Obama Plans Clemency to Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

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

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

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

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

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

Ridin With Biden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanders Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

Sanders also had a good day campaigning in Wisconsin:

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

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

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

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

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Elizabeth Warren Loves Bernie–Will She Campaign For Him?

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

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

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

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

“Too early to say,” she said.

Later in the article:

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

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

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

Mother Jones adds:

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

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

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

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

And let no one deny that truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton Email Cartoon Deleted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updates:

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

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

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

Bernie Sanders TV Clip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

health care reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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%

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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

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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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