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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Clinton Criticized For Remaining Silent On Major Issues & Giving False Illusion Of A Move To The Left

Clinton wink

“at the end of the day, you have to have an opinion on the basic issues facing America.” –Bernie Sanders on Hillary Clinton’s listening tour

While Clinton’s opponents such as Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders meeting with the press and are willing to answer questions as to what they believe (including Bernie Sanders in his interview on NPR this week), Hillary Clinton is receiving increased skepticism and criticism from some liberals for evading questions and avoiding the press. She has made a show of speaking out on selected topics, but often leaves out key details and refuses to answer questions on other key subjects. At Vox, Jonathan Allen makes some of the same points I made in this recent post in an article entitled The selective liberalism of Hillary Clinton:

There’s a term for the way Hillary Clinton has handled policy in the early stages of her campaign: Clintonian. That is, on the issues that most divide the Democratic base from its centrist wing, she refuses to box herself into a position. She’d rather wait to see how things play out — a tendency that reinforces the often asserted (but sometimes unfair) criticism that she doesn’t have core convictions. She’s thrilled that fast-food workers are fighting for a $15 minimum wage, but she won’t say whether she’ll fight for it — or even whether she thinks that’s the right level.

She’s decidedly undecided on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, even though she called it “the gold standard in trade agreements” when she was secretary of state.

And her campaign has completely dodged the question of whether she thinks her husband’s welfare reform law was the right policy.It’s true that Clinton has rolled out a string of positions that please constituencies on the left, from support for LGBT rights and voting rights to repudiating the results of her husband’s 1994 anti-crime law and vowing to enhance President Obama’s executive action on immigration. These are important issues, perhaps more important than the exact level of a wage increase that surely won’t be $15 an hour as long as Republicans control either the House or 41 seats in the Senate. But Clinton has been very selective about how she’s courted her party’s progressive base, speaking as much to identity politics as to actual policy. On some of the more controversial policy questions, she’s taking a pass. As Ruth Marcus put it in the Washington Post Wednesday morning, “The left-leaning positions she isn’t taking are as significant as the ones she has endorsed.”

The full post discussed Clinton’s honesty problem and contrasted her with Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. It concluded:

It’s tempting to think that Clinton has plenty of time because it’s early in the presidential election cycle or because her Democratic rivals probably don’t have what it takes to beat her in a primary. But by sidestepping important policy questions, she’s giving oxygen to doubts about her sincerity. That’s a character question that should be familiar to Clinton fans who watched Barack Obama turn honesty into a weapon against her in 2008, and it’s one that crosses party lines. Ultimately, Clinton is going to have to choose a side on these issues. The longer she takes, the more it looks like she’s afraid of commitment.

In the op-ed mentioned above, Ruth Marcus described Clinton’s leftward illusion. A.B. Stoddard has similar comments at The Hill, noting that on multiple current issues, “Clinton has been silent.”

This week in particular, the president Clinton hopes to replace — if she can break the historical trend that has allowed a party to win a third consecutive term in the White House only once since 1948 — is on edge. President Obama is simultaneously awaiting the outcome of a House vote on trade promotion authority, negotiations on a nuclear deal and a Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act that could potentially dismantle the country’s healthcare system. On all of these issues Clinton has been silent.

On Wednesday Obama announced a shift in his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), sending 450 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to bolster the training of defense forces there. Since announcing her plans to run for president, Clinton has said little of the burgeoning wars in Iraq and Syria, except that she was wrong to support the 2003 war in Iraq and that, in the face of ISIS gaining strength and territory, it will be up to the Iraqis to protect their own country.

On trade, Democrats supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal are being slammed by the AFL-CIO and other labor groups for backing Obama on the measure. Meanwhile Clinton, who helped negotiate the agreement and promoted it during her tenure as secretary of State as “the gold standard” of trade deals, has taken little heat from Big Labor. Though it is clear she has access to every detail and Obama could use her help to pass the TPP, she continues to insist she can’t pass judgment until she sees the final product.

Clinton has worked hard to avoid the press since announcing her candidacy. And because of this, her ramp-up has been mostly defined by critical news stories about: the Clinton Foundation and the connection between its donors, both Clintons’ speaking gigs and lack of disclosure of donations; her violation of an agreement limiting those donations while she worked as secretary of State; who lobbied the department during her tenure after giving to the foundation; how Bill Clinton hid some money to avoid disclosure; and how Hillary Clinton placed most of her government work at the State Department on a private email server she has now destroyed. Her favorability ratings are now below 50 percent, 57 percent of voters don’t believe she is trustworthy, and the huge leads she held over potential GOP presidential candidates have shrunk to just a few points.

Clinton doesn’t like answering questions, so she likes to say the campaign isn’t about her, it’s all about the voters. That might be fine this year because she believes no one can defeat her for the Democratic nomination, but next year in the general election it will actually be about her. Support for same-sex marriage, debt-free college, campaign finance reform and more access to early voting may be appealing to her base, but they aren’t the most urgent issues. She should find the guts to confront them soon if she really wants to be president.

As Bernie Sanders said about Clinton this week, “at the end of the day, you have to have an opinion on the basic issues facing America.” Besides these policy matters (and many others I’ve brought up from time to time which are not in the headlines), there remain many unanswered questions about the recent scandals, including those involving the Clinton Foundation. Chris Cillizia looked at Bill Clinton’s latest comments defending his actions and points out that Clinton still does not get it:

This is the latest in a string of statements by the former president that suggest he still doesn’t grasp why the Clinton Foundation questions continue to swirl and, because of that lack of understanding, remains unable to effectively parry them. Let’s go through the problems with Clinton’s answer.

First, there’s little doubt that some of the donations accepted by the Clinton Foundation have been viewed as objectionable by lots and lots of people. To cite one example: Allowing the Qatar Supreme 2022 Committee, organized to lure the World Cup to the nation, to serve as the main sponsor for a 2013 Clinton Global Initiative event. Qatar has been tied to not only allegations of wide-scale bribery of FIFA to acquire the games but is also the subject of widespread humanitarian concerns regarding the number of deaths related to the construction of the soccer stadiums to host the World Cup in 2022.

So, on its face, the claim that no one has come forward to object to certain donations/donors is just not right.

Then there is the fact that Clinton’s answer on the foundation seems to be based on the idea that he and his wife are operating in a legal sphere for the next two years. They’re not. They’re living in the world of politics — and the rules of that world are far different than those of a court of law.

Clinton’s argument boils down to the idea of a burden of proof. As in, if there’s something truly objectionable in what the foundation has done, then someone should prove it.  Legally speaking, Clinton’s right.  If you think he or the foundation broke some sort of law, then you should need to provide conclusive evidence of when, where, why, what and how.

But  of course, what we are mostly talking about when it comes to the Clinton Foundation is the gray area between contributions made by donors and decisions made by the foundation that benefited those people.  Proving that sort of quid pro quo in a legal setting is virtually impossible barring a smoking gun — like an e-mail that says: “Mr. X gave $300,000.  Let’s fund his project now.”

In politics, however, gray areas can be exploited to great advantage by your political opponents. Raising questions about the timing between donations to the Clinton Foundation and decisions made that lined the pockets of those donors is totally within the bounds of acceptable — and effective — negative messaging.  Republicans don’t need to prove that the Clinton Foundation did anything untoward. The burden of proof that there was no wrongdoing lies with the Clinton Foundation.

That reality clearly annoys Bill Clinton, and somewhat understandably. After all, the Clinton Foundation is a massive operation and, as Bill likes to point out, does lots and lots of work that has nothing to do with politics. “Do I have the most comprehensive disclosure of any presidential foundation? Yes,” Clinton said in that same Bloomberg interview. “Is our — our disclosures more extensive than most private foundations? Yes, they are, having nothing to do with politics.” (Sidebar: It’s not clear that Clinton’s claim about the foundation’s disclosure policies is totally accurate.)

Here’s the problem for Bill: No other foundation in the world is run by a former president and a former secretary of state who also happens to be the de facto Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. That fact means that the Clinton Foundation isn’t like any other foundation in the world — and  therefore, how all of those other foundations treat disclosure is sort of immaterial.

It also remains significant that Hillary Clinton had agreed to disclose donors to the Foundation when she was Secretary of State, and then failed to do so.

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Wisconsin Straw Poll: Clinton 49% Sanders 41%

Bernie Sanders facebook

A straw poll is far from conclusive, and Wisconsin might not be a typical state, but the results of the Wisconsin straw poll are certainly interesting after months of hearing that Hillary Clinton is unbeatable:

Hillary Clinton 252
Bernie Sanders 208
Joe Biden 16
Martin O’Malley 16
Jim Webb 8
Lincoln Chafee 5
No vote 1

(Write-ins:)
Elizabeth Warren 4
Tom Vilsack 1

Sanders has spent a lot of time in Wisconsin, making we wonder if other candidates might also do take votes from Clinton after they campaign against her in Wisconsin, and possibly elsewhere. Along with the national polls last week showing a considerable reduction in Clinton’s support, it is increasingly looking like it is premature to just assume Clinton will be the nominee. She continues to have a significant lead, but with many Democrats questioning both her honesty and her conservative positions, it just might be possible that someone will repeat what Obama did and win the nomination despite the belief that her victor is inevitable.

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Martin O’Malley Makes It Official: Second Liberal Joins Bernie Sanders In Race Against The Mass Of Conservative Candidates

Martin O'Malley Facebook Cover

Until today the choice among those officially in the 2016 race consisted of Bernie Sanders and a ton of conservatives, including Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidates. Martin O’Malley has now officially announced his candidacy adding a second liberal choice:

In the populist speech, he called to mind the “scourge of hopelessness” in Baltimore during the riots, as well as the “conditions of extreme and growing poverty” across the country that he said have put the American dream out of reach for many.

He also called for a crackdown on Wall Street, saying that “recently, the CEO of Goldman Sachs let his employees know that he’d be just fine with either [Jeb] Bush or Clinton. I bet he would.”

“Main Street struggles while Wall Street soars,” O’Malley said. “Tell me how it is that not a single Wall Street CEO was convicted of a crime related to the 2008 economic meltdown. Not. A. Single. One.”

Unlike Hillary Clinton who hides from the press and stands for nothing other than personal greed, Martin O’Malley is spending time with the media and talking about what he believes in. This includes this interview with Politico:

O’Malley says his record proves government can help, not hurt. He’s great at rattling off his “greatest hits”: “We passed the living wage [dramatic increases for employees of government contractors]. We raised the minimum wage to $10.10. We made college more affordable by freezing tuition. We made public schools the best in the country for five years in a row. We made it easier for people to vote and not harder.” The progressive list goes on: passing marriage equality, decriminalizing marijuana, repealing the death penalty.

He’s also building what he describes as a “generational” argument—a euphemism for arguing that the Clintons and the Warrens represent old, tired ways, and he’s the new model for “entrepreneurial, data-driven governance.” “My candidacy would offer something very different than hers [Clinton’s],” he says. “One that is not only progressive but accomplished. … I think the Democratic Party can get very excited talking about the things we need to do, but there’s only one of us [in the race] so far that actually did these things, in city at a very tough time and in a state at a very tough time in our economy.” O’Malley has caught some pundit flak for talking up mayoral achievements like his “48-hour pothole guarantee.” (“This wonk is not about to fire up the party base,” Dana Milbank wrote in March, calling O’Malley the “Bruce Babbitt of 2016,” a guy who’s “campaigning as if he’s running to be Clinton’s EPA administrator or her OMB director.”) But on the other hand, Maryland did earn the highest median household income in the country during his tenure. Or as one of O’Malley’s aides puts it, “If no one is getting their potholes filled, how are we going to get the health care system fixed?

But does he have a chance?

A snapshot of past Democratic insurgencies might also give O’Malley some encouragement. “Look at Memorial Day in 2003, where Howard Dean was in the polls. Or Memorial Day 1991, where Bill Clinton was. Or Memorial Day 2007, look at where Barack Obama was,” says Steve McMahon, a political consultant who worked with Ted Kennedy and Dean. All were way back in the field at this stage, or unnoticed. “Voters are just now starting to tune in a little bit,” says McMahon.

There is also, among Democrats, a time-honored tradition of obscure, long-shot governors rising suddenly (sometimes preceded by dull convention speeches), if not always getting all the way to the White House: Jimmy Carter, Clinton, Dean. “Do you remember Howard Dean in 2001?” says Zephyr Teachout, another progressive firebrand who nearly upended the New York gubernatorial race last year by giving Gov. Andrew Cuomo a scare. “Of course you don’t. No one does. I worked for Howard Dean in 2001. He couldn’t excite a dog then. It wasn’t until he went national as a candidate that he became a rabble-rouser.” And Dean was from Vermont, an even smaller and possibly more liberal state than Maryland. Like many progressives, Teachout is eagerly looking for alternatives to Hillary Clinton and finds O’Malley “interesting.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley speaks during an event to announce that he is entering the Democratic presidential race, on Saturday, May 30, 2015, in Baltimore. O'Malley has presented himself to voters as a next-generation leader for the party, pointing to his record as governor on issues such as gay marriage, immigration, economic issues and the death penalty. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

There is a difference in this insurgency campaign compared to many of the unsuccessful ones in the past. Hillary Clinton represents both the greatest obstacle and the greatest opening for an insurgency candidacy. On the one hand she has what appears like an overwhelming lead in the polls. On the other hand, we have never encountered a candidate who has so acted so unethically, violating so many of the principles which Democrats claim to hold. It will be a real test as to whether Democrats really mean what they say, or are willing to accept the same types of acts which they condemn from Republicans if  someone runs with a D after their name.

Even beyond her major ethical transgressions, Hillary Clinton is out of step with where the country, and the Democratic Party are moving, even beyond the economic issues which O’Malley and Sanders are concentrating on.  She has a long history of opposing transparency and attempting to govern in secrecy in an internet age where transparency is becoming the norm. She has aligned herself with the religious right in supporting a greater role for religion in government in a country which is becoming more secular. Her foreign policy views are difficult to differentiate from the neoconservatives. This ranges from being one of the strongest voices in support of the Iraq War, falsely claiming a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, to supporting greater foreign military intervention during the first four years of the Obama administration. Clinton’s support for the Patriot Act has been criticized by both supporters of Bernie Sanders to her left and Rand Paul to her right.

Martin O’Malley is not as well known nationally as Hillary Clinton, or even Bernie Sanders, but his accomplishments have been noted by liberals for some time. For example, Washington Monthly had an article two years ago entitled Should Martin O’Malley Be President?

As governor, he’s pushed a series of bills that are all but guaranteed to impress Democratic primary and caucus voters three years from now, on topics ranging from guns (against), gay marriage (for), the death penalty (against), medical marijuana (for), and implementing Dream Act-like policies at Maryland’s colleges and universities. Just as Bill Clinton did in the 1980s, when he too was a relative unknown, O’Malley has also sought positions in recent years that have allowed him to sidle into the national limelight. In both 2011 and 2012, he served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and he’s since stayed on as the finance chairman, which will allow him to continue to meet top donors. During the election last year, he was a regular fixture on the talk show circuit, often playing the role of President Barack Obama’s personal attack dog. In one interview with ABC’s This Week last summer, O’Malley managed to mention former Governor Mitt Romney’s “Swiss bank accounts” and “offshore” tax havens seventeen times in three minutes flat.

With that iron message discipline, plus his standing as one of the Democrats’ most successful governors (with thirty statehouses in GOP hands, the Dems’ roster is slim), O’Malley won a coveted primetime speaking slot for the second time (he spoke in 2004, too) at the Democratic National Convention last September. He whiffed it—again, just as Clinton did in 1988—but spent the remaining time juggling a packed schedule of schmooze, addressing swing state delegates by day and jamming with his Irish rock band, O’Malley’s March, by night. In recent years, the governor has also made public forays into Iowa and New Hampshire and launched a political action committee, the O’Say Can You See PAC, to raise money that he will be at liberty to distribute, one of his critics groused, “like favor-doing fairy dust,” to fellow Democrats before the midterm races in 2014…

The truth is, what makes O’Malley stand out is not his experience, his gravitas, nor his familiarity to voters (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden crush him in those regards). Nor is it exactly his policies or speeches (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, both rumored presidential aspirants, have cultivated similar CVs). Nor is it that he plays in a band. Nor is it even the Atlantic’s breathless claim last year that he has “the best abs” in politics. (Beneath a photo of the fit governor participating in the Maryland Special Olympics’ annual Polar Bear Plunge, the author gushed, “What are they putting in the water in Maryland?”) Instead, what makes O’Malley unique as a politician is precisely the skill that was on display in that windowless conference room in downtown Annapolis: he is arguably the best manager working in government today.

That may not seem like a very flashy title—at first blush, “Best Manager” sounds more like a booby prize than a claim a politician might ride to the White House. But in an era where the very idea of government is under assault, a politician’s capacity to deliver on his or her promises, to actually make the bureaucracy work, is an underappreciated skill.

Of course, it was a conservative president who most recently demonstrated his woeful lack of such expertise (see George W. Bush, administration of), but it is the liberal and progressive bloc that stakes its identity on a belief in government, and therefore has a higher stake in getting government management right.

A writer at The Hill suggested in March that he might be able to pull a Carter and come from nowhere to win the presidency. H.A. Goodman wrote at The Huffington Post Why Martin O’Malley and Elizabeth Warren Can Beat Any Republican, Including Walker, Bush, Paul and Cruz. In April The Guardian asked, Martin O’Malley: If not Hillary Clinton, then how about this guy?  H.A Goodman wrote at The Hill Why Americans should consider O’Malley for president pointing out how  he is not guilty of the types of ethical violations seen in both Clinton and Jeb Bush:

Compared to ethical scandals by both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, O’Malley was able to move Maryland towards the top of rankings for education, economic mobility, and entrepreneurship. Also, Maryland was one of only seven states to maintain its AAA bond rating during the recession.

As for innovation, O’Malley found ways to utilize data more efficiently than his predecessors. According to a recent Washington Post article, Maryland’s governor found innovative ways to harness data..

Furthermore, he can type an email without controversy. Unlike Hillary Clinton, O’Malley has used technology to help his state, not own a server for some bizarre reason. O’Malley has also made wealth inequality an issue, wants to expand Social Security, enacted Maryland’s version of the Dream Act, raised the minimum wage, and oversaw the passage of marriage equality. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, just recently changed views on marriage equality and has remained quiet on a number of other issues that O’Malley championed in Maryland.

According to The Washington Post in 2007, Jeb Bush’s tenure in Florida was “marred by frequent ethics scandals,” so O’Malley’s track record in Maryland beats (at least in terms of scandal) Bush’s years in Florida. For these reasons and more, O’Malley should be considered by Americans throughout the country as a potential pick for president. Unlike Hillary or Jeb, O’Malley hasn’t been linked to a major controversy and his track record can’t be correlated to any major failure. Martin O’Malley, not Hillary Clinton, should be towards the top of any Democrat’s wish list for president and Americans throughout the nation should pay attention to the former Maryland governor.

While he is officially starting his campaign this weekend, O’Malley has already spent a considerable amount of time in Iowa receiving favorable coverage, including being compared to John F. Kennedy:

O’Malley has the ability to captivate the nation and rise from a relatively unknown to a political juggernaut as John F. Kennedy did in the 1960s, more than 50 interviews with The Daily Iowan show.

“He’s a new breed of Democrats,” Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba, an Obama supporter, said following a private lunch with O’Malley on March 21…

He made a big splash here during his first return to Iowa in 2015, logging nearly 400 miles of travel and appearing at more than a half-dozen events, the Scott County Democrats’s Red, White, and Blue dinner, a Davenport Irish pub, a small town drop-in at Tipton, a visit to Des Moines, and a trendy Council Bluffs eatery.

Presidential historian and political pundit Tom Whalen, who specializes in the tenure and assassination of JFK, said the two have the same charisma, particularly in relation to domestic policies such as income equality.

O’Malley has worked to establish himself as a crisis manager while governor and mayor, as JFK did during the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis, Whalen said.

Whalen said O’Malley leads JFK’s early presidential career in at least one definitive area: speech delivery.

“JFK wasn’t really JFK until he gave that famous inaugural speech,” he said.

As of March O’Malley had been interviewed by The Daily Iowan alone fifty times, granting far more interviews than the number of questions answered by Hillary Clinton this year. He speaks to actual Iowans, not hand picked supporters for staged events like Clinton. These things could matter in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Sure O’Malley is far behind in the polls, but the contrast between Hillary Clinton and far more honest and open opponents such as O’Malley and Sanders could change the race over time–and there is still a long way to go until the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.

 

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Hillary Clinton vs. The Press

Hillary Clinton CSPAN Iowa

With Clinton only taking rare questions from reporters, and generally only providing evasive answers, an increasing amount of the campaign coverage has turned to Hillary Clinton avoiding the press. McClatchy, one of the country’s better news services, has joined in:

Here’s how Hillary Clinton campaigned for president this week: She took a private 15-minute tour of a bike shop that had closed for her visit. She spoke to four small business owners chosen by her staff in front of an audience of 20, also chosen by her staff. She answered a few questions from the media following weeks of silence.

And after a little more than an hour, Clinton was off, whisked away by aides and Secret Service agents, into a minivan and on to the next event.

Members of the public who wanted to go inside the building to support her, oppose her or merely ask a question of her were left outside on an unseasonably cool Iowa day. Most didn’t bother showing up.

“I am troubled that so far in this caucus cycle she hasn’t had any public town halls,” said Chris Schwartz, a liberal activist from Waterloo, as he stood outside the bike store hoping to talk to Clinton about trade. “If she had a public town hall then we wouldn’t be out here. We would much rather be in there engaging with her.”

Welcome to Hillary Clinton 2.0. Mindful of her defeat by Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton has embraced a new strategy – one that so far does not include town-hall meetings and campaign rallies, media interviews, even public events.

Instead, she holds small controlled events with a handful of potential voters in homes, businesses and schools. She repeats many of the same lines (“I want to be your champion” is a favorite), participants are handpicked by her staff or the event host, and topics are dictated by her campaign.

Clinton might be able to get away with this politically but the question is not whether Clinton campaign needs the press but whether the country needs coverage from good campaign reporters. Sure the media posts a lot of garbage, but there is also valuable reporting which tells the country more about a candidate than we will ever get from their staged events and web sites. For example, when Clinton talked about immigration, I wish that somebody could have asked her the question suggested by Amy Chozick of The New York Times:

“President Obama said his executive action on immigration went as far as the law will allow. You say you would go beyond what he did. How could you stretch the law further than the president of your own party and his Justice Department says it can go?”

Without such questions, candidate claims of what they support mean very little. When Clinton excused her vote for the Iraq War, and subsequent actions to push to go to war when even some Democrats who also voted yes were opposing such action, by saying she was fooled by Dick Cheney that Saddam had WMD, there are so many obvious follow up questions. Did she review the intelligence herself? Why is someone who was so easily fooled when many of us following the news realized at the time it was a lie qualified to be president? Even if she was fooled by Cheney, why did she go beyond what most who voted for the war were saying in also falsely claiming there was a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda?

John Cassidy points out  further questions raised by Clinton’s (along with Jeb Bush’s) answer on Iraq in The New Yorker, starting out with a listing of all her various answers to date:

Clinton’s public statements, like Bush’s, have gone through several iterations. In September, 2007, she argued that she hadn’t, in fact, voted for a preëmptive war, and said, “Obviously, if I had known then what I know now about what the President would do with the authority that was given him, I would not have voted the way that I did.” Since many people regarded the resolution, at the time it passed, in October, 2002, as a blank check (twenty-one Democratic senators voted against it), this explanation didn’t do Clinton much good, but she stuck with it throughout her 2008 Presidential campaign, refusing to describe her vote as a mistake. In her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton changed tack, fessing up and saying that she had relied heavily on prewar intelligence about Saddam’s programs to build weapons of mass destruction. “I should have stated my regret sooner and in the plainest, most direct language possible,” she wrote. She went on, “I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

…Clinton, for her part, still has work to do to explain what she learned from the Iraq disaster. Clearly, it didn’t turn her against the concept of overseas military intervention. In 2011, as Secretary of State, she helped orchestrate air attacks on Libya that aided in bringing down Muammar Qaddafi, unleashing a civil war that is still raging. In 2013, after she left office, she supported U.S. military action against the Syrian regime, a course that President Obama eventually backed away from. In “Hard Choices,” however, she struck a cautious note. “As much as I have wanted to, I could never change my vote on Iraq,” she wrote. “But I could try to help us learn the right lessons from that war … I was determined to do exactly that when facing future hard choices, with more experience, wisdom, skepticism, and humility.”

As the 2016 campaign unfolds, Clinton might want to say more about how her views have changed, and how, as President, she would reconcile her urge to exercise American power—both to protect U.S. interests and to do some good in the world—with the harsh realities of experience. Such a discussion would help shift attention away from her 2002 vote and allow her to draw a contrast with the Republicans’ empty rhetoric. More importantly, it would focus the campaign debate on the question that, ever since March, 2003, has been hovering over practically everything: Whither America after Iraq?

The problem is that Clinton cannot easily face the press, and allow follow-up questions, for multiple reasons. She has told far too many lies about her unethical behavior in personally profiting from money from companies and countries which had business in front of her when she was Secretary of State. She even managed to botch what should have been an easy book tour, well before the current scandals were dominating the news. Clinton  has difficulties talking about her policy views when they are driven by polls and political expediency as opposed to conviction, as was made clear in her interview last year with Terry Gross. If a Democrat cannot handle an interview with Terry Gross on NPR, they are in serious trouble. Clinton could not answer questions about her views on same-sex marriage, which have varied so many times over the years, as these changes were most likely based upon political calculations rather than conviction. Now she has moved from believing that the question should be left to the states last year to supporting same-sex marriage as that is the expected viewpoint in the Democratic race.

There are many other questions which she should be asked about her views on same-sex marriage and other social issues, especially in light of how much conservative religious views have influenced her policy decisions. So far this campaign cycle I’m only aware of a single article at Salon which got into her ties with the religious right. I discussed this far more in a post last month which included selections from a must-read article from Mother Jones from 2007.

When Clinton won’t talk about policy, except for canned statements which leave many questions which she will not answer, the email scandal will continue to dominate the news. The first of many releases to come came on Friday. As expected, they do nothing to support the conservative conspiracy theories on Benghazi. It does reinforce what we already know about the blurring of the lines between the Foundation, Clinton’s old friends, and her work as Secretary of State. Karen Tumulty wrote:

For those who have worried that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign would be a repeat of the chaotic operation she ran eight years ago, her advisers have often pointed to her time in between at the State Department — which by comparison was an archetype of crisp managerial efficiency.

But a trove of newly released e-mails suggests that one of Clinton’s tendencies persisted during her time as secretary of state — an inability to separate her longtime loyalties from the business at hand.

The e-mails from her private account reveal that she passed along no fewer than 25 memos about Libya from friend and political ally Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal had business interests in Libya but no diplomatic expertise there.

Moreover, she did so after the White House had blocked her from hiring Blumenthal at the State Department. The president’s team considered him untrustworthy and prone to starting rumors…

In the memos, Blumenthal — who was identified to lower-level State Department officials only as “HRC friend” — said the information was “intel,” gathered from sources he described in such breathless terms as “an extremely sensitive source” or “an extremely well-placed individual.”

In many cases, it was met with skepticism by government officials who were experts in the region.

One official who received some of the missives said “the secret source” was known to be close to the secretary and “seemed to have some knowledge” of North Africa “but not much.”

Yet one more topic for reporters to question Hillary Clinton about if she ever gives them a chance, as opposed to her vague and empty answer on this subject.

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Number Of Self-Identified Social Liberals Ties Social Conservatives

Gallup Social Liberals

I tend to minimize the importance of Gallup polls on self-identification by label as they are largely influenced by the effects of the right to demonize the word liberal. Polls based on specific political positions have typically showed more people taking liberal positions than calling themselves liberal. It is of interest that a new Gallup poll shows that the number of those who call themselves liberal on social issues matches those who call themselves socially conservative, both tied at 31 percent. The trend can be seen in the graph above.

Gallup has this observation, which reinforces my greatest fears about the Democratic Party:

The newfound parity on social ideology is a result of changes in the way both Democrats and Republicans describe their social views. The May 6-10 Gallup poll finds a new high of 53% of Democrats, including Democratic-leaning independents, describing their views on social issues as liberal.

That might partially explain how someone as socially conservative as Hillary Clinton can have such a strong lead in the Democratic race. Of course it is likely that many Democrats are not even aware of what Salon recently called her bizarre alliance with the Christian right.

The Gallup poll continues to show more people identifying as conservative on economic issues although polls on specific economic issues tend to show Americans as more liberal despite how they self-identify themselves.

The results showing an increase in social liberals is consistent with another recent poll on same-sex marriage, which actually shows a far more liberal result. Gallup found that a record high of 60 percent support same-sex marriage. This leaves the Republican candidates out of the mainstream, but as Republicans tend to be less likely to support same-sex marriage this might remain the more politically expedient position for those seeking the GOP nomination. Hillary Clinton appears to have read the polls correctly as she dropped her position of last year favoring leaving the matter to the states.

The trend towards greater support of same-sex marriage is also present in much of the world with Ireland, one of the more socially conservative countries in Europe voting on the issue today. If the referendum passes, Ireland would be the first country in the western world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

One liberal is doing better in the polls. Barack Obama’s favorability rating is up to the highest level since September 2013, increasing four points to 53 percent compared to last month.

Update: Both sides are now saying that the referendum to legalize same-sex marriage has passed in Ireland.

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Obama Acts To Limit Use Of Military Equipment By Police

Police Missouri

The events in Ferguson are primarily remembered for raising national awareness as to the frequency of unarmed black men being killed by police, and how we have two systems of justice. Ferguson also led to people on both the left and right joining together to oppose the militarization of police. President Obama has responded to this concern:

President Obama on Monday banned the federal provision of some types of military-style equipment to local police departments and sharply restricted the availability of others.

The ban is part of Mr. Obama’s push to ease tensions between law enforcement and minority communities in reaction to the crises in Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities.

He took the action after a task force he created in January decided that police departments should be barred from using federal funds to acquire items that include tracked armored vehicles, the highest-caliber firearms and ammunition, and camouflage uniforms. The ban is part of a series of steps the president has made to try to build trust between law enforcement organizations and the citizens they are charged with protecting…

The report from the task force on military equipment cited the police response to the Ferguson unrest as an example of how the “militarization” of police departments can lead to fear and mistrust. In addition to prohibiting some equipment outright, officials said, Mr. Obama accepted the group’s recommendation to impose new restrictions on other military-style items, such as wheeled armored vehicles, pyrotechnics, battering rams and riot gear, and more stringent requirements for training and information collection for departments that acquire them.

“The idea is to make sure that we strike a balance in providing the equipment, which is appropriate and useful and important for local law enforcement agencies to keep the community safe, while at the same time putting standards in place,” said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of Mr. Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.

The report represents a two-pronged response to a problem that has emerged as a central predicament for Mr. Obama in recent months. He has struggled to acknowledge the sense of fear, grievance and victimization by the police that dominates many minority communities without seeming to forgive violence or condemn law enforcement with a broad brush.

In doing so, he is grappling with the limits of his power to force changes in police departments around the country, where practices and procedures are varied and the federal government’s ability to influence change can be minimal. The equipment task force stems from an executive order, and its conclusions affect only the material supplied by the federal government, while the policing recommendations are merely a blueprint for what Mr. Obama would like to see happen in jurisdictions throughout the country.

Mr. Obama announced $163 million in grants to encourage police departments to adopt the suggestions. The administration also will launch a “tool kit” for the use of body-worn cameras; the Justice Department created a grant program for law enforcement agencies to purchase them.

The American Civil Liberties Union released this comment:

President Barack Obama announced a ban, effective immediately, on the federal government’s transfer of certain military vehicles and weaponry to local and state police departments in the U.S.

Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, had this comment:

“Through this ban, the president has taken a critical step towards rebuilding trust between police and the people they have pledged to serve. Now, the federal government will no longer be permitted to supply police departments with military weapons and vehicles designed for the battlefield. Grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons, armored vehicles – this equipment never belonged in our neighborhoods. In our report War Comes Home, we detailed the devastating impact of militarized policing, with communities of color hit especially hard by the weapons and tactics of war.

“We hope that Congress will protect today’s reforms by making them law.”

While a good start, more work is needed to resolve this problem. Radley Balko has some positive comments on Obama’s announcement (emphasis mine):

This announcement is significant. There are types of objections to how the 1033 Program affects police militarization in America. The first is a practical objection — this equipment was designed for use on the battlefield. There’s just no appropriate domestic application for a tracked tank or for guns that shoot .50-caliber ammunition.

The second objection is more about mindset, symbolism and the kind of society in which we want to live. There are plenty of scenarios under which a police department would legitimately need a bulletproof truck. But there’s really no reason why that truck needs to be an MRAP, or painted camouflage or military green, or designed to look as imposing and intimidating as possible. Imagery is important. It’s an indication of how the police see themselves, how they see the community they serve and how the perceive their relationship with that community. And all of that in turn affects how the community views the police. It isn’t difficult to understand how a cop who is dressed in camouflage who rides around the neighborhood in an MRAP is likely to approach to his job with a different mindset than a cop in traditional police blues who conducts daily foot patrols in the same neighborhood.

From what has been reported, this new initiative addresses these concerns as well and seems to indicate that the Obama administration understands and appreciates that the symbolic component of police militarization is just as important as the practical component. I’m uncomfortable with any military vehicles going to local police. Free societies tend to draw a clear line between cops and soldiers. Blurring that line indicates a failure to appreciate its importance. But this initiative is moving toward reestablishing that line, not moving it or further blurring it. Federal programs are pretty difficult to disband, so a blanket ban was probably never in the cards. Conditioning the acceptance of this gear on increased transparency, accountability and a move toward community policing seems like a good compromise. We’ll either get less use of this military-issued equipment, or we’ll get more and better information about how it’s used. Either outcome is progress.

He also continues to see problems:

There’s no understating the role the 1033 Program played in militarizing U.S. police forces. Though it was codified in the 1990s, the transfer policy existed informally dating back to the early 1980s. So reining it in is important. It sends a clear message that the administration really gets this issue.

That said, most of the militarization today happens outside the 1033 Program. As the Heritage Foundation reported last year, few of the weapons we saw in those iconic images coming out of Ferguson were obtained through 1033. That program created the thirst for militarization, but police agencies can now quench that thirst elsewhere. Since 2003, for example, the Department of Homeland Security has been giving grants to police departments around the country to purchase new military-grade gear. That program now dwarfs the 1033 Program. It has also given rise to a cottage industry of companies that build gear in exchange for those DHS checks. Those companies now have a significant lobbying presence in Washington. I suspect that presence will now only grow stronger. So if the Obama administration really wants to roll back police militarization, this program needs reform, too.

Police agencies also sometimes buy the gear directly from manufacturers. Some purchase gear through donations. In some cases, even individual officers buy their own stuff. There really isn’t much the Obama administration can do about these sources of militarized weapons.

Ultimately, I think going after the symbolism component to militarization is more important than attacking the the practical component. Most police departments are always going to have a SWAT team. Larger departments will have several. So the option to use militarized force will always be available. The key is to get them to opt for it only when it’s appropriate. (A good start would be to remove the incentives to use such force when it isn’t.) Or better yet, to instill a healthy reluctance to use such force at all — to make deescalating conflicts the priority instead of overwhelming them.

The good news is that this new policy suggests that the Obama administration understands this. But the push will have to come from the bottom up, too. The federal government can stop contributing to the problem, but it will be up to local activists, voters and elected officials to actually change it. There will be resistance, from unions, from police advocates and probably from politicians. But police agencies are ultimately answerable to the communities they serve. If a city’s police leadership has adopted use of force policies that don’t conform with a community’s values, the community should demand new leadership. If the city’s politicians don’t comply, then the community should demand new politicians.

Common Dreams has additional opinions here.

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