Initiative 1163 – long-term care workers and services for elderly and disabled people.

Pushing a wheelchair
Pushing Wheelchair adapted from photo by bradleygee (CC By)

Initiative 1163 – concerning long-term care workers and services for elderly and disabled people.

This measure would reinstate background checks, training, and other requirements for long-term care workers and providers, if amended in 2011; and address financial accountability and administrative expenses of the long-term in-home care program.

Quick background that I know most of my friends know, but not everyone who stumbles on this will. I spent 3 years caring for my mother during her terminal illness and for my grandparents as their health declined before they died. I hired a number of people to help care for my mother. We did not use an agency for reasons that are not germane to this. There was no good way to determine the qualifications or experience for these caregivers, and it was a crapshoot with respect to the care they gave. For my grandmother, I insisted we use an agency that performed background checks at least, and they supposedly gave their workers some minimal training.

In 2008, I voted for an initiative that created a licensing program and training for long term caregivers. It passed by a large margin. Since then, the state legislature delayed some of the requirements instituted by that initiative. This was an attempt to save money given the horrible budget constraints the state experienced. Instead of starting in 2012, the program now starts in 2014.

If I could be sure this was a one-time delay, I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep. I wouldn’t like it, but we’d get the improvement in standards fairly shortly. However, given that we continue to have budget constraints, I fully expect the legislature to delay the start of the program again. I do not want it to be indefinitely delayed. If this initiative passes, the program starts in 2012, and the legislature can’t amend it for two years. By which time it will have started. It’s much harder to shut down an existing program than to delay one that hasn’t started.

I don’t care that it costs some money. In an ideal world, market forces would create a mechanism for ensuring care, but that hasn’t happened. The only way to ensure good long term care is to have a lot of money. People who are disabled or dying deserve a minimum level of care even if they are poor, and this initiative goes a long way to ensuring that.

I’ll be voting yes on I-1163.

Initiative 1125 – Concerning state expenditures on transportation

As I do most years, I like to write up how I plan to vote in the upcoming election and why. Although people are welcome to comment, or counter-argue, or whatever, the point of posting these is not to debate. Neither is the reason for posting these explanations to convince anyone, particularly people who disagree with my positions. I’m simply stating my opinion.

520 traffic congestion
Photo by Oran Viriyincy (CC By-Sa)

Initiative 1125 – Concerning state expenditures on transportation.

This measure would prohibit the use of motor vehicle fund revenue and vehicle toll revenue for non-transportation purposes, and require that road and bridge tolls be set by the legislature and be project-specific.

That’s the ballot title and question. Which, unfortunately, is pretty bland and misleading. There are a grab bag of provisions in the initiative, most of which are bad:

Right now the legislature authorizes tolling on specific roads or bridges, and the state transportation commission sets the actual toll rates. I-1125 requires that the legislature set the tolls. That’s a guarantee for a political clusterfuck. Need to raise tolls to pay to repave or for structural fixes? A group of eastern washington legislators can hold it up. It also means every individual toll decision is subject to referendum.

It requires that tolls be uniform. That’s to remove what’s called congestion pricing. Want to cut down on people using the 520 bridge during rush hour? Charge a higher toll during rush hour. This provision would prevent that.

But the real reason behind the initiative is to prevent using I-90 for light rail. If this passes, there is no light rail to Bellevue. The main person bankrolling the initiative is the owner of Bellevue Square and a major investor in car culture related projects.

One of the effects of the initiative, though not explicitly part of it, is that it reduces the bonding capability for the 520 bridge replacement, which has already started. So to finish the bridge, the WSDOT will need to cancel about $500 million worth of other projects and shift the money to 520.

Really, all a person needs to do is look at who is sponsoring the initiative: Tim Eyman. He had one good initiative (performance audits) and a shit-ton of crappy ones. Including this one.

I’m voting NO.

The Federal Budget

Pardon me, but I’m about to go on kind of a wonky rant. I’ve been mulling a post on the Federal budget for a few days, but something just sent me over the edge to righteous pissed off about it. The following article from the A.P. is what got me riled up:

White House: Obama to lay out spending plan

Much will be revealed at midweek, when the House and Senate are expected to vote on a budget for the remainder of this fiscal year and Obama reveals his plan to reduce the deficit, in part by scaling back programs for seniors and the poor.

The A.P. item is based on an appearance by David Plouffe on Meet The Press this morning. David Plouffe is an advisor to the President, and his appearance is to grease the wheels for President Obama’s budget proposal later this week. The A.P. may be making a bit more of Plouffe’s words than ought to be taken. Here’s the relevant part:



So we’ve had a lot of savings in health care, we have to do more. So you’re going to have to look at Medicare and Medicaid and see what kind of savings you can get. First, squeezing them out of the system before you squeeze seniors. Secondly, on Social Security, what he said is that is not a driver right now of significant costs, but in the process of sitting down and talking about our spending and our programs, if there can be a discussion about how to strengthen Social Security in the future, he’s eager to have that discussion.

I really hope this doesn’t mean what the A.P. thinks it means. Sadly, they may be right.

The problem with the federal budget is actually really small right now, though it gets bigger down the road. You may have heard that the deficit is the largest it’s ever been. That’s only correct if inflation is not taken into account. A better measure is the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product, a figure that currently is about 10%. We ran a much bigger deficit during World War II, and we’re currently only running a deficit about twice as high as when Ronald Reagan was in office. ( I am not going to get into whether Bush or Obama is responsible for this level, but the answer is George W. Bush.)

US Deficit as a Percentage of GDP
US Deficit as a Percentage of GDP

Now, even that 10% of GDP may seem high because the U.S. has only exceeded that twice before, but we also have to consider interest rates. The Prime Rate was 15.25% when Reagan took office, and 8.75% when he left office. It got as high as 21.5% and dropped as low as 8% in 1987, but during the Reagan administration it was usually well above 10%. This rate was 7.25% when Obama took office, and now stands at 3.25%. That’s not what the government pays in interest, but it does show the general idea. The current cost to borrow money is less than half what it was at the lowest point during the Reagan administration. It is amazingly cheap to borrow money right now.

That’s why the current deficit is really not much of a problem.

Long term, we do have a problem with our deficits. No, not with Social Security. That actually doesn’t have an issue until the late 2030s, and will require a fairly small change to fix. Our long term problem is with Medicare and Medicaid. And the problem isn’t that we have too generous of benefits. The problem is that health care is too expensive in the U.S. Western Europe has much better health outcomes than we do, for about half the cost and much less hassle.

Health Care Costs as a percentage of GDP
Health Care Costs as a percentage of GDP

If we paid the same as other developed countries, we wouldn’t have a long term deficit. The problem is that we’re spending recklessly. The problem is that we give too much money to doctors, insurance companies, drug companies, and the like. That’s why the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. RomneyCare or ObamaCare), even without a public option, was good for us. It has a number of controls that bring down costs. It doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it does remove a big chunk of our future deficit.

The Republicans introduced a budget plan last week that goes the wrong way. It repeals the A.C.A. and pretty much also eliminates Medicare and Medicaid. It eliminates the deficit long term by shifting health care costs to individuals. That would be fine, and in fact preferable, if health care costs were predictable for individuals. But they aren’t, so when you get sick, or A.L.S., you have to pay for everything yourself or hope that your insurance company will. Remember, health insurance companies make money by not insuring people with health problems.

The Republican plan, which thankfully doesn’t have a chance of passing in anything like it’s current form, has all sorts of problems that I may blog about later. But how it handles Medicare is its defining set of terms.

So now Barack Obama has agreed to find ways to save money in Medicare and Medicaid. The problem with that is that the only way to save money and not hurt individuals is to double down on the A.C.A. Introduce the public option or nationalize health care or the like. In other words, more not less socialized medicine. I’d be fine with that personally. But you know that hasn’t a chance of passing either. Obama loves compromise, and since the direction of compromise is the wrong direction on this issue, it means more health care costs will be shifted to individuals.

None of either of those plans (the Republican one or the possible Obama one) will affect health care costs overall. Just that born by the government. The Market works to control costs in many goods, but not health care. If it did, we wouldn’t have health care inflation outpacing regular inflation for the last 30 years. There’s many reasons for this, such as health insurance adverse selection, lack of bargaining power, inability to control health care needs, and more.

The upshot of all this is that it looks like we’re going to do something we don’t need to do right now, reduce the deficit, in a way that hurts everyone but the really rich and that doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem. We’ve got a center-right President moving rightward when he should be getting more progressive. And the Obama-istas wonder why the base that gave him the nomination in 2008 isn’t so thrilled with him. Sure he’s better than McCain would have been. But it’s hard to stay excited for someone who’s selling point is well, you could have that idiot over there.

I’ll probably write more about the budget compromise that was passed last week for 2011. It moved the wrong direction too.

Opinion on I-1107: repealing taxes on soft drinks

Initiative Measure No. 1107 concerns reversing certain 2010 amendments to state tax laws. The measure would end sales tax on candy; end temporary sales tax on some bottled water; end temporary excise taxes on carbonated beverages; and reduce tax rates for certain food processors.

I’m in favor of sin taxes if I agree that the items being taxed are sins. It’s simple economics: tax the things you don’t want to happen. When the price goes up, people do them less. It’s the principle behind cap-and-trade and carbon taxes. It’s the principle behind congestion tolls. It’s possible to raise such taxes too high. When a thriving black market in the item comes around, then you know the taxes are too high.

I’m all for taxing candy and soft drinks. There exist relatively cheap, relatively healthier alternatives that people can buy instead, if they want to avoid the tax. If you can’t go without your Coke Zero, pony up.

The soft drink industry has spent something like $16 million to pass this. The advertising campaign says it’s all about the taxes on grocery items that were included in the tax for technical reasons. a) the taxes on those items are around $4 million. The beverage industry could have donated the $16 million to grocery manufacturers 4 times over, and we wouldn’t have a need for the initiative (if even that’s a concern). b) The opponents of the tax could have crafted the initiative to repeal just the grocery tax part, but they did not. Their arguments hold little weight with me because of this.

I’m for keeping the tax and voting no on I-1107.

Opinion on I-1100 and I-1105: Privatizing Liquor Sales

Initiative Measure No. 1100 concerns liquor (beer, wine and spirits). The measure would close state liquor stores; authorize sale, distribution, and importation of spirits by private parties; and repeal certain requirements that govern the business operations of beer and wine distributers and producers.

Initiative Measure No. 1105 concerns liquor (beer, wine and spirits). The measure would close all state liquor stores and license private parties to sell or distribute spirits. It would revise laws concerning regulation, taxation and government revenues from distribution and sale of spirits.

The state government should not be operating private retail stores absent some important reason. The fact that Washington State does is (I assume) a vestige of the repeal of Prohibition, combined with a large amount of inertia. It does make getting liquor for minors somewhat more difficult, but not exactly because security at these stores is tight. They do have a better record at refusing sales to minors. But I think the real reason state liquor stores do better is that they aren’t so busy and there aren’t too many of them. The stores have a high markup, and limited selection. As some bars have noted, they cannot get some liquors for their businesses and service is not good.

There are two initiatives on the ballot that would get the state out of the liquor selling business. If both pass, how things will shake out will be anyone’s guess.

I-1100 is the Costco sponsored initiative. It removes a lot of the regulation on liquor sales as well as getting the state out of it. Places that have a license to sell beer and wine could get a liquor sales license, and the state would be limited in what it could regulate with regards to liquor sales. The key part for Costco is that it eliminates the current three tier system: manufacturer, distributor and retailer. As a retailer, they could skip the distributor and go straight to the manufacturer. The measure retains the current taxes on liquor.

I-1105 requires the state to close its stores, but retains more of the regulatory framework. The three-tier system would remain in place. Retailers must by from distributors. And distributors cannot offer better prices to one customer that to another, though they could offer volume discounts. Costco doesn’t like it, because they would like to negotiate lower prices directly from manufacturers that aren’t available to other retailers. The WSLCB would create a new license for retailers and establish the rules for it. For instance, they refrain from issuing new licenses in areas that are saturated with liquor sellers. The measure would remove most taxes on liquor sales (not sure about sales taxes) and direct the WSLCB to propose a new tax to the legislature.

I will be voting for I-1105 and against I-1100. While I think anti-drinking goes too far sometimes (like freaking out over restaurants that allow patrons to drink in their sidewalk seating), the fact that liquor is intoxicating means we should be exercising some discretion in how we sell it. I-1100 doesn’t allow for that. For instance, I-1105 could allow the WSLCB to require that liquor be sold in separated areas from other goods, while I-1100 does not. I’m not so keen on the requirement for three tiers, though I do like the requirement that distributors offer uniform prices. I’m agnostic toward the tax change. It comes down to the ability to regulate liquor retailers.

Opinion on I-1098: High-earners income tax

Initiative Measure No. 1098 concerns establishing a state income tax and reducing other taxes. The measure would tax “adjusted gross income” above $200,000 (individuals) and $400,000 (joint-filers), reduce state property tax levies, reduce certain business and occupation taxes, and direct any increased revenues to education and health.

This one is another easy one for me. Washington has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country, because it relies heavily on the business and occupation tax, and the sales tax. Both of those taxes make low income folks pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes than higher earners. The B&O tax because it gets passed on in prices, though a fair amount of it is non-consumer goods. As people make more money, the marginal sales tax rate with respect to a person’s income falls because consumption falls off at higher incomes. Money moves from consumption to investment. To explain, if you are broke, the next $5 you get will be spent on food (or gas, or whatever). If you made $1,000,000 last year, the next $5 will much more likely be used to buy stocks (or bonds or whatever). The sales tax on the poor person’s $5 is going to be approximately 50¢ where the sales tax on the rich person’s $5 will be close to zero. The choice to not spend is constrained the poorer one is.

We also rely heavily on a property tax, but that also gets passed on to anyone who lives in the state. It’s either direct, or paid out in higher rent. I don’t think property taxes are as regressive as the sales tax, but they are still regressive.

I1098 establishes a high earners income tax for the state, while cutting a portion of property taxes and B&O taxes. Income taxes can sometimes be regressive, but they are easier to structure to avoid it. In this case, it’s very progressive. People who need the next $5 to eat won’t get taxed. People who invest it in stock will. For that reason alone I am for it.

I also think it will help stabilize the state’s revenue somewhat. Not completely, but a bit. Aggregate income is a better gauge of the state’s economic activity than consumption. Consumption can only drop so low, and it can only climb so high. It allows the state to skim off the income in good years for the bad. We currently do that with sales taxes, to some degree.

The only arguments I’ve seen against it are hysterical rantings. The legislature will extend it to other people in 2 years!! Yup. They could. They could establish an income tax and extend it right now. This changes nothing with regard to what the legislature could do. And it changes nothing as far as people’s ability to oppose it. If people are against increasing the tax, and the voters don’t want it, they’ll vote them out. Or have a referendum against the law.

I’ve also seen but I’m not rich even though I made nearly $2,000,000 last year. And even no one I know who makes $200,000 is rich. It’s not fair to MEEEEE! Here’s something to think about: SHUT THE FUCK UP! You are rich. This is not the end of the world. You can better afford this than someone making $20,000. They’ve been sucking it up for years. Now you’ll have to for a bit.

By the way, in case you were wondering, these opinion piece aren’t really intended to convince people. These are polemics which explain my reasoning for voting for them. I fully realize telling a rich person to STFU isn’t going to convince them to vote for this.

Opinion on I-1082: Privatizing Industrial Insurance

Initiative Measure No. 1082 concerns industrial insurance. The measure would authorize employers to purchase private industrial insurance beginning July 1, 2012; direct the legislature to enact conforming legislation by March 1, 2012; and eliminate the worker-paid share of medical-benefit premiums.

My opinion on this one won’t be as long as I-1053. I’m all for having private workman’s comp insurance options, but I don’t think this initiative is the way to do it. My concern is with who wrote this: the Building Industry Association of Washington. The No on I-1082 campaign has a detailed list of the problems they see in the fine print of the initiative. Their take is that the fine print will leave workers on the hook for job related health problems (injuries, occupational illnesses, etc.) for businesses that choose to go this route.

I’m not a lawyer. I can’t parse through all the fine print and compare it to existing law, regulations, and court cases to see where it falls down. I don’t exactly believe the F.U.D. pushed by the no campaign either. I have read the detailed text of the initiative though, and it’s certainly not a clean easy to understand bill. While those issues may not be nefarious, they could be, and I don’t have a good way to tell. If it were the product of negotiation in the legislature, I’d be in favor. But it’s not.

I-1082 is the product of a conservative business organization that’s known for looking out for it’s interests instead of the general public. If you look at the list of organizations endorsing the initiative on the Yes on I-1082 web site, every single one of them is a business interest. Their argument is that if they can get cheaper insurance, they’ll hire more people. I really don’t think that’s the case. They’ll take the difference and put it into their profits (or maybe lower prices if the particular industry is extra competitive). You don’t pay more for one ingredient because you pay less for another. They’ll increase wages only if the demand for labor increases relative to the supply, and this doesn’t change that ratio at all. I just don’t see this as a net win for workers.

So I’ll vote against I-1082. If called on to vote on a version created by the legislature, I’d vote for that.

Opinion on I-1053: Requiring a 2/3 vote to raise taxes

A few of my friends have asked if I planned to write about my opinions on the upcoming election, particularly regarding the initiatives on the ballot. I love spouting off my opinion, so here I go! Of course, I want to point out to my 3 or 4 readers that none of what I write is particularly original. You can probably find much better argumentation elsewhere on the internet.

Initiative 1053 concerns tax and fee increases imposed by state government. The measure would restate existing statutory requirements that legislative actions raising taxes must be approved by two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval, and that new or increased fees require majority legislative approval.

This is a Tim Eyman measure. That alone almost tells you how I will vote on it. The only Eyman measure I’ve ever voted for was the one that instituted performance audits.

Several previous Eyman measures passed that duplicate what this measure does. But the state legislature has suspended the rules instituted by those initiatives in order to pass budgets. How does that work? According to the Washington state constitution, Article II, Section 1(c), after two years the legislature may do what it wants with any initiative. During the two years, changing an initiative requires a 2/3 vote of the legislature. It’s been more than two years, so they suspended it. This initiative basically unsuspends it for another two years. (The legislature did not overturn the law, just suspended it.)

Well, as you can guess, this royally pissed off the Eyman crowd, and that’s why they have this initiative.

My view is that a supermajority should only be required for extra-ordinary circumstances, things that don’t happen too often: changing the state constitution, declaring war, suspending civil rights, expelling a legislator. A supermajority means that a minority of people can prevent action. That’s appropriate to prevent civil rights from being abrogated. It’s appropriate to keep a power from being unchecked. But for mundane things, it’s inappropriate to require a consensus. It checks power too much. We already have mundane checks on power for mundane things: voting out legislators, separate bodies of the legislature, gubernatorial vetoes, the court system, referendum, and probably lots more that I haven’t thought of.

There’s nothing more mundane for the legislature about running government than determining the budget, taxes, and spending. Holding the running of the government hostage to a minority is bad business. As much as I object to funding abstinence only sex education, for instance, I don’t think a liberal minority should hold that up. (Luckily, that doesn’t seem to be the case recently.) I have the option of voting for a different candidate, for collecting petitions on a referendum, or having a sympathetic governor veto it (or line-item veto it).

I have another philosophical problem with this initiative, like the previous versions of it: it attacks a made up problem. Washington state does not have out of control taxation. I-1053 proponents would have you believe that the legislature can’t prioritize and so it just increases taxes to fund everything it wants. But that’s not the case. The Great Recession reduced the state’s revenues by billions. From I-1053 proponents, you’d think the legislature’s response was to raise taxes and fund all previous programs. We faced a reduction of revenue to the tune of about $2.8 billion for the current budget. The legislature raised about $780 million in taxes. The state received another $1.4 billion from other sources, such as the federal government and the rainy day fund. It cut about $714 million from the budget. I certainly think people can legitimately argue that there should have been more cuts. What is ludicrous is the idea that government just taxes and spends.

The approach is wrong. Don’t just say the legislature has it’s priorities wrong. Tell them exactly how it’s wrong. Get signatures on an initiative that eliminates programs you think are wasteful. (Initiatives can’t actually budget though. That does make things more difficult for this method.) I almost never see people who say the state taxes too much actually propose specific programs that should be cut. They instead rail about wasteful spending. But they never want to do the hard work of finding the wasteful spending. That’s the legislature’s job, according to them. Which it is, but it is also their job as citizens, voters, and human beings to give the legislature guidance. The few times I see suggestions of actual cuts, they are unrealistic for various reasons. Eliminating welfare completely. Or the cuts don’t come close to adding up to what’s needed to cut spending by the amount they want.

The reality is that the state tax burden is declining. That’s the evidence from the conservative Tax Foundation. In 1994, the state had an effective tax rate of 10.4% ranking it 17th among states. In 2008, the effective rate was 8.4%, ranking us 35th. Those numbers include both state and local taxes. At the state level only, the number of employees dropped over 4% from 2008 to 2009. Over the longer term, the state hasn’t exactly grown hugely in employees. According to the U.S. Census, the state had 133,000 employees in 1997, 149,000 in 2002, and 153,000 in 2007. That’s about a 15% growth in employees over 10 years, and before recent cutbacks. Over that same time period, the state’s population grew 13.6%. State government got a little but larger than our population would indicate, but not by much. Wages and salaries for state employees over that time went from $307 million per month in 1997, to $411 million in 2002 and $504 million in 2007. That seems like a huge increase, until you adjust for inflation. That $307 million in 1997 is worth $397 million in 2007, and the $411 million from 2002 is $473 million in 2007. Inflation adjusted, that’s a 26% increase from 1997 to 2007, but only a 6% increase from 2002. Compare that to the 6.5% increase in population from 2002 to 2007. Our gross state product (a measure of the size of the economy) grew 34% from 1997 to 2007. In other words, the state government isn’t growing like metastasized cancer. It’s grown, but not in uncontrollable ways. It’s growth our current tools for managing our government already can deal with.

To sum up, philosophically I-1053 is the wrong approach. Practically, I-1053 tries solve a problem that doesn’t exist to the level it’s proponents claim it does. That’s even if you think growing spending is a problem at all. I don’t. I think the legislature is already doing a halfway decent job at overall budgeting.

Data was pulled from generally reliable sources but percentages and other calculations when not explicitly supplied were done on the back of a napkin. Go dig up the data yourself if you don’t trust my numbers.

Stop the cuts
Stop the cuts / Photo by Tom Wills used under CC BY-NC license

Photo by Fibonacci Blue used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Visa auctions

So I’m reading Nariman Behravesh’s Spin-Free Economics (which isn’t). In particular, I’m reading the section on immigration. Behravesh is decidedly pro-immigration. I tend to be middle of the road here, neither falling in with the conservative camp railing against immigrants stealing jobs, nor with the liberal camp that bemoans the poor treatment we give illegal immigrants. Put it another way, I don’t have enough information really to come to any really good opinions about immigration.

I guess the way I’ve been trending in my political thought in the last few years is towards a sort of free-market liberalism. In other words, finding market based solutions for problems that the country faces. I still favor government intervention, but in such a way as to align that intervention with how people naturally behave. I don’t believe markets are magic. Any serious look at the economics of health insurance shows there’s a huge disincentive to that market working properly. But using the free market can have huge benefits. Carbon taxes or an auction based cap and trade system for reducing greenhouse gases, for instance.

Back to the immigration thing. Our current immigration policy essentially allows large numbers of low-skilled immigrants and very few high skilled immigrants. While there’s lots and lots of bloviating about illegal immigrants, there’s very little that’s done about it in comparison to the number of people that are illegally here, though what’s done is fairly harsh. Illegal immigration is largely composed of low skilled immigrants.

High skilled immigrants, like doctors and economists and journalists and programmers, is very limited. Illegal immigration for these kinds of people is much lower. Legal immigration is also limited. But if we put high skilled employees in direct competition with people who are willing to work for less, the benefits to the average American would be much greater than low skilled immigrants. Bringing in one doctor who is willing to work for 10% less than American doctors will help the average American far more than 10 additional minimum wage landscapers.

So how to do that? The thought that occurred to me as I was reading was an auction. Set the number of people allowed to enter the country legally at a fairly high, but limited number, say 250,000 or 300,000 per year. Then auction off those slots. Use the money to help fund job training for those displaced, and for additional safety net protections that conservatives complain about. I.e., they complain about immigrants using welfare. Well, use these visa auctions to fund welfare for immigrants.

The economics of it would favor high skilled immigration, but not cut off low skilled immigration if the number allowed in is set high enough.

At the same time, I would drastically reduce the paperwork necessary to immigrate this way.

Obviously, I can’t have been the first person to think of this. On returning home, a quick search brought up some academic papers relating to the idea. And something on the Becker-Posner Blog, which I generally avoid because Richard Posner is annoyingly a hack in areas outside his expertise. But nothing I could find that was written for a non-economist that discusses both pros and cons.

The So-Called “Fringe” Right

Elephant in the room

some Black Caucus members said that Wilson’s outburst is but the latest in a long string of ugly events rooted in racism, such as last week’s flap over Obama addressing the nation’s schoolchildren …

I agree that there’s a large element of racism behind the anger and attacks on Barack Obama, but I don’t think the anger or attacks would disappear if racism wasn’t present (magically). A vocal and more-or-less-in-charge-of-the-party section of the Republican party would proffer idiotic baseless attacks that in previous generations would be laughed as paranoid delusions no matter which Democrat was President. And the media would be a primary legitimizer of those attacks no matter who was President.

Remember Bill Clinton? He was accused of murdering Vince Foster, running drugs, raping women, and having the Arkansas State Patrol kill opponents.

How about Al Gore? He got branded as a liar and an environmental lunatic. Of course, he turned out to be right on the money for his concerns about global warming. Every major case of his lies weren’t things he said. They were things Republicans and journalists said he said, but when quotes were checked he hadn’t said them.

Just a little over four years ago John Kerry helped coin the term Swift-Boating as it’s first subject. The so-called fringe right turned John Kerry’s war service from one of honor and valor to one of lying and cowardice. Their claims were all false.

And now Barack Obama gets the beat-down from the right wing. Racism is changing the substance of their attacks, and perhaps the number of them. But since 1994’s Contract With America, the trend has been towards a Republican party dominated by right wing lunatics with little grasp of the truth. Had we elected Hillary Clinton these attacks would have been anti-woman in nature, rather than racially focused. Even if we elected someone like Dennis Kucinich, we were bound to get crazy falsehoods.

The simple fact is that those who control the Republican party are by and large people who don’t believe anyone but the far right has a legitimate claim to power. And they will believe whatever it takes to confirm their view of the world.

But they are also racists.

Why sensible people remain Republicans I do not understand.