Monday, May 22, 2017

Sen Dan Sullivan Game For Town Hall, But Long On Platitudes, Short On Specifics

I went to Saturday afternoon's town hall with Senator Dan Sullivan.  He's the only one of our three
congressional delegates who was willing to meet with the public like this in Anchorage during this recess period.  And I want to thank him.

I ended up recording most of the town hall.  But my computer rebelled when i tried to load all the video to iMovie.  I negotiated with my laptop and it allowed me this 9 minute bit of video from Sullivan's report that preceded the Q & A.

I think this video does a reasonable job of portraying how Sullivan and the audience interacted.  The majority were clearly opposed to what Sullivan stands for.  Most of the questions were about health care  - the first person asking if Sullivan knew how much it cost to have a baby in Anchorage and that pregnancy was defined as a pre-existing condition by the new House ACA replacement bill.  The green and red pieces of paper people held up to show their approval or disapproval of what was being said, were predominantly not with Sullivan.

These were people who were very concerned about health care and strongly opposed to how the Republicans want to deal with ACA.  They were boisterous, but for the most part respectful.  The shouting and occasional chanting (particularly 'single payer, single payer') did not feel like disrespect as much as people wanting to be heard.  They wanted him to listen to them as much, if not more, than they wanted to listen to him.   The only person I thought sounded clearly disrespectful was someone near me who several times shouted out for people to 'shut up.'

I thought Sullivan came across as sincere and likable as a person, and he didn't have to hold this town hall, he also came across as someone with firm beliefs and people weren't going to change his mind on key things.  In some cases it seems key terms meant one thing to the audience and something else to Sullivan.  More exchange might have cleared that up.  And the audience's use of their red and green cards did seem to get his attention.  Several times he said things like, "I know I'm going to see lots of red cards when I say this. . ."  Like many in today's polarized political map, liberals as well as conservatives, I just don't think he gets to hear in depth from people who don't agree with him.  He mostly hangs out with people who do, or whose differences are even further to the right.  It might be easier to have eight of these people from the town hall get to spend several hours talking to Sullivan over dinner rather than in this giant room.

This was in the Bartlett High School auditorium which Leslie at the Anchorage School District told me has a capacity of 628 people.  (East High is 693 and West is 1918)  I'd guess it was 70-80% full, maybe more.  I took this picture (well, it's two pictures merged) about ten minutes before it started.

You can judge the audience's respectfulness yourself on the video.  You can also check my impression that Sullivan tended toward generalities and platitudes and when he does use numbers they sound like they come from talking points to prove his position.

For instance, his answer to people calling for 'single payer' was 'no, because one size doesn't fit all."  And thus, the states should run their own programs, not the feds.  These answers don't inspire confidence of his understanding of all sides of the issue.

Or he argues that "we've had a flat economy, literally, for nearly 15 years."

Screen shot from Statista
Well, here's a chart of GDP growth (click on it to enlarge and focus).  Flat?  Maybe if you average all the years, but it sure looks like there are a lot of ups and downs.  We can see things hovered around 4% when Clinton was president, then dropped precipitously when Bush came in.  And Bush left Obama with a huge hole to fill.  There's a nearly 5% increase from 2009 to 2010.  He also doesn't mention how Obama was never given a chance to prove his policies because Congress stonewalled him after 2010.

That chart and others on GDP growth don't support his claim that the GDP didn't hit 3% in the last 15 years.  The only sources that suggest  that ("Barack Obama Will Be The Only President In History To Never Have A Year Of 3% GDP Growth") came from sites like Zerohedge  about which Wikipedia says:
"Zero Hedge's content has been classified as conspiratorialanti-establishment, and economically pessimistic,[3] and has been criticized for presenting extreme and sometimes pro-Russian views.[1][4][5]"
The Wikipedia entry goes on to say it was founded by a Bulgarian-born hedge-fund trader who was barred for insider trading and that the site is registered in Bulgaria.

And then he talks about the US's $20 trillion debt as if it were the approaching apocalypse.  Yet this Business Insider article suggests it's not such a big deal.  I'd need to do more homework on this, but I'm inclined to be skeptical about the ominous importance Sullivan puts on this.  Is this a reason to cut the government or and excuse to cut it?  And if the debt is so horrendous, why aren't Republicans considering ways to increase our revenues other than cutting taxes ('to stimulate the economy").  And why does Sullivan then tout the highway bill that spends $500 million + $50 million more each year for five years?   That will just add to the deficit.

To Sullivan's credit, when people challenged his claim that the US had the highest corporate taxes in the developed world, he backed off and admitted that because of various deductions and loopholes, corporations don't actually pay that rate.  But if he knew that, why did he make the misleading statement in the first place?   This article confirms that the effective corporate tax rate is much lower..

I don't have time to fact check the whole town hall - I'm having way too much trouble even getting the video of the whole thing on my computer - but these few items that jumped out at me as squishy and proved to be so suggest other facts he cited are likely either questionable or misleading also.

You can listen to this part of the town hall.  The questions - which I don't have on here - got more boisterous and many people seemed to be much more up on the facts than was Sullivan.

Here's my attempted transcript of the audio.  I just cannot figure out what exactly he said in some parts.  If you can, let me know in the comments.

"I wanted to update on what’s going on. As you know it’s a chaotic time right now.  The three areas that I want to talk about, that I focused on a lot, and I think most Alaskans want us to focus on
  • Economy
  • National security and defense
  • And assisting people who need help [This part is not on the video - he talks mainly about sexual assault and rape victims..]
CROWD:  Health Care!
First, growing the economy.  Right now, we’re in recession in Alaska.  For me that’s the number one thing we can be focused on.    Right now, in the US, we’ve had a flat economy literally for almost 15 years.  That’s not good.
Crowd rumbling and red cards up.
So what I’ve been trying to do is focus on growing the US economy. Critical.  Your ??? has not hit 3% GDP growth in almost 15 years.  That’s a problem.  Everyone in here, I’d hope, believes we need strong growth and that’s a important.  If we’re growing, some of our bigger challenges we have in the state, we have in the country, we can tackle.  If we’re growing at 1%, 1.5% we’ll have hard times with almost everything.  Let me give you one example that I know nobody is going to ask me, but it’s a huge issue I’m focused on.  Right now we have a $20 trillion debt. 20 trillion.  ??? I have kids, ??all of you have kids,  grandkids, if we don’t start growing the economy, on that issue we’re going to be the first generation that have left our kids and grandkids in much worse shape.  $20 trillion we’ve got to focus on.
Crowd noise
C’mon guys, listen.  Let’s try to keep, let me make my statement ????? and if you want to ask questions ?????
Let me tell you what we’re trying to do to grow the economy.
First, we just past, last year, a five year long term highway bill.  That’s going to bring hundreds of millions, $500 million, each year it goes up about $50 million, $500, $550, $600, $650 over the next five years.  That’s really important for the state,  ??? bi-partisan  President Obama signed it
The other thing we’ve been on is rolling back what I think are onerous regulations on the economy.
Crowd noisy.
Hey, come on.  Don’t be the first group that doesn’t show respect.
In the Congress we’ve used the Congressional Review Act to roll back previously issued regulations.
Lots of crowd noise
And in my  ???? focus on that.  And I think this goes to growing the economy - very important
Another area we’re focused on is fisheries.  Right now I chair the Subcommittee [on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Coast Guard] fisheries for the US.  We’ve just passed out of committee a Coast Guard bill that has a lot of important stuff in it for Alaska.  We also passed out of committee,, these are all very bi-partisan,  Save our Seas Act  with Sen. Whitehouse on ocean debris, ocean plastics to make sure we’ll be able to clean up our oceans.    We had really good success getting federal land to Alaska, very important issue, not huge amounts, even this town Anchorage10 acres to Anchorage just been sitting there, for years, Senators for Alaska have been trying to get it for decades,
these are things I think all grow the economy.  It’s very important we should diversify the economy.  No doubt??   telecom, tourism, ??? economy, aviation.  But I will say this. I’m sure I will get some red cards on this I flatly believe it is bad for the state and bad for the country this movement you see in Washington, in the country, some parts of Alaska, to “keep it in the ground.”  I’m sure most Alaskans agree with me on that.
Crowd noises
I’m sure some of you won’t agree with me on that.
Let me go to the next two  - strong military, strong national defense.
When you pick up the paper there’s a lot of national security challenges - North Korea, Iran, Russia, ‘
Crowd noises
You guys crack me up.
I’d like to say right now…. one of the things for our state I think is important is that it is being recognized more and more in Washington that Alaska constitutes what I’d say are three pillars of America’s military power.  We’re the cornerstone of missile defense and that’s really important right now, given North Korean threat, the increasing Iran threat, if one of these rogue nations  [?shoots a missile ???]….. anywhere in America, it could be Alaska, it could be New York, LA, it’s our men and women in uniform in Alaska that are charged with the capability to track that, shoot it down.  You should all be proud of that.
I’ve got a bill that I plan to introduce next week that would actually make our missile defense even more robust. Very bi-partisan, most Democrats and Republicans recognize that we have to do more on missile defense.  Kim Jong-un is gonna have a missile in the next couple of years, an intercontinental ballistic, nuclear missile, that could hit, ???a city in the ?? range to the United States.  That’s a serious thing.  We need to do more to protect the homeland.  That’s all based here and is something you should be very proud of.
The second pillar is we’re the hub of air combat power. With the F-22s here at JBER, F-35’s coming to Eilson with a whole ‘nother amount of aircraft that we have throughout the state and the training we have here.  We have more aircraft and assets to protect our nation’s interest in the Pacific and the Arctic than any place in the world and that’s gonna increase and that’s important.
And finally, we’re platform for expeditionary forces because of our strategic location to be able to deploy anywhere on a moment’s notice.  In Fairbanks, that’s the first Stryker Brigade, it’s the many men and women in the reserves, and Army National Guard, and it’s called the 425 here, based at JBER and I’ll tell you one of the things I worked harder on than anything in my first year in the Senate.  When I got into office, the previous administration said they were going to get rid of those 5000 men and women who constitute the only airborne brigade team in the entire Asia Pacific and the entire Arctic. And we fought that.  Tooth and nail.  And they’re here and they’re great men and women and we should all be proud of them.  A final note on our military authority story?   …..  there’s no where in the world, and I’m not saying this because I’m your senator, that has a stronger support for their military, than the communities in Alaska."

As for questions, well, if you wanted to ask one you wrote your name on a piece of white paper, maybe 2 inches by 1/2 inch.  These all went into a huge jar.  You can see from the picture that the odds of being called were pretty low.

And most of the questions were about health care.

1 comment:

  1. Check this out!

    Hey Alaska- Here's your big chance to be hated for more than Sarah Palin!

    Mitch McConnell needs 50 votes in the Senate to pass Trumpcare.

    What if he puts together a deal to exempt Alaska from Trumpcare in exchange for the votes of Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan?

    It's out there! It's at least a trial balloon if people like Jonathan Chait, Josh Barro and Topher Spiro are talking about it.

    You Alaskans better let Lisa and Dan from Ohio know what you think of this rotten kind of a dill before they get a chance to do it to America.


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