Senate Republicans Agree Climate Change Is Real But Continue To Deny Cause


With Republicans controlling the Senate, Democrats are largely limited to symbolic votes. Democrats wanted to attach an amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill which would get Republicans on record with regards to climate change. There was little difficulty in passing an amendment agreeing that climate change is real, and not a hoax. Only one Republican, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, voted no. The catch is that, while they agreed that the climate is changing (a fact which some conservatives do deny), they do not accept the view of 97 percent of climate scientists that human action is the cause.

Senator Brian Schatz introduced a stronger amendment: “To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real; and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Under the rules of the Senate, this amendment failed with a 50-49 majority. Most Republicans voted against it, but there were a handful of exceptions–full list here.

I’m not sure what all this proved, but next could we have a vote to determine which Republicans don’t believe in evolution, or that the earth is not flat?

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Will The State Of The Union Address Matter After This Week?

Obama SOTU

I certainly liked Obama’s State of the Union Address while listening to it. In a room dominated by Republicans, Obama was once again the adult in the room–the sensible one interested in governing and not bogged down in extremist ideology. His economic numbers provided real evidence of success, despite Republican obstructionism, and Obama was right in addressing the need to extend the benefits of economic recovery to more in the middle class.

The question is whether the speech, and Obama’s aggressiveness on policy matters, will make a difference matters beyond this week. David Corn summed up some of my concerns:

Barack Obama is very good at getting elected president (two for two!) and pretty darn good at policy (Obamacare; the stimulus; the auto industry rescue; Wall Street reform; ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Cuba; immigration reform executive action; dumping DOMA; middle-class tax cuts; new EPA limits on emissions that cause climate change; banning torture; downsizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and killing Osama bin Laden). But there’s one key piece of the job description where he’s fallen short: shaping the ongoing political narrative of the nation.

The president is the country’s storyteller in chief. And despite his inspiring powers of oratory (see Campaign 2008) and his savvy understanding of the importance of values in political salesmanship (see Campaign 2012), Obama, as his aides concede, has not effectively sold the nation on his own accomplishments, and, simultaneously, he has failed to establish an overarching public plot line that explains the gridlock in Washington as the result of GOP obstructionists blocking him on important issues where public opinion is in his favor. With his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Obama had one last chance to take a swing at forging this narrative. Though he did adopt a muscular stance in presenting a forceful and vigorous vision—going on offense in the fourth quarter of his presidency, as his advisers have put it—the president let the Republicans off easy.

Throughout his presidency, as the GOP has consistently sought to block him, Obama has responded inconsistently. He often has pleaded for reason and looked to craft a deal—frequently (and justifiably) to prevent a hit to the economy. (This was the adult-in-the-room strategy.) At times, he has praised House Speaker John Boehner, while pointing to Boehner’s tea party wing as the cause of the partisan paralysis. And then he has occasionally—but not too often—flashed anger and slammed Republicans for being irresponsible and reckless (the debt ceiling scuffle, the assorted government shutdown showdowns). He has not presented a steady and stark tale in which he stars as the fighter for the middle- and lower-income Americans who are stymied repeatedly by always-say-no Republicans aligned with plutocrats, the gun lobby, corporate polluters, and other foes of progress. Consequently, he has often borne blame for the sluggish economy and the mess in Washington, with the Democratic Party paying the price for the dips in his approval rating.

For this to have meaning, Obama must stick to pushing his views, and the Democratic Party must be there behind him. The reaction of the Democratic Party has been even more inconsistent than Obama’s. Here’s what I thought during the speech:

Of course the general election is an entirely different ballgame than the midterms, and Democrats who thought there was benefit in running as Republican-lite in a midterm election where the big contests were in the red states might act more boldly. Or maybe not.

On the other hand, maybe we should just be happy that Obama had a good speech, the positive results from his policies are real, and that the speech was well accepted. Beyond that, I’m not sure that a State of the Union address ever really matters all that much.

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Goals Of The New Republican Congress: Repeal Obamacare Despite Success In Lowering Uninsured, Declare War On Math, Promote Pseudoscience To Restrict Abortion

Uninsured 2015

While Republicans are probably on the verge of voting yet again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and will continue to make false claims that it has been a failure, Gallup shows once again how successful the law has been. The uninsured rate has fallen to 12.9 percent, down from 17.1 percent a year ago. The open enrollment period for 2015 remains open making it likely that the uninsured will fall further, especially if there is a last minute surge in people enrolling as last year. The number will further increase if more states go ahead and accept the expanded Medicaid program, and more people are also likely to receive insurance from employers with the trend towards decreased unemployment. Gallup also found that most who have obtained insurance plan to continue coverage, either through the same or a different insurance company.

Even before the inevitable vote to repeal Obamacare, the new Republican controlled Congress has declared war on math, as Jonathan Chait described it, and have introduced a national ban on abortions after twenty weeks. I recently discussed the pseudo-science used by Republicans to justify this, and there is more at Think Progress.

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Red State Republicans Are A Minority Of Population Despite Senate Gains


The Senate is probably the strongest example of how our political system is (small-d) non-democratic. Each state receives two Senators, regardless of size, and the District of Columbia, with a population greater than several states, receives zero. The difference in size between the smallest and largest states has also increased significantly since this compromise was reached in the writing of the Constitution. A combination of factors including Senate races primarily in red states, the usual problems faced by either party in the sixth year of a presidency (with Republicans even losing control of the Senate under Ronald Reagan), and several tactical errors by Democratic candidates, led to the Republicans taking control. However, Vox has an interesting calculation:

But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”

Republicans also receive an advantage in the House due to a combination of gerrymandering and the fact that Democratic votes are more concentrated in cities, leading to Democrats winning a smaller number of districts by higher margins, and in some years allowing Republicans to control the House with a minority of the vote.

Republicans will be forced to defend more seats in blue states in 2016 but the magnitude of the Republican pick up in 2014 will make it much harder for Democrats to actually regain control. The Atlantic looked at key election races, pointing out:

Democrats will be benefiting from a favorable landscape, with Republicans defending 24 seats (many of them in blue territory) while Democrats will be defending only 10. To leverage that advantage into control of the Senate, however, Democrats need to net at least four seats (five, if Republicans win the presidency). That requires sweeping out blue-state freshman Republicans in states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin while also defeating a couple of brand-name senators, such as Rob Portman or Marco Rubio, in perennial swing states.

Other factors could help Democrats in 2016 beyond the geography. The economy will hopefully be even stronger, unless the Republican-controlled Congress, or even factors beyond political control, create further problems. The Affordable Care Act will be even more established, assuming Republicans aren’t successful in dismantling it in Congress or the courts, and might be less of a divisive political issue. Perhaps most importantly, the Democrats will be running a more national campaign behind a presidential candidate as opposed to running as Republican-lite and hiding from Obama.

The Los Angeles Times reports, Obama to hit the road, selling economic progress:

Eager to stay on the offensive as new Republican majorities are seated in Congress, the president plans to take a more bullish economic message on the road next week in something of an early test drive of his State of the Union message.

During stops in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee, Obama plans to draw a connection between actions his administration took early in his presidency and increasingly positive economic trends in sectors such as manufacturing and housing.

Officials say he’ll also offer specific new proposals — some that he’ll pursue with Congress and others he’ll advance with his own authority — that are intended to build on that progress, particularly for the middle class.

It’s an approach that upends the traditional White House script to start the year, when new policy rollouts are usually reserved for the president’s annual address to Congress.

But the White House is eager to sustain momentum  it says started to build after November with major actions on immigration and Cuba as Obama began what he calls the “fourth quarter” of his presidency.

Obama, and other Democrats, should have been made the successes of Democratic policies the major point of the campaign, as opposed to running away from their successes. They might have still lost in deep red states, but Democratic turnout would have been better and they would have done better in less red areas. Besides the benefits of running on Obama’s previous record, as a result of Obama’s post-election actions his approval has shot up in the Gallup and other polls.

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Obama Approval Reaches 48%

Obama Affordable Care Act

Gallup reports that President Obama’s job approval has increased to 48 percent, the highest since August, 2013. This matches his disapproval rate, being the first time this gap has not been negative since September, 2013. They don’t give firm data to explain this improvement, but note that this partially can be explained by an improvement among Hispanics. They further speculate that the increase might be due to improved views on the economy, as well as people being more generous in their ratings around Christmas.

I wonder if other factors are involved, including his recent successes on foreign policy, the disappearance of the Ebola crisis in the United States which Republicans spread considerable misinformation about prior to the midterm elections, and the success of the Affordable Care Act.

As a sign of how desperate conservatives are to deny the considerable success of Obamacare in both expanding insurance coverage and making it more affordable, they are going further in cherry picking and distorting statements from Jonathan Gruber going back to 2009, with many conservative sites falsely calling him both the architect of Obamacare and its leading spokesman. Strangely, they don’t pay any attention to the far greater statements from him on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party New Network, which is essentially a dishonest propaganda outlet like Fox but more honest about its political position, even defends Sarah Palin for her rants about death panels, and repeats all the other claims greatly distorted by conservatives. Their complaints about Obama’s poorly worded statements about keeping one’s own doctor or insurance are hardly meaningful considering that their policies would greatly increase the likelihood that people would lose their doctor and insurance, while Obamacare (even if unable to guarantee this will never happen in a market-based system) greatly reduces this risk.

Obama’s improvement in the polls could be a consequence of him becoming more aggressive after the midterm elections, no longer being fearful of taking actions which might place Democratic candidates at risk in red states (a foolish plan which backfired when it led to Democrats staying home). I believe that the Democrats would have still lost seats because of the seats which were up for grabs in 2014, but would have done better if they hadn’t run as Republican-lite. On the other hand,  Dan Pfeiffer told Huffington Post that he believes that if Obama had not waited until after the election, his actions would have been overwhelmed by politics.

The big question is whether this is a transient bounce or if this improvement will continue. Either way his approval is certainly far greater than for Congress. The Republican Congress might give Obama an opportunity to gain further public support if the Republicans actually proceed to pass legislation pushing many elements of their agenda which will be unpopular with a majority of American voters.

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IRS Scandal Joins Other Republican-Created Scandals In Being Debunked When Investigated

As I noted at the start of the year, the Obama administration has been remarkably free of scandals–or at least real scandals as opposed to scandals manufactured by Republicans. Investigations of faux scandals ranging from Benghazi to Grubergate all failed to show any truth to right wing accusations and conspiracy theories. Now we find that not even Darrell Issa, despite often engaging in McCarthyist tactics, has been able to find any evidence for the Republican claims of coordination between the White House and the IRS to investigate conservative groups. The New York Times reports:

An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions has failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Despite lacking any evidence to back up the original claims, Issa did attempt to provide some rhetoric to excite conservatives in alleging that conservative groups did receive scrutiny in applying for tax exceptions. What conservatives ignore is that 1) it is the job of the IRS to review tax exemptions by political groups (with far too many probably getting away with unwarranted tax breaks) and that while Issa purposely limited his investigation to scrutiny placed on conservative groups, progressive groups faced an even greater amount of scrutiny by the IRS.

While conducting this investigation, Issa has repeatedly released selective testimony which suggested scrutiny of conservative groups and has refused to release other testimony which doesn’t line up with his claims:

Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, who has compared the inquiry about the I.R.S. to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s investigation of suspected communists in the 1950s, was sharply critical of the report.

“It is revealing that the Republicans — yet again — are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative,” Mr. Cummings said, “without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first.”

The Republican smears against Obama are no longer working out so well with them, and Obama might get the last laugh with his approval now surging to a twenty month high at 48 percent. Just maybe the stronger looking Obama we have seen since the midterm elections, accompanied Democrats who, despite being in the minority are less held back by the conservative members who lost in November, will be a more potent force in fighting the authoritarian right in the upcoming years.

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Federal Government Ends Prohibition On Medical Marijuana

The Los Angeles Times reports on a surprise in the recently passed spending bill–an end to the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana. The was passed with support of both Democrats as well as some Republicans who opposed raid by the federal government in states which have legalized medical marijuana on states’ rights grounds:

Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy.

The bill’s passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.

Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so.

The Obama administration has largely followed that rule since last year as a matter of policy. But the measure approved as part of the spending bill, which President Obama plans to sign this week, will codify it as a matter of law.

Pot advocates had lobbied Congress to embrace the administration’s policy, which they warned was vulnerable to revision under a less tolerant future administration.

More important, from the standpoint of activists, Congress’ action marked the emergence of a new alliance in marijuana politics: Republicans are taking a prominent role in backing states’ right to allow use of a drug the federal government still officially classifies as more dangerous than cocaine…

Some Republicans are pivoting off their traditional anti-drug platform at a time when most voters live in states where medical marijuana is legal, in many cases as a result of ballot measures.

Polls show that while Republican voters are far less likely than the broader public to support outright legalization, they favor allowing marijuana for medical use by a commanding majority. Legalization also has great appeal to millennials, a demographic group with which Republicans are aggressively trying to make inroads.

Approval of the pot measure comes after the Obama administration directed federal prosecutors last year to stop enforcing drug laws that contradict state marijuana policies. Since then, federal raids of marijuana merchants and growers who are operating legally in their states have been limited to those accused of other violations, such as money laundering.

“The federal government should never get in between patients and their medicine,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland).

Tony Newman, Director of Media Relations, Drug Policy Alliance, added this to his list of More Nails in the Drug War Coffin.

In addition to ending fears of raids by federal drug agents, this should also alleviate the fears of many physicians who are currently afraid to treat patients with medical marijuana even in states where it is legal. Many physicians, including some pain clinics, have been unwilling to treat patients with chronic pain who are using medical marijuana out of fear of retaliation by the DEA.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Report Shows That CIA Lied About Torture & Torture Did Not Work

The Senate Intelligence Committee released their report today, providing documentation that the CIA was both brutal and dishonest about their tactics, and that torture did not work. The New York Times listed these seven key points:

  • The C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed.
  • The C.I.A. interrogation program was mismanaged and was not subject to adequate oversight.
  • The C.I.A. misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of its brutal interrogation techniques.
  • Interrogators in the field who tried to stop the brutal techniques were repeatedly overruled by senior C.I.A. officials.
  • The C.I.A. repeatedly underreported the number of people it detained and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques under the program.
  • At least 26 detainees were wrongfully held and did not meet the government’s standard for detention.
  • The C.I.A. leaked classified information to journalists, exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in an effort to gain public support.

The Washington Post indexed the report by twenty key findings. See the articles in The Washington Post and New York Times for more specifics on each point.

1 “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”
2 “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness”
3 “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented”
4 “conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher”
5 “repeatedly provided inaccurate information”
6 “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight”
7 “impeded effective White House oversight”
8 “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”
9 “impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General”
10 “coordinated the release of classified information to the media”
11 “unprepared as it began operating”
12 “deeply flawed throughout the program’s duration”
13 “overwhelmingly outsourced operations”
14 “coercive interrogation techniques that had not been approved”
15 “did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained”
16 “failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness”
17 “rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable”
18 “ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections”
19 “inherently unsustainable”
20 “damaged the United States’ standing in the world”

The Daily Beast lists The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA ‘Torture Report’

Right-leaning Politico reports: Dick Cheney Was Lying About Torture–The Senate report confirms it doesn’t work. As those of us on the inside knew.

Needless to say, there is commentary throughout the blogosophere. Andrew Sullivan wrote:

The US did torture many many people with techniques devised by Nazis and Communists, sometimes in former KGB facilities. The CIA itself admits in its internal documents that none of it worked or gave us any actionable intelligence that wasn’t discovered through legal means. The torture techniques were not implemented by highly-trained professionals, but by goonish amateurs who concealed what they were doing and lied about it to superiors. All the techniques were and are clearly illegal under US and international law.

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North Carolina Study Looks At Republican Advantage Due To Gerrymandering

Republicans control both houses of Congress but this does not mean that they represent a majority of the voters. They control the Senate due to small Republican states having the same number of Senators as larger Democratic states. Republicans benefit in the House due to the concentration of Democrats in urban areas, leading to Democrats winning a smaller number of seats by larger numbers. The Republican advantage in the House has been increased due to gerrymandering.

North Carolina Public Radio has looked at a study on the effect of gerrymandering in North Carolina:

Back in 2012, more North Carolinians voted for Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina’s Congressional elections. But Republicans ended up winning nine out of the state’s 13 seats that year. Those numbers piqued the interest of researchers at Duke, who decided to seek a mathematical explanation for the discrepancy. They recently published a study with their results…

When Mattingly and Vaughn tabulated what would have happened had residents voted the same way but in differently drawn districts, they were surprised. Mattingly turns to his computer to pull up their work, which summarizes how the balance of the congressional seats would have come out under those 100 different maps.

“Right here, if you look at what’s happening,” explains Mattingly, “here we have this bar chart with seven and eight Democrats elected. That happened over 50 percent of the time- and the vast majority of the time we had somewhere between six and nine Democrats elected over 95 percent of the time.”

Mattingly says this chart- and the rest of the study- shows mathematically that the outcome of the 2012 congressional election- with four Democrats elected- was not representative of how people voted.

Gerrymandering currently helps Republicans more than usual because of Republicans taking over the state legislature in several states in the 2010 Republican sweep, taking place in a midterm election year when Republicans have an advantage. Democrats will have an advantage in battles for control of the state legislature in 2020 due to their advantage in general election years.

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Seventh Investigation Debunks Republican Benghazi Conspiracy Theories

Yet another investigation has debunked the Republican claims about Benghazi, this one run by House Republicans. AP reports:

House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May…

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

The report did find, however, that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

Of course it was the Republicans who cut funding for embassy security, denying requests from Democrats for increased funding.

Despite seven investigations which failed to provide evidence to support the Republican conspiracy theories, an eight is underway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more to follow in the Republican-controlled Senate. The party which already voted over fifty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and which exists in a fact-free bubble, will not hesitate to continue engage in the same irrational behavior.

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