Sunday, August 12, 2007

Polls, Tolls, Infrastructure and Health Care Built of Straw

August 12, 2007, 8:00, 9:55 a.m.

Grasping at straw . . . polls

Best quotes:

On scheduling the Iowa caucus:
"We're glad to hear Gov. Chet Culver say emphatically, 'Iowa will go first, that is the bottom line,' but . . . at the rate the process is speeding up, the parties might as well hold their caucuses for the 2012 election at the same time."
Editorial, "Our Quick Take on Last Week's News Stories: 'Tis the Season for Political Folly," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 12, 2007, p. A9.

On Republican presidential candidates feeding voters at the Republicans' Straw Poll:
Iowans have not gotten this much pork from politicians since Chuck Grassley got the federal government to kick in $50 million for the rain forest.
John Carlson, "Real Action at Straw Poll is Outside Coliseum," Des Moines Register, Augst 12, 2007, p. A5.

"Man Bites Dog" is often used as an example of what makes news: the unusual, the unexpected. By that standard why does the Press-Citizen headline: "Romney Tops Straw Poll" (hardcopy only; not online; reference to Register) and the Register "Romney's Drive Pays Off"?

Where's the "news"? Romney blanketed the state with straw-poll-focused TV commercials prior to the event, spent something like $1,000,000 by the time he'd brought in 100 bus loads of voters -- old Chicago style -- and then fed and entertained them, and paid the Republican $35 poll tax for each of them to vote at an "election" in which the leading contenders weren't even participating! (Fred Thompson, who has not even entered the race and didn't show up, got 1.4% of the vote; Rudy Giuliani 1.3%; and John McCain 0.7%. Thus, two of these non-contenders got more than two "straw poll candidates": Duncan Hunter, 1.2%; John Cox, 0.3%.)

What's the significance of "tops straw poll" in an election in which three of the leading contenders aren't even running?

At that, Romney only got 4516 votes from the 33,000 Republicans in attendance -- 13.7% (although 31.6% of those actually voting).

The real news (as I see it) is Mike Huckabee's second place finish (18.1%). At least The Gazette, alone among this morning's papers,
bothered to note in a sub-head, "Huckabee Takes Second Place." (It also had the most useful front-page information: a layout of the 11 candidates pictures, votes and percentages.) Huckabee had no pre-poll TV commercials and a fraction of Romney's money. He's essentially splitting the Christian conservative vote with Sam Brownbeck (who came in third at 15.3%) -- all of which makes Huckabee's victory even more remarkable (and newsworthy). (Together Huckabee and Brownback had 33.4% of the vote -- more than Romney -- and when one or the other drops out much of their support will probably go to the one who remains.) Rod Boshart and James Lynch, "GOP Straw Poll Voters Pick Romney; Huckabee Takes Second Place; Brownback Third," The Gazette, August 12, 2007, p. A1.

"Huckabee's a Winner! Stuns Iowa's Republicans and Journalists." That would have been my headline. Then maybe a sub-head, "Romney Buys Most Votes." Something like that.

[And see, Nicholas Johnson, "It's Huckabee," July 24, 2007.]

Straw Infrastructure

Anyone my age will remember the story of the "Three Little Pigs." The moral -- at least encouraged, if not actually underwritten, by the brick manufacturers' trade association -- is that brick is a more substantial building material than straw for those needing protection from wolves with above-average lung capacity.

An infrastructure built on straw and rust makes no more sense than a housing program relying on straw. And not incidentally, pouring steel-eroding salt on icy bridges made of steel doesn't make a lot more sense these days than the old advice to "pour oil on troubled waters."

Children's stories and analogies aside, the Des Moines Register takes a serious look at infrastructure this morning with its lead editorial and two very well-written columns from Dick Doak and Ismael Hossein-Zadeh (along with David Yepsen's conclusion that at least in Iowa, when it comes to infrastructure "politics will trump policy").

Editorial, "Bill is Due to Shore Up Infrastructure," Des Moines Register, August 12, 2007, p. OP 1 ("the American Society of Civil Engineers . . . puts the grand total of America's infrastructure needs at $1.6 trillion).

Richard Doak, "Quit Tax Breaks; Rebuild America Instead," Des Moines Register, August 12, 2007, p. OP 3 ("Might there be a connection between the deplorable state of the nation's infrastructure and the penchant for giving away public money to private enterprises?")

Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, "What Drives Neglect? Tax Cuts, Military Spending," Des Moines Register, August 12, 2007, p. OP 3. ("[F]or the same amount of money [as the cost of the Iraq War in 2007, $140 billion, we could have had]: 13,842 new elementary schools, or 39 million people with health care, or 19 million Head Start places for children.")

David Yepsen, "Politics Trumps Infrastructure," Des Moines Regislter, August 12, 2007, p. OP 3.

Beds of Straw: America's "Sicko" Health Care

As Dennis Kucinich says, "We're already paying for universal health care. We're just not getting it."

Michael Moore's movie, "Sicko" -- his best work to date, and a film that should be seen by every American who believes they may someday require medical care -- makes the persuasive point that even those Americans who do have health insurance (not to mention the 45 million who don't) aren't getting what they're paying for (so long as insurance companies, and their executives and employees, are economically enriched by denying rather than paying claims).

For those who stubbornly cling to the ideological fantasy that our profit-maximizing, claim-denying, capitalist, insurance-company dictated, disease-treating system for the rich gives us the world's best health care system, now comes more solid statistical evidence that it doesn't.

Twenty years ago Americans ranked 11th in the world in life expectancy -- a measure clearly relevant in comparing countries' health care systems. Today we've dropped to 42nd. It doesn't help that one-third of us are obese and two-thirds are overweight -- as but one bit of evidence of our unhealthy lifestyles -- but clearly our mean-spirited and broken health care delivery system bears a major responsibility.

For those who ridicule Moore for using Cuba as an example of a good health care system, consider this. A baby born in Cuba has a better chance of surviving its first year than a baby born in the U.S. That's right; Cuba has a better infant mortality rate than we do. It turns out that we're also 42nd in the world in infant mortality -- 41 countries do a better job than we do -- another common and relevant comparative measure. Infant mortality in Beijing is 4.6 per thousand births; in New York City it's 6.5.

And, hey, you "right-to-life" folks, isn't the death of a new-born at least as much of a loss of life as aborting a fetus before it's born by means of an abortion? Why aren't you lobbying for a universal, single-payer health care (not "health insurance") system? Do you realize if we did as well as Singapore we'd have more than 18,900 additional surviving babies each year?

Associated Press, "U.S. Slipping in Life Expectancy Rankings," New York Times, August 12, 2007, 7:03 a.m.; Nicholas D. Kristof, "Health Care? Ask Cuba," New York Times, January 12, 2005.

And see, National Center for Health Statistics, "Life Expectancy."

# # #


Anonymous said...

The media truncates the straw poll story. Ron Paul's 4th place performance is ignored. Paul's finish is at least as notable as Romney, Huckabee etc. I cannot understand why the media ignores Paul's story. It seems like the major candidates manipulate the press to ignore a Libertarian like Paul.

Anonymous said...

Great blog.

"And, hey, you "right-to-life" folks, isn't the death of a new-born at least as much of a loss of life as aborting a fetus before it's born by means of an abortion? Why aren't you lobbying for a universal, single-payer health care (not "health insurance") system?"

Actually, the Catholic Church is working for universal health care.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure the 'right to life' folks care much about many of the other health issues.

Does this group care about poverty, and racism , both of which contribute to infant mortality?

I suspect the right-to-lifers also support the NRA, which is a complete paradox.

It's one issue voters than vote selfishly without considering the whole.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.