White House Threatens To Veto Bills Defunding Planned Parenthood; Huckabee Threatens To Send In Troops To Prevent Abortions

Planned Parenthood

There were two threats related to abortion in the news today. While Hillary Clinton looks willing to throw Planned Parenthood under the bus for political gain, the White House is showing why I backed Obama over Clinton in 2008. From The Hill:

The White House on Friday threatened a veto on any bill that defunds Planned Parenthood.

A budget measure that strips funding from the organization “is certainly something that would draw a presidential veto,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.

“We have routinely opposed the inclusion of ideologically driven riders” in budget bills, Earnest added.

The White House spokesman questioned the authenticity of the recordings and pointed to criticism they have received from media organizations.

“I haven’t seen the videos, but those who have taken a close look at them have raised some significant concerns about their authenticity and whether or not they actually convey the view of those particular officials or even the broader institution,” Earnest said.

On Thursday, Earnest said the “fraudulent way” the videos were released means there is “not a lot of evidence” that Planned Parenthood violated any laws.

Abortion opponents claim that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue obtained during abortions, which is illegal. Their illegally obtained tapes actually show negotiations over nominal fees for preservation and transportation of the tissue for biomedical research, which is totally different from selling the tissue, and which is legal. Fees for transportation of medical specimens is customary, such as when Medicare or private insurance companies pay me to place cervical cells in preservatives and transport the specimen after doing a pap smear on a patient.

An article at Slate describes the importance of using fetal cells in medical research. This is the real pro-life position.

An investigation of Planned Parenthood ordered by Republican Governor Mike Pence in Indiana cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing after the videos were released.

Mike Huckabee has taken opposition to abortion to a new level, threatening to not only disregard the Supreme Court, but possibly send in troops:

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee indicated Thursday that if elected, he wouldn’t rule out employing federal troops or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stop abortion from taking place in the United States.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against bans on abortion, Huckabee said past presidents have defied Supreme Court rulings.

Jesse Choper, professor emeritus of public law at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, said in a phone interview Friday that Huckabee’s statement was “way off-base,” adding, “it does rival Donald Trump.”

“I think he’d better more carefully examine what he’s saying, because it is totally unprecedented,” Choper said Friday.

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Donald Trump Praising Barack Obama (2009-10) And David Letterman Mocking Trump

DONALD-TRUMP

“I would hire him. He’s handled the tremendous mess he walked into very well. He still has a daunting task ahead of him but he appears to be equal to the challenge. He has kept his eye on both national and international issues and his visits to foreign countries have shown him to be warmly received, which is certainly a change from the last Administration.” –Donald Trump in 2009

Plus Trump in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, 2010:

BLITZER: His economic policies, President Obama says, have saved us from another depression, is he right?

TRUMP: Well, I do agree, and this did start prior to him getting there, but he also kept it going. You had to do something to sure up the banks, because the psychology of the banks and you would have had a run on every banks, the strongest and the weakest. So, you have to do something. And I hated the ultraconservative view on that. And ultraconservative is nothing should ever happen. If they go out of business, everybody said, that’s fine.

Via BuzzFeed News

Trump now simultaneously leads the Republican field and is the weakest competitor among the top seven Republican candidates against Hillary Clinton in the USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll. Republicans can at least take some comfort in the fact that polls at this point have near zero predictive value. It is hard to believe even the current Republican Party would nominate him.

In related news, David Letterman came out of retirement last week in response to Trump’s candidacy saying, “I have made the biggest mistake of my life, ladies and gentlemen.” He then presented a Top Ten List of Interesting facts about Donald Trump. The Washington Post has the full list, with some edits:

No. 10: That thing on his head was the gopher in “Caddyshack.”

No. 9: During sex, Donald Trump calls out his own name.

No. 8: Donald Trump looks like the guy on the lifeboat with the women and children.

No. 7: He wants to build a wall. How about building a wall around that thing on his head?

No. 6: Trump walked away from a moderately successful television show for some delusional bulls— … oh wait, that’s me.

No. 5: Donald Trump weighs 240 pounds — 250 with cologne.

No. 4: Trump would like all Americans to know that that thing on his head is free-range.

Letterman declared No. 3 “a tie.”

No. 3: If president, instead of pardoning a turkey on Thanksgiving, plans to evict a family on Thanksgiving./That’s not a hairdo, it’s a wind advisory. 

No. 2: Donald Trump has pissed off so many Mexicans, he’s starring in a new movie entitled “No Amigos.” 

No. 1: Thanks to Donald Trump, the Republican mascot is also an ass.

The video is below:

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Hillary Clinton Tries To Sound Like Sanders & O’Malley While Avoiding Specifics

hillary_clinton_economic_speech

Hillary Clinton’s big economic speech has mostly been greeted with yawns. Previously the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton was one of Wall Street’s favorite candidates, and her speech has not changed this. She did include a number of points which sounded good, but lacked any specifics to make a convincing case that she would really bring about any changes.

Politico summed up the reaction in an article entitled Clinton speech react: ‘Is that it?’ The Democratic front-runner manages to underwhelm both Wall Street and its reformers in her signature economic policy speech:

Clinton laid out the soft contours of a “growth and fairness economy” in a speech designed to appeal to struggling middle-class workers with promises of higher pay and more generous federal policies.

But she left out many hard specifics on tougher tax policy toward the rich and corporate America. And she offered limited pledges to crack down on big Wall Street banks while hitting her strongest notes promising to toss rogue bankers in prison while ripping recent worker-productivity comments from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Despite those few moments, this was hardly Thomas Piketty invading the land of Wall Street titans and flipping over tables piled high with gold. And there were no radical new proposals aimed at reversing America’s long slide into wage stagnation.

“She appears to have taken a page out of the Elizabeth Warren book on going after bankers and brokers and fat cats and people who may have broken the law,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment office at BMO Private bank. “I’m sure a lot of polling went into that. But in terms of inequality and profit-sharing and general economic redistribution, she was a lot longer on problems than she was on solutions.”

And Clinton sounded some of her by now very familiar themes, invoking her love of being a grandmother and arguing that middle-class wage stagnation since the end of the Great Recession was exacerbating income inequality while pledging that something must be done. But that something, according to Clinton, mainly consists of boosting the minimum wage and increasing overtime pay, something President Barack Obama has been pushing for some time…

Financial reformers gave her mixed grades. “It’s a good start, but after all this listening, planning and thinking by the runaway leading candidate, I expected more,” said Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets, a pro-reform group. “The American people deserve a concrete, specific, comprehensive plan that really protects them from Wall Street recklessness and that she as president can be held accountable for once in office.”

Another financial reformer said the anti-Wall Street crowd was waiting to see whether Clinton will “put in place a team of advisers who have a demonstrated history of supporting meaningful reform and tough enforcement, or chooses instead to surround herself with the same crowd of revolving door insiders.”

The real test for Clinton on Wall Street will come when and if she turns this rhetoric into actual policy prescriptions. Big Wall Street titans heavily funding Clinton’s campaign and other business interests fully expect to take some heavy rhetorical hits as the Democratic front-runner fights off the Sanders surge. But they do not expect Clinton to try and fully reshape their industry.

She did correctly criticize Jeb Bush for his recent comment that Americans should “work longer hours” and Marco Rubio’s tax cut for millionaires. She did sound like she might be more willing than President Obama has to prosecute bankers who violate the law. She fell far short of Bernie Sanders’ support for breaking up the big banks, as well as short of the specific economic proposals recently released by Martin O’Malley. She basically seems to desire to use the rhetoric of Sanders and O’Malley, as well as Elizebeth Warren, while keeping the big corporations and banks confident in continuing to bankroll her campaign.

Clinton did call for paid family leave. She supported an increase in the minimum wage without any indication as to whether she will match Sanders and O’Malley on the size of an increase supported. Earlier in the campaign, Clinton was to the right of Sanders and O’Malley when they were calling for increasing Social Security benefits. She now gave vague support for enhancing Social Security without clarifying what this means. About the biggest surprise of the speech was her criticism of the gig economy:

In a note that struck some as odd given the popularity of the services, Clinton specifically criticized “gig economy” companies, a group that includes upstarts such as Airbnb and Uber. These types of scrappy young companies have often provided corporate homes for former Obama administration officials. Former top Obama adviser David Plouffe is now a senior executive at Uber.

Center-right sources such as Politico above indicate no real fear of Clinton from Wall Street. Salon summed up the response to Clinton’s speech from the left:
Hillary Clinton gave her big economic speech this morning, proposing a whole array of policies that she argues will “build a ‘growth and fairness’ economy.” She wasn’t especially forthcoming on details, which is a shame, but she had some interesting and ideas and made some promises that she should be held to going forward.
The full transcript is available here.
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Obama Plans Clemency to Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Obama plans to free dozens of federal prisoners held on nonviolent drug offenses. The New York Times reported:

Sometime in the next few weeks, aides expect President Obama to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up on nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, he will probably commute more sentences at one time than any president has in nearly half a century.

The expansive use of his clemency power is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to correct what he sees as the excesses of the past, when politicians eager to be tough on crime threw away the key even for minor criminals. With many Republicans and Democrats now agreeing that the nation went too far, Mr. Obama holds the power to unlock that prison door, especially for young African-American and Hispanic men disproportionately affected.

It looks like a tiny step in the right direction. We also need repeal of the drug laws which place such people in prison, and an extension of this to the states. This is a tiny percentage of those held nation-wide for drug-related crimes.

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Jim Webb Enters Race Plus Increased Speculation That Joe Biden Will Run

Ridin With Biden

While the number of Democratic candidates remains well below the number squeezed into the Republican clown car, the number is growing to the point where very soon they will no longer all fit under Donald Trump’s hair. Jim Webb has officially announced and there is increased speculation that Joe Biden plans to run.

Most of the Democratic candidates are challenging Clinton from the left. After all, there is not much room to the right of Clinton short of being a Republican. Perhaps a former Republican such as Webb can find a niche as former Republican Lincoln Chafee is running to the left of former Republican Hillary Clinton. It actually isn’t so simple as to  say Webb is running to the right of Clinton as he, along with every other declared candidate, is attacking Clinton’s support of the Iraq war, and her continued support of increased military intervention as Secretary of State in Libya.

Let me assure you, as President I would not have urged an invasion of Iraq, nor as a Senator would I have voted to authorize it. I warned in writing five months before that invasion that we do not belong as an occupying power in that part of the world, and that this invasion would be a strategic blunder of historic proportions, empowering Iran and in the long run China, unleashing sectarian violence inside Iraq and turning our troops into terrorist targets.

I would not have been the President who used military force in Libya during the Arab Spring. I warned repeatedly that this use of our military did not meet the test of a grave national security interest, that it would have negative implications for the entire region, and that no such action should take place without the approval of the Congress.

It is still hard to see a Webb have much of an impact in this race. If he ever had a chance, he probably ended it by being the only candidate to defend the use of the Confederate flag.

Joe Biden has said he will probably announce whether he plans to run in August and there are claims that he is signaling plans to run based upon statements from a Democratic fundraiser. He also says many Obama fund raisers are excited by the prospect:

“It was almost a diametrically opposed reaction than to Hillary. With Hillary, no excitement, they couldn’t get enthusiastic about her for whatever reason,” said Mr. Cooper. “But when I mentioned that maybe Biden was going to enter the race, there was palpable excitement.

“They are champing at the bit to raise money for Biden,” he said.

Of course Clinton has been doing a fine job of raising money despite this lack of enthusiasm, but that could change if she loses her position of looking like the most likely to win the nomination. The rapid rise in support for Bernie Sanders demonstrates the desire for a more liberal alternative to Clinton, and her current scandals make it far too risky for a major political party to hand Clinton the nomination. Even if she didn’t have these major negatives, she has shown that she is not up to a political campaign.

Jennifer Rubin gave ten reasons in favor of Biden running against Clinton. I don’t think I have ever agreed with Rubin on so many points before.

Ed Rogers discussed the advantages which Biden would have as a candidate in contrast to Clinton:

…the Hillary Clinton campaign is limping along as a synthetic, tired, manufactured exercise that appears to be — at best — winning by default.  I actually feel sorry for the Clinton surrogates I see on TV. They gamely tough it out as they recite the talking points, deny the obvious, defend the indefensible and pretend there is some energy within the campaign.”

In a lot of ways, Biden would be the true anti-Hillary. He is completely uninhibited, he is impossible to script — which makes him seem authentic — and he has a human appeal that everyone can relate to. Clinton, on the other hand, is running a surreal campaign that avoids crowds, media and spontaneity of any kind. She is protecting her lead in the most standard, unimaginative way possible. Compared with Clinton’s robotic, stiff approach, could having a reputation for occasionally saying the wrong thing and hugging too much work to Biden’s advantage in an era where voters want the real thing?

The Democrats appear to be yearning for an emotional connection with their candidate, which could explain the flurry of excitement surrounding the Bernie Sanders campaign. Sen. Sanders seems to have an outsize appeal, which could be a product of how his outside-the-box approach contrasts with the stale Clinton march. But whatever Bernie can do, can’t Biden do it better? Maybe Sanders’s candidacy has exposed the opening that exists for Biden in the Democratic primary. Maybe this is Biden’s moment.

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Sanders Gaining on Clinton in Iowa As Democrats Regain Lead In Party Affiliation

Sanders Wisconsin

After one recent poll showed Sanders pulling within eight points of Clinton in New Hampshire, another poll now shows him gaining in Iowa:

Hillary Clinton enjoys a 19-point lead among likely Democratic caucus-goers in the key state of Iowa over her nearest challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but that advantage has shrunk 26 points since May, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

The former secretary of state gets the support of 52 percent of her party’s likely caucus-goers in the state, which holds the nation’s first nominating contest, while Sanders, a Senate independent and self-described socialist seeking the Democratic nomination, pulls in support from 33 percent. In May, the split was 60 percent to 15 percent.

It is the first time Clinton has received less than 60 percent support in the poll, according to assistant poll director Peter A. Brown.

While Clinton still has the lead for the nomination, there are still several months for Sanders to make up this deficit. Typically the Iowa polls remain quite volatile with many caucus voters not deciding until the last minute. National polls for the nomination are virtually meaningless at this point as candidates who do well in Iowa and New Hampshire typically show a major bounce after victories in the first two contests.

Sanders also had a good day campaigning in Wisconsin:

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) drew 10,000 supporters, the largest crowd of his campaign thus far, according to reports.
“Tonight, we have more people at any meeting for a candidate of president of the United States than any other candidate,” Sanders told his fans at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison, Wis., according to The Associated Press.

Gallup shows that the Democrats have regained their advantage in party affiliation:

In the second quarter of 2015, Democrats regained an advantage over Republicans in terms of Americans’ party affiliation. A total of 46% of Americans identified as Democrats (30%) or said they are independents who lean toward the Democratic Party (16%), while 41% identified as Republicans (25%) or leaned Republican (16%). The two parties were generally even during the previous three quarters, including the fourth quarter of 2014, when the midterm elections took place…

Democratic gains in party affiliation may be partly linked to more positive views of President Barack Obama, whose job approval ratings were near his personal lows last fall but have recovered, perhaps related to low unemployment, lower gas prices than a year ago and an easing of some of the international challenges that faced the U.S., such as the Ukraine-Russia situation.

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Elizabeth Warren Loves Bernie–Will She Campaign For Him?

May 16, 2015 - Anaheim, CA, USA - Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a speech during the general session of the California Democratic Party's annual convention at the Anaheim Convention Center on Saturday...///ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: demsconvention.0517 – 5/16/15 – BILL ALKOFER, - ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER - ..Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a speech during the general session of the California Democratic Party's annual convention at the Anaheim Convention Center on Saturday..During the speech a group of more than 200 gathered outside the convention center and protested proposed legislation that would require mandatory vaccinations. (Credit Image: © Bill Alkofer/The Orange County Register/ZUMA Wire)

Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sound like Elizabeth Warren at times, but only one sounds convincing. After all, Bernie Sanders supported liberal positions before they were popular. Hillary Clinton switched to (selective) liberal positions long after they became the popular, and politically expedient, choice. Sanders is receiving much of the same support which Warren had before it was clear that she is not going to run. It is about Sanders that Warren says, “I love what Bernie is talking about.”

“Bernie’s out talking about the issues that the American people want to hear about,” Warren, who hasn’t endorsed anyone in the Democratic primary yet, told the Herald yesterday.

Asked if she would campaign with Sanders at some point, she didn’t dismiss the idea.

“Too early to say,” she said.

Later in the article:

“These are people who care about these issues, and that’s who Bernie’s reaching,” she said. “I love what Bernie is talking about. I think all the presidential candidates should be out talking about the big issues.”

Polls have been showing Sanders closing the gap with Clinton to less than 10 points in New Hampshire, where the populist progressive drew large crowds over the weekend, even as the “Draft Warren” crowd looks for a new champion for 2016.

“I’m a big Elizabeth Warren fan, and in lieu of her not running I’m totally going for Bernie Sanders,” said Breeze Grigas, a game designer from Oxford, who met Warren yesterday. “His and her policies are basically almost copied and pasted. … I’d vote for him 30 times if I could. I don’t trust Hillary, honestly. I think a lot of Hillary’s platform is, ‘It’s my turn.’”

Mother Jones adds:

Warren has been cagey about her feelings on Hillary Clinton since the former secretary of state announced her presidential campaign in April. In 2013, Warren signed a letter written by the Democratic women in the Senate encouraging Clinton to enter the race, and last year Warren called Clinton “terrific” and said she hoped Clinton would run for president.

The two met last December, with Warren working to sway Clinton on her pet issues while withholding an endorsement. Warren’s advisers have spent the spring figuring out ways to maximize the attention on Warren to pressure Clinton on policy. So far, in the early days of her campaign, Clinton has been eager to associate herself with Warren’s image, but when pressed on the policy specifics Clinton has so far remained vague about where she stands.

I can’t blame Warren for wanting to watch longer to see if Sanders really has a chance of beating Clinton. Warren could also help make it more possible. Obama received a real boost when Ted Kennedy endorsed him over Hillary Clinton in January, 2008. Warren could provide a similar boot for Sanders. Many of his arguments for supporting Obama over Clinton also apply to Sanders, such as:

We know the true record of Barack Obama. There is the courage he showed when so many others were silent or simply went along. From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq.

And let no one deny that truth.

Kennedy also responded to the rather dirty campaign which Clinton was waging at the time by saying, “With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion.”

Regardless of wins the Democratic nomination, they will benefit from polls showing a tremendous boost in Obama’s approval, assuming the trend continues.

After months of stagnant approval ratings, a new CNN/ORC poll finds that for the first time in more than two years, 50% of Americans approve of the way Obama is handling the presidency. And his overall ratings are bolstered by increasingly positive reviews of his treatment of race relations and the economy.

The new poll follows a week in which two Supreme Court cases boosted the president’s legacy by upholding the government subsidies at the heart of Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act, and affirming same-sex couples’ right to marry. All this while Obama took several opportunities to directly address the nation’s racial tensions, closing out the week by singing “Amazing Grace” on national television.

The new poll shows Obama’s approval rating up five points since a May survey, when just 45% approved of the job he was doing as president and 52% disapproved. The poll marks the first time his approval rating has been at 50% or higher since May, 2013, and only the second time in that stretch that his disapproval rating has fallen below 50%. It currently stands at 47%

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Two More Statements Made By Hillary Clinton About Her Deletion Of Email Found To Be False

Clinton Email Cartoon Deleted

The past week was notable for two major liberal decisions from the Supreme Court. With all the major news, it might have been easy not to notice that, as reported by The New York Times and other news outlets, two more statements made by Clinton regarding the email scandal have been shown to be incorrect.

When it was revealed that Hillary Clinton had deleted email on her private server, the modern equivalent if Richard Nixon had destroyed the Watergate tapes, she claimed that she had only destroyed personal email. There was considerable skepticism regarding this at the time, and it has now been confirmed that this was not true. She failed to turn over email regarding Libya:

Her longtime confidant and adviser Sidney Blumenthal, responding two weeks ago to a subpoena from the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, gave it dozens of emails he had exchanged with Mrs. Clinton when she was in office. Mr. Blumenthal did not work at the State Department at the time, but he routinely provided her with intelligence memos about Libya, some with dubious information, which Mrs. Clinton circulated to her deputies.

State Department officials then crosschecked the emails from Mr. Blumenthal with the ones Mrs. Clinton had handed over and discovered that she had not provided nine of them and portions of six others.

If fifteen emails we know about are missing or incomplete, how many others that we have no way to know about bight be missing or have been edited?

Clinton also claimed that the email from Blumenthal regarding Libya was unsolicited but the email turned over from Blumenthal showed she was corresponding with him and soliciting the information from him. Her email included exchanges such as, “Another keeper — thanks and please keep ’em coming” and “This strain credulity based on what I know. Any other info about it?”

When Hillary Clinton was made Secretary of State there was tremendous concern, from members of both parties, about the conflicts of interest this entails. Two rules were established to attempt to prevent conflicts of interest. The first applied to all cabinet officials after the email scandals of the Bush years (which Clinton included in her attacks on the Bush administration for shredding the Constitution). To increase transparency, rules were established by the Obama administration in 2009 for all email to be archived on government servers. Clinton violated this, and used the private server  to keep information both from Congress and the media. The top Freedom of Information Act official at the Justice Department has stated that Clinton was in violation of the rules and the State Department’s top Freedom of Information Act officer has called her use of a private server unacceptable. An ambassador under Clinton was even fired with failure to abide by rules related to not using private email being cited as a reason by the Inspector General (pdf of report here). Buzzfeed has obtained email showing that the top lawyer for the National Archives also expressed concern over Clinton’s use of a private server.

After Clinton’s press conference about the email scandal, news media fact checkers showed ares in which she was lying, especially with her claim of not breaking the rules. AP subsequently also found that her claim about not wanting to use two devices out of convenience did not hold up as she was actually using two devices for email when Secretary of State.

A second rule which applied exclusively to Hillary Clinton’s situation was that the contributions to the Clinton Foundation be disclosed. Hillary Clinton agreed to this, but failed to abide by the agreement and did not disclose over a thousand donors. The Foundation also failed to disclose many of these on their tax forms and was  caught lying about this issue.

We also know that Bill Clinton saw an unprecedented increase in payments for giving speeches when Hillary became Secretary of State from organizations and countries which subsequently received favorable intervention from Clinton. His speaking fees jumped from 150,000 to typically 500,000, and as high as 750,000. Contributions to the Clinton Foundation raise similar ethical concerns.

Updates:

In related news, while Clinton slams Republicans for their views on same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court decision, acting like she was for marriage equality all along, Gawker reminds us of when Hillary was against same-sex as recently as 2013.

H. A. Goodman at Huffington Post writes, It’s Official — Bernie Sanders Has Overtaken Hillary Clinton In the Hearts and Minds of Democrats. There is one mistake when he says “Sanders has supported the issue of gay marriage since 2000.” He has actually opposed laws restricting sexual activity, including homosexuality, since at least the 1970’s. He also voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

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Hillary Clinton Gets Her Do-Over But Liberals Desire Someone Better

Bernie Sanders TV Clip

Hillary Clinton got her do-over yesterday, relaunching her campaign after the first launch went terribly. As I pointed out last week, she is falling in the polls. Her favorability and trust are damaged from serious scandals which cannot be ignored in choosing a general election candidate. She can’t handle questions from the news media. Many liberals are not buying her selective and limited attempts to try to sound like a progressive. As Bernie Sanders has said of her listening tour, “at the end of the day, you have to have an opinion on the basic issues facing America.”

The hard sell from Clinton supporters generally comes down to backing her because of how horrible the Republicans are. While it is true the Republicans are as horrible as they say, what the more conservative Democrats who back Clinton fail to realize is that to many principled liberals Hillary Clinton smells almost as badly as the Republicans. Sure she is left of center on economic matters, but what Molly Ball calls her fainthearted populism, and her failure to provide details, is not enough for many on the left. As Martin O’Malley recently said, “what we need new leadership to accomplish is to actually rein in excesses– on Wall Street. And when you have somebody that’s the CEO of one of the biggest repeat– offending investment banks in the country telling his employees that he’d be fine with either Bush or Clinton, that should tell all of us something.”

Plus there are issues beyond economics. Clinton remains conservative on cultural/social issues, even if not as far right as the Republicans. Her militaristic views on foreign policy and poor record on civil liberties issues also leaves her far closer to the Republicans than the type of candidate desired by liberals. We do not want a candidate who supported making flag burning a felony, censoring video games, parental notification laws, making abortion rare (a statement which stigmatizes women who have abortions), leaving gay marriage up to the states (a position she finally changed but lagged behind the country tremendously), the Patriot Act, the discriminatory Workplace Religious Freedom Act, increased intrusion of religion in the schools and hostility towards the principle of separation of church and state, opposition to needle exchange programs, a hard line on the drug war, opposition to programs to distribute free condoms to fight HIV, reduced government transparency, unethical conduct as Secretary of State, and the Iraq war based upon clearly false claims of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda.

All those articles being spread by her supporters which cherry pick votes or statements from Clinton to claim that she is a liberal will not fool those of us who have seen Hillary Clinton undermining the principles we believe in throughout her entire career. While not as bad as the Republicans, she is far more Republican-lite than what we hope to see in a Democratic presidential nominee.

The desire from liberals to have an alternative to Hillary Clinton can be seen in the excitement generated by Bernie Sanders since he announced his candidacy. While his strong showing in the Wisconsin straw poll provided some encouragement, the actual poll results out of  New Hampshire look even better. With his campaign barely off the ground, after previously falling in single digits, Bernie Sanders is receiving the support of 32 percent, compared to 44 percent for Clinton.

Eleanor Clift wrote that Bernie Sanders Is Building an Army to Take D.C.

The reception he’s gotten in the four or five weeks since he announced his candidacy has persuaded him that maybe the country’s disgust with politics as usual has created an opening for somebody like him, a 73-year-old self-described “democratic socialist” who calls out the excesses of Wall Street and stands up for working families. “It is not a radical agenda,” he told reporters at a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor.

He wants to expand Social Security, move away from Obamacare to Medicare for all, and make tuition free at public universities. He would pay for these expanded benefits with a tax on Wall Street speculative trading, and he would end the loopholes that allow corporations to store their profits tax-free offshore. He doesn’t expect support from the Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce, or Wall Street, he says with delight, treating their opposition like a badge of honor…

The challenge for the Democratic nominee is to generate the kind of excitement that led to Obama’s election and reelection. Among the issues that get Sanders most exercised is the “massive alienation among the American people” that leads to low voter turnout. If 60 percent and more of eligible voters don’t vote, “nothing significant will change,” he says. He is not happy about the Democratic National Committee scheduling only six debates, beginning in the fall, and decreeing if candidates participate in other debates, they will not be allowed in the sanctioned ones. “It’s much too limited,” he said. “Debates are a means to get people interested and engaged.”

If it were up to him, candidates would debate across party lines. “Republicans have gotten away with murder because a lot of people don’t know what their agenda is,” he says. “Christie, Perry, Bush are all in favor of cutting Social Security. I want to expand it. Let’s have that debate,” he says. Sanders has never played party politics. He’s the great disrupter. He’s there to break the rules and regulations, and the voters are cheering him on.

Some say that a Jewish Democratic Socialist cannot win the general election. Of course many claimed nine years ago that an African American former community organizer with far less experience in the Senate than Sanders could not win. Plus for those who want a liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton, Sanders is not the only option, and there are still several months to go to see how the race develops.

While Clinton currently maintains a strong lead, the word inevitable is certainly no longer being heard. Martin O’Malley, who announced his campaign a couple of weeks ago, is hoping that more voters will see him as the progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton. This could happen as voters start paying more attention, and really look at the differences between the records of Clinton and her more liberal opponents. The Boston Globe reported on O’Malley campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire:

Martin O’Malley makes his way to the back of a crowded pub on a rainy night. He grabs a chair and climbs up.

“I’m running for president of the United States and I need your help,” he says, holding his right hand on his chest. He promises not to talk long. “We are going to do Q&A because that is the Iowa way.”

For O’Malley the Iowa way is the only way. The former Maryland governor’s narrow path to the Democratic nomination hinges on persuading people at this bar and in homes across the state to support him in the caucuses seven months from now, longtime advisers and donors agree. A strong second, or even an upset, is possible here in a way that isn’t in the cards anywhere else.

He knows it, too; that’s why he and a crew of staff piled into a white sport utility vehicle and drove at breakneck speeds past rain-soaked farms from event to event last week. Even though O’Malley’s name remains unfamiliar to many Iowans, and he still barely registers in that state’s polls, political elites have talked of an O’Malley presidential run since his early days as Baltimore’s mayor.

Joe Biden’s name has come up many times, with a Draft Biden movement setting up an early campaign structure should he decide to get in the race. His opposition to Clinton’s more militaristic views during the first four years of the Obama administration would give him an advantage among liberals over Clinton. It is also notable that it was Biden who pushed Obama to publicly support same-sex marriage, while Clinton continued for a while longer to believe it was a matter which should be left to the states. In addition, Lincoln Chafee has announced his candidacy, and Jim Webb is also expected to run.

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Don’t Believe The Latest Round Of Scare Stories On Health Insurance Premiums

health care reform

There have been a number of scare stories recently predicting huge increases in health insurance premiums for 2016 due to Obamacare. This year premiums went up much less than predicted and most likely the current predictions of doom will not come about. Two recent stories from NPR’s Morning Edition and The Hill provide a more realistic outlook:

The average insurance premium under ObamaCare is probably not headed toward a double-digit hike next year, according to new data.

Premiums for silver plans on the federal insurance exchanges are slated to increase an average of 5.8 percent in the eight states where all data is available, according to an analysis by Avalere Health. For the lowest-cost silver plans, that increase will be 4.5 percent, or an average of $378 per year.

That data, which includes Maryland and Michigan, comes after a string of headlines predicting steep cost increases for health insurance plans in 2016.

“While recent public attention has focused on a subset of plans that filed for premium increases of 10 percent or more, these data reveal that most plans are proposing more modest increases,” said the group’s senior vice president, Caroline Pearson.

Health insurance companies were required to file their rate increases by June 1, though under law, most are only required to seek approval for hikes of 10 percent or more — resulting in a skewed portrait of the increases.

That is an important point that the news is coming from those plans which are requesting the largest increases while the plans which desire lower increases do not make news. Morning Edition had more to put this in perspective.

The numbers released last week came out of a June 1 deadline, under the Affordable Care Act, that requires insurance companies to tell government regulators when they’re requesting price hikes of more than 10 percent. Some officials opposed to the law, like Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, decried the increases.

“Blue Cross Blue Shield, which is Montana’s largest insurer, is asking for an average increase of 23 percent for Montanans enrolled in individual plans,” he told colleagues from the U.S. Senate floor last week.

While that sounds scary, it turns out that Blue Cross Blue Shield in Montana is actually asking for large price hikes on just two plans it wants to offers in the state. While it’s not yet public how many they’ll offer in 2016, they currently offer 50 plans.

Caroline Pearson, vice president for health reform at the consulting firm Avalere Health, has been digging into available numbers on insurance pricing across several states. She says such price hikes are not the norm. She’s not seeing anything like a 20 percent average increase in the price of monthly premiums.

“Those are not necessarily the plans that hold the bulk of enrollment,” she says. “So, while some of those plans may be going up a lot in price, that doesn’t mean a lot of enrollees are necessarily affected.”

In the handful of states where data is available (Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Virginia, Vermont, Washington state and Washington, D.C.), Pearson says the majority of people buying health coverage on exchanges won’t face serious sticker shock.

“We have seen that about 6 percent average rate increases are expected for 2016,” Pearson says.

As Avalere looks at the less expensive plans, she says, “We’re seeing anywhere from a 5 percent increase for the lowest-cost plan available, to a 1 percent increase for the second-lowest-cost plan available. So we’re really looking at very modest increases — very consistent with what we saw from 2014 to 2015.”

With some plans planning large increases while other plans, including some from the same company, are only likely to have modest premium increases, my suspicion is that insurance companies are counting on some customers sticking with the same plan without shopping around. They will receive higher profits from those who stick with plans which jump the most in price, while consumers who take advantage of the exchange can switch to plans without huge premium increases.

Also note that these increases making the news are only requests. Another change under the Affordable Care Act is that it is possible that these larger premium increases will be denied.

As long as health care remains based upon private insurance companies we will continue to see premium increases. After all, double digit increases in premiums were extremely common before the Affordable Care Act was passed. While the ACA has expanded health care coverage and has resulted in some lower costs, the bulk of the proposed cost-containing provisions were stripped form the bill in order to achieve sixty votes to pass in the Senate. Some of the remaining provisions to lower costs are based more on long term changes in health care.

If cost control was the goal, then it would have made more sense to go for a single-payer plan as opposed to the far more modest bill which passed. Ironically Bill Kristol recently suggested, in an interview with Ezra Klein, that this is what the Democrats should have done:

Kristol’s perspective on this will be of some comfort to liberals. “I was never convinced that single-payer wouldn’t be more attractive than Obamacare,” he says. “I think there was some truth to the left-wing critique of Obamacare. You’re building this giant contraption, making people worried about disruption, but you’re helping a rather limited number of people. In a funny way, if you’re doing a middle-class entitlement, you should do a big middle-class entitlement.”

The problem is that there would have never been sixty votes to pass a single-payer plan. If ideas such as the public option and a buy-in to Medicare had to be dropped because of the opposition from Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, there is no way that sixty votes could have been obtained for a single-payer plan. The same article points out how Obamacare passed while Hillary Clinton’s more extensive plan from the 1990’s, which “would have upended the health insurance of most Americans” was easier for Republicans to defeat.

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