Al Gore As The Liberal Alternative To Hillary Clinton

Al Gore

With many liberals concerned about the prospect of Hillary Clinton walking away with the Democratic nomination there has been increased talk of other potential candidates. Joan Walsh listed several in a recent article at Salon. Although I thought it is purely coincidence, I recently noted speculation in light of Al Gore’s planned visit to Iowa this spring. Despite what many political pundits believe, some people do go to Iowa or New Hampshire for reasons other than to launch a presidential campaign. Ezra Klein is now writing that Al Gore should run for president.

He is pushing for Gore to run largely because of climate change, arguing both the importance of the issue and pointing out that this is an area where a president can take action with executive agencies even with the opposition of Congress. While I agree, I’m more interested in Gore because of the strong commitment to liberal positions and the forward looking thinking he has expressed since leaving office. As Klein wrote:

Single-issue candidacies rarely go far in American politics, but then, Gore need not be a single-issue candidate. Indeed, the rest of his positions are closer in line with Democratic Party activists than, say, Clinton’s. He opposed the Iraq War and endorsed single-payer health care, for instance. His Reinventing Government initiatives, mixed with his Silicon Valley contacts and experience, look pretty good for a post-Healthcare.gov era.

And there’s a lot more on Gore’s mind. His most recent book, ambitiously titled The Future, runs through the six forces he believes are changing the world: a globalized network of governments and corporations he calls “Earth, Inc.”; worldwide communication technologies that are leading to the emergence of a “global mind”; massive shifts in power from West to East and from government to corporations; an economic system that too often devastates natural resources; revolutions in genomics, biotechnology, and other life sciences; and, perhaps most optimistically, the beginnings of a revolution in energy and agriculture.

The book has been blurbed by everyone from conservative economist Arthur Laffer (“transcends ideology while turning our attention to big issues, big ideas, and big solutions”) to internet hero Tim Berners-Lee (“If you are concerned about the massive changes the world is just heading into, then you should read this book. If you aren’t, then you must read it!”).

You can believe Gore a visionary or you can believe him a blowhard, but he’s offering a very different, and much more radical, vision of what politics should be about than even Elizabeth Warren, to say nothing of Hillary Clinton.

Gore also has the experience, name recognition, and the resources to launch a campaign, while other candidates would be overshadowed by Hillary Clinton. He has even won the popular vote for president once, and could have won the electoral vote if a full recount was held in Florida, or if not for the butterfly ballots.  It sounds like a great idea except for one major problem. I doubt that Gore has any interest in getting back into politics.

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In follow-up of other recent items, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the story in The New York Post which claims that Valerie Jarrett leaked the information regarding Clinton’s email. He called the report “utter baloney.” Of course those who believe the story will probably not believe his denial.

Dvorak, a tech blog, has discovered more information on how insecure Hillary Clinton’s private server was. He found that Clinton used an outside spam filtering service and that people working there could have reviewed any sensitive email going through her system. The author, who has supported Clinton in the past,  pointed out that “this is one of many reasons they have a rule at the State Department that you have to use their servers.” (Noncompliance with this policy was cited by the Inspector General as one of the reasons for firing an ambassador under Clinton.) The article also showed that security was relatively weak on the system. The author has a response for those who excuse Clinton’s actions because Republicans did it too: “Are you F…ing kidding me!”

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AP Files Suit Over Clinton Email, Media Fact Checks Clinton, and Al Gore Goes To Iowa

Clinton Press Conference NBC

As I discussed previously, one of the more serious aspects of Hillary Clinton violating rules regarding government records is that she used her private server to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests, including requests from the Associated Press. AP is now filing suit:

The Associated Press on Wednesday sued the State Department to force the release of email correspondence and government documents from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

The legal action follows repeated requests filed under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act that have gone unfulfilled. They include one request the AP made five years ago and others pending since the summer of 2013.

The suit in U.S. District Court comes a day after Clinton broke her silence about her use of a private email account while she was America’s top diplomat.

The FOIA requests and the suit seek materials related to her public and private calendars; correspondence involving aides likely to play important roles in her expected campaign for president; and Clinton-related emails about the Osama bin Laden raid and National Security Agency surveillance practices.

“After careful deliberation and exhausting our other options, The Associated Press is taking the necessary legal steps to gain access to these important documents, which will shed light on actions by the State Department and former Secretary Clinton, a presumptive 2016 presidential candidate, during some of the most significant issues of our time,” said Karen Kaiser, AP’s general counsel.

Said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll: “The Freedom of Information Act exists to give citizens a clear view of what government officials are doing on their behalf. When that view is denied, the next resort is the courts.”

Other media outlets have made similar complaints, so this might not be the only suit.

Despite claims made during her misleading press conference yesterday, Clinton has violated Section 1236.22 of the 2009 National Archives and Records Administration requirements, along with what White House spokesmen describe as “very specific guidance” from the White House. While some Clintonistas follow their usual formula of denial of wrongdoing on the part of the Clintons, distraction, and demonization of critics, the media has been fact-checking and debunking Clinton throughout the day. Some Clintonistas are claiming this story is coming from Republicans and Fox, ignoring the fact that the story originated in The New York Times and it has been liberal magazines and blogs who have been criticizing her misconduct on principle.  Andrea Mitchell reported on problems on record retention in the Clinton State Department on NBC tonight. NPR’s All Things Considered was just one of many media outlets which debunked statements made during her press conference, including her claims that she did not break the rules:

Clinton admitted her decision to carry one smartphone device rather than two during her tenure as secretary of state might have been a mistake. Apart from that, though, Clinton maintained her conduct regarding her email was by the book.

Others aren’t so sure. For instance, Clinton said it was “undisputed” that “the laws and regulations in effect” when she was secretary of state allowed her to use her personal email account for work. Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University in D.C., disagreed. He said the Federal Records Act of 2009 “in effect discouraged the use of personal email for official business.”

Clinton was confirmed as secretary of state in January 2009. The Records Act did not prohibit use of personal email accounts, but Blanton said the language is clear. “It says the head of every federal agency — and that’s who she was as secretary of state — is responsible for making sure that records of that agency’s business are saved on agency record systems,” he said.

Blanton said that does not include a server in Clinton’s Chappaqua, N.Y., home.

Clinton also asserted: “For any government employee, it is that government employee’s responsibility to determine what’s personal and what’s work-related.”

Blanton said Clinton did indeed have the right to separate out her personal emails from official records. But had those emails been on a government server, it would have been a more transparent process, he said. “If those emails were in the State Department system, that separation of personal or non-record material from the official stuff would be done by a professional records manager or professional archivist, a civil servant — not an aspiring politician and her lawyers.”

Similar coverage from The Guardian:

How can Clinton believe she didn’t violate any rules?

Clinton also said at the press conference she “fully complied with every rule I was governed by”. Well, actually: a 2005 State Department directive said “It is the Department’s general policy that normal day-to-day operations be conducted on an authorized [Automated Information System], which has the proper level of security control to provide nonrepudiation, authentication and encryption, to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the resident information.”

Sources told Politico the rules were “clear-cut”. An ambassador was harshly criticized in 2012 for breaking this rule in the same manner Clinton did and subsequently fired in part for using a private email account at work. And Clinton herself signed a State Department cable in 2011 saying that all ambassadors should avoid personal email for professional business.

This is just a small sample of the criticism of Clinton from the liberal media. Meanwhile from the center, Ron Fournier did a good job of summing up what it is important:

Her rule-breaking and obfuscation force anybody who is not paid by Clinton or blindly loyal to ponder an uncomfortable choice. Clinton either has no idea how much damage she’s doing to her image and her party (which doesn’t speak well of her crisis-management skills) or there is something untoward in those emails.

It would be nice if we could all assume the former: She’s just a lousy candidate, not a liar or a crook. But the vast majority of Americans have no faith in politicians, politics, or government. Most know the Clintons’ history of stonewalling. And to those people, her answer to legitimate questions about government email and the Clinton Foundation is, “Trust me.”

The Washington Post Fact Checker gave Clinton three Pinocchios for her spin on the rules:

By the time Clinton took office, federal expectations for archiving electronic records were clearer than they were under Powell’s tenure. That does not absolve Powell for not being able to locate his records a decade later, or for not turning them over to National Archives back then. But it does mean that Clinton was held to a more definitive standard. Moreover, this common defense among her supporters is used to deflect the central issue: that Clinton exclusively used a personal account, and did not provide records until she was requested to, after she left office. That is the most relevant point, so the Democrats earn Three Pinocchios.

Unless smoking gun comes up, or Clinton botches further controversies as badly as this, most likely she will still win the nomination. This scandal, and other problems such as during her book tour, have raised questions from all sides of the political spectrum as to whether another Democrat can beat Clinton for the nomination. Several writers on the left are suggesting that Clinton needs a primary challenge.  The Weekly Standard has an interesting suggestion from the right:

As reporters and members of Congress begin to dig into the Clinton email scandal, former Democratic presidential candidate has announced an upcoming visit to Iowa. He’ll be in the important caucus state from May 5-7, as part of a training sessions for the Climate Reality Project, of which he’s chairman…

While Gore has not expressed presidential ambitions in some time, some Republicans cannot help but wonder about the timing of the trip.  Especially as the Clinton email scandal begins to grow.

“When it comes to politicians visiting Iowa, I don’t believe in coincidences,” one experienced Republican hand says.

“Al Gore, like Hillary Clinton has spent most of his life in politics. Running for office is something that’s in his blood, and he probably thinks that the waters for a potential bid are getting a little, shall we say, warmer.”

I suspect that it is purely coincidence that this climate meeting is in Iowa this spring, but this is also one of the rare times that I hope that Republicans speculation is right. If Hillary Clinton’s campaign continues to self-destruct, Democrats would benefit from a candidate who is not only well known, but who once even won the popular vote for the presidency. His move to the left while Clinton has moved to the right would, of course, be another big plus from my perspective.

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Republican Extremism Gives Democrats The Edge

Jonathan Chait looked at demographic and political trends to consider whether the trend towards the Democratic Party is likely to continue. Much of what he wrote is a recap of the conventional wisdom these days, with some disagreeing. He considered multiple factors including the tendency of the young and minorities to vote Democratic. To some degree this could be offset by an increased trend for white voters to vote Republican out of a backlash against the increase in minorities. While Democrats are expected to dominate in presidential elections, there certainly can be exceptions if there is a major occurrence favoring Republicans as the party out of power. Plus Republicans should continue to maintain a sizable portion of Congress due to the higher turnout among Republicans in off year elections as well as structural advantages in each House. Republicans have an advantage in the House of Representatives due to gerrymandering and the greater concentration of Democrats in urban areas, giving Democrats victories by larger margins in a smaller number of states. Republicans have an advantage in the Senate due to smaller Republican states having the same number of Senators as the larger Democratic states. Republicans therefore have a reasonable chance of controlling each House, or come close as is now the case in the Senate, despite a larger number of people voting for Democrats to represent them.

The key point which gives us our status quo, and gives the Democrats the edge, is that the Republican Party is now firmly in the hands of a radical fringe which will always have difficulty winning a national election, but which is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future:

My belief, of which I obviously can’t be certain, is that conservatism as we know it is doomed. I believe this because the virulent opposition to the welfare state we see here is almost completely unique among major conservative parties across the world. In no other advanced country do leading figures of governing parties propose the denial of medical care to their citizens or take their ideological inspiration from crackpots like Ayn Rand. America’s unique brand of ideological anti-statism is historically inseparable (as I recently argued) from the legacy of slavery. Whatever form America’s polyglot majority ultimately takes, it is hard to see the basis for its attraction to an ideology sociologically rooted in white supremacy.

Jonathan Bernstein sees the United States as remaining more of a 50:50 nation as in 2000, also citing George Bush’s victory over John Kerry in 2004. However the Democratic advantage in the electoral college has increased tremendously since 2000 when George W. Bush was able to come in a close enough second to take the presidency due to irregularities in Florida and a friendly Supreme Court. This victory in 2000, along with the 9/11 attack, gave Bush, as an incumbent during time of war, an edge which future Republican candidates are unlikely to enjoy.

The current political divisions won’t last in their current form forever. At sometime there is likely to be a major event which shakes up the current divisions. Chait noted that this might have been the 9/11 attack if the Republicans hadn’t squandered their political advantages by their disastrous invasion of Iraq. I would add to that being on the wrong side of far too many other issues prevented the Republicans from becoming a long-term majority party.

Most likely at some point in the future the far right will lose their grasp on the Republican Party as those who actually want to be able to win an election eventually regain control. Perhaps this will come as a newer generation rejects the most extreme ideas of the current conservative movement. If the Republicans don’t change, eventually a third party might challenge them, as difficult as it is for third parties to compete in our current political system. We might also see the Republicans persisting in their current form as a southern regional party as others battle for political control in the rest of the country.

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The Democratic Advantage In The Electoral College

If a professional newspaper columnist who has to get a column out on a regular schedule does not want to write about Chris Christie or NSA Surveillance this weekend, there are a number of topics which one can always pull up. Dan Baltz went with a look at the Republican Party’s uphill path in the electoral college. There’s nothing new here, but this is worth considering when looking ahead towards 2016. Baltz looked at the earlier Republican advantage in presidential elections, later switching to favor the Democrats:

What happened? States whose loyalties were divided in the first era moved to become part of the Democrats’ base — a transition that began with Bill Clinton’s two campaigns and continued through 2012. That list includes California, the biggest electoral prize in the country, with 55 votes, but also others that have long been considered contested battlegrounds, including Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

All 16 states that went for the GOP in the past six elections remain solidly in the Republican column. The same is true of most of the states that voted GOP in four or five of the past six. But that leaves the Republicans far short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Over the past six elections, Republicans have averaged just 211 electoral votes and have not won more than 286 since 1988. Democrats averaged 327 electoral votes for those six elections, and their lowest total, even in losing, was 251 in 2004. Given the current alignment, the Republicans must find states that have been voting Democratic and convert them to their column in 2016.

A further look at key states shows advantages for the Democrats. Looking ahead, it is far more likely that red states which are becoming more diverse might shift Democratic than for many of the states which have been voting Democratic to change. The Republicans cannot even count on the South long term, already losing Virginia and with others at risk. It will probably take longer than 2016, but if increases in minority voters in Texas should make that state flip, or even become a battle ground, the Republicans will not have a single large state they can count on.

The Democratic edge in recent years would be even more one-sided if not for Republicans winning the electoral votes of Florida in 2000. It is clear that a majority of Florida voters intended to vote Democratic, with some confused by the butterfly ballots. Retrospective newspaper recounts showed that Gore would have won if he had obtained a state-wide recount. Without the benefits of incumbency, Republicans also probably would not have won in 2004. Even with their short-term advantages, Kerry could have won in the electoral college, while losing the popular vote, if there were more voting machines in the larger cities of Ohio.

Nothing is for certain. John Sides took the opposing viewpoint. He failed to provide a compelling argument as to why many states will flip. It is certainly possible that if economic conditions remain bad that the Democrats could suffer. As the fault is shared by Republicans who created the crash and then blocked recovery, it is questionable whether blue states will turn against Democrats any more in 2016 than in 2012, especially with a change in presidential candidates.

Sides is correct in pointing out how hard it has been for a party to win the White House three elections in a row in modern times, but in looking at modern American presidents we are dealing with a very small sample. We now have a unique situation where the Republicans are under the control of extremists while the Democrats have taken firm control of the center along with moderate left. Republican views have become too extreme for their candidates to have a serious chance of winning in many northern states. There are just not enough low-information white males, the primary source of votes for Republicans, for them to flip these states.  While I would hope for a more knowledgeable electorate, changes in information-sources will also be important. Over time, voters who get their fake news from Fox will increasingly be replaced by those who get their fake news from Jon Stewart.

Looking at potential candidates also makes it unlikely that the Republicans will change current trends in the electoral college. Many Republicans had hoped Chris Christie might be able to alter the current red/blue electoral map. It was already hard for him to win the nomination in the Republican Party even before he became damaged by scandal. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is likely to do better than Obama in some of the larger industrial states which the Republicans need to flip. The same low-information white males who might vote against Clinton due to her gender already have been voting against Obama because of his race.

Things are not entirely hopeless for the Republicans, at least not yet. While the Democrats have a strong advantage in presidential elections, the structure of Congressional elections gives Republicans an advantage relative to their overall support in the country. With small states having the same two Senators as large states, Republican representation in the Senate is far greater than if the Senate was representative of the country. Republican advantage in the House has been even greater, due to both gerrymandering and the concentration of Democrats in urban areas. As a consequence, Democrats win a smaller number of districts by larger margins and Democrats must beat Republicans by seven percent or more to retake control. Unless there is a huge shift in the generic ballot, as happened only briefly last fall, Republicans are likely to retain control of the House even if more people continue to vote for Democrats than Republicans.

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Dreams Of Stopping Clinton In 2016

We have a long time go to until the 2016 presidential election, but political reporting in this country is obsessed with presidential elections and we are going to continue to see a lot of stories centered around the media’s pick as front runners. As I discussed yesterday, Hillary Clinton is a stronger front runner for her party’s nomination than Chris Christie, especially following the recent scandal.It is notable that early front runners rarely win the Democratic nomination, excluding sitting presidents and sometimes the last vice president. While Hillary Clinton is currently in a strong position to overcome the obstacles faced by front runners, she faces problems including the desire of the media to run “man bites dog” stories and highlight any potential political liability. The media will concentrate on a variety of ABC stories (Anyone But Christie and Anyone But Clinton.

There are two stories along these lines today. Michael Crowley has written about Clinton’s hawkish views, which many Democratic voters are likely to disagree with:

As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues—Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid—Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.

Former administration officials also tell TIME that Clinton was an advocate for maintaining a residual troop force after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq—an issue of renewed interest given al Qaeda’s resurgence there. They also describe her as skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, and firmly opposed to talk of a “containment” policy that would be an alternative to military action should negotiations with Tehran fail.

Recent comparisons of Secretary of State John Kerry’s frenetic globe-trotting to Clinton’s arguably modest diplomatic achievements have tended to overlook this less visible aspect of her tenure. But no assessment of her time in Obama’s administration would be complete without noting the way Clinton hewed to the liberal hawk philosophy she adopted during her husband’s presidency in the 1990s, and which contributed, less happily, to her 2002 vote to authorize force against Iraq. “The Democratic party has two wings—a pacifist wing and a Scoop Jackson wing. And I think she is clearly in the Scoop Jackson wing,” says former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, now director of the Wilson Center. (Jackson, a Cold War-era Democratic Senator from Washington state, mixed progressive domestic politics with staunch anti-communism, support for a strong military, and backing for the Vietnam War.)

Crowley gave further details on Clinton’s hawkish record and then concluded:
But at a time when fewer Americans support an active U.S. role in foreign affairs, Clinton’s comfort with the harder side of American power could be a vulnerability. A liberal primary challenger might well reprise Barack Obama’s 2007 line that Hillary’s record amounts to “Bush-Cheney lite.” One potential contender, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, has already been zinging her over her 2002 Iraq vote. “When George Bush got a bunch of [Democrats] to vote for that war, I was just shaking my head in Montana,” he said recently. Whether such attacks will hold even a fraction of the valence they did at the Iraq war’s peak remains to be seen.
I fear that changes are not good for a liberal primary challenger to accomplish what Obama did in 2008 in terms of winning the nomination, but Clinton just might be defeated in the Iowa caucuses. CNN looked at the problems Clinton faces in Iowa, despite lack of a credible challenger at this time:

Yet despite having the Democratic establishment at her back, there remains a palpable sense of unease with Clinton in grass-roots corners of the party, even as those very same activists promise to support her if no one else runs.

Part of that restraint is ideological. Iowa’s Democratic caucus-goers remain as dovish as they were in 2008, when Clinton’s support for the Iraq war badly damaged her standing on the left. Clinton helped wind down that same war as Obama’s secretary of state, but she is now linked to his national security apparatus, which has expanded drone attacks overseas and broadened intelligence gathering with controversial surveillance and data collection techniques.

And at a time when progressives feel emboldened to confront issues like income inequality and wage stagnation, Clinton, who delivered paid speeches last year to two prominent private equity firms as well as a group that actively lobbied against the Affordable Care Act, is perceived by some as too close to the deficit-obsessed worlds of Wall Street and official Washington…

Clinton is also susceptible to some of the same whimsical Democratic impulses that propelled Obama to his stunning Iowa victory in 2008. “Democrats love an underdog and we love a story,” is how Meyer put it. With a gleaming resume and the potential to make history as the country’s first female president, Clinton has a powerful story to tell. But she is hardly an underdog.

Some party leaders warned Clinton against reprising the same kind of heavy-handed front-running behavior that rankled so many Iowa activists — not to mention the media — during her 2008 effort.

“I don’t know if she has learned that lesson,” said Jean Pardee, the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2nd District vice chair. “The problem with so much of her staff was that they were all sort of higher class than the mere peasants that they had to campaign with. Everyone was kept at arm’s length by the staff, although a couple of key ones were pretty good. That’s a lesson that should be hopefully learned. But when it comes to human nature, maybe that’s not possible.”

Clinton must also confront the who’s-on-deck inclinations of the Democratic caucus-goer. Unlike Republicans, who have a habit of nominating loyal soldiers who have waited for their turn, Iowa Democrats have a tendency to search for someone new. The last time the party nominated an obvious heir-apparent was 2000, but Al Gore first had to beat back an unexpectedly fierce primary challenge from Bill Bradley on the left.

George Appleby, an attorney and lobbyist in Des Moines who supported Bradley and copped to a “pristine record of picking the wrong guy” in every caucus since 1976 until he backed Obama in 2008, described Clinton as “strong” and “brilliant.”

But he said liberals are suffering from an acute case of “Clinton fatigue.” He named O’Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Secretary of State John Kerry, the 2004 Iowa caucus winner, as Democrats he’s keeping an eye on.

“Hillary would make a great president,” Appleby said. “She is the odds-on-favorite. But I don’t think she is necessarily going to be the nominee, or going to win Iowa. Sometimes people have been around forever, and there is time for some new blood.”

I’ve previously expressed my preference for current Secretary of State John Kerry over his predecessor and found it interesting to actually see his name come up as a possibility. Unfortunately I find it unlikely he can repeat what Richard Nixon did in the Republican Party, and  in a different era, and win the Democratic nomination after once losing the presidency. He loses out on the “tendency to search for someone new.”

In addition, it is difficulty to run while being Secretary of State. He cannot campaign for other members of his party as Nixon did to obtain support. Nor can he participate in the current “invisible primary” to raise money and develop the framework of a campaign. I can only see two possible ways that Kerry can win the Democratic nomination. One would be if he does something major of historical proportions, such as succeeding in his attempts to broker a peace agreement in the middle east. This would also have to occur early enough for Kerry to then step down and actually run. The other would be if Clinton either decides not to run, or her campaign is seriously derailed, and nobody is able to win enough support to make a credible front runner. The chances of stopping Clinton would be better if another liberal candidate could obtain sufficient support to make a serious run, and at this point I don’t see anyone doing this. Any chance Al Gore is still interested? There is a long way to go and perhaps we will see some new blood.

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Quick Guide To The New Climate Report: Five Minutes Before Midnight

The Atlantic gave a quick summary of the climate report with a post on What Leading Scientists Want You to Know About Today’s Frightening Climate Report. For those who don’t want to read even this much, here are the key points:

The polar icecaps are melting faster than we thought they would; seas are rising faster than we thought they would; extreme weather events are increasing. Have a nice day! That’s a less than scientifically rigorous summary of the findings of the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released this morning in Stockholm.

Appearing exhausted after a nearly two sleepless days fine-tuning the language of the report, co-chair Thomas Stocker called climate change “the greatest challenge of our time,” adding that “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than the past,” and that this trend is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Pledging further action to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “This isn’t a run of the mill report to be dumped in a filing cabinet. This isn’t a political document produced by politicians… It’s science.”

When I asked him for his headline, Michael Mann, the Director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State (a former IPCC author himself) suggested: “Jury In: Climate Change Real, Caused by Us, and a Threat We Must Deal With.”

It is now 95 percent likely that human spewed heat-trapping gases — rather than natural variability — are the main cause of climate change, according to today’s report. In 2007 the IPCC’s confidence level was 90 percent, and in 2001 it was 66 percent, and just over 50 percent in 1995.

What’s more, things are getting worse more quickly than almost anyone thought would happen a few years back.

“If you look at the early IPCC predictions back from 1990 and what has taken place since, climate change is proceeding faster than we expected,” Mann told me by email. Mann helped develop the famous hockey-stick graph, which Al Gore used in his film “An Inconvenient Truth” to dramatize the sharp rise in temperatures in recent times.

Mann cites the decline of Arctic sea ice to explain : “Given the current trajectory, we’re on track for ice-free summer conditions in the Arctic in a matter of a decade or two… There is a similar story with the continental ice sheets, which are losing ice — and contributing to sea level rise — at a faster rate than the [earlier IPCC] models had predicted.”

But there is a lot that we still don’t understand. Reuters noted in a sneak preview of IPCC draft which was leaked in August that, while the broad global trends are clear, climate scientists were “finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.”

There are some possibilities that are deliberately left out of the IPCC projections, because we simply don’t have enough data yet to model them. Jason Box, a visiting scholar at the Byrd Polar Research Center told me in an email interview that: “The scary elephant in the closet is terrestrial and oceanic methane release triggered by warming.” The IPCC projections don’t include the possibility — some scientists say likelihood — that huge quantities of methane (a greenhouse gas thirty times as potent as CO2) will eventually be released from thawing permafrost and undersea methane hydrate reserves. Box said that the threshhold “when humans lose control of potential management of the problem, may be sooner than expected.”

Box, whose work has been instrumental in documenting the rapid deterioration of the Greenland ice sheet, also believes that the latest IPCC predictions (of a maximum just under three foot ocean rise by the end of the century) may turn out to be wildly optimistic, if the Greenland ice sheet breaks up. “We are heading into uncharted territory” he said. “We are creating a different climate than the Earth has ever seen.”

The head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, speaks for the scientific consensus when he says that time is fast running out to avoid the catastrophic collapse of the natural systems on which human life depends. What he recently told a group of climate scientist could be the most chilling headline of all for the U.N. report:

“We have five minutes before midnight.”

Andrew Sullivan has further reactions to the report.

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Quote of the Day

“So former President George W. Bush had to go into the hospital, had a little heart surgery and he’s OK, but he blames it all on the fatty foods served by White House butler Forest Whitaker.”

“Doctors told him to avoid any heavy exertion, so that means no reading. He had a little touch of coronary artery disease. One of his arteries was clogged with old Al Gore ballots.” –David Letterman on George W. Bush’s recent stent insertion.

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Sandra Day O’Connor Finally Express Regret Over Her Vote on Bush v. Gore

The Bush years were a disgrace to the United States, including repeated violations of civil liberties, abuses of power, and incompetent governing. If those who defended the American system of democract against the abuses of the Bush years were to look back and choose one moment which was particularly upsetting, the two which would undoubtedly receive the most consideration would be going to war against Iraq based upon lies and the Supreme Court decision which placed Bush in power. Of course all the abuses of the Bush years were made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.

If the Supreme Court had respected the democratic system, or at least took a consistent view on states’ rights, the outcome isn’t entirely clear. The partial recount which Gore was seeking before the Supreme Court intervened would have still resulted in George Bush winning, but a full recount of Florida would have given the state to Gore. (There were additional problems in Florida such as voters intending to vote for Gore but mistakenly voting for Pat Buchanan due to the format of the ballot, but there was no conceivable remedy for this).  Regardless of what the outcome would have been, the Supreme Court was wrong to interfere with recounts in Florida.

Sandra Day O’Connor, who voted with the 5-4 majority to circumvent democracy, told that Chicago Tribune that the decision may have been wrong:

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor hasn’t given much thought to which was the most important case she helped decide during her 25 years on the bench. But she has no doubt which was the most controversial.

It was Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount and decided the 2000 presidential election.

Looking back, O’Connor said, she isn’t sure the high court should have taken the case.

“It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue,” O’Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye.'”

The case, she said, “stirred up the public” and “gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation.”

“Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision,” she said. “It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.”

O’Connor, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was the first woman to serve on the high court. Though she tended to side with the conservatives, O’Connor was known as the court’s swing vote. Her vote in the 5-4 Bush v. Gore decision effectively gave Republican George W. Bush a victory over his Democratic opponent, then-Vice President Al Gore.

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Michigan Republicans Promote Election Rigging Scheme

Michigan wound up with far right Republicans in control of state government during the GOP sweep of 2010. This has led to problems including passing a so-called “right to work” law, attempts to restrict reproductive rights, and state government attempting to ignore the will of the voters in legalization of medical marijuana. While most states have given up on the idea of trying to rig elections,  many Michigan Republicans are still pushing for this:

Republicans handed Bobby Schostak another two-year term as state chairman Saturday and overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to change Michigan presidential electoral vote rules in a way opponents charge is intended to distort election results in favor of GOP candidates.

By a 1,370-132 margin at the party convention in Lansing, GOP members approved a resolution backing a proposal from Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, to divvy-up 14 of the state’s 16 electoral votes according to which candidate got the most votes in each congressional district. The other two would go to the state-wide vote total winner.

That switch from a winner-take-all formula that has been in effect 175 years could water down the dominance Democrats have had in Michigan in presidential elections for the last 24 years.

Critics say the plan would have given Mitt Romney nine of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes last year, although he lost by more than 500,00 votes to President Barack Obama state-wide. With the win, Obama captured all 16 Michigan electoral votes.

Lund introduced a bill to make the revision last year but it was unsuccessful. Hesaid he intends to reintroduce it in 2013, but leaders of the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers haven’t publicly announced a position on it.

Governor Rick Snyder, who is more moderate than most of the Republican elected in 2010, is not currently supporting this proposal. However, Snyder has often given in to the radical right, such as in reversing his position and signing “right to work” legislation in late 2012.

The current winner take all system in effect in all but two states might sound undemocratic, but provides results far closer to the national popular vote than allocating electoral votes by Congressional district. Under the current system, the winner of the popular vote has won the vast majority of elections. The 2000 election provided a notable exception with Al Gore winning the popular vote but George Bush winning the electoral vote. Reviews of the results in Florida afterwards did show that Gore would have won Florida (and therefore the election) if there was a state-wide recount, but not in the more limited recounts sought by Gore which were ultimately shut down by the Supreme Court.

There are two problems with the Republican proposal to allocate electoral votes based upon Congressional districts. Republicans hold a larger number of Congressional districts than they should receive based upon numbers of votes for each party due to gerrymandering. Even if not for gerrymandering, the concentration of Democratic voters in cities compared to the more rural Republican voters would result in Democrats controlling a smaller number of Congressional districts–winning by larger margins in cities than Republicans would win in other areas.

While is is preferable that the winner of the popular vote becomes president, allocating electoral votes by state helps to level out these issues and provides a result far closer to the popular vote than the Republican proposal would. Of course the Republican proponents realize this and prefer rigging elections to providing a platform which more voters would support. Even many Republicans oppose this. Hopefully some oppose this in support of democracy. Other motivating factors for some Republicans is the hope that they can carry an entire state and receive all of its electoral votes in the future, and fear of their state becoming less meaningful to candidates and receiving less attention during elections.

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Yes, Propaganda Does Make A Difference

Howard Krutz calls on Obama and Gore to stop whining about the right wing media:

Now it’s true that Fox or Limbaugh can boost or batter any lawmaker, and that they can help drive a controversy into the broader mainstream media. But we’re talking here about the president of the United States. He has an army, a navy and a bunch of nuclear weapons, not to mention an ability to command the airwaves at a moment’s notice. And he’s complaining about a cable channel and a radio talk-show host?

Sure, ultimately Obama is more powerful when it comes to going to war than Fox is, and Obama was able to win reelection because less than half the country believe the misinformation coming out of Fox and talk radio. That doesn’t alter the fact that having a propaganda network disguised as news does cause a substantial number of people to believe many things which are not true.

How many people vote for Republicans based upon blatantly untrue arguments such as that Republicans support small government or fiscal responsibility? How much more difficulty is it to bring about economic recovery when so many voters are misled by Republican Voodoo Economics? How much harder is it to deal with problems such as Climate Change and health care reform when so many people are fooled by right wing misinformation?

Would we have gone to war in Iraq if not for untrue Republican  propaganda claiming that Saddam threatened us with WMD and was involved in 9/11?  How many votes are affected by falsehoods such as that Barack Obama is a Muslim or a socialist? While Obama did win. would Kerry have won if not for the false claims of the Swift Boat Liars?

How many people are voting for Republicans, against their interests and the interests of the country, based upon fear and hatred instilled by right wing propaganda? Yes, this is not the same as having an army, navy, and nuclear weapons. but that doesn’t mean that the right wing noise machine is not a terrible weapon for evil.

Kurtz argues that “MSNBC can be counted on to defend the Democrats almost around the clock.” First this isn’t entirely true as MSNBC does have conservatives on the network, and MSNBC’s liberals have been known to criticize Obama, not being essentially a part of the party apparatus as Fox is. Beyond this, while MSNBC does frequently correct the misinformation presented by Fox or Rush Limbaugh, this does not reduce the damage caused by the right wing propagandists. Not many fans of Rush Limbaugh turn on MSNBC and change their views once exposed to the facts.

Kurtz has a strange rational for why the right wing media exists:

What liberals sometimes forget is that the conservative media took root because many Americans felt the fourth estate was too left-wing. ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, The New York Times and The Washington Post all strive for fairness, in my view, but there is little question that they have a social and cultural outlook that leans to the left. Collectively, they have far more weight than Fox, talk radio and The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Much of the media (although no longer The Washington Post and broadcast networks) do lean towards the left socially and culturally, meaning they are more likely to  support the values of American liberty and Democracy while opposing the authoritarian mindset of the right. As Kurtz admits, they strive for fairness. How does this provide justification for the right wing in responding with media outlets which intentionally promote falsehoods disguised as news? It is difficult to measure which has more weight, but, as I pointed out above, their comparative influences does not diminish the harm done by the propaganda outlets of the right.

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