During the brief time in the election cycle when the voting booths are actually open, we hear a lot how smoothly elections are going—where voters are waiting in long lines, where ballots are getting rejected, and the like. Elections expert Doug Chapin, who heads the University of Minnesota’s Elections Academy, calls it “anec-data”—anecdotes substituting for hard numbers. In a presidential election, we tend to hear all about problems in swing states, since the national press corps is already there, but we’re less likely to hear about issues in Montana or Connecticut, where the election outcome is almost a foregone conclusion. Good data would make it easy to compare states’ election performance, and more importantly, let us see how states are improving or declining from one election to the next.
So Stephen Colbert will be replacing David Letterman when Letterman retires next year, and you'll be shocked to learn that at least one conservative is spitting mad about it. "CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America," said Rush Limbaugh. "No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservative values—now it's just wide out in the open." Funny, I thought Hollywood's assault on traditional American values was pretty overt already.
As a reader of this web site, you are informed and aware, so you no doubt saw the stories that came out yesterday about the data trove the government just released on what individual doctors bill Medicare. The shocking news was that some have managed to charge the government millions of dollars, including one ophthalmologist, Salomon Melgen, who billed Medicare an incredible $21 million in 2012 alone, and who just happens to be caught up in an investigation of influence peddling with a Democratic senator. But before this story disappears with some head-shaking about scandal and fraud, we should take note of what it teaches us about why we have the most expensive health care system in the world.
This hard-core rock-'n-roller knows his scripture. (Flickr/Center for American Progress)
Let it not be said that conservatives have failed to evolve on the question of gay rights. These days, even if you are adamantly opposed to marriage equality, you're required to express a kind of libertarian attitude toward homosexuality itself. Love the sinner, hate the sin? Not anymore. Now it's love the sinner, and as for the sin, well that's none of my business, you do what you like. But this public display of live-and-let-livism is a rather shocking contradiction with the very grounds on which many conservatives base their beliefs about this issue, namely the Old Testament. I give you Mike Huckabee, speaking yesterday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition: "I'm not against anybody. I'm really not. I'm not a hater. I'm not homophobic," he said. "I honestly don't care what people do personally in their individual lives."
Well hold on there! You honestly don't care? But doesn't the Bible condemn the act itself? Yahweh doesn't say, "Whatever you do in the bedroom is none of anybody's business, just don't think you can get married." Huckabee, a Baptist minister, certainly knows his scripture, and he explained why he can't change on this issue even if public opinion changes:
There have been many odd and interesting developments in American conservatism in the last few years, but there are few that liberals find more incomprehensible than the belief among many conservative Christians that not only are they currently being oppressed for their religious beliefs, but that today's outrages are but a prelude to a far more vicious and violent crackdown on Christianity that is right around the corner. There's a movie I want to talk about in a moment, but first, I'd like to explore where this is coming from, both from the perspective of the conservative Christians themselves, and the liberals who have such a hard time understanding it.
If you're an advocate of marijuana legalization, you've had nothing but good news for some time now, and more keeps coming. Today at that snappy new Vox thing the hip kids put together, there's an article pointing out that although many people predicted a spike in crime once pot became legal in Colorado, statistics from Denver show that crime has actually declined a bit over the last few months compared to the same period in 2013. It's a small period of time, to be sure, but it doesn't look as though there has been an explosion of robberies or any other kind of crime.
There was a time in our history, thankfully long past now, when bribery was common and money's slithery movement through the passages of American government was all but invisible, save for the occasional scandal that would burst forth into public consciousness. Today, we know much more about who's getting what from whom. Members of Congress have to declare their assets, lobbyists have to register and disclose their activities, and contributions are reported and tracked. Whatever you think about the current campaign finance system, it's much more transparent than it once was.
By now you may have heard the story of Brendan Eich, who was named the CEO of the Mozilla corporation, which runs the Firefox web browser, then resigned ten days later after it was revealed that he donated $1,000 to the campaign for California's Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in the state and was later overturned. Eich's resignation came after the company came under pressure from many directions, including the dating site OKCupid, which put a message on its site asking its users not to use Firefox. This is something of a dilemma for liberals: on one hand, we support marriage equality, but on the other, we also support freedom of thought and don't generally think people should be hounded from their jobs because of their beliefs on contentious issues. So where should you come down?
In order to decide, there are a few questions you need to ask, some of which are easier to answer than others:
With the Supreme Court's decision in the McCutcheon case, some people think we're heading for the complete removal of contribution limits from campaigns. Jeffrey Toobin, for instance, argues that the way Justice Roberts defines corruption—basically, nothing short of outright bribery qualifies—means that he could well be teeing things up to eliminate contribution limits entirely in some future case. Which got me thinking: if we really are headed for that eventual outcome, how would that place us compared to other countries? For instance, if you're a Monsieur Koch in France, can you write a candidate a million-euro check?
Fortunately, the good folks at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), an inter-governmental agency, have gathered this kind of information together. Of course, a large database of laws from all over the world is going to miss many of the subtleties and loopholes that characterize each individual country's system. But if you were thinking that other similarly advanced democracies must all have tighter laws than ours, you wouldn't be exactly right.