Monday, October 28, 2013

High premiums and cancellations - not website problems–are real Obamacare scandals

Healthcare monopolyThe continuing revelations of the meltdown of the Obamacare website have obscured news of a problem that is much more difficult and perhaps impossible to fix with President Obama’s namesake health care plan. New information suggests that there are at least three separate problems that threaten the viability of the entire Obamacare premise. In fact, early signs point to the possibility that more Americans will be uninsured under Obamacare than before. As Rep. John Barasso (R-Wy.) said on the Sunday, Oct. 27 edition of ABC’s “This Week, the problems with are “the tip of the iceberg.”

First and most obvious, health insurance premiums have not decreased due to the Affordable Care Act as Barack Obama promised. Instead, an analysis of HHS data by Forbes found that few Americans will see decreases in average premiums. The HHS data, which detailed premiums for 27-year-olds and the average-age exchange participant for each state, found that premiums for the younger group would increase by an average 97 percent for men and 55 percent for women. Forty-year-olds, which were used to approximate the average participant, saw an increase of 99 percent for men and 62 percent for women.

For the majority, the higher premiums are not offset by subsidies according to the Forbes data. Twenty-seven and forty-year-olds would have to earn almost 60 percent less than the median income of their age group (around $40,000) to qualify. Members of the middle class, who do not qualify for subsidies, face a combination of higher insurance premiums as well as higher taxes built into the law to pay for subsidies for the poor.

The website, which says in its Facebook page that it is “a group of private citizens with no funding from any party,” doesn’t dispute that premiums have increased, which it says is “a sore subject with many readers.” Instead, Obamacarefacts acknowledges that the requirements “to cover high-risk consumers,” cover “Americans with pre-existing conditions” and community rating to prevent “higher rates based on health status or gender” have caused premiums to increase. Other factors, such as eliminating benefit caps and requiring plans to cover children up to age 26 also serve to increase premiums.

Obamacare’s high premiums contribute directly to the second problem, the fact that more than half of the enrollees on the health insurance exchanges are signing up for Medicaid and not private insurance. CNN reported on Oct. 27 that government data showed that, of the 700,000 applications on the health insurance exchanges so far, most have enrolled in Medicare. The report raises the prospect that not enough healthy, younger Americans are signing up to pay the high prices that will theoretically support the premiums of older and unhealthy Americans. CBS News confirmed that in Washington, of the more than 35,000 people newly enrolled, 87 percent signed up for Medicaid. In Kentucky, out of 26,000 new enrollments, 82 percent are in Medicaid. In New York, Medicaid accounts for 64 percent of 37,000 enrollments.

The combination of high premiums and difficulties with the web site may explain why young, healthy consumers aren’t opting in. Older Americans and those with health problems have more of an incentive to invest the time required to successfully apply for an Obamacare policy.

Gail Wilensky, a former Medicaid director, told CBS News, “Either the private insurance enrollments come up somewhere around the expected amount or there's going to be a problem. ... You need a volume and you need a mix of people that are healthy as well as high users in private insurance, in order to have it be sustainable.”

The third problem is that the Affordable Care Act actively works to decrease the number of people in private insurance. Because Obamacare mandates a list of essential health benefits for insurance plans, many existing policies do not meet the new standard in spite of President Obama’s promise that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.” As a result, hundreds of thousands of Americans are receiving cancellation notices from their insurance companies. In California, Kaiser Permanente is canceling 160,000 policies. Florida Blue is canceling 300,000 policies. As many as 16 million Americans may lose their coverage according to an estimate in the New American. Forbes notes that the cancellations in three states – Florida, California, and Pennsylvania - are more than the total number of Americans who have applied for coverage under Obamacare.

When policies are canceled, people have the choice of paying higher premiums through Obamacare or being uninsured. One such American is Kirsten Powers, a liberal columnist and Obamacare supporter. The 44-year-old Democrat’s policy with a $2,500 deductible was canceled, she noted on Fox News, adding that she can get a similar policy, but the premium will increase from $160 to $300 per month.

Democrats have responded to the premium increases by noting that the new and improved policies are much better than the ones being canceled and that part of the increase will go to help the uninsurable. To voters who relied on President Obama’s promises of lower rates and keeping their old policy, that may not be much of a consolation.

As Kirsten Powers lamented on Fox News, “I don’t think that’s quite the way they sold it.”

Originally published on

Saturday, October 26, 2013

In search of Senate RINOs

examinerOf late the Republican Party has become distracted from the battle against Obamacare by an intraparty witch hunt for RINOs, shorthand for “Republicans in name only.” It is believed by many that the RINOs are destroying the party and undermining the efforts of “true conservatives” to stymie Barack Obama and his Democratic minions. Join us then as we go on safari to the Senate to hunt the fabled Republican RINO.

When RINOs are discussed, the name of John McCain (R-Ariz.) is usually at the top of the list. The list of grievances against McCain is long and includes belief in global warming, putting his name on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law that was struck down in the Citizens United ruling, and even voting to consider new gun control measures this year. McCain has long been a moderate Republican who was willing to reach across the aisle. In 2005, he was a member of the Gang of 14 and in 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry offered McCain the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket. McCain told the New York Times in 2008 that Kerry was “a liberal Democrat” and “I am a conservative Republican. So… that’s why I never even considered such a thing.”

But is McCain a conservative? Several conservative organizations provide scorecards on how members of Congress rate based on actual votes. The most famous of these is the American Conservative Union. On that scorecard, McCain has a lifetime average of 82.84 out of a possible 100. In 2012, he scored 92. (The Republican average was 77.83 percent. The overall Senate average was 39.28 percent.) The Club for Growth ranked McCain at 85 percent overall and 90 percent in 2012. On the Freedomworks scorecard, McCain scored 44. (Of the 45 Republican senators, only seven scored 90 or better on the Freedomworks scale. The Republican average was 68 and most Democrats scored zero.)

President Reagan famously said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.” Using the Reagan standard, John McCain is a friend and ally of conservatives. As confirmation, McCain is listed as an ACU Conservative, a title bestowed on senators with scores higher than 80.

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is Senate minority leader and also often considered a RINO. In the deal that ended the recent government shutdown, McConnell was accused of securing a $3 billion earmark to build a dam on the Ohio River near Paducah, Ky. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) have since said that they, not McConnell, requested the appropriation in order to avoid canceling contracts that would cost taxpayers $160 million.

When it comes to the scorecards, McConnell gets a 90.09 lifetime average from the ACU with a score of 100 for 2012. The Club for Growth gives him a 74 for 2012 and lifetime 84. He gets a 71 from Freedomworks. McConnell, who faces reelection in 2014, would meet Reagan’s 80 percent rule. Sen. McConnell is listed as a Defender of Liberty by the American Conservative Union, confirming his 100 for 2012.

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has also been frequently tagged as a RINO. Graham called for an end to the government shutdown in mid-October and has been accused of supporting amnesty for illegal aliens because he favors immigration reform.

Graham earned an 89.12 lifetime average from the ACU with a 92 in 2012. According to the Club for Growth scale, he has a lifetime score of 77 and an 86 for 2012. He scores a 41 on the Freedomworks scale. Graham, who is also running for reelection in 2014, is also listed as an ACU Conservative.

Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from the blue state of New Hampshire, earned a lifetime 85.5 from the ACU with a 76 in 2012. The Club for Growth gives her a lifetime 92 and an 86 in 2012. She gets a 59 from Freedomworks. Ayotte’s 76 score is not good enough to be labeled as a conservative by the ACU, but it is still markedly better than the Democratic senator from New Hampshire, Jeane Shaheen, who scored zero in 2012 and has a lifetime average of 4.5.

Georgia’s two Republican senators are also alleged RINOs. The retiring Saxby Chambliss has a 92.03 lifetime ACU score while Johnny Isakson is at 87.57. Their Club for Growth scores are 83 and 78 percent respectively. Chambliss received a 47 from Freedomworks, while Isakson scored 47.

As a comparison, the lowest Republican on the ACU survey was Susan Collins (R-Maine) with 20 percent. Her score was less James Webb (D-Va.), the highest Democrat at 32 percent. Olympia Snowe, also a Maine Republican, also had 32 percent.

Even though Collins can be fairly described as a RINO, she does have saving graces for Republicans. Writing on Newsmax, Christopher Ruddy points out that she is pro-gun and is rated B-plus by the NRA. She also voted against Obamacare, for the Bush tax cuts and their extension, for the Iraq War resolution, and is generally pro-military. She is also a fiscal conservative who supports a balanced budget amendment and spending caps.

Tea Partiers should be leery of ousting moderate Republicans like Collins. When fellow Mainer Olympia Snowe retired in 2012, she was replaced by independent Angus King. The Maine Sun Journal reported last May that King voted with Democrats 90 percent of the time. A dozen Democrats have broken with the party more often than King.

A review of 2005 list of RINOs in Human Events yields similar results in other states. The top ten list includes four senators (including Collins and Snowe), four representatives, and two governors (including then-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney). Of the ten, only Susan Collins is still serving. Of the remaining nine, only one, Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who later switched parties, was replaced by another Republican. In the other eight cases, the RINOs were replaced by authentic Democrats. One, Mike Castle, a popular Delaware Republican, was defeated in the Republican primary for Joe Biden’s senate seat in 2010. He lost to Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party favorite, who subsequently lost to Democrat Chris Coons amid revelations of her experiments with Wicca.

Republicans would do well to look at the voting records of elected officials before writing them off as RINOs. Many of the senators often derided as “liberal” Republicans are actually among the most conservative members of Congress. Others represent blue or purple states where a staunch conservative could not win.

There are worse things than having liberal Republicans in Congress. They could be Democrats.


Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Monday, October 21, 2013

Millions of poorest Americans get no Obamacare subsidies

Lost among reports of the difficulties of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges is the news that President Obama’s health insurance reform law is actually making it harder for the very poor to get insurance coverage. The architecture of the law and the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision that struck down a portion of the Affordable Care Act have combined to create a gap for low income Americans that deprives them of Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies as well as no-cost coverage under Medicaid.

Danielle Morgan, the 23-year-old married mother of four in North Carolina, is one of those affected. Danielle’s husband is a full-time Bible college student with no income. Danielle told Examiner that she works to support their family, but her employer does not offer health insurance. The family has not had health insurance in the past, but Danielle was hopeful that the new health insurance marketplaces would allow her to purchase an affordable policy for her family and avoid Obamacare’s fine.

Even though Danielle is employed, President Obama unilaterally delayed the portion of Obamacare that requires employers to provide their employees with health insurance. The employer mandate will only apply to companies with more than 50 employees when it goes into effect in 2015.

The problem of insuring low income workers is made worse because Obamacare bans the “mini-med” policies that cover an estimated 1.4 million Americans according to an estimate by Politico. These plans were used by many employers, such as McDonald’s, to provide low-cost health coverage for low-income workers who cannot afford to pay their share of a traditional health insurance plan. Because the plans have annual limits for payouts and do not provide the federal minimum essential coverage, they do not qualify as health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Many workers formerly insured by “mini-med” plans will likely become uninsured unless new “skinny” plans can be designed that meet the requirements of the law.

After several attempts at logging on the exchange, Danielle finally went to Kaiser’s online premium and subsidy calculator. What she found shocked and dismayed her. The premium for her family would be $5,711 per month for a Bronze plan. She also found out that her family would not qualify for a subsidy even though they are below the poverty line.

Danielle and her family fell into a gap created when the Supreme Court struck down Obamacare’s mandatory Medicaid expansion. In the 2012 ruling, the Court held that the federal government could not force the states to expand Medicaid to low income families. If states voluntarily expanded their Medicaid programs, the federal government promised to pay the full cost for three years and 90 percent thereafter. Twenty-five states, including North Carolina and Georgia, chose not to join the Medicare expansion. .

The Winston-Salem Journal estimated on Oct. 19 that as many as 300,000 North Carolinians under the poverty line may be affected by this Medicaid gap. Bloomberg, also on Oct. 19, noted that the number of Americans affected by the gap is estimated at 5.2 million nationwide.

According to the News Observer, North Carolina officials cited the cost of Medicare as well as systemic problems such as cost overruns and billing delays in rejecting the growth of the program. North Carolina’s Medicaid program cost $14 billion last year. The state’s portion was $3 billion, which represented about 15 percent of the state’s budget according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. In Georgia, Medicaid spending also makes up 15 percent of the state budget according to Georgia Health News.

“So much of our state revenue has been eaten away by the Medicaid budget,” said Justin Burr, a Republican member of North Carolina’s House health care committee. “I certainly don’t think we need to expand an entitlement program.”

The ability of the federal government to honor its promise to pay its share of new Medicaid costs is also in question. The federal government has been operating at a budget deficit for years. As the federal debt mounted during Barack Obama’s administration, congressional battles over spending have become increasingly frequent and acrimonious. In the final analysis, increased spending for the Medicaid expansion may force tax increases at both the state and federal level.

Since the unveiling of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges on Oct. 1, many Americans have experienced cases of sticker shock. Even many Americans who qualify for federal subsidies have found that premiums are much higher than expected. Both CNN and the Fiscal Times list high prices among the top complains about Obamacare. In many cases, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses are higher as well.

Danielle, who has a minor heart problem, says that she has not had health insurance in her adult life. She was worried about having to choose between paying the Obamacare fine and finding money for the health insurance premium for her family. There at least, there is some relief. Due to her family’s low income, she is exempt from the fine even though she will remain uninsured.

“It would be great to get coverage for just basic family doctor care at a reasonable price, Danielle said. “It just doesn’t make since to pay almost six grand for one or two visits a year with the cash price being a fraction of that.”


Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lessons Republicans should learn from the government shutdown

The Republican Party suffered another humiliating defeat at the hands of Barack Obama yesterday. The Republicans essentially got nothing in the deal to end the government shutdown and were barely able to keep the spending caps of the sequestration, one of their few victories, in place.

The past few weeks have seen Republican approval plummet to record lows in several polls including those by Gallup and NBC News/Wall Street Journal. A new Pew poll released Oct. 16 shows that Tea Party support among Republicans has fallen by nine points since June. Independents disapprove of the Tea Party by a 19 point margin. GOP supporters feel betrayed by the deal. Reactions range from anger at “RINOs” or the Tea Party to resignation that the Republican Party is totally ineffective and unworthy of support.

While there is very little upside to the debacle in the short term for Republicans, it does provide them with a few hard lessons to learn. If the GOP can take these lessons to heart, it may eventually save itself and the turn the country around in the process.

Lesson 1. Check your math. The inevitability of defeat in the defund battle could be summed up in the mathematical expression 45<55. Forty-five Republican senators are less than 55 Democratic senators. The Republican will always lose in the Senate unless they can sway Democrats to vote with them. In the defund battle, there was little, if any, effort expended on pressuring red state Democrats to join the Republicans.

It does not matter if the Republicans are standing for principle. It does not matter how courageous they are. In an election, math trumps everything. The only way to win is to change the math. Subtract votes from the Democrats and add them to the Republicans.

Dividing the party into “RINOs” and Tea Partiers is counter-productive. Neither faction can win without the other. Division only subtracts from the Republican votes and gives the Democrats a larger majority.

Lesson 2. Pick your battles. The Republicans are a minority party. They cannot take on the majority party head-to-head and win. Even if every RINO and every Tea Partier is united in the cause, 45 is still less than 55 (see lesson 1.)

Republicans should take a lesson from General George Washington. Rather than wasting time and resources on a head-to-head battle that has no chance of success and will likely destroy their force, Republicans should fight smaller battles when they have a reasonable chance of winning.

In the early days of the American Revolution, Gen. George Washington faced the world’s most powerful army with a ragtag band of militia. Washington did not march his men straight into the British cannons. Rather, he acted to preserve his army and made strategic withdrawals when the conditions were unfavorable. His most famous retreat came in August 1776 during the Battle of Long Island in which a fog that many attribute to divine intervention saved the Continental Army.

Washington picked his battles and attacked when conditions were favorable. A few months later on Christmas Day 1776, he made his famous crossing of the Delaware to surprise the British at Trenton. As Washington grew stronger and received reinforcements from the French, he was able to fight the British more directly. It was only after the Americans outnumbered the British that they were able to surround them and force their surrender at Yorktown.

If the Republicans had chosen to make a stand over congressional exemptions or the mounting federal debt rather than over defunding Obamacare, the results might have been different. While only a slight majority disapproves of Obamacare, a staggering 94 percent of voters in an Independent Women’s Voice poll opposed the exemption. Likewise, 61 percent told Gallup that the federal budget deficit worried them “a great deal.” These are bipartisan issues where the Democrats would be vulnerable to a “flank attack.” The Democrats would be forced to vote with the Republicans or go on record against strong public opinion.

Lesson 3. Pay attention to polls. Polls should not be used to determine your principles, but they are invaluable in determining a strategy. As Examiner reported in September, a poll commissioned by Republican congressmen themselves found that 71 percent of Americans opposed shutting down the government to fight Obamacare. Scores of other polls gave the same warning.

While Republicans claimed to be fighting for what the people wanted, they were instead ignoring the people’s mandate to keep the government opening. As a result, they paid dearly in terms of public approval.

Lesson 4. When your enemy is about to destroy himself, don’t stop him. The rollout of the Obamacare exchanges was an unmitigated disaster. Even worse for the Democrats, high premiums across much of the country challenge the underlying economic assumptions behind the law.

Fortunately for the Democrats, much of the country was distracted by news coverage of the government shutdown. If the Republicans had simply stood by as President Obama’s signature law imploded, they might have improved their chances of winning the Senate in 2014. Instead, generic congressional ballots, which had been tied before the shutdown, uniformly shifted toward the Democrats according to the Real Clear Politics roundup of polls.

Lesson 6. Think long term. The Constitution requires a majority to pass laws. The Republicans are a minority. Therefore, their focus should be on becoming a majority (see Lesson 1.)

Long term Republican success depends on appealing to moderates as well as the party’s base. Gallup’s most recent party identification poll gives Republicans 20 percent and Democrats 30 percent. Forty-seven percent of the electorate is independent. The party makeup in the states is similar. Neither party can win without winning independents. It is these moderate voters who decide elections.

A successful Republican strategy will appeal to both the party’s base and the country’s moderates. A politician or a party that cannot appeal to both the base and moderates is what is known as a loser.

Thinking long term also includes having an endgame or a Plan B. When the initial Republican demand for defunding Obamacare was rejected, the Republicans seemed totally unprepared. The party was trapped with no way out. With approval ratings falling fast, the Democrats could have demanded almost anything to reopen government and the Republicans would have had no choice but to take the deal or let Obama lead the nation into a default for which the GOP would surely take the blame.

It would have been wiser to have positions to fall back to when the initial demand failed. These strategic withdrawals should have been accompanied a common message that focused on what the Democrats were doing to harm the American people, not what other Republicans were doing to harm the party.

Lesson 7. Perception is political reality. Communication shapes perceptions. President Obama and the Democrats refused to negotiate, but the public perception was that Republicans wanted the shutdown so they took the lion’s share of the blame.

While Republicans dithered and squabbled, Daniel Henninger notes that Team Obama launched a withering assault of tweets to complement friendly news coverage. The Democrats never strayed from their message that “Tea Party Republicans” were threatening to destroy the economy. Without a coordinated response from the Republicans, Obama’s message became the defining story of the shutdown. Republicans must learn to use the social media to counter Democratic propaganda in both the mainstream media and the twitterverse.

By focusing on the long-term and uniting with disaffected moderates against President Obama and the Democrats, the Republicans still have a chance to make a comeback before next year’s midterm elections. A strong showing could change the equation in the Senate (Lesson 1). The structure of the races favors Republican gains in the Senate, but a strategy of tilting at windmills is likely to result in yet another missed opportunity.

Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A path forward for Republicans

As the government shutdown goes through its third week, poll after poll indicates that Republicans are taking the brunt of the blame. As Examiner noted last week, an NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll found approval of the Republican Party at a historic low. Generic congressional polls (summarized on Real Clear Politics), which have been in a dead heat all year, have turned against Republicans since the shutdown. Recent polling shows a consistent advantage for Democratic candidates.

Through it all, Republicans have made no headway in defunding the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the negotiations to reopen the government have shifted toward a new Democratic demand to undo the sequester cuts from last January. The sequester represented a rare GOP victory during the Obama era. It also worked. As Stephen Moore pointed out in the Wall St. Journal, the sequester law actually reduced spending and cut the deficit by about half. Removing the sequester’s spending limits would represent a major defeat for Republicans.

The government shutdown also tarnishes the Republican reputation for fiscal responsibility, an area where Republicans polled well before the shutdown. The shutdown is costing an estimated $160 million per day on the conservative side. Higher estimates rise to more than $1 billion per day in lost growth and other factors. To add insult to injury, the House voted last week to give furloughed federal workers their back pay, which means that federal workers will be paid for doing nothing if the Senate passes the bill.

Defunding Obamacare, which, as noted in Examiner last month, would require the votes of a minimum of five Democrats in the Senate (overturning President Obama’s certain veto would require the votes of 54 Democrats in the House and 21 in the Senate), is beyond the reach of the GOP and the party is taking heavy damage from its stand. Since the original goal of defunding Obamacare is clearly unattainable, where should Republicans go from here?

The Republicans should look to the Hippocratic Oath for guidance: “First, do no harm.” The government shutdown must be ended to avoid irreparable harm to the Republican Party, but, by the same token, the Republicans cannot accept a deal that ends the sequester while offering nothing in return. A return to the status quo would be acceptable, if humiliating. Writing in the Guardian, Grover Norquist proposed a deal in which the sequester is lifted temporarily in exchange for entitlement reform. Republicans should get what they concessions they can, but they must end the shutdown before it leads to a default.

After the government is reopened, Republicans need to make some strategic changes. Railing against Obamacare and just saying no don’t work. If they did, Mitt Romney would be in the White House.

First and most important, the Republicans need to start listening to the American people. The American people oppose Obamacare, but they opposed a government shutdown by even larger margins. As Examiner reported in September, 54 percent opposed Obamacare, but 71 percent opposed the shutdown. Republicans have traditionally criticized the Democrats for their attitude that “we know what’s best for you,” but the GOP has fallen into the same trap and is paying the price for it.

Second, Republicans need to change the focus of their argument. Arthur Brooks points out that Republicans cede the moral argument to Democrats and focus on materialistic concerns such as debt or abstractions such as free markets and capitalism. To the contrary, the left uses emotional arguments, caring for the poor, to advance policy agendas that actually hurt the poor. Brooks’ concern is borne out by CNN exit polls that show a staggering 81 percent of the voters who thought caring about people was a candidate’s most important quality voted for Barack Obama.

In Brooks’ view, the answer is to focus on how conservative policies help people. This does not require changing conservative principles; instead it means reframing arguments to say, “We will fight for you and your family” rather than fighting against things, such as Obamacare.

When the government shutdown is ended, Republicans will be able to return the focus to why Obamacare is bad for the American people. This should be an easy task given Obamacare’s disastrous debut. The much-vaunted health care exchanges are plagued with glitches that make it difficult for consumers to log on and purchase insurance. Consumers who are actually able to navigate the exchanges often find that their insurance premiums have gone up due to the new law. As the Chicago Tribune notes, deductibles, the share of medical bills that the consumer must pay before insurance kicks in, are also increasing. This means that not only are Americans paying more up front for health insurance, they are paying more when they go to the doctor as well.

The Republicans should be talking about how these premium increases affect families across the country who are still reeling from the Great Recession and its lackluster recovery. They should be standing with Americans like Adam Weldzius, the 33-year-old single father in the Chicago Tribune article who has to choose between an insurance premium that doubles or a deductible that triples.

Finally, Republicans must go beyond saying “no” and communicate a positive vision for the future. It isn’t enough to want to repeal Obamacare, for example. Rising health care costs will still be an issue if and when the Affordable Care Act goes away. Karl Rove presented some ideas for conservative health care reform in August and Examiner covered the topic last year, but these have been the exceptions. For the most part, the Republican message on health care has been negative.

Finally, Republicans need to remember who the real adversary is and focus their attention on President Obama and the Democrats rather than bashing each other. To defeat the Democrats and repeal Obamacare, the Republicans must unite and find a common voice. Interparty bickering and squabbles drown out any positive message that the Republicans try to convey to voters.

As President Reagan was fond of saying, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.” Nevertheless, Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Cornyn have had their reputations trashed and been the victims of vicious personal attacks. Yet, when their records are examined, the American Conservative Union gives them lifetime ratings of 82 percent, 89 percent, and 93 percent respectively. All three have consistently voted against Obamacare.

The shortsightedness of the Republican Party threatens not only the possibility of GOP control of the Senate after the 2014 elections, but continued control of the House as well. A few simple midcourse corrections might persuade Americans that the Republican Party is a viable alternative to the Democratic habit of taking money from Americans to fund programs that harm them.


Originally published as Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Shutdown may threaten GOP House majority

government shutdownA new poll released Oct. 10 shows that the government shutdown has had a devastating impact on the Republican Party. The NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll found public approval of the Republican Party at historic lows.

The new poll found that 24 percent approved of the Republicans while 53 percent disapproved. Approval for the GOP has fallen eight points since June. The high point for the Republicans was in December 2001 with 57 percent approval. Tea Party approval declined to 21 percent from 26 percent in June. This also represents a historic low. The Tea Party’s highest approval was in June 2010 with 34 percent.

The poll found Democratic approval at 39 percent with 40 percent disapproval. Democratic approval numbers were unchanged since June. President Obama’s approval stands at 47 percent, which is identical to his approval rating in June. Obama’s high was in February 2009 and his low was in 2006. The high for the Democrats was in 2000 and their low was in 2006.

The poll found that Republicans were blamed for the government shutdown by a 22 point margin over President Obama (53-31 percent). Forty-six percent consider the shutdown extremely serious even though 68 percent had not been directly affected.

A strong majority, 70 percent, believe that Republicans are putting their political agenda ahead of what is good for the country. Fifty-one percent believe the same of President Obama.

In another disturbing trend for Republicans, the poll showed a drop in the preference for Republicans in Congress. In the poll, voters preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress by 47-39 percent. For much of the past year, the two parties have been deadlocked in the poll for congressional preference. Currently, 70 percent disapprove of the Republicans in Congress while 59 percent approve of the Democrats.

These trends show clearly that the Republican Party is taking the brunt of the blame for the government shutdown. As Examiner reported previously, the makeup of Senate races in 2014 gives the GOP an edge, but plummeting approval ratings from the government shutdown may threaten Republican chances for a Senate takeover.

If the shutdown continues or the nation defaults, it might even become likely that the Republicans lose their majority in the House of Representatives in the next election. In 2012, House Democrats actually received more votes than House Republicans, but Republican advantages due to redistricting allowed them to retain the majority.

There were few winners in the poll. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), the Republican senator who pushed the strategy of defunding Obamacare, gained slightly. Cruz’ approval rating now stands at 14 percent. His June approval was 10 percent.

Barack Obama is the biggest winner. At 47 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval, the president is the only figure or group with a higher approval than disapproval.


Originally published on Elections Examiner