Good News In Polls On Obamacare, Obama, And The Economy

Kaiser Health Tracking Poll April 2015

There is some favorable news in a couple polls out today. A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows that the number who view the Affordable Care Act favorably or unfavorably is now evenly split, with 43 percent having a favorable view and 42 percent unfavorable. This remains within the margin of error and, while still lower than it should be considering how well the law has worked, is an improvement over previous polls. Last month 43 percent viewed the law unfavorably and 41 percent favorably. A year ag0 46 percent viewed Obamacare unfavorably compared to 38 percent favorably. As expected, there was a large partisan difference in these findings. The poll also showed that few people realize that implementation of the Affordable Care Act has cost less than originally estimated.

A CNN/ORC poll shows an improved approval rating for President Obama, along with increased optimism about the economy:

For the first time since May of 2013, more Americans polled say they have a positive impression of how Obama is handling the presidency than a negative one: 48% approve of the way Obama is handling his job, while 47% disapprove…

Obama’s numbers are on the rise at the same time the public gives the economy the highest ratings of his presidency.

The poll finds 52% describe the U.S. economy as very or somewhat good, while 48% call it very or somewhat poor. That marks the first time since Obama took office that significantly more people describe the economy as “good” than “poor,” and only the second time since then that a majority has described the nation’s economy as “good.”

…Likewise, the public’s outlook for the country’s economic future is remarkably positive. Sixty percent say they expect the economy to be in good shape a year from now, while just 38% say they think it will be in poor shape. That’s the most positive outlook since the height of the 2012 election campaign. Such campaigns typically boost optimism about the economy as people on both sides of the ideological divide believe their candidate will win and ultimately turn things around.

But outside of that campaign, the last time optimism about the economy reached 60% was in April 2009, about three months into Obama’s time in office.

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Marijuana, Needle Exchange Programs, And Clinton’s Cultural Conservatism

Clinton Marijuana

Following recent posts about Lincoln Chafee talking about running for the Democratic nomination I began looking to see if there are any other issues where the two have major differences besides Clinton’s support for the Iraq war, which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. I was pleased to see that back in 2011 Chaffee called for a reclassification of medical marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substances, which puts states which have legalized medical marijuana at odds with federal laws.

Three years later, Martin O’Malley took this a step even further, signing a bill decriminalizing marijuana, while opposing outright legalization. Hillary Clinton, as would be expected from her overall cultural conservatism, has lagged behind the country, and the Democratic Party, on both legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana.

On a related issue, Clinton’s opposition to needle exchange programs, while certainly not a major issue, was also an early issue in the 2008 nomination battle which differentiated the political philosophies of Clinton from the more liberal Barack Obama. Martin O’Malley, who is also moving well to the left on economic issues, signed a bill allowing needle exchange in Maryland. Clinton and Obama also differed in 2008 on reforming sentencing for violation of drug laws. While Obama’s record on the drug war has certainly been mixed, I would hate to see a move further to the right under Clinton.

Clinton’s cultural conservatism and promotion of conservative causes has often been traced to her membership in The Fellowship while in the Senate. From Mother Jones in 2007:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection…

That’s how it works: The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward…These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right…

The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is “adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism.” Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups’ access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and “virtue” making a return to the classroom.

As noted in the above excerpt, Clinton’s affiliation with the religious right was seen in her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act , a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, along with her promotion of restrictions on video games and her introduction of a bill making flag burning a felony. Her social conservatism is also seen in her weak record on abortion rights, such as supporting parental notification laws and stigmatizing women who have abortions with the manner in which she calls for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

(Links to additional material added on April 19)

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Report Clinton To Oppose Iran Deal & The Politics Of Tipping

Clinton Iran

The Hill is running a story that major Clinton contributor Haim Saban is hinting that Hillary Clinton will come out against the Iran deal. Clinton was often more hawkish than others in the Obama administration, and had criticized Obama for his plans to negotiate with Iran during the 2008 campaign. She had claimed that the United States could “totally obliterate” Iran.

Clinton’s views on Iran have remained unclear. Clinton’s 2014 book, Hard Choices, claimed that she helped initiate the negotiations, but this was a ghost written campaign book and might not be a very reliable account. Obama has said that Clinton was wary of the negotiations, but interested. Since the agreement was announced, Clinton has been supportive, but has left herself some wiggle room.

With all the mixed signals about her position on Iran, it would be helpful if Clinton faced press interviews to clarify her views–ideally with follow-up questions allowed. Instead Clinton has avoided the press since announcing her candidacy, rather than allowing interviews and having the press along on a campaign trip, as is generally seen in such a political campaign. Her campaign aides have instead held off-the-record dinners to attempt to woo the press which Clinton did not attend. She held a single press conference about a week after the email scandal broke in which she took limited questions, and fact-checkers found her to be lying on multiple points.

The other campaign controversy today was far less serious than this matter of war and peace. Clinton has come under criticism for failing to leave a tip when she ate at Chipotle. I see no fault in Clinton’s actual actions. While it is customary to leave a tip for servers, it is far less usual to leave a tip for counter service. The bigger issue is one of understanding how campaigns work. Politicians generally understand that every act is scrutinized, and know it is better to always tip, and tip generously. For example, The Hill contrasted Clinton and Obama:

President Obama has gained a reputation as a big tipper dating back to his first presidential campaign in 2008.

One month before Clinton conceded the nomination to Obama, he stopped at The Raleigh Times Bar in North Carolina, where he reportedly left an $18 tip on a $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Obama and Vice President Biden lunched at Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Va. in 2009, and the president left $5 in the tip jar.

And during the government shutdown in Oct. 2013, Obama and Biden walked to the Taylor Gourmet sandwich shop on Pennsylvania Ave., which was giving a 10 percent discount to furloughed government workers.

The president paid a $21.56 lunch tab and left a tip of $18.44.

This does not necessarily mean that Obama is a better person than Clinton or even more generous. It does show that Obama was better at campaigning, at least in this type of situation:

The majority of Democrats do favor a primary opponent, whether because of opposition to Clinton or believing it will make her a better candidate in the general election. Personally I think that if Clinton doesn’t have this down by now, she probably never will. The Democratic National Committee aims to please. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says this will be a contested primary and has scheduled a series of debates. She named the same potential candidates who have often been mentioned:

Wasserman Schultz said she has been talking about the planned debate series with both official candidates (so far, there’s only one) and potential entrants. She mentioned Vice President Joe Biden, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, former Senator (and Governor) Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Senator Bernie Sanders—although she noted that Sanders, a Vermont independent, would have to change parties to qualify for a Democratic primary.

 

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More Responses To Hillary Clinton’s Candidacy

Clinton Announcement Video Screen Grab

Here is more commentary on Hillary Clinton’s entry into the race for the Democratic nomination since my post on this yesterday. First a couple of opinions in American publications:

Ruth Marcus called the video announcing her campaign insultingly vapid, but is otherwise kinder to the idea of a Clinton candidacy:

For one, the video was relentlessly, insultingly vapid — a Verizon commercial without the substance. “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” Clinton said in what passed for a meaty message. “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”

Seriously, this makes Ronald Reagan’s gauzy “It’s Morning Again in America” commercial look like a Brookings Institution seminar on economic policy. Understood — an announcement video isn’t the moment for a detailed policy platform, but it is, or should be, a venue for at least nodding to specific goals…

Adding insult to vacuousness was the demographic box-checking nature of the video, however beautifully filmed. Working mom, check. Hispanic entrepreneur, check. Retiring grandma, check. Gay couple, check. African-American family, check. Hardworking small-businessman, check. South Asian, inter-racial, lesbian, check, check, check. If your demographic was not featured, you should write the campaign and it will probably splice you in.

Conor Friedersdorf was even harder on her at The Atlantic:

Adding insult to vacuousness was the demographic box-checking nature of the video, however beautifully filmed. Working mom, check. Hispanic entrepreneur, check. Retiring grandma, check. Gay couple, check. African-American family, check. Hardworking small-businessman, check. South Asian, inter-racial, lesbian, check, check, check. If your demographic was not featured, you should write the campaign and it will probably splice you in…

As I’ve noted with regard to other candidates, an official campaign announcement is only a beginning. Hillary will likely give voters a lot more substance. At the same time, her cozy ties to Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, the enormous wealth of her family, the donors on whom she will rely to fund her campaign, and the Clinton Foundation’s ties to the global moneyed elite make it unlikely that she’ll ever reshuffle a deck stacked to favor those at the top. Absent specific, credible proposals, the rational voter should ignore that pledge. Thus the launch video’s most glaring flaw: When the candidate finally addressed a single matter of substance, she did so in a way that wasn’t yet believable.

Here is an interesting commentary on the race from a Polish author Mariusz Zawadzki  (found via The Moderate Voice):

“The presidency is not some crown to be passed between two families!,” former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said recently. He meant, of course, the Bushes and the Clintons who, as seems a really possibility, have governed and will govern the United States from the year 1989 until 2025, excluding an eight-year interruption by Barack Obama.

On Sunday that dark scenario moved a bit closer when Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, officially announced her candidacy in 2016 presidential election. In her steps will soon follow Jeb Bush, brother and son of two former Republican presidents.

O’Malley, though far from objective as he himself is considering becoming a candidate, is undoubtedly correct for many reasons. In recent years much has been said about the growing inequality of the American economy, and how a child from a poor family has less of a chance at social advancement. America increasingly belongs to the millionaires and billionaires. A quasi-feudal system has formed in which the fate of a man and his future position in life are determined at birth. A Bush-Clinton relay would confirm that this unhealthy process is occurring not only in finance but politics as well.

To my surprise, Americans, at least those supporting the Democrats, don’t seem to mind. It would be quite a sensation if someone else won the party nomination (things look completely different on the Republican side, where Bush will have a much harder path, with his most dangerous rival apparently Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker)…

She claims to be a spokesperson for women’s rights, but, as investigated by the right-wing portal Washington Free Beacon, during her tenure as a senator the women in her office were paid 72 percent of men in equivalent positions! That’s far worse than the Washington average (in the U.S. capitol, women earn approximately 90 percent of men in the same positions)…

Her biggest drawback, and again this is my personal opinion – is not even the fact that she is privileged, but that she considers herself to be. Certain rules that apply to “ordinary people” do not apply because her name is Hillary Clinton.

A perfect example is the so called e-mail scandal that broke a few weeks ago. It turned out that when Hillary was secretary of state she used her personal e-mail account. All correspondence was saved on a server that the Clintons had installed in their home in New York. Last year she forwarded to governmental archives thousands of “business” e-mails, but she deleted 30,000 “private” ones – and she was the one who decided which were which.

Republicans raised a fuss, suggesting Hillary was hiding something. Jeb Bush brags that he had a business e-mail account and that its contents were revealed on his Web site. Yet that isn’t the root of the matter! After all, Bush had a private account in addition to a business account, and if he wanted to conceal his business matters he could have kept such correspondence in his private account – and he probably did as all politicians do.

The point is that internal State Department procedures prohibit the use of private e-mail accounts for business matters. In 2011, when Mrs. Clinton was head of the Department, all employees were given a reminder of that ban. Apparently because she feels privileged, Hillary Clinton concluded that the ban didn’t apply to her…

This all plays into the Republican strategy to portray Clinton as an out-of-touch plutocrat like Mitt Romney. It will be strange to see the Republicans running against the top one percent.

The problem is not so much that candidates are members of a family with previous presidents but the two particular families involved. The family business for each has become seeking power and influence peddling. Both the activities of the Bush family and Clinton Foundation create similar concerns.

On the one hand this could raise the question of whether keeping the presidency in a single family invites such abuses, but on the other hand it is also possible to have political families who do not engage in the practices of the Bush and Clinton families.

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Hillary Clinton Begins Campaign Hiding From Press & Marco Rubio Jumps In

Clinton Announcement Video Screen Grab

Hillary Clinton has started her campaign, and is already hiding from the press. From The Los Angeles Times:

Hillary Rodham Clinton shocked nobody in the media when she announced that she was running for president on Sunday – but her next move took reporters by surprise.

Clinton didn’t get on a campaign plane and head to Iowa. Instead, she and a small group of staff piled into what the candidate calls the Scooby van. They are road-tripping it to Iowa. The press was not invited.

Peter Beinart at The Atlantic was far more impressed with Clinton’s video announcing her campaign than I was, but his article might not be doing her any favors. Beinart reminded readers of all the conservative imagery in previous Clinton announcements and her long history of cultural conservatism:

Here are some of the phrases that appeared in Hillary’s 2000 senate announcement: “voluntary uniform rating system for movies and films,” “welfare,” “more police on the streets,” “teacher testing in the face of boycotts,” “I don’t believe government is the solution to all our problems” and “parents, all parents, must be responsible.” The message was pure Clintonism, as developed when Bill ran the Democratic Leadership Council in the early 1990s: To deserve government help, people must be morally responsible. And it came naturally to a senate candidate who, although caricatured as a sixties radical, was better described, by a former White House aide, as “a very judgmental Methodist from the Midwest.”

In 1993, Hillary had declared herself “not comfortable” with distributing condoms in schools. In 1994, she had endorsed “three strikes and you’re out” laws that expanded prison sentences.

In 1996, she had backed Bill’s decision to sign the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. And in the 2000 senate campaign, she supported parental notification laws for children seeking abortions, a position that placed her to the right of her initial Republican challenger, Rudy Giuliani.

I agree with Beinart that this year’s video displayed more liberal imagery, but it was just imagery. Nothing was said about actual political positions or plans upon taking office. Until she shows evidence otherwise, and there is a long way to go, this video is not enough to believe that she has really changed. In many ways Hillary Clinton has remained the same Goldwater Girl she was in the 1960’s (except that Barry Goldwater was more socially liberal than Clinton, and not much more hawkish).

At Salon, (better known in the blogosphere as just Digby) warned about the Dangers of a Hillary Clinton campaign: The disastrous centrism she desperately needs to avoid.

Barack Obama says that he and Hillary are friends (she is likable enough after all) but he won’t automatically endorse her. After all, “there are other people who are friends of of the president” who still might run. This must make the Draft Biden movement happy. Joe Biden has never been my top choice for president, but I sure wouldn’t mind seeing him get into the race against Clinton. Biden spent the first four years of the Obama administration opposing Clinton’s hawkish views, and I would like to see this explored during the campaign. Plus Biden gets points for the manner in which he pushed Obama to “evolve” on gay marriage, and for coming to the rescue in the vice presidential debate in 2012 after Obama bombed in the first debate.

In addition to the conservatives already in the race from both major parties, another has joined them. The best thing about Marco Rubio entering the race is that he cannot run for reelection in Florida, increasing the chances the Democrats can pick up the seat. He is gambling everything on winning the presidency, and he might be optimistic over only trailing Clinton by three points in the latest Public Policy Polling survey.

Brian Beutler says that Marco Rubio Is the Most Disingenuous Republican Running for President. Considering who he is up against, that is quite an accomplishment. Rubio claims Hillary Clinton’s Ideas ‘Will Not Help Everyday Americans’. That can be debated, once Clinton says what her positions are, but it is a safe bet that at least Clinton’s ideas won’t screw everyday Americans as Rubio’s ideas would.

If the Republicans plan to continue to run against Obamacare, they got more bad news. Gallup has found that the uninsured rate has continued to drop since the Affordable Care Act was passed, now down to 11.9 percent. If you got insurance thanks to Obamacare, don’t forget to turn out to vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination.

Many more candidates will still be entering the race. Bill Kristol asks, If They Get To Nominate Hillary Clinton, Why Don’t We Get To Nominate Dick Cheney? Ok Bill, go ahead and nominate Dick Cheney, and see how the Republicans do with that.

There are many more elections besides the presidential elections in 2016. A group of liberal donors is stepping up to counter all the money the Koch Brothers and other conservatives have been spending to help Republicans win in statehouses.

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Clinton Receiving Criticism On Economic And Foreign Policy From Two Potential Democratic Challengers

With Hillary Clinton’s formal announcement that she is running for the Democratic nomination imminent, we now have something resembling a political campaign. Unfortunately (especially considering how Clinton is slipping in the battle ground polls) the race is rather one sided. Politico points out that even many of those who do not support her for the nomination see her as an unstoppable train. The article did look at a few possible challenges to Clinton from the left:

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia senator Jim Webb, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — the trio who have shown the greatest interest in mounting a challenge to Clinton — face a steep path, Democratic operatives say, while the two most famous names mentioned as potential challengers — Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren — seem increasingly far from running.

Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island senator and governor, emerged in the last few days to stake a possible claim to be the Clinton alternative, raising Warren-like concerns about Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street. But he’s a maverick whose shift from Republican to independent to Democrat is unlikely to excite the progressive base.

…Clinton aides point to O’Malley as the most viable alternative candidate, believing he will eventually pick up support from many of the liberal activists currently urging Warren to run. The silver lining in his low name recognition is that he has an opportunity to introduce himself to the American people on his own terms.

Warren, meanwhile, repeatedly insists she will not throw her hat in the ring despite an organized campaign put together by progressive groups intended to draft the bank antagonist.

And even though the vice president has run for president twice before — including against Clinton and Obama in 2008 — he has no political operation to speak of. Biden’s supporters insist that he would need little preparation to jump in due to his existing networks and the goodwill generated by his trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina earlier this year. But he shows no signs of seriously considering a run.

MSNBC, which might be expected to be more willing than other media outlets to cover a challenge to Clinton from the left, reported on Martin O’Malley campaigning in Iowa:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley says if he runs for president, he will try to pull the Democratic Party back to its populist roots.

“You know what it’s about? It’s really about calling our party back to its true self,” he said in a wide-ranging MSNBC interview airing Friday. “Our politics has been greatly impacted, for the worse, by big money and the concentration of big money.”

O’Malley, in Iowa this week for meetings and a local Democratic Party event, took a break to talk about his potential 2016 challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Smokey Row Coffee, a bustling coffee shop on the West side of Des Moines. Clinton is expected to begin her presidential campaign as early as this weekend.

Widely known as number-crunching technocrat, O’Malley sounds pretty blunt when criticizing what he calls Wall Street’s growing dominance of campaigns and government – including some members of the Obama administration.

“For 30 years we’ve followed this trickle-down theory of economics that said, ‘Concentrate wealth at the very top, remove regulation and keep wages low so we can be competitive – whatever the hell that means,” O’Malley says.

“What it led to was the first time since the Second World War where wages have actually declined, rather than going up – where almost all of the new income earned in this recovery has gone to the top 1%,” he says, invoking the famous phrase from the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he continues, arguing, “these things are not effects that blew in on a gulf stream or on a polar vortex – these are the products of the policy choices we made over these 30 years.”

O’Malley says the system is rigged “in many ways” – a concern pressed by the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the Democratic Party – and contends middle class priorities should be “at the center of our economic theory.”

…O’Malley freely admits most Iowans he meets haven’t heard of him, but he believes they are receptive to his economic focus – and they aren’t all ready for Hillary.

Many Iowans want to literally “meet every candidate” before they decide, he says, and they don’t accept “the inevitability or the punditry or whatever the polls happen to say.”

O’Malley should know. He got started in politics working on Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign in Iowa, and he believes history shows there’s really no such thing as inevitable candidates.

“There is an ‘inevitable’ front-runner who remains ‘inevitable’ right up until he or she’s no longer inevitable,” he says. “And the person that emerges as the alternative is the person that usually no one in America had heard of before – until that person got into a van and went county to county to county.”

O’Malley is careful not to criticize Hillary Clinton by name, but her presence clearly looms over his possible candidacy.

While O’Malley has avoided criticizing Clinton by name, Lincoln Chafee has no such reservations. The New York Times interviewed Chafee about his intentions to run against Clinton:

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Chafee offered sharp criticism of Mrs. Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq and for accepting foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.

“The donations to the Clinton Foundation are alarming to me,” Mr. Chafee said, arguing that decision making can be compromised when enormous amounts of money change hands.

The Clintons have defended the family foundation’s acceptance of donations from foreign governments, which was mostly suspended when Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state and resumed after she left. Last month, former President Bill Clinton said taking money from foreign countries, including those in the Middle East, was crucial to keeping the foundation’s programs running

As Barack Obama did as a senator in 2007, Mr. Chafee argued that Mrs Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq should disqualify her from the White House.

“It’s still relevant,” Mr. Chafee said. “I would argue that the next president of the United States should not have voted for that war.”

Besides Clinton’s vote, Clinton has additional problems on foreign policy. These range from being one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq war, falsely claiming a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, to advocating a more hawkish viewpoint in the Obama administration.

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Saturday Night Live Spoof of CNN, And Hillary Clinton Deleting Her Email

Saturday Night Live had a good parody of CNN this weekend, starting with their coverage of airline disasters. Check out their simulations, along with their coverage of the Iran nuclear talks, using puppets as the actual meeting was behind closed doors. Also check out their simulation of Hillary Clinton deleting her email, using a cat for the simulation, about four minutes in.
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Gary Hart Tells Politico Billion-Dollar Clinton Campaign Should Frighten Americans

In an interview with Politico, Gary Hart warned that a billion-dollar Clinton campaign  “ought to frighten every American” and hoped for a competitive primary which forced Clinton to be specific on the issues. He had favorable comments on both Martin O’Malley and Elizabeth Warren. Here is a condensed version:

“I like Hillary Clinton. I really appreciate what she and her husband have done … but we need new leaders,” said Hart, a former Colorado senator who rose from the bottom of the polls and nearly took down Walter Mondale in the 1984 primaries.

The post-Citizens United campaign finance environment has sullied the presidential process, he said, benefiting establishment politicians who cater to financial backers. He pointed to his own experience, noting that he and his wife mortgaged their home for between $50,000 and $75,000 — an amount that made a significant difference in his first campaign in 1984.

“I’m now told the Clinton campaign intends to raise $1 billion. Now, that ought to frighten every American,” he said…

The role of money in elections, the 78-year-old Hart said, is a driving force behind the current “dynastic” nature of American politics.

“If you’ve got to have a billion dollars to run for president, how many people can do that? Only the Clintons and the Bushes and one or two others,” he said.

“This country is 330 million people, and we should not be down to two families who are qualified to govern. … When you create dynastic networks, you shut a lot of people out,” he added.

Hart, who finished second to Mondale in the 1984 Democratic primary, said he has no doubt Clinton will get a primary challenger. And he argued that the challenger — whether it’s O’Malley or anyone else — should force Clinton to clarify her stance on key issues, something he says would be “therapy” for the party.

“The job of a challenger is to force specificity: Here is my plan, now let’s see her plan,” he said. Asked whether Clinton has not been adequately specific — he used the words “specific” or “specificity” 10 times in a half-hour interview — the former senator said she hasn’t been “pressed.”

His advice to prospective challengers to Clinton, like O’Malley? Be specific on policy, play up the generational divide and aggressively court small-money Internet donors.

Time and again, Hart spoke to the notion of 50 percent — the rough number of Democrats he says are not yet supporting Clinton for president. “If the polls say she has 50, there are 50 that she doesn’t have. … Why isn’t she at 95 [percent]?”

…Hart said there’s a parallel between O’Malley’s situation and his in 1984, when he took on a former vice president and overwhelming establishment favorite in Mondale. Hart, who barely registered a blip on the polls in Iowa at the outset, pressed a generational contrast with the man eight years older than him. He won the New Hampshire primary and nearly defeated Mondale in part by galvanizing younger voters.

Hart anticipates that O’Malley — who can point to a progressive record and is more comfortable with retail politics than Clinton — will use similar themes against the front-runner more than 15 years his senior. “I think he’ll draw a generational distinction, just because it’s obvious. I think he will pursue this search-for-new-leadership theme,” Hart said.

To that effect, he pointed to Barack Obama — who harnessed energy from the liberal base in 2008 and became competitive through his online fundraising — as a potential model. “So, could a Martin O’Malley do that? Possibly. If he develops an identity and a persona that a number of those searching 50 percent can identify with,” Hart said, arguing that Obama “had a depth of feeling, understanding and thoughtfulness that very few political leaders had.”

Hart said he has not communicated with any potential Democratic hopefuls other than O’Malley, but he offered strong praise for Warren, a progressive favorite who has captured the imagination of the left.

“I think it would be interesting in that she is very courageous, not just on the financial industry,” Hart said of a possible run by the Massachusetts senator, noting that he takes her at her word that she isn’t going to jump into the race. “There is an obvious integrity to her that is very, very appealing. By the way she speaks and what she says and how she says it, you believe this is a fiercely independent political figure who is saying a lot of things that people want to hear about how the game is fixed and rigged for the powerful.”

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Clinton’s Electability Now Being Questioned

Projected 2016 electoral map

While it is far too early to make many meaningful predictions about the 2016 election, there is one safe bet–the media will concentrate on the horse race, as opposed to the issues, even at this early state. Eric Ham argues at The Hill that Jeb Bush as the edge in the electoral college over Clinton. David Atkins disagrees at The Political Animal blog, arguing that even if the Republican candidate picks up Florida and Ohio (map above) this still leaves them two votes short of victory. Adam C. Smith, the political editor of The Tampa Bay Times, argues that Florida is not a lock for either Bush or Rubio:

Part of what makes Florida such a challenging state politically is its fast-changing and ever-growing nature. Statewide candidates must constantly introduce themselves. Bush, for instance, won his two gubernatorial races by huge margins — nearly 11 percentage points in 1998 and 13 points in 2002 — but Florida is vastly different now.

The Florida Democratic Party still has the voter files from those Bush elections and can pinpoint which voters are still around and which aren’t. Only 28 percent of currently active Florida voters participated in either of Bush’s past two elections and only 13 percent of today’s registered voters are Republicans who voted in those 2002 or 1998 gubernatorial races.

“There has been so much growth in Florida, that 13 years since his name was last on the ballot, only around 18 percent of registered voters in Florida ever could have voted for Jeb,” Joshua Karp of the Florida Democratic party extrapolated.

Nor have Bush or Rubio ever run in a presidential election year, when Democratic turnout is far higher than in off-year elections.

Barack Obama narrowly won Florida in 2008 and in 2012 after mounting the largest and best-funded campaigns ever seen in the state. That Obama barely eked out a win against Mitt Romney, who had antagonized many Hispanic voters with his clumsy talk of self-deportation, might suggest Bush or Rubio at the top of the ticket would all but ensure Florida’s 29 electoral votes for the GOP.

“Nothing in life is a lock. But Jeb Bush beats Hillary Clinton in Florida hands down. I don’t care what the polls say today,” said former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, suggesting Rubio would be formidable, too, but has less broad appeal.

What the polls say today is that Clinton vs. Bush is a toss-up. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed Clinton leading 45 percent to 42 percent, while a Public Policy Polling survey released last week found Clinton leading 47 percent to 44 percent. She led Rubio by 2 percentage points in both polls.

The problem for the Democrats is that beyond inevitability Clinton has little else going for her, and like in 2008 once her inevitability becomes questioned there is the risk of her campaign self-destructing. If nothing else, this is making Republicans such as Joe Scarborough more optimistic:

 I think she has a glass jaw, and I’ll be really blunt. I don’t think she’s going to be the next president of the United States. Everybody acts like she’s inevitable. But I know a lot of people very close to Hillary Clinton that are very worried right now that she has what it takes to win a general election. They think she’s going to win a primary, the Democratic primary, but they’re very worried. And think about it, Hugh. Everybody’s been talking for four years about how the Democrats are stacked against the Republican Party, there’s no way we’re going to win nationally again. All we need is somebody to win all the states Mitt Romney won, which is a pretty low bar for the Republican Party. And then you win Florida, Virginia and Ohio, which I think any of these major candidates can beat Hillary, and then you just have to pick up four electoral votes. And there are about ten states that Republicans can win there. I’m actually feeling very bullish on 2016 right now if we nominate the right guy or woman.

Jeffry Frank discusses the key fact of the Democratic race so far at The New Yorker–Clinton is essentially running alone:

Democrats, meanwhile, seem ready to cede the whole thing to Clinton, who, for all her experience and intelligence, may be a less-than-ideal candidate. Even her e-mail problems, which polls at first suggested could be shrugged off, aren’t going away. It didn’t help when her lawyer, David Kendall, in response to a subpoena from a congressional committee looking into the 2012 attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, told the Times, “There are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized.” That her personal e-mail server has been wiped clean of any records from her years at the State Department erases the chance of anyone ever making an independent study of their contents and is bound to encourage the suspicion that there was something worth hiding. The investigation community is like a perpetual scandal-seeking machine, quick to seize on any hint of inconsistency, and both Clintons, understandably, are weary of being pursued by those who don’t wish them well. But the public may be getting weary of seeing the words “Clinton” and “lawyers” juxtaposed yet again with any sort of frequency, which could explain her slippage in the polls in three battleground states.

Not long ago, Ryan Lizza wrote about Clinton’s aura of inevitability and the historic failure of most challenges to strong front-runners. At this point, though, any insurgencies are more notional than real. Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, has been gently critical of her as he shyly contemplates getting into the race. The former Virginia Senator James Webb, who began exploring a run last November, is still hinting that he intends to run. But when you look for signs of the Webb campaign, which promised a fresh view of income inequality, military commitments abroad, and the terrible waste of lives—mainly black lives—caused by mass incarceration, what you’re likely to find is the status of the James Webb space telescope, which will replace the Hubble. (That Webb ran NASA in the years of the Apollo program.) Clinton, meanwhile, has not exactly announced her intentions, but her campaign, without coyness, has reportedly leased two floors of office space in Brooklyn Heights, and that, as Politico notes, may be regarded by the Federal Election Commission as the beginning of a campaign.

Four years ago, Democrats were amused by the Republicans battling through the primaries, and by debates that even Republicans considered a “clown show.” This year, Republicans may be cheered by the absence of battle on the other side, by the sight of a major political party diminished by timidity and the uncertain candidacy of a single contender.

We are still months away from the first primary. Clinton has not even announced her candidacy yet but, now that she has signed the lease on election offices in Brooklyn, campaign finance laws require  her to announce, or at least open an exploratory committee, in the next two weeks. Democrats should be concerned about the major errors she has committed during her book tour and in response to the revelations about her email, and her fall in the polls,

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush scrapes past Clinton with a three-point lead, still within the margin of error, in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. Clinton had a one-point edge in the Florida dead heat Quinnipiac reported in early February.

The last two months have also erased Clinton’s previously double-digit lead over every other potential GOP contender for the presidency in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky, is now the man to beat in Ohio after he narrowed his margin against Clinton to just a five-point deficit, according to Tuesday’s poll. Paul, who is expected to announce his bid for the presidency next week, trailed Clinton by 12 points in Quinnipiac’s early February poll.

Every potential 2016 Republican contender included in the February survey has since gained on Clinton in Ohio — even if by just two points, like in Bush’s case.

Paul is also winning over Pennsylvanians, trimming his 9-point deficit to a virtual tie, landing 45% of support to Clinton’s 44% in the state.

Clinton remains a strong favorite — especially so early on — against virtually every other potential Republican contender for president in the three battleground states.

But it’s clear Clinton’s email scandal — first that she exclusively used private email housed on a private server as secretary of state, and then that she deleted all the emails on that server — has leveled a hit to Clinton’s public image and trustworthiness, according to the Quinnipiac poll.

About half of voters in all three states say Clinton is not honest and trustworthy — by a 5-to-4 margin in Florida and Pennsylvania, with a closer split in Pennsylvania.

And Clinton’s favorability rating has also slipped in Florida — to 49% from 53% — and Pennsylvania — now at 48% from 55% — though she still gets more favorable reviews than all of her would-be Republican opponents, except for Bush and Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio in that state.

Despite denials over the significance of the email scandal by Clinton supporters , the poll found that, “Clinton has provided satisfactory answers on the e-mail issue, 38 percent of voters say, while 55 percent say serious questions remain.” This is also the sort of matter which most people are not currently paying attention to at this stage,  and could be much more harmful in 2016. Despite the attempts of Clinton supporters to claim this is a trivial matter, this is actually an important matter which gets to the heart of Obama’s efforts to improve transparency in government in response to the abuses during the Bush years. With so much communication now being by email rather than written memos, it is also important to the historical record that these records be maintained. Hillary Clinton’s integrity is tarnished by her failure to follow the rules placed in effect in 2009, her false claims at her press conference of following the rules, and her debunked claims of having failed to use government servers in order to avoid needing to carry two email devices, even though she actually did use two different devices. Clinton’s attacks on Republicans for shredding the Constitution when they used a server from the Republican National Committee, and the citing of use of personal email as one reason for the firing of an ambassador under her, strengthen the view that the Clintons believe that the rules do not apply to them. How many voters are really going to believe that Clinton was not hiding something after she not only violated the rules but wiped the servers?

While many Democrats have been willing to back Clinton, despite being out of step with liberals on the issues, because of the feeling she had the best chance to win. Now that she is looking like a weaker candidate there has been increased discussion of the possibility of other candidates taking on Clinton for the Democratic nomination, but so far there has been little action by other Democrats. Martin O’Malley is currently the only one making serious moves towards a candidacy. While the Clintonistas have begun their inevitable campaign against  him, he is starting to get favorable coverage. Some Clinton supporters deny how Clinton is to the right of O’Malley and most other Democrats, using flawed rating systems which do not mean very much when most Senate votes are along party lines. (Republicans used such bogus arguments to claim in 2004 and 2008 that John Kerry and Barack Obama were the most liberal Democrats.) Clintonistas have an even more difficult task when pitting O’Malley against Clinton based upon competence. A. H. Goodman argues at The Huffington Post that O’Malley or Elizabeth Warren, along with other possible Democratic candidates, can beat the Republicans. In Iowa, which has not been a strong state for the Clintons, some are seeing O’Malley as the nation’s new JFK.

Joe Biden has the advantage over other potential challengers in terms of name recognition against other potential candidate, but  has made only very preliminary moves. While he has not taken any actions towards organizing a campaign, a Draft Joe Biden site has started. If Biden plans to run I think he bypassed an opportunity this week. Biden was often the voice of reason, in contrast to Clinton’s hawkishness, in the first four years of the Obama administration. If he was interested in taking on Clinton, I would think he should have reminded voters of Clinton’s opposition to Obama’s desire to engage in diplomacy with Iran. This issue might still come up, being yet another example of how long it often takes for Clinton to learn from her mistakes.

With many months to go before the first primary, there remains hope that other candidates will emerge once it no longer looks like resistance to Clinton is futile. Sources from Salon to The Christian Science Monitor have offered suggestions as to alternate candidates for the Democratic nomination.

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Affordable Care Act Contributed To Saving Around 50,000 Lives

Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler is often very quick to give out those Pinocchios, often hitting Obama when statements have exceptions which go beyond what would be expected to be included in a political speech. Therefore I was pleased to see that he gave a rare Geppetto Checkmark for Obama’s statement on the 5th anniversary of The Affordable Care Act that the ACE is “a major reason why we’ve seen 50,000 fewer preventable patient deaths in hospitals.”

I agree with Kessler’s overall view that The Affordable Care act has contributed to a decrease in preventable deaths from factors such as drug reactions and pressure ulcers and that other factors, some pre-dating the ACA, were also important. As Kessler wrote:

But officials say there is also little question that the half-billion dollars in ACA funding sparked significantly greater cooperation among thousands of hospitals. On pressure ulcers and adverse drug reactions, “we already had practices that we knew had worked,” another official said, but the Partnership for Patients took it to the next level by involving thousands of hospitals in a concerted effort to promote those practices. The law also created the CMS Innovation Center, which tests new ideas at participating hospitals for delivering better service without increasing costs.

HHS reports say more than 70 percent of general acute care hospitals in the United States, representing over 80 percent of admissions, were part of the networks in 2012-2013. The study showed year after year gains in preventing patient deaths, with 35,000 coming in 2013 alone. (One caveat: The figure for 2013 is considered an “interim number,” with the final figure not available until June, 2015.)

The upward trajectory suggests tens of thousands in additional patient lives may have been saved since 2013.

The president’s statement could have been a bit more precisely worded to reflect some of the uncertainty in the estimate: “likely a major reason why we’ve seen an estimated 50,000 fewer preventable patient deaths in hospitals.”

But that’s a relatively minor quibble. The numbers might seem large, but the research seems solid, according to experts we consulted, and it is based on a review of an extensive database. The results likely reflect work that predated the ACA but at the same time the ACA has spurred even greater cooperation among hospitals. Since the president is using a figure more than a year old, it is likely understated — unless, of course, the interim number for 2013 turns out to be overstated. We will keep a watch on that.

But in the meantime, the president’s claim appears worthy of the elusive Geppetto Checkmark.

Plus these numbers don’t include lives saved due to people who would otherwise be uninsured now receiving insurance.

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