Showing posts with label Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Obama. Show all posts

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Media and Mathematical Ignorance

 Going into the Presidential election, many of my pro-Obama friends and co-workers were nervous.  They had been hearing ad infinitum that Romney had caught up to Obama, and that this race would be a cliffhanger.  In dogged defiance, I insisted on this blog and elsewhere that Obama would win by about 100 electoral votes (Yes, I am permitting myself some gloating).

The disconnect between the reality of Obama’s impending decisive victory, and the supposed neck-and-neck nail-biter being reported by the mainstream media (especially in the final week or two of the campaign), can only be attributed to one or two factors:

1) The mainstream media needed to lie about the election to retain audience viewership, and thus command the highest-possible amount of advertising dollars; or

2) The mainstream media are truly incompetent when it comes to understanding and analyzing statistics.

Liars, or Stupid.  Or both. Take your pick.

The maps displayed by CNN, NBC, and other major media outlets all contained a collection of so-called ‘swing states,’ where the races, according to an effervescent John King and a hyperactive Wolf Blitzer, were ‘too close to call’ because the polls were all ‘within the margin of error.” Interspersed among the Reliably Blue and the Reliably Red states were a chain of unknown “yellow” states, that simply contained all the uncertainty of a well-matched, fever-pitch sporting event.

Yes, they were within the statistical margin of error.  No, that did not mean they were toss-ups.  And herein lies the media’s thorough misreporting of facts.

Consider the actual results and the polls from four of the so-called “too-close” swing states in the week leading up to the election:

Nov 1  Survey USA,  Obama 50%, Romney 46%
Nov 4 You Gov,  Obama 49%, Romney 45%
Nov 5 Public Policy, Obama 51%, Obama 47%
Actual: Obama 52%, Romney 46%

Nov 1 NBC-Marist, Obama 49%, Romney 46%
Nov 2 We Ask America, Obama 52%, Romney 45%
Nov 3 Public Policy, Obama 51%, Romney 48%
Nov 4 You Gov, Obama 50%, Romney 46%
Actual: Obama 53%, Romney 46%

New Hampshire
Nov 5 Rasmussen, Obama 50%, Romney 48%
Nov 5 New England College, Obama 50%, Romney 46%
Nov 5 Granite State/UNH, Obama 50%, Romney 46%
Actual: Obama 52%, Romney 47%

Nov 4 You Gov, Obama 48%, Romney 47%
Nov 5 Reuters, Obama 48%, Romney 47%
Public Policy, Obama 52%, Romney 46%
Actual: Obama 51%, Romney 47%

In each case, the media insisted these were too close to call.  In each case, the media insisted that all the polls were within the margin of error, and implied – or stated outright – that they could not be reliable indications as to what was happening in those states.

And that’s where they were either ignorant or lying.

Fact 1:  Take a look at those polls again.  In not one case did Obama fall behind Romney in those polls.  If anything, the media should have reported that Obama was consistently ahead of Romney in those states.

Fact 2: Statisticians allow themselves only a 5% possibility of error.  That means that poll results that pollsters consider a ‘safe bet’ is more than 95% likely to accurately reflect voter sentiment. 

A result that lies within a poll’s margin of error does NOT mean that the difference between the candidates is negligible, or that the numbers could even be reversed; it means that the certainty of the poll accurately reflecting the population is something just under 90% or 92%.

Imagine if John King had announced the following:

“Polls in the key states of Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada and Wisconsin show a 90% certainty that Obama will win each of those states.”

That would have been an accurate reporting of what it means to be within the margin of error.

It also would have made for poor drama, and low advertising revenues.  But the fact is that “within the margin of error” means nothing more than that. 

And the reality is that Obama consistently outpolled Romney in those states, and won in those states by margins at least as big as the polls.

The polls were indeed accurate.  But the media was crippled by a combination of stupidity and desire for drama.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Obama vs. Romney: Electoral Map, June 1 Update

[Updated July 1st,  August 1, September 1, and for the latest check our October 1 Update at ]

This map is updated just before the first of every month.  This month, we have made several changes based on polling and activities taking place in specific states, as follows:

ARIZONA: Once a red state, we see a backlash happening on several fronts: the zany antics of Sheriff Joe, efforts to define 'personhood' at ovulation, harping on the 'birther' issue, and harsh rhetoric about immigration should cause a perfect stew of resentment against Republicans by Hispanics, women, young people, and independents.  We see this state swinging Blue now.

IOWA: Polls are mixed, and too close to call. Iowa is tough to gauge, and will be close: we give the edge to the organizing capabilities of the religious right combined with the pro-Romney Des Moines GOP machine. Red.

FLORIDA: This should be Blue, but a massive effort by Republicans in the state to purge voting rolls of Democratic-leaning groups is almost certain to throw the electroal votes of Florida into court - again.  We give it to the GOP - again.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Though it went for Obama (narrowly) last time, this is a tight state.  An active Libertarian Party bid in NH that emphasizes peace and an end to the war on drugs will hurt Obama as much as Romney; and an increasingly organized Green Party effort will hurt Obama far more than Romney.  Given the already tight race in this state, we now give it to Romney - though we doubt he will win it with a majority of votes.

NORTH CAROLINA: Democratic convention in Charlotte notwithstanding, there is some Trumphalism among the religious right over the recent vote to ban Marriage Equality in the NC Constitution.  This momentum may just carry them through the Fall.

As for the other "swing" states: We still give Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio to Obama, and Indiana (won by Obama in 2008) to Romney. We do not believe that Obama is in damger of losing Wisconsin, but next month's recall election may tell us more about political organization and voter sentiment.

Overall: Obama over Romney, 304-234

Monday, January 18, 2010

Government Arrogance...

When teaching theories of "Government Failure" (ie, why Government action is almost always less efficient than private action) in my Macroeconomics classes, one of the eye-opening features of these classes to most students is that it doesnt matter which political party is in power. Government doesn't get better based on whether your President or Governor or Senator is Republican, or Democrat, or Liberal, or Conservative. Government failure - and its arrogance - is the Nature of the Beast, regardless of who is in power.

Government arrogance tells a single mom struggling on welfare to sit down and wait her turn in a dehumanizing box of a room to get her check. Government arrogance insists that she be subjected to a surprise drug test, just to reinforce her self-image as sub-human. Liberals call the former 'compassion;' Conservatives call the latter "responsibility." Regular People without a political agenda see both for what it is - arrogance.

A newly unemployed (and newly uninsured) HIV-positive man is directed to the local government-created AIDS Service Agency ("ASO") for approval in order to get his next dose of medications ($3,000/month) through the State Program. But if the ASO determines that he is not 'supportive' of the agency's illegal and unethical financial transactions, he is rejected. And if he applies to the State directly for help, he is told to wait for processing - even though missing a single dose may render that medication ineffective for the rest of his life. Liberals see this as compassionately covering people with public insurance; conservatives just complain about the money being spent. But the Pharamcist - a "regular person," a human being, slips the man some pills without charge to carry him over until the bureaucracy moves on his application.

A family facing Thanksgiving with an oil tank on empty and an outside thermometer reading of 20 degrees pleads with the local "Community Services Agency" for emergency fuel assistance. They are told there is an "intake appointment" available six weesk down the road. Liberals see this as the "social safety net;" conservatives are harshly unmoved by their plight.

Government responds to human crises in New Orleans and Haiti after "assessing damage" and "securing the area," while days pass by and critical hours - and lives - are lost. Liberals and Conservatives both refer to this as "Planning," both actually believing in the Super-smartness of people once they are hired by government, and both skeptical of the inherent strength and ingenuity of 'mere people' to help in their own rescue. Meanwhile, neighbors help neighbors as The Experts "plan" the rescue effort.

Homeless people, previously living in tents on the outskirts of town, set up some plywood walls and get themselves a heater to stay warm in the winter. Government Arrogance requires that they meet building codes, but has no available beds for them if they are shut down. Private individuals raise the money and secure a rental storefront to provide spite of government sputtering about the need to "license" such facilities.

A police officer, quite impressed with her power to pull over someone with a headlight out, detains a man and his daughter for an hour as she runs reports and harasses both of them. She lies about a supposed "Restraint Order" in her computer records on the man (later proved false by the State Police), which supposedly turned up on a routine drivers license check (later contradicted by the State Police), and pulls the daughter out of the car, questioning and asking her to prove she really *is* the man's daughter. Oh, yes, the man and his daughter are of different races...and a criminal justice expert will later remark, "Oh, they figured you were pimping her..."

Real Stories. Recent stories. Stories with which I have first-hand experience. Stories of government arrogance...arrogance exhibited by both Republicans and Democrats, by both Conservatives and Liberals in their over-bearing partisanship and insistence on their own righteousness in how to impose help on the masses.

Pundits wonder how true-blue Massachusetts could possibly be rejecting Democrat Martha Coakley for conservative Republican Scott Brown. They wonder how a health care bill - a promise that helped catapult Obama to the Presidency - can be so opposed in even the most liberal areas of the country.


A Governor insisting on appointing Kennedy's replacement rather than follow the existing law requiring an election. A President insisting on Christmas Eve and midnight votes on a 2,000 page bill that most congressmen admit to not having read. Congressional insistence that every American be required to purchase health insurance from a private company, all while prohibiting non-profits from forming to provide insurance. Military insistence that while straight soldiers can sow their oats while on leave and receive free STD treatments afterwards, decorated, monogamous, partnered gay military members must remain closeted or face ejection and loss of pensions. A New Hampshire state legislative committee deciding to ban self-defensive weapons from state property, in spite of the entire legislature saying otherwise.

Government Arrogance. People are tired of it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

5 Steps to Better Health Care

President Obama has launched his Class Warfare Health Policy Initiative. Economists, many Caregivers, and non-Socialists are understandably aghast at the proposal to spend over a trillion dollars, tax the "rich" at 45%, and let loose a system of bureaucracy-controlled health care services. But we need to do more than yell "NO!" We need to acknowledge the problems that do exist; propose solutions that address the problem; and do so within a context that has broad political support from the ideological 'middle' of the country.

With that in mind, I suggest the following parameters:

1) First, we must acknowledge that there *is* a problem in terms of affordable access to health care for many Americans. With 10% of the Labor Force out of work (and youth, stay-at-home parents, part-time workers, the disabled, many immigrants and the homeless are NOT included in the figure), estimates range from 30 to 50 million Americans living without health insurance. That means somewhere between 10% and 15% of Americans.

2) It has been demonstrated that those with a lack of access to health care delay treatment until their conditions require critical (and far more costly) attention. This adds to the expenses Providers incur (and often absorb) and the strain on existing government programs (and thus, increase cost to taxpayers).

3) We must agree that compassion and the political climate both dictate that a, "hell, tough on them!" approach is not an acceptable response.

4) Having said that, the solutions must address the problem. At my office (an Academic institution), one often hears people singing the praises of a Single Payer System. They frame the problem as the 'lack of a single payer system.' However, this response falls apart when weighed rationally. If 85% of Americans had affordable access to supermarket food, and 15% were lacking basic nutrition, we would never suggest that all 100% of the country have access to free food at the supermarket, with the bill sent to The Government. We all know intuitively that the result would be a run on food, a shortage of goods in the supermarket, wasted resources, and a broke country. And yet, that is precisely what the Single Payer Cheerleaders want for health care. If the problem is access for 15% of Americans, than the solution is a way to find access for 15% of Americans.

5) Insurance is both a blessing and a curse: it allows people to access health care (the blessing), but also permits non-emergency situations to crowd hospitals and ER rooms with unncessary service, as consumers receive thousands of dollars worth of treatment for a small copay of $10, $25, or $50. True Health Care Reform must acknowledge objective, observable economic realities and not be bases on some hand-holding kumbaya approach to human nature.

6) The provision of care must be centered on the Doctor-Patient relationship, NOT on insurers' profits or government bureaucracies "one-sized-fits-all" approach of form and process and procedure and approval.

7) We must acknowldge that the American health care system is the best in the world, bar none. Those who point to Canada forget that there is not a single modern machine in Canada capable of removing kidney stones. Those who trumpet Britain forget that Britain has closed 40% of her hospital beds since the 1940 NHS was enacted. Those who point to Scandinavia forget that it is the American doctors who win the Noebel prizes, the American researchers who have made all the modern major medical breakthroughs in the last century, and it is America that attracts doctors from all over the world. a nutshell: we need a system that helps those without affordable access to gain that access, in a way that protects and enhances the doctor-patient relationship, lowers costs to consumers and providers, and continues to support a profitable - and successful - health industry.

With all of those as 'context,' here are my 5 Proposals:

1) Permit community groups to form for the purpose of buying health insurance. Sounds simple, isn't it? But it's illegal. Individuals can *not,* under existing law, form 'groups' whose primary purpose is purchasing insurance. (Groups may form for business or fraternalh purposes, and then choose to buy insurance as an incidental benefit, but they can not form for no other reason than to buy insurance). End this prohibition, let the market dictate rates, let competition ensue, and there will be no need for a Federal Government-related Insurance Bureaucracy. Take it one step further: end State Monopolies on insurers. The Federal Government (not States) has the authority to regulate Interstate Commerce, and since people may have an accident *anywhere* and request their insurer to cover it, this is clearly federal jurisdiction. Blow open the lid on Insurer Competition.

2) Enact Tort and Medical Malpractice Reform NOW. It was reported 5 years ago that an OB-GYN doctor in Massachusetts has to deliver EIGHTY-FIVE babies just to cover his malpractice insurance premiums for a year. Worse, 5% of doctors are responsible for 95% of malpractice claims, raising all doctor's and hopistal's premiums. Limit Malpractice Awards, raise the negligence standards (so hospitals dont need to run unnecessary tests), and relieve the 95% of decent doctors from paying the premiums of the 5% convicted of malpractice.

3) Eliminate the FDA's requirements that drugs be safe AND EFFICACIOUS. Currently, the FDA requires that pharmaceutical companies prove that their drugs meet two tests: they must prove safe, and they must be 'efficacious,' that is, they must be proven to cure the condition they claim to address in virtually 100% of patients. This is a costly and unnecessary test: Many people react differntly to different substances. The Peanut Butter that fed me through high school will kill someone with an allergy. Let *Doctors* decide what to prescribe, with the understanding that the idiosyncracies of individuals means that results WILL be different with different drugs. A drug that doesnt work, will not be prescribed. On the other hand, if a doctor determines that medical marajuana is more efficacious and cost-effective than morphine, so be it. Eliminate tiered coverage that allows Insurers to cease to cover necessary, but expensive, pharmaceuticals.

4) Engage in Multi-national agreements with other nations to accept their pharmaceuticals. The refusal of the US FDA to permit the importation of Canadian pharmaceuticals is insane. An individual can come to the US from France, or Britain, or Mali, or India, and providing only a driver's license from their own nation, get behind the wheel of a 6,000 pound rental car and take off minutes after landing - even if they don't speak English or have never driven on the right side of the road. And yet, if a pharmaceutical company goes through hundreds of thousands of tests in Germany, or Britain, or Canada, the results are not considered 'valid' in the US. Now, realistically, which is more dangerous: the driver, or a drug produced in Canada?

5) Permit every American to have a Medical Savings Account. Currently, Government workers and some self-employed people can utilize a Medical Savings Account which permits them to cover medical costs using a credit-card-like card. These citizens have a certain amount of money deducted from their paychecks, and go into an account for medical expenses: prescription drugs, eyeglasses, dental work, and even over the counter remedies. These deductions are pre-tax, meaning it lowers the person's gross income, lowering their tax and even possibly dropping them into a lower tax bracket. Better yet, these workers can 'borrow' against future deductions if they incur expenses early in the year at no interest expense. If government workers are allowed these accounts, why not ALL Americans?

These proposals will not solve all of our problems, but they will go a long way to providing access for those who do not have it, lowering costs for everybody, and enhancing the doctor-patient relationship.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama's Stimulus: in the end, a disappointment that will make matters worse.

(Actual picture of a woman heating her home with a wheelbarrow of Deutschmarks. The German financial collapse that precipitated WW2)

When the new White House first let glimpses of the Stimulus Plan out to the media, I was cautiously optimistic: the cornerstone appeared to be tax cuts and spending on infrastructure. Tax cuts always help (if they are across the board and accompanied by spending cuts); investing in infrastructure is a tool that has long-term benefits and payoffs in terms of more efficient movement of goods and services throughout the economy.

My hopes have faded into nothing. Less than 5% of the bill is for highways and bridges

What has emerged is a free-spending "give-away" that will cause more harm than good. The $800-$900 billion spending pacakge will actually cost an additional 347 billion in interest alone according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The largest single chunk of these funds - $252 billion - is for "transfer payments" - $81 billion for Medicaid, $36 billion for expanded unemployment benefits, $20 billion for food stamps, and $83 billion for the earned income credit for people who don't pay income tax. While this may sound "good" because it helps poor people who are struggling, it is still a one-time dumping of money that is not going to create jobs, increase employment, or ramp up our GDP. Bush tried thsi twice with no effect.

You may argue that in this economy, helping those in need is a worthy end in itself: but at what cost? Obama claims that 95% of Americans will get a tax cut as a result of this Stimulus Package. But the reality is that we are not getting free money from the government: we will be getting money that the US Government is going to borrow, and then we will have to pay it back with interest. In other words, Uncle Sam is forcing us to take out a loan, and forcing us to repay it, whether we like it or not. It is not a give-away, although it will appear that way.

We are not in a Liquidity (credit) Crisis. We are in an Over-Indebtedness Crisis, which has resulted in a liquidity problems, and this will exacerbate the problem. How many times can you shore up a collapsing dock with duct tape and baling wire before the entire structure collapses?

When inflation hits - and it will - we will be in worse shape than ever. If losing 40% of your 401K is bad (which is what happened to many of us in the last year), think how bad it will be when those funds can't even cover the cost of a used car.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Republican Party - Which Way Now?

The Republican Party – my party – has just been delivered a well-earned knockout punch. Reliable “red” States in the west and south have been taken by Democrats. Here in New England, there is not a single Republican Congressman and only one Governor left. And in New Hampshire, once a Yankee Republican bastion, you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of state or federal Republican figures left.

Republicans did not lose simply because of large numbers of young people and African-Americans voted. In fact, as a percentage of the total electorate, African-Americans and young people made up almost precisely the same percentage of the electorate as they did four years ago. No, Republicans lost because average Americans from all walks of life, especially self-described moderates and independents, and even some lifelong Republicans, turned to the Democrats.

Where did the GOP go wrong? And what must we do to rebuild?

The party needs a clear philosophy and vision. An entire generation of new voters came to the polls believing that the Bush administration represented Republican ideals. Republicans spent eight years defending sickening deficits, exploding budgets, and “big-government” programs that they would have railed against had they been proposed by a Democratic Administration. We were inexcusably silent as America, the great hope of the world, became represented by images of torture and Guantanamo Bay. Republicans should have been outraged…but instead, we defended “our guy” in the white house, and earned the public’s disdain. They grew tired of the Bush administration’s vision of America.

We must articulate in clear terms positive, pro-active solutions for the problems and concerns that the American people have. Access to health care and secure retirement provisions are national concerns: We cannot simply be ‘against’ universal health care or social security, we must present clear, pragmatic, appealing alternatives.

As these proposals are formulated, we must be careful not to fall prey to the idea that we must choose to side with either the “moderates” or the “conservatives” within the Party. A lukewarm, “me-too” version of the Democrats is not a solution, but neither is cliché-ridden pandering to a shrill religious right. Rather, Republicans must forge a new path, a path that is consistent with both the Republican philosophy and the American spirit, and which resonates with voters of all stripes: we must combine fiscal responsibility and social tolerance. The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government and maximum personal freedom. It’s about time we reclaimed that heritage in a consistent manner.

As we present our alternatives, we must eradicate the mean-spiritedness, the innuendos, the mud-slinging, and the anger from our speech. We must offer vision, hope, and a future to all. If we want young people, minorities, and immigrants in the party, then we need to really want them, not just tolerate them and accept their contributions.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan articulated a clear vision, and spoke in positive terms of hope and freedom for all. Americans responded, as disaffected Democrats and independents swelled Republican ranks. In 2008, Barack Obama rode to victory on those Reaganesque concepts. It should serve as a wake-up call to the party to reclaim its heritage of individual liberty and prosperity for all, delivered with clarity and compassion.