Dem Debate Recap: Artful Smear Edition

DemFeb4-0Going into last nights Dem tilt in New Hampshire the imperative for Bernie Sanders was maintaining his copious lead in the polls so that he doesn’t find himself falling short of expectations in next Tuesday’s primary. For Hillary Clinton the goal was partly to erode his lead a bit, but mainly just getting this whole New Hampshire thing over with so she can move on to more promising territory south and west. Although the debate vibe is less exciting now that we’ve lost the policy stylings of Marty the Party O’Malley, things did get spirited at times. Let’s go to the play by play.

8:03 The very first words out of Sanders’ mouth: “Millions of Americans are giving up on the political process.” That’s an upbeat start! It’s also actually sort of wrong. Given the chronically horrendous levels of voter participation in the U.S. compared to other advanced countries, it feels like those millions gave up long ago.

8:04 Clinton in her opening declares that “special interests are doing too much to rig the game.” A fair point, but it’s a bit, shall we say, rich coming from someone who just one night earlier on CNN couldn’t cogently answer a question about why it’s been okay for her to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wall Street interests to give speeches.

8:06 Moderator Chuck Todd asks Clinton why she thinks Bernie’s ideas are untenable – why he won’t be able to make the things he’s running on actually happen. Her answer goes a bit wonky on several issues but doesn’t really answer the specific process question Todd posed. She concludes with a canned aphorism: “A progressive is someone who makes progress.” As a snappy way to synthesize her view on the (im)practicality of Sanders’ ideas, it’s mildly clever, but it’s also facile and wrong. It matters quite a bit what one makes progress on. Trump, for instance, plans lots of progress on his fabulous Mexican wall, but he ain’t no progressive.

8:08 Asked why he hasn’t gotten any of his expansive liberal agenda enacted in two decades in Congress, Sanders deadpans “well I haven’t quite run for president before.” (He then removes and cleans off the knife.) His answer, like Clinton’s, is unsatisfying because he, too, ignores the process question. His central claim is that he can’t believe we won’t or can’t do these things – hey Bern, you and me both – but unfortunately restating your agenda is not a defense of its capacity for enactment.

8:10 Clinton assures us there is no disagreement between them on universal health care. “The disagreement is where do we start from and where do we up.” She levels the accusation she has been making on the trail – that Sanders would have us start all over again, catalyzing a “contentious national debate that has very little chance of succeeding.” Sanders calls bullshit on the “start all over again” charge. He’s believable – surely nobody thinks he’d unravel Obamacare while trying to push single payer – but his angle here would be more compelling if he could persuade us he has the working leadership chops to make progress. Not there yet, and frankly not sure how he ever gets there.

8:12 Moderator Rachel Maddow asks Clinton to respond to statements by Sanders on the trail that she is too conservative and not sufficiently progressive. She throws out that progressive=progress trope again (drink). Needs to lose that, but then she offers up a strong, forceful answer with specific examples to make the point that a “progressive” litmus test would problemetize the lefty cred of several prominent liberals, including Sanders himself. Donning his cranky man pants, Sanders replies with a strident minilecture on “the reality of American economic life today.” It’s a short version of his stump speech, it gets lots of applause, but it has little to do with the question.

8:16 Chuck Todd asks if Obama would meet Sanders’ test of progressivism. Sanders reminds us that this whole conversation about Clinton’s liberal bonafides emanates from her own statement describing herself as a moderate. (So “moderate” is now a devil term like “child molester”?) He then goes on to say that he thinks Obama despite several non-progressive proclivities (on things like trade) is a progressive. Doesn’t say whether Martin Van Buren was also.

8:18 Clinton humble brags about the scars she has from health care battles in the early 1990s. Uses that to reject attacks on her for “where I stand and where I’ve always stood.” Says let’s talk about actual differences regarding what we’ll actually do. Sanders reply: you want differences? Fine I’ll give you differences. I’m the only one on this stage with no SuperPac and the only one not raising Wall Street money. Clinton, not amused to say the least, shoots him the dagger-glare across the split screen.

8:20 Asked how he can lead the Democratic party if he isn’t a Democrat, Sanders says a whole bunch of words and sentences that add up to, essentially, “well I am now so get over it.”

8:22 Clinton, apparently starting to let Sanders get under her skin, borrows his cranky pants and humble brags about all the Vermont Democrats who have endorsed her. Sanders concedes that she represents the establishment while he represents ordinary people. They both seem to be yelling at us now. I turn down the TV volume a few notches.


Bernie: not enchanted by Hillary’s efforts to paint herself as smear victim.

8:24 Clinton muses that it’s “amusing” for someone running to be the first woman president to be seen as “exemplifying the establishment.” It’s a sharp little quip that gives rise to a very sharp exchange. Bernie returns the volley with the observation that having your SuperPAC raise $15 million from Wall Street in the last quarter = “establishment.” Goes on to decry the extent to which “big money controls the political process in this country.” Clinton riposte is the classic frame-it-as-a-personal-attack gambit: he is using “innuendo” and “insinuation” to create an “attack” suggesting that anyone who takes speaking fees from special interests has to be “bought.” Scolds Sanders: “attacks by insinuation are not worthy of you” and oh by the way “you will not find that I changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I received.” Probably should have stopped there but she’s on a roll, so she directs him to “end the very artful smear” you have been carrying on and talk about issues. That draws “ooohs” from the crowd. She’s forceful (and clearly pissed) but has she overplayed her hand?

8:28 Sanders says fine you wanna talk about issues let’s talk about issues, and then goes on to recite the litany of progressive policy goals that are obviously obstructed by corporate contributions and lobbying. Clinton replies that no person in political life has had more special interest money spent againts her than her. Virtually yelling now, she pulls a Sanders vote from 2000 on derivative deregulation out of her pocket. Puts him on his heels a bit with that one. We go to a commercial break, giving the network a welcome chance to hose down the candidates.

8:37 Asked about her big speaking fees that she has been struggling to explain, Clinton claims with a straight face that Wall Street was paying her big bucks to tell them before the recession that “they were going to wreck the economy because of these shenanigans with mortgages.” Convenient that nobody can produce any tapes to prove such a thing. “I have a record, I have stood firm” and I’m the one who can prevent them from wrecking the economy again.

8:40 Invited to respond, Saunders goes full Bernie on Wall Street as death star. Gives full throated attack on power and corruption in rigged system. Clinton replies that she’s the one with actual plans to fix it. Her strategy tonight is at every turn to grab onto Sanders anger, and assert that she will act on it. It’s an effective rhetorical approach in large part because Sanders isn’t prepared to challenge her assertions. On Wall Street power and the economy the fact is they agree on the essentials.

8:46 Chuck Todd asks Clinton if she would release transcripts of paid speeches to corporate groups. (Translation: if you want us to believe you accepted six figures from Goldman Sachs for telling them they are ruining the economy we’re going to need some proof.) Clinton replies “I will look into it.” (Translation: when hell freezes over.)

8:47 Clinton is talking about all the evil companies she wants to “go after.” If Sanders has done nothing else with this campaign he has turned her into at least a good imitation of an anti-corporate economic populist. Sanders replies that “the business model of Wall Street is fraud.” Strong stuff. Sort of true, sort of not. He oversteps here. Clinton wisely doesn’t refute, instead pivoting to the personal – people she’s met who have lost homes. Says she wants to “take back the power and increase the empowerment” of the people. This is a bit of a stretch. Let’s face it: the Clintons are the power, not a force that will “take it back” (whatever that means).

8:51 Sanders admits in reply to a question that there are good corporations, then hastens to add that there are also corporations that chew on babies and then spit the remains out into waterways as organic pollutants.


Hillary shows Bernie her “you don’t know squat about foreign policy” smugface.

8:55 Foreign policy. After the previous lengthy exchanges in Sanders’ corporate bashing wheelhouse, Hillary sports a smug and confident “now we’re on my turf, grandpa” look. And we are. She talks foreign policy with the steady substance of a former Secretary of State. It’s hard for Sanders to argue with, and he doesn’t, resorting instead to reminding us that he opposed the Iraq war she voted for. Credit to Clinton for owning the vote rhetorically and trying to redirect the conversation to the present.

Sanders’ challenge on foreign policy is that his approach to present-day difficulties don’t really differ significantly from Clinton’s, and (to his credit) he isn’t inclined to manufacture artificial contrasts that don’t really exist. Just as he is more authentically effective at articulating full-throated economic populism, she is better at discussing the issues and nuances of our foreign entanglements. So what we get is a civil and somewhat interesting discussion of world affairs between two people of similar mind and sentiment.

9:04 Sanders articulates a “doctrine” of multilateralism and restraint. Clinton turns on him a bit, showing off her geopolitical knowledge and suggesting some naivete on Sanders’ part. “This is a big part of the job interview” that we are conducting with the voters of New Hampshire. Sanders (refreshingly) concedes that Clinton has more experience than him, but then reprises the Iraq war vote as a test of “judgment” rather than experience. Clinton avers that O wouldn’t have made her Secretary of State if she didn’t have judgment. Throws around the “ready on day one” thing. Doesn’t mention whether it’ll happen at 3 am.

9:08 Sanders tries to find some daylight between the two of them on approaches to negotiation with foreign adversaries, but has difficulty as Clinton lectures him how things “really work” (a rebuttal that is effective but would be even more so without the self-satisfied facial expression).

9:13 A similar dynamic on Russia: Sanders is reasonable and sensible; Clinton is reasonable and sensible, but also informed, substantive, and strategic. On foreign policy she pretty much cleans his clock. Wonder how long until he mentions her Iraq war vote again.

9:15 Rachel Maddow takes pity on Sanders by throwing out a softball question on veterans and possible privatization of the VA. Sanders being a former chair of Senate committee on veterans affairs hits this one out of the park.

9:22 Evidence that 80 minutes is long enough for this debate: At minute 82 Chuck Todd is asking the candidates what they think about a possible audit of the Iowa caucus results. Both candidates agree that they’ve never heard of Iowa and have no idea what Chuck is talking about.

9:25 Further evidence: Rachel Maddow asks Sanders if as nominee he will be “destroyed” in the general just like Barry Goldwater and George McGovern. Sanders gives a long-winded answer that adds up to some form of “no” though frankly it’s not clear he has convinced himself. Asked to comment Clinton heaps praise on the Sanders campaign knowing that as she is speaking these words a Clinton campaign worker is out in the parking lot letting the air out of the tires of the Sanders campaign bus.

9:30 Chuck Todd takes Clinton out for a spin around Scandal Harbor on the good ship Email. Clinton speaks of a new development in what she deftly calls “the email matter” – reports that former Secretary of State Colin Powell and aides to former Secretary Condelezza Rice used private email accounts. Calling the issue an “absurdity,” Clinton makes a clearly pre-planned Sherman statement about the whole email affair: “I have absolutely no concerns about it whatsoever.” Nice to hear but one imagines that lots of Democrats likely still have plenty of concern. Sanders declines to take response bait; celebrates his own restraint, yielding applause. Comes off as a bit of a self-aggrandizing moment for the gentlemen from Vermont.

9:34 Maddow is asking pointless questions about pointless inside baseball mini-controversies during the campaign. Your humble correspondent losing interest (and I have a remarkable tolerance for this stuff). So is Clinton, who when asked if she’d like to chime in just says “no.”

9:39 We go to the death penalty, which would be one kind of issue to raise in a GOP debate (who can kill the most people with the fastest dispatch and the nastiest methods?), but is a more interesting subject in a conversation with two intelligent Democrats. Clinton is ok with it, citing McVeigh and Oklahoma City as an appropriate context for the federal death penalty, but expressing skeptism about states that do it badly. Sanders takes an abolitionist position across the board, so they differ philosophically on this.

9:42 Flint. Very bad we all agree.

9:46 Trade. Clinton is put upon  to defend her flip-floppery on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders has to explain whether he opposes all trade. We’re deep in the wonk-weeds now.

9:50 The overlong debate format favors Clinton on optics: After an hour and a half Sanders looks the part of an old guy getting tired, while Clinton (no spring chicken herself) somehow manages to keep the fresh going. If I needed someone to plead for my life and could only choose between two people who had just spent the prior 100 minutes debating at podiums under TV lights, Clinton would get the nod hands down.

9:55 Chuck Todd tries to force both of them into prioritizing major issues once in office. It’s a dopey time-filler question and nobody cares about the uninteresting answers they offer.

Verdict: Clinton has generally fared well in debates and this one is for the most part no exception. Though she remains awkward and defensive on the matter of her corporate speaking fees and gives ground to Sanders on economic populism, she makes up for it with her advantage on foreign policy. Sanders is solid on the (domestic) issues he knows best, but does he please crowds other than those he already has in the fold? I’m not so sure. One imagines that his big New Hampshire polling lead will contract a bit as Tuesday approaches, but he’ll be okay as long as it doesn’t shrink much. The real question is what happens after Tuesday: Can Sanders expand his base of support so that he can become competitive in a state that doesn’t border Vermont? For Clinton the near-term goal is to lose less badly than expected in New Hampshire and move on, and the debate may well have  helped her some. The longer term goal is to not get indicted for email mayhem.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Beacon Center v. Reality

In the wake of this morning’s King v. Burwell ruling, in this corner we have those health care denialists at the Beacon Center of Tennessee, quoted by The Tennessean:

“Obamacare has been proven to be unaffordable, unworkable, and unfair. We should not invite further consequences of this already failing law into our state by expanding Medicaid”

And in this corner, courtesy of data aggregated by the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center, we have reality:


The winner … you make the call.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Is Academic Freedom a License to Provoke Without Consequences?

Does academic freedom entitle university professors to be as provocative as they wish when expressing their views on issues of the day? This question has come alive with three recent cases involving professors making politically charged – some would say incendiary – statements on controversial issues.

The first case involves Steven Salaita, whose offer of a tenured appointment at the University of Illinois was rescinded because of charged comments he made on Twitter last year about Israel and its actions in Gaza.

Second is the case of Saida Grundy, a new professor of sociology and African-American studies at Boston University, who has been called out for contentious tweets about race.

Third is the matter of Jerry Hough, a chaired political science professor at Duke who penned what many saw as a racist diatribe in the comments section of a New York Times editorial about happenings in Baltimore.

The details of these situations differ, but there are common threads.

Each features a professor in hot water for speech delivered outside the confines of academic employment. Each involves expression that, while being objectionable to some, is constitutionally protected speech. Each has aroused the ire of stakeholders, such as students, colleagues, alumni and other interest groups. And as a result, each has forced university leaders to wrestle with a three-way collision involving academic freedom, free expression and institutional reputation.

These professors – like all of us in tenure-track academic appointments – are employees with jobs at universities that pay their salaries. So, one way to view these cases is through the lens of employment.

Within the larger landscape of worker rights in a free society, the tension between our right to speak as citizens and obligation to our employers as job holders is contested terrain – an issue I explore at length in my book on the legal, ethical and managerial dimensions of free speech in and around the American workplace.

The legal aspects of this subject are complex. The employment-at-will system of labor law in the US, which in the absence of a contract lets employers and workers terminate the arrangement at any time for any reason, means that private sector workers have virtually no free speech protections against employer wrath.

If your boss doesn’t like your off-work speech, even if it has nothing to do with your job or your employer’s business, you can be fired for it. For instance, consider the Alabama woman who lost her job in 2004 for having a John Kerry bumper sticker on her car in the factory parking lot.

Workers in public sector jobs have greater protections. In situations involving government rather than a private entity as the employer, Supreme Court rulings over several decades have upheld workers’ rights to speak on matters of public concern without risking their jobs.

A handful of states give workers in the private sector some of the free speech protection that government workers have through what are known as “lifestyle discrimination” statutes. These are laws that bar employers from punishing workers for off-work activity, including speech, that is legal and poses no significant threat to an employer’s business.

But these protections for government workers (and private sector workers in a few states) are enforced only up to a point. When someone fired for his or her speech files a lawsuit, the court weighs the worker’s right to speak against the employer’s right to a functional and efficient workplace. Analyses of case law indicate that courts are inclined to tilt the balance in favor of employers.

The public-private distinction is relevant to our three recent cases of professorial provocation. This is because one of the three – Salaita at Illinois – involves a public university.

After having his job offer rescinded, Salaita filed a federal lawsuit claiming that his rights to free speech and due process had been violated; a judge’s ruling on whether Salaita’s lawsuit can go forward is expected any day.

That kind of constitutionally based lawsuit isn’t available to Grundy at Boston University or to Hough at Duke since their appointments are at private institutions. Although Grundy and Hough cannot claim a constitutional infringement on their rights, they can appeal to the principle of academic freedom.

This is what distinguishes the occupation of professor from other kinds of employment: universities pledge (in the form of an implied contract) to respect professors’ free speech rights beyond what typical private sector job holders can expect, when they make academic freedom a foundational principle. And while happy to ordain and celebrate the lofty ideals of academic freedom, universities are also quick to couple them with cautionary caveats.

At Duke (where Hough is), the faculty handbook cedes to professors the right “to speak in his or her capacity as a citizen without institutional censorship or discipline.” Duke warns, however, that the right to “espouse an unpopular cause” carries with it “a responsibility not to involve the university.”

Making a similar pledge, the handbook at Boston University (where Grundy is) adds that a professor’s right to speak as a citizen carries “special obligations” to be accurate, exercise restraint and respect others’ opinions.

With reasonable-sounding but rather vague conditions like these, universities (both public and private) have reserved the ability to impose boundaries on outrageous expression that the professor might assume is protected by academic freedom.

Having crafted faculty employment policies as manifestos of mutual obligation, universities coping with professors who speak scandalously find themselves in the role of an arbiter of the boundary between freedom and responsibility.
And so it was that in blocking Salaita’s appointment, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees decided that he lacks the requisite “professional fitness to serve on the faculty.”

The trustees probably figure they can fend off Salaita’s lawsuit – a not unreasonable expectation, to judge by a new legal analysis showing that courts tend to side with university claims that a professor’s speech disrupts its academic mission.

Weighing the balance differently, Duke asserted that Hough’s comments are “noxious, offensive and have no place in civil discourse” but saw the remedy as encouraging others in the community to speak out when the university’s “ideals are challenged or undermined.”

Boston University acted similarly, respecting the professor’s “right to hold and express personal opinions” while adding “we’re offended by such statements.”

The question of when a professor’s provocation becomes actionable cause for termination is a hornet’s nest of subjectivity around the meaning of words like “offensive” or “bigoted” or “harmful” or “restraint.” A university that chooses to act against the professor – as Illinois did against Salaita – puts itself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain what these terms mean and where lines are drawn.

Instead of appeasing offended stakeholders by drawing lines in shifting sand, a more enlightened approach prioritizes a free exchange of ideas over the dubious judgment of a free-speaking professor. That’s the path Duke and Boston University are following: condemn the objectionable remarks while preserving the professor’s freedom to make them, leaving a verdict to the court of public opinion.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Death, Distinctively

The good folks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have rounded up some nifty state-by-state statistics on “distinct” causes of death in each state, defined as “the cause of death in each state that stands out most relative to its national average.” So what do you imagine is Tennessee’s distinct cause of death? As shown in a map legend included in a Washington Post story on the CDC report, here are the choices:

Source: CDC via Washington Post

Source: CDC via Washington Post

…and the winner is…

Accidental discharge of firearms! Shocking. The map does suggest some handy travel tips: Stay away from hospitals in New Jersey, avoid unprotected sex in Louisiana, and don’t spend too much time with attorneys in Oregon.

Source: CDC via Washington Post

Source: CDC via Washington Post

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Can Alarmist Propaganda Derail Insure Tennessee?

On the eve of the Tennessee legislature’s special session on Medicaid expansion, The Wall Street Journal over the weekend gave the Beacon Center of Tennessee an opportunity to expand its alarmist anti-Insure-Tennessee propaganda to a national audience. In a piece coauthored with Christie Herrera of the Foundation for Government Accountability (another libertarian think rant tank), Beacon CEO Justin Owen characterized Gov. Haslam’s plan as a “bad deal for the public” that will “hurt the neediest patients,” is financed with a “sketchy” funding scheme, and will bloat the national debt. Owen and Herrera summed up the coming week’s doings in melodramatic terms:

Tennessee lawmakers must decide if they are going to burden more state residents—and American taxpayers—with ObamaCare’s broken promises, failed schemes and unsustainable policies, or whether their state will lead the march toward more freedom, greater access, and better health outcomes.

Obamacare is, to be sure, complicated and a work in progress. But “broken promises, failed schemes and unsustainable policies” seems like a pretty harsh verdict (and by “harsh” I mean “delusional”) for a set of policies that can be demonstratably associated with…

…increased access to health insurance: In the one year period from Sept. 2013 to Sept. 2014, the uninsurance rate (percentage of adults lacking health insurance) dropped by 30% nationally. The drop is 36% in states doing the Medicaid expansion thing, 24% in those not. (Source: Urban Institute Health Policy Center.)

…a drop in growth of systemic health spending: Health inflation measured as a growth in national health expenditures in 2013 was at its lowest level since the statistic originated in the 1980s. (Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.) Brookings sums it up this way: “Growth in health spending over the past four years has been the slowest rate on record in approximately 50 years.”

…the same or lower cost for most people in the individual market: For those with individual policies who had to change insurance because their old plans didn’t comply with minimum standards set by Obamacare or otherwise went away, 46% end up paying less, 39% more, and 15% the same. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation.)

…some wins in quality of care: Obamacare changes to payment systems intended to stimulate cost savings were designed in part to improve outcomes as well, and there’s evidence that hospital-acquired infections and hospital readmission rates are significantly down. (Source: Dept. of Health and Human Services.)

…high levels of satisfaction: Survey data show that 78% of adults added to the ranks of those covered in 2014 are satisfied with their new health insurance. Also, 58% of those who have gained access to health care (either through exchanges or Medicaid expansion) say they are better off than before&#8212a number that rises to 70% for those who have actually used their coverage in some way. (Source: The Commonwealth Fund)

It is true, as Obamacare critics contend, that the expansion of coverage puts strains on the system. Many in the individual market may have narrower provider networks than before, and expanded Medicaid isn’t all that expanded if docs won’t take new Medicaid patients. These issues can add up to legitimate questions about whether increased access to insurance translates into increased access to care. A fair-minded person can also question whether some of the favorable trends and outcomes are merely coincident with Obamacare rather than caused by it. Odds are it’s some of both.

But to try to take down Insure Tennessee by tarring Obamacare as a package of “broken promises, failed schemes and unsustainable policies” is to live in a world of policy hallucination. If more people insured at lower cost with high satisfaction and some gains in quality translates into “failed schemes” then color me pro-failure.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

A Shopworn Lie

One of the louder voices opposing Gov. Haslam’s Medicaid expansion plan is the libertarian Beacon Center of Tennessee, which has just launched a new radio ad running in the Knoxville media market. The ad, framed as a conversation between a senior citizen and her daughter, resurrects one of the right’s most dubious (but nonetheless durable) canards on this issue:

DAUGHTER: “In fact, the Medicaid expansion will be paid in part by $716 billion in cuts to seniors’ Medicare benefits.”

MOM: “To give health insurance to able bodied adults?”

DAUGHTER: “You got it.”

It’s always good practice to begin a factually debunked assertion with the words “in fact.” This claim has been fact-checked so many times it should take up residence in the fact-checking hall of fame. But since Beacon thinks the way to build opposition to health insurance for the working poor is to recycle a lie, let’s go at it once more, with feeling.

The origin of that $716 billion number is an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office back in 2012 in response to a request from House Speaker John Boehner for an estimate of the cost of repealing Obamacare. On page 13 of its 22 page analysis, the CBO said that “Spending for Medicare would increase by an estimated $716 billion over the 2013-2022 period.”

Does that sentence mean, as the Beacon ad claims, that Medicaid expansion will be paid for by $716 billion in cuts to Medicare benefits? As the highly respected Annenberg Public Policy Center’s has noted, the $716 billion is an estimate of the decline in future growth of Medicare spending owing to reductions in growth of payments to hospitals and providers, diminished subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans, and savings anticipated as a result of reimbursement system changes. The claim that projected declines in future spending growth represent cuts of Medicare benefits to seniors, they conclude, is “misleading and shameful.”

Don’t like the pinkos at Annenberg’s Fine. Let’s go to the roster of fact checkers: “Obamacare does not literally cut funding from the Medicare budget, but tries to bring down future health care costs in the program….There is reduction in spending to Medicare outlays, but it’s fueled by finding savings in the program, a move that Republicans actually supported in the Ryan budget. Medicare spending still increases in the coming years.”

Los Angeles Times Fact Check: “The president’s healthcare law does reduce future spending on Medicare, but those savings are obtained by reducing federal payments to insurance companies, hospitals and other providers, and do not affect benefits for people in the Medicare program.”

Washington Post Fact Check: “While it is correct that anticipated savings from Medicare were used to help offset some of the anticipated costs of expanding health care for all Americans, it does not affect the Medicare trust fund….Spending does not decrease in Medicare year after year; the reduction is from anticipated levels of spending in future years. Moreover, the “cuts” did not come at the expense of seniors.”

TIME Fact Check: “As for the cuts, they come from eliminating a massive subsidy to private insurers and gradually reducing the rate of growth in payments to some providers….The idea, however, that the Affordable Care Act struck a dangerous blow to Medicare that will change the program in fundamental ways is untrue.”

Beacon describes itself (humbly) as an organization that “empowers Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version of the American Dream.” Reclaim control of their lives? Or of their lies?

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

And I Mean the Left

This post appears at the Nashville Scene’s Pith in the Wind blog along with those of others who appeared on “The Round Table,” the long-time radio enterprise hosted by the great Teddy Bart, who passed away a few days ago.

Growing up in New York I fed an early nerdy talk-radio addiction using a bedside clock radio to catch the pompous erudition of the great Barry Farber, the offbeat weirdness of Long John Nebel, and even occasionally (yes I’ll admit it) the original semi-unhinged conservative radio mouthpiece Bob Grant. Whatever the politics and eccentricities of a particular host, the appeal was (mostly) civilized conversation about ideas with smart people for a loyal radio audience.

Each place I’ve lived after leaving the northeast for college always brought me in short order to cruising the radio dial for good local talk — surely I can find a version of this conversation almost anywhere. Landing on planet Nashville in the early 1990s I happened upon this Teddy Bart guy and his morning Round Table of … what, exactly? It felt like an odd mix: one minute serious journalists are kicking around city and state politics, the next minute Teddy is tickling the ivories of an electric piano in the studio and pivoting into sports and weather. So this is Nashville, I thought: You get a talk show only if you can play an instrument and sing.

Once I’d been spewing opinions in outlets like the Nashville Scene for a while, Teddy invited me to be on the Round Table from time to time as a panelist “on the left” (“and I mean the left,” he would always add with a smile). It was great fun, as it would be for any card-carrying political junkie, to chew the fat on issues of the day with other smart humans of diverse viewpoints. But it was serious fun: it was a great privilege to be part of conversations that were informed and constructive, that mattered (without taking themselves too seriously), and that were heard.

The show in its later years may have aired on obscure AM radio stations with obscure cable-access replay — hard to find unless you were looking for it, but it turns out a lot of people were looking for it. Almost nobody turned down an invitation to be on the show, and nine years after it ended I still run into people who recall my minor involvement and lament that Nashville has had no similar outlet for regular meaningful civic dialogue ever since.

He was plenty good with that keyboard, but thoughtful, civilized discourse turned out to be the instrument Teddy Bart played virtuoso.