Political News Updates

On Wisconsin

posted Jun 15, 2012, 3:33 PM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by J. P. Green, June 5, 2012 11:19 AM EST  | Democratic Strategist |

The blogosphere is laden with interesting articles about today's recall election in Wisconsin. At the Madison-based Progressive magazine, Editor Mathew Rothschild and Political Editor Ruth Conniff explain "What's at Stake in Wisconsin," to help set the stage:

After a year and a half of historic protests and unprecedented citizen activism, the recall is a referendum on whether grassroots, democratic action can overcome the power of money in the Citizens United era...In February and March of 2011, Wisconsinites organized the largest sustained mass rallies for public sector workers in the history of the United States and the biggest outpouring of labor activism since the 1930s...The whole country is waiting to see whether or not citizens can overcome the corporate takeover of government in Madison.
Scott Walker

The Recall coalition has a compelling case for getting rid of Walker, as Conniff and Rothschild explain:

Walker has made the largest cuts to public education in the history of the state, eviscerating our top-tier public schools as well as a model university and technical college system. In the birthplace of the public employees' union, AFSCME, he overturned public employees' right to bargain collectively. He has moved to disempower the state legislature, do away with open meetings, and shred the robust regulatory apparatus that has made Wisconsin a model of good government, environmental protection, and progressive ideals.

...Even as Republican attacks on women were making headlines around the country, Walker was quietly signing legislation to make it illegal for women to sue for compensatory or punitive damages when they've been discriminated against in the workplace. He rolled back accurate, age-appropriate sex education. He cut funding for preventive health care at Planned Parenthood clinics. He banned private health insurers from covering abortion in state health insurance exchanges starting in 2014 in almost all instances. And he required a woman who is seeking an abortion to have a one-on-one consultation with a doctor prior to the procedure. The doctor must ascertain whether she is being pressured to have an abortion, and any doctor who doesn't do that can be prosecuted for a felony.

...Walker and the Republicans pushed through legislation endangering Wisconsin wetlands...[pushed for] massive cuts to public education and an across-the-board attack on everything from labor rights to tenant rights, from health care for the poor to nursing home care for the elderly...As for Walker's "jobs" agenda, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Wisconsin had the single worst record in the nation for job losses from January 2011 to January 2012.

All of this in a legislative session that, the governor said, would be all about "jobs, jobs, jobs."

It's hard to name a major demographic group Walker hasn't screwed in some way, other than wealthy Republican contributors. Also at The Progressive, Political Editor Ruth Conniff reports on Walker's increasing legal problems and allegations that he is a target of a federal investigation into possibie criminal activity during his tenure as county executive and governor. Conniff says "Recent campaign finance filings show that Walker has transferred a total of $160,000 into a criminal defense fund--the only criminal defense fund maintained by a governor of any state in the nation."

Since there is no indictment yet, Walker's developing legal problems probably won't be much of a factor in today's vote. Regardless of the vote, however, Wisconsin voters could become increasingly sour on Walker and his party by November, especially if Walker's legal problems multiply.

The most recent polls indicate a close election. John Nichols has a "A Wisconsin Recall FAQ" at The Nation, which sheds light on Barrett's geographic strategy:

While the Democrat has to renew his party's appeal statewide -- after the disastrous 2010 election -- his primary focus is on the Democratic heartlands of Dane County (Madison) and Milwaukee County, as well as industrial cities such as Sheboygan and Racine. Statewide, turnout fell from 69 percent in the very strong Democratic year of 2008 to 49 percent in the very Republican year of 2010.

Much of the falloff came within the city of Milwaukee, where 90,000 people who did vote in 2008 did not vote in 2010. Countywide, 134,000 people who voted in 2008 did not vote in 2010...Scott Walker's winning margin in 2010 was 124,000 votes. A presidential-level turnout in Milwaukee County could reverse it with 10,000 votes to spare.

Will that happen? Probably not. Milwaukee turnout will need to be accentuated by a spike in turnout in Racine, a historical manufacturing city south of Milwaukee where voting in 2010 was way off from 2008.

Nichols notes that, not surprisingly, Mayor Barrett, former president Clinton and Jesse Jackson all three focused their campaigning in Milwaukee and Racine. Nichols adds "Both sides have put top recount lawyers on notice that their services might be needed. The Democrats have retained Mark Elias, who guided U.S. Senator Al Franken through his 2008-2009 recount fight in Minnesota," adds Nichols. "Wisconsin law allows for a full recount -- at no cost -- if the margin in a contested election is less than 0.5 percent. The governor's race could be that close, as could several of the state Senate contests."

The New Republic explores possible counter-intuitive boomerang effects of today's vote on the presidential outcome in November. Noam Scheiber worries that a Mayor Barrett victory over Governor Walker would encourage the Romney campaign to invest billions more in GOTV, but adds "...I do think a Barrett win would be better for Obama in Wisconsin, since it's likely to deter Romney from going all-out in the state, while a Walker win would give Romney hope and probably demoralize Democrats there."

Alec MacGillis's TNR take is that a Walker win today could actually bode well for President Obama's re-election:

...There are also going to be some swing voters who are going to be voting less on those big ideological questions than on the more general question of whether things are going okay. If these swing voters believe that things are gradually coming back in Wisconsin -- no sure thing, given that the jobs expansion there has been less clear than in Ohio -- they may decide to vote for Walker less out of ideological solidarity than because they figure it's foolish to rock the boat with the rare act of a recall. And here's the thing -- to the extent that Wisconsin swing voters draw that conclusion about Walker, they may also be led to support Obama's reelection, to stick with the guy in charge. Hard as it may be to believe, there is no question these Walker/Obama voters exist -- after all, the same polls that have Walker ahead of Barrett in the polls tend to also have Obama ahead of Romney, albeit by a narrowing margin.

Walker may benefit from a belief that Recall elections should be used sparingly. As Citizen Dave Cieslewicz puts it in his post at The Progressive:

The most problematic issue for Barrett may wind up being voters who don't like Walker's policies but just don't believe in recalls. Those voters probably believe that recalls should be reserved for criminal wrong-doing, and the John Doe probe of Walker's county executive office aides might not be enough for them.

If Cieslewicz is right, much depends on how persuadable swing voters feel about recall elections in general, a good topic to probe in future polls.

The latest polls point to narrowing lead for Scott Walker, indications are it will be a close election. And regardless of the outcome, just making it a cliff-hanger would be a great victory for Wisconsin progressives. Perhaps even more importantly, it sets a solid organizational foundation for victory in the next progressive campaign.

In a way, the Wisconsin Recall has already won something important: showing how an energized, progressive coalition can inspire and educate millions of voters. As Katrina vanden Heuval puts the election in historical perspective in her WaPo op-ed:

...When the results come in, reflect on the vast organizing effort that brought Wisconsin to this moment -- and imagine where it still has the potential to go. Elections are over in a matter of hours, but movements are made of weeks, months and years. The Declaration of Sentiments was issued at Seneca Falls in 1848, yet women did not gain the right to vote until seven decades later. The Civil War ended with a Union victory in 1865, yet the Voting Rights Act was not passed until a century later. Auto workers held the historic Flint sit-down strike in 1936-37, yet the fight for a fair, unionized workforce persists 75 years later.

Win or lose today, coming even close sustains hope and gives Dems leverage in the next election. That's a victory worth celebrating.

Political Strategy Notes

posted Jun 15, 2012, 3:32 PM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by J. P. Green , May 29, 2012 07:08 AM EST | The Democratic Strategist |

When it comes to comparing job-creation track records as elected officials, Mitt Romney gets crushed, as The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky explains : "...Romney--when working in the public sector, not the private, as he obviously would be as president--had a downright embarrassing jobs record, especially for a state with higher-than-average education levels...This, as has been often noted, put Massachusetts at 47th in the nation, only ahead of of Michigan, Ohio, and Katrina-ravaged Louisiana...In his seminal book Unequal Democracy, political scientist Larry Bartels measured the effect of each president's policies on the economy since Harry Truman by giving them all one year for their policies to start to kick in...by Bartels's rules, Obama has created a net 3.635 million jobs. Applying the same rules to Romney's numbers through the same time period--that is, through April of his fourth year in office, 2006--we credit Romney with 64,500 jobs. So he grew jobs by 1.9 percent. Obama's job-growth rate is 2.35 percent."

Obama & Romney

In The New Republic, Walter Shapiro takes a skeptical look that the opening salvo of TV ads for the presidential campaign and finds, despite "an estimated $1-billion-plus orgy spent trying to define the Obama-Romney race" that "all too often, the ads themselves are simply mediocre...Never in political history has so much money been spent to convince so few voters of so little. Take, as a case in point, the dreary dozen of TV spots and web videos put out by the Obama and Romney camps in the last two weeks. These ads offer either visual wallpaper or run-from-the-room negativism. There is not a dollop of surprise or aesthetic flair. These are headache ads transported to politics." Ouch.

Speaking of excessive negativity in political ads, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar has a Bloomberg Businessweek post up comparing two "throw granny of a cliff" ads from both parties -- they literally throw granny off a cliff --, arguing that neither one will help much.

The AP's Todd Richmond reports that the real story in the Wisconsin recall election may come down to: "a handful of undercard recall races could transform Wisconsin politics just as dramatically in the long run...Pockets of voters in southeastern, northwestern and central Wisconsin will decide recall elections that could hand Democrats control of the state Senate."

Despite media pessimism about Dems' hopes in the June 5 Wisconsin Recall vote, Abby Rapoport offers an alternative strategy in The American Prospect, where she explains " How Walker Loses in Wisconsin ."

AP's David Crary discusses the disconnect between opinion polls showing substantial growth in approval of same-sex marriage on the one hand and continued disapproval in the voting booth in 32 states. "It's a paradox with multiple explanations, from political geography to the likelihood that some conflicted voters tell pollsters one thing and then vote differently."

Karl Rove writes in the Wall St. Journal about " Romney's Roads to the White House " and the "3-2-1" strategy that can get him there. Lotsa "ifs" here.

Rove's rationale looks like even more of a stretch in light of Donna Cassata's AP report " Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida -- GOP highlights in 2010 now marked by bitter Senate primaries ."

Meg Handley reports at U.S. News on "Homeowners in Battleground States Dogged By Underwater Mortgages ." Says Handley:"...Florida and Ohio are the only swing states that have negative equity levels above the national average...Although nearly one in three homeowners with a mortgage is under water, fully 90 percent of them are still current on their payments, and stresses that negative equity doesn't necessarily equate to foreclosures."

Paul Begala does a solid job of blistering two fat cat Republican hypocrites , Joe Ricketts and former major league star Curt Schilling, who rail against government spending, but use plenty of it in their dubious business ventures. Re Schilling: "The state of Rhode Island has pumped $75 million of taxpayers' money into Schilling's unsuccessful 38 Studios, and could flush millions more down Schilling's commode. Schilling, who earned $114 million in his baseball career, loves to lecture us bleacher bums about government spending. Then Begala throws in Romney for good measure: "...Classic crony capitalism: privatize the gain, socialize the risk. When Romney drove GST Steel into bankruptcy, he and his partners made $12 million in profit and another $4.5 million in consulting fees. But Romney stuck the taxpayers with a $44 million tab for the company's underfunded pensions."

After all of the shouting of campaign 2012 is done, look at two sets of stats to predict who will win the presidential election, explains Alan I. Abramowitz in his post " What Does President Obama's May Approval Rating Tell Us About His Reelection Chances? " at Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball: "...The final outcome will depend on the actual performance of the economy and the public's evaluation of the president's job performance in the months ahead. Those interested in assessing where the presidential race stands should focus on these two indicators rather than the day-to-day events of the campaign, which tend to dominate media coverage of the election."

Bain's Not Just Fair Game, It's the Only Game

posted Jun 1, 2012, 11:37 PM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by Michael Keegan | Wed, 05/23/2012 - 10:48am |

 This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Obama supporters are seething and the RNC is dancing with delight in the aftermath of Newark Mayor Cory Booker's nonsensical comparison of ads exposing Mitt Romney's real record on job creation with racially tinged attacks on Barack Obama's former pastor.

The RNC thinks that it caught the Dems with their pants down, inadvertently admitting that Romney's work at Bain Capital should be off limits. But the indisputable fact is that Romney's experience at Bain is completely fair game -- Romney himself made that choice when he decided to present it as his chief qualification for the presidency. In fact, it's beyond fair game: if this election is truly about jobs and the economy, then Bain is one of the only games in town.Mr. 1%

Romney, attempting to shed his record as Massachusetts governor as fast as he can, has chosen to run almost exclusively on his record as a "job creator" at Bain. Pay no attention to the governor behind the curtain, whose state ranked 47th of 50 states in job creation during his term! In the process, he's mixed up some of his "job creation" numbers and cherry-picked the facts he's chosen to tell the American people. Romney keeps telling us his side of the Bain story. But are we to completely ignore the very real stories of factories shut down and American jobs lost? Let's hear all sides of the story. Isn't that what elections are all about?

And let's also have an honest conversation about whether or not Romney's success in making money for investors through his position at Bain qualifies him to be president. Venture capital and private equity have a role to play in our economy. But making money for investors doesn't mean that you know how to make the economy work for all Americans. As President Obama pointed out yesterday, the goal of a private equity firm is to create wealth, not jobs -- most often, to make as much money as possible for a few investors. The goal of a president needs to be an economy that works for everybody. That's a critical difference.

Both candidates agree that this election is about the fundamental direction that our country will take for the next four years. We should embrace this. How about this simple concept: Let's have that full debate about all aspects of the relevant experience of both candidates and let the voters decide.

Are We About to See Another Stolen Presidential Election?

posted Jun 1, 2012, 5:00 PM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by Heather Digby Parton | Fri Jun. 1, 2012 10:43 AM PDT |

From the time I started blogging about a decade ago I've been writing somewhat frantically about the GOP efforts to suppress the vote. This should not be surprising since I started writing online in the aftermath of the most dubious election result in history: the infamous Bush v. Gore.

Vote suppression has been with us for centuries, of course. Jim Crow was built on it. Very famous and important Americans have participated in it, including former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. But according to a 2004 report by the Center for Voting Rights it wasn't until the Jesse Jackson campaign in the 1980s that the Republicans began to organize nationally:

Bilingual Ballot
Democratic activist Donna Brazile, a Jackson worker and Albert Gore's campaign manager in 2000, said "There were all sorts of groups out there doing voter registration. Some time after the '86 election, massive purging started taking place. It was a wicked practice that took place all over the country, especially in the deep South. Democrats retook the Senate in 1986, and [Republican] groups went on a rampage on the premise they were cleaning up the rolls. The campaign then was targeted toward African-Americans." As in the past, Republicans justified the purges in the name of preventing the unregistered from voting. But Democrats charged vote suppression.

They formed a group called the Republican National Lawyers Association for the purpose of manipulating the voting laws in all 50 states to the benefit of the party. Of course, they said it was for the purpose of stopping "voter fraud" but since there was and is no evidence of voter fraud, vote suppression was the obvious intent. They learned the ins and outs of all local and state voting rules and figured out how to use them for their own electoral advantage. And with the help of other conservative groups like ALEC, they set about making it harder to register and harder to vote. They really made their bones in the 2000 recount, when the call went out the morning after the election for their lawyers to descend on Florida. The rest is history. Well, it's deja vu all over again. Here's Ari Berman:

Back in 2000, 12,000 eligible voters—a number twenty-two times larger than George W. Bush's 537 vote triumph over Al Gore—were wrongly identified as convicted felons and purged from the voting rolls in Florida, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. African Americans, who favored Gore over Bush by 86 points, accounted for 11 percent of the state's electorate but 41 percent of those purged. Jeb Bush attempted a repeat performance in 2004 to help his brother win reelection but was forced to back off in the face of a public outcry.
Yet with another close election looming, Florida Republicans have returned to their voter-scrubbing ways. The latest purge comes on the heels of a trio of new voting restrictions passed by Florida Republicans last year, disenfranchising 100,000 previously eligible ex-felons who'd been granted the right to vote under GOP Governor Charlie Crist in 2008; shutting down non-partisan voter registration drives; and cutting back on early voting. The measures, the effect of which will be to depress Democratic turnout in November, are similar to voting curbs passed by Republicans in more than a dozen states, on the bogus pretext of combating "voter fraud" but with the very deliberate goal of shaping the electorate to the GOP's advantage before a single vote has been cast.

The whole story is shocking in its brazenness.

"The reality is that in jurisdictions across the country, overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common," Holder said this week.

I have long wondered why the Democrats haven't seemed to take this seriously. It's been happening in slow motion, but it's been happening in plain sight. It wasn't just the 2000 election, although that should have been enough for the Democratic party to launch a full scale defense against this sort of connivance. And it carried on throughout the following decade in elections throughout the country. You'll recall that even the US Attorney firing scandal was largely about their failure to flout election laws in favor of Republicans. Better late than never, the Democrats seemed to wake up this week:

Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Conference of National Black Churches on Wednesday that the right to vote was threatened across the country. "The reality is that in jurisdictions across the country, both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common and have not yet been relegated to the pages of history," Holder told the audience, made up of black church and political leaders, during a faith leaders summit in Washington. He also reaffirmed the Justice Department's commitment to the Voting Rights Act, and in particular, the section of the law which prohibits certain states from making changes to their election laws without first getting federal approval, and which has been the focus of several recent court challenges.

And he followed through:

The Justice Department sent a letter to Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner Thursday evening demanding the state cease purging its voting rolls because the process it is using has not been cleared under the Voting Rights Act, TPM has learned. DOJ also said that Florida's voter roll purge violated the National Voter Registration Act, which stipulates that voter roll maintenance should have ceased 90 days before an election, which given Florida's August 14 primary, meant May 16. Five of Florida's counties are subject to the Voting Rights Act, but the state never sought permission from either the Justice Department or a federal court to implement its voter roll maintenance program. Florida officials said they were trying to remove non-citizens from the voting rolls, but a flawed process led to several U.S. citizens being asked to prove their citizenship status or be kicked off the rolls.

It's not that I care so much that the Democrats win. But I really care that Americans are allowed to vote and have their votes counted and I expect that most people care about that too. In this regard there is a big difference between the two parties: the Republicans have organized around suppressing the vote while the Democrats have organized around expanding it. The problem, as usual, is that the Democrats haven't been nearly as good at it.

Republican state governments around the country have been working overtime to manipulate the electoral laws and shut down the Democrats' organizing institutions, from ACORN to unions, and wealthy plutocrats have put huge money behind the effort. With the exception of Wisconsin, the Democrats have been behaving like potted plants in response. One would have thought the 2000 election would have been enough to energize them to protect the franchise, but it clearly wasn't. Let's hope it doesn't take another stolen election to convince them.

Heather Digby Parton is guest blogging while Kevin Drum is on vacation.

John Manoogian III/Flickr image

Dispatches From The War On Women: Congress Just Doesn’t Get It

posted Jun 1, 2012, 1:41 PM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by Jessica Pieklo | May 31, 2012 |  11:55 pm |

Welcome to Dispatches, your round-up of the latest news from the frontlines of the War on Women. Have a story from your state or an idea on how to push back? Share them here and fight back against the War on Women.

It’s hard to think of a day in recent memory that more succinctly sums up Republican attitudes towards “helping” women than the votes that went down in Congress Thursday. To start there was the vote on the deceptively-named and flagrantly offensive Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act. Republicans paraded PRENDA as a beacon of their embrace of civil rights, their deep-concern for the well-being of unborn baby girls, and their sincere desire to see women of color not discriminated against in accessing health care. Seriously.

Then there is the Paycheck Fairness Act. Despite support in the Senate, and earlier passage in the House, Republicans blocked a vote on the bill today. Like the beleaguered Violence Against Women Act, the only real reason there’s opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act is because the Republican majority in Congress is opposed to any measure that, at its spirit, embraces the idea that women are full and equal participants in this economy and in this democracy.

U.S. Congress
How can Republicans think any of that is a good electoral strategy when one-third of American women believe there is a wide-scale war on women afoot?

In case the picture isn’t quite clear, Florida offers us another good example of Republican opposition to women exercising their civil rights. The state enacted a stringent voter id and registration law and other “reform” measures including voter purges. Thankfully a federal judge has stepped in to put a halt to some of the state’s worst reforms as has the Department of Justice.

While we are asking questions, why aren’t women using more effective birth control?

Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the murder of Dr. George Tiller. The memorials, activism and advocacy around the occasion was a fitting tribute. Keeping them going every day forward would be more so.

Military moms get photographed breastfeeding in uniform and the right goes bananas.

Rebecca Traister brilliantly explores why single women terrify some.

Good news from Boston where a unanimous First Circuit Court of Appeals held a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Hooray! Supreme Court review is all but a given. In the meantime, lets celebrate this moment while we can.

It’s the final weekend before the Wisconsin recall election. Let’s keep the pressure on and vote Walker out!

Thanks for checking back and don’t forget to send in your stories, suggestions and comments. We’ll be back each weekday with the latest in the best and the worst from the War on Women. So long as the battle rages, we’ll cover the latest, so please check back!

Read more: dispatches, Dispatches from the War on Women, war on women,

Photo from geetachurchy via flickr.

BIG News on ALEC!

posted Jun 1, 2012, 5:29 AM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by ThinkProgress War Room on May 31, 2012 at 5:14 pm |

More Corporations Abandon Right-Wing Group Under Pressure from Progressives

There’s big news on the ALEC front today: both retail giant Wal-Mart and Medtronic, a medical device company, have decided to dump the secretive right-wing group. It appears that ALEC’s campaign to promote controversial voter suppression and so-called Stand Your Ground laws played a role in Wal-Mart’s decision to part ways with the group:

Wal-Mart Supercenter

Previously, we expressed our concerns about ALEC’s decision to weigh in on issues that stray from its core mission ‘to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets,’” Maggie Sans, Wal-Mart vice president of public affairs and government relations, said in a May 30 letter addressed to ALEC’s national chairman and executive director.

We feel that the divide between these activities and our purpose as a business has become too wide. To that end, we are suspending our membership in ALEC.”

Here’s the recap of where we stand on ALEC:

54state legislators have now dropped ALEC.

19major corporations have dropped ALEC, including big names like Amazon.comCoca-ColaPepsiCoKraftWendy’sMars, Inc.KaplanProcter & GambleYum! BrandsBlue Cross/Blue Shield,  Intuit,

4non-profit organizations have dropped ALEC, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It appears that ALEC may be headed toward the same fate as the notorious climate-denying Heartland Institute, which has been abandoned by many of its corporate donors after it crossed the line one too many times.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You May Have Missed

NEW DATA: Elections supervisors throughout Florida confirm U.S. citizens improperly targeted in voter purge.

Two conservative federal appeals court judges agree that DOMA is unconstitutional.

Why did an Oklahoma hospital refuse to treat a young rape victim?

Amid Florida’s ongoing voter purge, a federal judge has blocked the states’s voter suppression law.

The Romney campaign put forth an extremely bizarre conspiracy theory about the Obama administration today.

Karl Rove’s secret money group attacked President Obama in an ad over a company that once received taxpayer money from Mitt Romney.

Politico put out a hatchet job on its competitors today. It didn’t go very well.

The gender gap in wages is real — and that’s why people should tell each other how much they’re making.

Paul Krugman became an economist because he loves science fiction so much.

Obamacare May Be Helping Improve Insurers' Notoriously Poor Customer Service

posted Jun 1, 2012, 5:18 AM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by Bruce Japsen, Contributor | Pharma & Healthcare | 5/29/2012 @ 8:22AM| I write about health care and policies from the president's hometown.

Though the health care overhaul faces an uncertain fate next month before the U.S. Supreme Court, preparations for the massive rollout of its medical care coverage might already be leaving a legacy of improved customer service.

The health insurance industry, often at or near the bottom of a consumer’s customer service experience when compared to other industries, is paying more attention and spending more money on improving how health plans interface with patients on the other end of the telephone, a web site or, lately, though an app.

Several big-name companies, including UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Cigna (CI) and Health Care Service Corp. are seeing gains in customer service ratings. Though health insurance companies still rank at or near the bottom of customer service experiences of most consumers, the Affordable Care Act may be spurring them to get better.

Insurance companies are taking steps to build their relationship with customers as health plans prepare to compete between each other on exchanges where benefit packages will be offered.

Obama Signing ACA

Because health plans offering benefits on state-regulated exchanges will all offer similar benefit packages, customer service is one key way to stand out to a potential flood of new customers.  Pending next month’s Supreme Court ruling, millions of uninsured Americans are expected to be able to gain federal subsidies to help them pay for coverage they will buy on insurance exchanges in 2014.

“The ability to know your members is going to be more important than ever,” said Austin Waldron, senior vice president and chief customer service officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, a subsidiary of the nation’s fourth-largest health plan, Health Care Service Corp.

Health plans also know the Affordable Care Act, as well as new measures implemented by the Medicare program for plans that sell to the elderly, require them to be more transparent, improve their systems and answer their health plan members’ questions more quickly and efficiently.

At least one survey earlier this year documented, independently, improved customer service at several large health plans.

The Illinois Blue Cross plan, which provides health benefits to 7.3 million people in Illinois, was among the health insurance companies that had improved scores in a Forrester Research, Inc. (FORR) survey across 160 brands in 13 industries having “significant change” in Forrester’s Customer Service Experience Index from 2011 to 2012.

With an increase of 14 points to 68, Illinois Blue Cross was second in increase to only Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, which jumped 17 points to 77 from 60. Illinois Blue Cross still has another 8 points to go to get into the “good range” where retailers like Walgreen Co. (WAG) and Target (TGT) score in the 80s.

Illinois Blue Cross said it has not necessarily increased spending on customer service but focused its investments on health plan member education and its web site interactions.

“We have to have our systems and the robustness needed for an additional 1.5 million to 2 million members ready to go so everything is not a 20-minute phone call,” said Waldron.  “There is going to be more one-stop shopping.”

UnitedHealth Group and Cigna had increases of between 5 and 9 points to 58 for UnitedHealth and 56 for Cigna.  Humana Inc. (HUM) had a score of 59. Those scores are still considered “poor” customer experience index scores but not far off the “OK” range, according to Forrester’s.

Insurers say they are making strides. UnitedHealth Group said the company invests more than $2 billion annually in “technology, including new development, to enhance how we support customers,” UnitedHealth spokesman Daryl Richard said.

“With these investments we are able to collect, analyze, and apply data to predict health care needs and identify areas of improvement,” Richard said. “We process 80 billion transactions a year, including 750 million transactions through our Web portals and mobility devices; process more than 2 million claims and more than 1 million calls per day; and manage over 24 million personal health records.  These investments began well before health care reform and have always been focused on making it easier for individuals and employers to access the health care they need.”

Obama continues to lead big in battleground polling

posted May 30, 2012, 10:49 PM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore   [ updated May 30, 2012, 10:53 PM ]

>by KOS | Wed May 30, 2012 at 11:32 AM PDT|

The national polls may still have this race neck and neck, but down at the state level, President Barack Obama maintains a comfortable lead.

Remember, these numbers are the polling aggregates for each state, as compiled and calculated by Talking Points Memo. We have found the last several cycles that the most accurate pre-election poll is the average of all polls in any given race. We include Rasmussen's numbers which give Republicans an unwarranted boost, so these numbers could be more pessimistic for Team Blue than they indicate. See spreadsheet below:

No new polling in the last week from Iowa or New Hampshire. Those tiny shifts in Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada and North Carolina stem from old polling rolling off or being de-emphasized from the averages.

Arizona includes new numbers from PPP, which had Romney winning the state 50-43. Colorado went back to a to decent Obama lead thanks to a poll from the liberal Project New America which showed Obama beating Mitt Romney 48-44, counteracting a Republican poll earlier this month showing a tied race. Another poll earlier this month, from PPP, had Obama crushing Romney 53-40.

Michigan is back to being a big Obama lead following the release of new polling by PPP, which has Obama winning the state 53-39. Ohio continues to look suspiciously good for Obama, and NBC reinforced that lead with a 48-42 Obama lead last week. Ohio should be neck-and-neck.


NBC also had Obama leading easily in Pennsylvania 47-41, but that was tighter than the existing aggregate polling, thus giving Romney a +1.4 point shift in the aggregate. Yay for him, I guess, but he's still getting his butt kicked. Same thing in Virginia, where NBC's 48-44 Obama lead tightened the aggregate, but still left Romney a long way from 50 percent (particularly with a Washington Post poll three weeks ago showing Obama winning the state 51-44).

Finally, several recent polls in Wisconsin put Obama back safely on top, after an apparent recall-related intensity gap gave Romney a boost over the past several weeks. In other words, the polls were measuring the recall electorate, which appears to be clearly more conservative than the expected November turnout. If that intensity gap is reversing, hence Obama's expanding lead, that may also be good news for the recall.

Finally, look at those margins—the tightest state with an Obama lead is still a 5.2 percent advantage for the president, while three of Romney's states are tighter. Arizona, at 6.2 points, is still well within reach. And if you look at the trendlines, it's all looking pretty good for Team Blue.

How good? This map gives Obama 329 electoral votes to Romney's 209. And it's a pretty solid 329, too.

It's a much different picture than what the national tracking polls would have us believe.

Team Blue

Romney faces tough questions from black leaders

posted May 29, 2012, 6:58 AM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by Steve Peoples | Updated: 2:46 p.m. Thursday, May 24, 2012 | Posted: 2:45 p.m. Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Associated Press| PHILADELPHIA |

Mitt Romney struggled to find support for his education proposals while campaigning at an inner-city school Thursday, one day after declaring education the "civil rights issue of our era."

The visit, the first by the likely Republican presidential nominee to such a school, came as he begins to court a broader cross-section of the electorate he needs to defeat President Barack Obama in November. In a speech Wednesday, Romney proposed expanding charter schools, which are privately run but funded by taxpayers, and creating a voucher-like system in which poor and disabled students could attend private schools, also using public money.

But if praise was what he was looking for, Romney had a hard time finding any at the Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philadelphia, a largely African-American neighborhood facing economic, educational and social challenges. Romney wants to deny a second term to the nation's first black president, whose photograph hung in one of the school's hallways.

During a round-table discussion, teachers and local education leaders rejected some of Romney's education prescriptions, including his assertion that class size doesn't matter. Romney also identified two-parent families as one of three keys to educational success, along with good teachers and strong leadership.


Associated Press

  Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, center, is joined by the Universal Bluford Charter School founder Kenneth Gamble, left, and Evie Mcniff, during a round table discussion at the school, Thursday, May 24, 2012, in Philadelphia.
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)


Associated Press

 Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participates in a round table discussion at the Universal Bluford Charter School, Thursday, May 24, 2012, in Philadelphia.
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)


Associated Press

 Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, takes part in the 6th grade language arts class during a tour of the Universal Bluford Charter School, Thursday, May 24, 2012, in Philadelphia.
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Local education leader Abdur-Rahim Islam pushed back, telling Romney that two-parent families are unrealistic in the community. "We will never get to that second part described about having a two-parent situation, parent support, as a key component," Rahim said.

Steven Morris, a music teacher at the school, disputed Romney's assertion on class size.

"I can't think of any teacher in the whole time I've been teaching, over 10 years — 13 years — who would say that more students would benefit them. And I can't think of a parent that would say 'I would like my kid to be in a room with a lot of kids,'" Morris said. "So I'm kind of wondering where this research comes from."

In response, Romney cited a study by the McKinsey consulting firm, which he said examined education systems in foreign countries and concluded that class size wasn't a significant issue.

While he struggled to win over the group, Romney does not necessarily expect to do well in Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold. Nor does the campaign expect to steal a significant block of the African-American vote from Obama in what is shaping up to be a close election.

Black voters, who four years ago helped expand the electoral map in places like North Carolina and Virginia and lifted Obama to victory in those states, remain solidly behind him. An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found that 90 percent of blacks would vote for Obama in November and just 5 percent would support Romney. At the same time, just 3 percent of blacks said Romney "understands the problems of people like you" better than Obama does.

But coming off a divisive Republican primary that was dominated by staunch conservatives, Romney is eager to expand his appeal to independents and moderate voters in swing states like Pennsylvania, where Obama defeated his Republican opponent by 10 points in 2008. The school visit was in line with the "passionate conservative" push that Republican George W. Bush used to soften his image and win over moderate voters when he was elected president in 2000.

Outside the school, Philadelphia's Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter, an Obama supporter, lashed out at Romney's visit.

"It's nice that he decided this late in his time to see what a city like Philadelphia is about," Nutter said. "I don't know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America."

Besides discussing his policies with nearly a dozen local education leaders, Romney also visited with children. He shook hands with a classroom of third-graders and stood virtually motionless for several minutes, bobbing his head ever so slightly at times, as a music class sang and danced for him.

During the discussion, the school's founder, Kenneth Gamble, told Romney that his "major concern is the future and the destiny of African American people in this country. Because once that problem is solved, I think that all of America will benefit from it." Romney said he agreed.

Asked afterward whether thinks Romney understands the black community, Gamble replied: "I don't know yet."

How Florida Governor Rick Scott Could Steal The Election For Mitt Romney

posted May 28, 2012, 8:08 PM by Robert Gbismarc Gallimore

>by Judd Legum on May 28, 2012 at 11:00 am

On Wednesday, November 7, Mitt Romney could wake up as the President-elect thanks to one man: Florida Governor Rick Scott. With little fanfare, Scott is undertaking an audacious plan to kick thousands of Floridians off the ballot just before this year’s elections. It’s a sloppy, chaotic and possibly illegal plan. But it just might work. Here’s how:

1. Scott has created a massive list of Floridians to purge from the voting rolls before the election. Late last year, Governor Scott ordered his Secretary of State, Kurt Browning, to “to identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.” But Browning did not have access to reliable citizenship data. The state attempted to identify non-U.S. citizens by comparing the voting file with data from the state motor vehicle administration, but the motor vehicle data does not contain updated citizenship information. The process, which created a list of 182,000 people, was considered so flawed by Browning that he refused to release the data to county election officials. Browning resigned in February and Scott has pressed forward with the purge, starting with about 2600 voters.

2. The list of “ineligible” voters is riddled with errors and includes hundreds of eligible U.S. citizens. According to data obtained by ThinkProgress, in Miami-Dade county alone, 1638 people were flagged by the state as “non-citizens.” Already, 359 people on the list have provided the county with proof of citizenship and 26 people were identified as U.S. citizens directly by the county. The remaining 1200 have simply not responded to the letter informing them of their purported ineligibility. Similar problems have been identified in Polk County and Broward County.

3. Scott’s list is heavily targeted at Democratic and Hispanic voters. A study by the Miami Herald found that “Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted in a state hunt to remove thousands of non-citizens from Florida’s voting rolls.” For example, Hispanics comprise 58 percent of the list but just 13 percent of eligible voters. Conversely, “Whites and Republicans are disproportionately the least-likely to face the threat of removal.”

4. Florida election officials have acknowledged that, as a result of Scott’s voter purge, eligible voters will be removed from the rolls.It will happen,” Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, told ThinkProgress. On or about June 9, anyone who hasn’t responded to the ominous and legalistic letter informing them of their purported ineligibility will be removed from the rolls. Some eligible voters won’t have been able to respond by that time due to travel, work obligations, family obligations or confusion as to the purpose of the letter. Some will forget to open it. Others may have moved.

5. Florida will likely be a close contest in 2012 and purging eligible Democratic and Hispanic voters could tip the balance to Romney. In the latest Real Clear Politics average of polling in the state, Romney and Obama are separated by just 0.5 percent. Hundreds of eligible voters in Democratic strongholds, wrongfully purged from the rolls, could easily make the difference for Romney.

6. Winning Florida could clinch the election for Mitt Romney. Nationally, the race between Obama and Romney is within two points. It’s expected to be close all the way to election day and Florida’s 29 electorial votes would be the deciding factor in many plausible electorial scenarios.

Will history repeat itself in Florida this year? By one estimate, 7000 Florida voters were wrongfully removed from the voter rolls for the 2000 presidential election — 13 times George W. Bush’s margin of victory in that state after the U.S. Supreme Court halted the post-election recount.

Florida Supervisor of Elections: Gov. Scott’s Voter Purge Will Remove Eligible Voters From Rolls

>by Judd Legum on May 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

According to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, eligible voters will be removed from the voting rolls as a result of the massive voter purge ordered by Governor Rick Scott. “It will happen,” Mary Cooney, a spokeswoman for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, told ThinkProgress.

Late last year, Governor Scott ordered his Secretary of State, Kurt Browning to “to identify and remove non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.” Browning could not get access to reliable citizenship data. So Scott urged election officials to identify non-U.S. citizens by comparing data from the state motor vehicle administration with the voting file.

That process produced a massive list of 182,000 names, which Browning considered unreliable. The Fair Elections Legal Network, which is challenging the purge, noted that database matching is “notoriously unreliable” and “data entry errors, similar-sounding names, and changing information can all produce false matches.” Further, some voters may have naturalized since their driver’s license information was collected.

Browning resigned in February. But Scott has pressed forward with his efforts to purge voters from the rolls based on the dubious list. Here’s the letter Maureen Russo, a U.S. citizen and registered voter in Florida for the last 40 years, received two weeks ago:

In Broward County 259 people recieved letters just like the one addressed to Maureen above, according to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections. So far only 7 (including Maureen) have responded to the ominous and legalistic letter. Five of the responses included proof of citizenship.

If the other 252 people don’t respond within 30 of recieving the letter — a deadline that is rapidly approaching — they will be summarily removed from the voting roles. Cooney, the Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman, says some of those who are purged under this “very new” process will “be eligible” but will have to be removed from the rolls anyway.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and other Democratic members of the Florida Congressional delegation — as well as a coalition of voter protection groups — have called on Scott to “immediately suspend” the voting purge since the lists of ineligible voters has proven extremely unreliable.

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