Sanders And Warren Chosen For Democratic Party Leadership Positions

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the California Democrats State Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, May 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Chuck Schumer, as expected, has been elected to succeed Harry Reid as Senate Minority Leader.  The Democrats need to stop being a Republican-lite party if they are going to get more people to turn out to vote for them, and Schumer is not the person to bring about such a change in direction. At least there was some good news with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren being included in the Senate leadership. The Hill reports:

Sanders was named chairman of outreach during a closed-door Senate Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday morning.

In the role, Sanders will be in charge of reaching out to blue-collar voters who flocked to President-elect Donald Trump this year.

Sanders told reporters that he has a “heavy responsibility to help shape the priorities of the United States government.”

“I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that the budget that leaves the United States Congress is a budget that represents the needs of working families and a shrinking middle class and not billionaires,” he said.

Elizabeth Warren was formerly a strategic policy adviser and has now been named vice chair of the conference.

The addition of Sanders and Warren to the leadership will give stronger voices to progressive economic views, but it is not clear how much influence they will actually have. I would also like to see signs that the Democratic Party planned to take a stand against military interventionism and mass surveillance, and in defense of civil liberties. Having Schumer as minority leader is not reassuring on these issues.  The Intercept recently described why Schumer is a poor choice for leader. Among the reasons:

  • He possesses the same impressive political acumen as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, sagely explaining “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”
  • Schumer’s done more than anyone except Bill and Hillary Clinton to intertwine Wall Street and the Democratic Party. He raises millions and millions of dollars from the finance industry, both for himself and for other Democrats. In return, he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and voted to bail out Wall Street in 2008. In between, he slashed fees paid by banks to the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay for regulatory enforcement, and eviscerated congressional efforts to crack down on rating agencies.
  • Schumer has long been the Democrats’ point man in efforts to craft a bipartisan deal to slash taxes on multinational corporations.
  • Schumer voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and sponsored its predecessor, the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. During a Senate hearing, Schumer explained that “it’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.” In certain cases, he said, “most senators” would say “do what you have to do.” Schumer also defended the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims across the region, which Trump has cited as a national model.
  • In October 2002, Schumer voted for the Iraq War by giving George W. Bush authority to invade. In a speech explaining his vote, Schumer warned of Iraq’s imaginary yet “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.”
  • Schumer voted against Barack Obama’s deal to limit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and potentially develop a nuclear weapons program.

The Democrats have done poorly in recent elections in which they did not have Barack Obama on the ballot, including the 2010 and 2014 midterms elections. They faced further setbacks as a result of choosing Hillary Clinton to be the nominee as opposed to having a fair nomination fight.

I have often said that this was an unusual election between two terrible candidates, with the party which loses the presidency likely to do better in the long run–assuming they learn from their defeat. Ron Elving of NPR has made an argument similar to what I have been saying as to why the Democrats might be better off with Clinton losing. He began by describing how Clinton would not be able to get very much done with Republicans controlling at least the House. I would add that, as unpopular as Clinton is now, she would probably be even more unpopular during the 2018 and 2020 elections. Elving went on to argue:

So we are imagining an uphill struggle for a Clinton re-election, especially given the outlook for Congress and the races in the states. And a defeat in 2020 would be disastrously timed for Democrats, because 2020 is also the date of the next census. The national headcount will launch the next round of redistricting, as the last was launched in 2010. If triumphant in that decennial year, the GOP could look forward to another decade of running downhill in most congressional and legislative elections…

So stop and think about it. Democrats simply cannot expect to move legislation again until they can regain control of Congress. And all signs are that it will take a Republican president, and voter dissatisfaction with a Republican president, to make the Democrats truly competitive in congressional races again…

So that builds pressure on 2020, a fortuitously numbered year that could be the next hinge in our political history. That could be an advantageous case of timing for the Democrats, a great year for a comeback for all the reasons it would have been a disastrous time for a punishing rejection.

All of this is mere projection, and it may not ease the pain of a narrow loss in a presidential election. But it paints a realistic picture of what would have come next. And for Democrats, the prospect of losing the presidency in 2020 would clearly be worse.

What Democrats have to do is adjust their thinking and their time frame. They should stop trying to maintain what they won the last decade (mostly in 2006 and 2008 while George W. Bush was still in the White House) and start thinking about how a Republican president can help them rebuild. They need to go back to the base and raise a new pyramid from the ground up, with a new generation of candidates and activists and motivators. There need to be new approaches to issues, new messages to take to the disaffected.

Having Clinton in the White House would probably lead to bigger Republican gains in 2020, including in the state governments which are responsible for redistricting. A Trump presidency is likely to result in the Democrats doing better in 2018 than if Clinton was president. It is unlikely they can retake control of the Senate with more Democrats up for reelection, but they will be in a better position to potentially take control of Congress and the presidency in 2020. They also have a far better chance to win victories in state elections without Hillary Clinton dragging down the Democratic Party, with votes for state government often being based upon the voters’ view of the president.

The question is whether Democrats can take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Republicans having Donald Trump in the White House, and being  responsible for what happens in light of their complete control of government. Listening to Sanders and Warren is a start in the right direction. We will not be happy with what comes out of the government for the next four years, but if the Democrats had won with Hillary Clinton we would probably be faced with a turn to the right under Clinton, and a more sustained turn to the far right after the probable Democratic loses in 2018 and the crucial 2020 election.

Clinton Joins Trump In Claiming Rigged Election While Both Have Email Problems

trump-clinton-wedding

Hillary Trump and Donald Trump are far more alike than supporters of either candidate will acknowledge. Heading into the final week of the campaign we have two more similarities: both are having problems with email, and both now claim the election is rigged.

Donald Trump has made a fool of himself for months talking about the general election being rigged when the most serious obstacles to his candidacy have been his own mouth and his Twitter account. Now Clinton has joined Trump in making unfounded complaints of election rigging. From The Note:

Who thinks the system is “rigged” now? The Clinton campaign responded to the unusual letter from FBI Director James Comey by unloading on the messenger with an argument that carries troubling implications. The Clinton campaign is suggesting that political motivations were behind Comey’s move. Clinton Tweeted (in an unsigned message posted from her account) that Comey “bowed to partisan pressure and released a vague and inappropriate letter to Congress.” Eric Holder and nearly 100 former Justice Department officials wrote a letter calling Comey out from their perspective. Then there’s Harry Reid, unleashing the sort of campaign tactic he brought in 2012 when he said (falsely) on the Senate floor that Mitt Romney didn’t pay any taxes. The Senate minority leader wrote a letter to Comey saying he may have violated federal law with a “clear intent to aid one political party over another.” Reid also did his best Roger Stone in writing that Comey is withholding “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors and the Russian government.” The Clinton camp may have had no choice this late than to go to war with Comey. But what shouldn’t be lost is this means the campaign of the Democratic nominee for president – the candidate who wasn’t complaining about a rigged election– is now asking voters to question whether the director of the FBI is trying to influence the election’s outcome.

While Harry Reid has no qualms about making such absurd allegations, the White House does not agree that Comey was trying to influence the election:

The White House on Monday said James Comey is not trying to tip the scales in the presidential election, amid criticism from Democrats over the FBI director’s decision to inform Congress about a new probe into emails possibly related to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

“The president doesn’t believe Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “The president doesn’t believe he’s secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party.”

Earnest called Comey “a man of integrity” and a “man of good character” but acknowledged that “he’s in a tough spot” when it comes to the Clinton email probe.

Hillary Clinton is understandably upset that the email scandal continues to haunt her, but she brought this upon herself. While unusual for such an event as Comey’s letter to come this close to the election, the Democratic Party acted irresponsibly in nominating Clinton with all we knew about her unethical conduct well before the convention. It was as if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal broke, or nominated Dick Cheney following the abuses of the Bush administration. They created this unique situation in which we have the FBI director talking about an investigation into one of the candidates.

After having testified before Congress that the investigation was concluded, Comey was obligated to inform Congress when new information led to resumption of the investigation into Clinton and her private server. As Marc Ambinder wrote, “Comey had a duty to inform Congress if the FBI developed information about the case that was at odds with his testimony on September 28.” The public also has a right to know. If he had waited until after the election to make the announcement, there would have been an even stronger argument that he was being influenced by politics. It is doubtful he could have kept it quiet even if he desired to. Someone would have noticed, for example when the FBI requested the warrant to review Huma Abedin’s email.

The attacks on Comey from Clinton and her supporters (who are also trying to drag Russia into the discussion with rather questionable arguments) are clearly based upon partisanship and not principle. If the FBI was investigating George Bush and his administration, Democrats would be applauding the FBI director and would have been appalled if Republicans attacked the FBI in response. Once again, tribalism and party over principle.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is hoping to take advantage of this politically, but it is questionable if it will change many votes at this stage. Trump can hardly take the high moral ground here either, despite his claims. As Raw Story reminds us, Donald Trump still has to appear in court regarding matters ranging from racketeering to child rape. While Clinton destroyed over 30,000 emails, Newsweek reports on Trump’s companies destroying emails and other documents prior to court hearings:

Over the course of decades, Donald Trump’s companies have systematically destroyed or hidden thousands of emails, digital records and paper documents demanded in official proceedings, often in defiance of court orders. These tactics—exposed by a Newsweek review of thousands of pages of court filings, judicial orders and affidavits from an array of court cases—have enraged judges, prosecutors, opposing lawyers and the many ordinary citizens entangled in litigation with Trump. In each instance, Trump and entities he controlled also erected numerous hurdles that made lawsuits drag on for years, forcing courtroom opponents to spend huge sums of money in legal fees as they struggled—sometimes in vain—to obtain records…

Trump’s use of deception and untruthful affidavits, as well as the hiding or improper destruction of documents, dates back to at least 1973, when the Republican nominee, his father and their real estate company battled the federal government over civil charges that they refused to rent apartments to African-Americans. The Trump strategy was simple: deny, impede and delay, while destroying documents the court had ordered them to hand over.

The article has multiple examples–which sound rather similar to the stonewalling during past investigations of Hillary Clinton’s financial dealings. Clinton and Trump are far more alike than they are different.

Update: Despite Clinton Conspiracy Theories, FBI Finds No Clear Link Between Trump And Russia

How The Democratic Establishment Is Trying To Steal The Nomination

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 06:  Democratic Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (R) on stage with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (2nd L) prior to the Battle Born/Battleground First in the West Caucus Dinner at the MGM Grand January 6, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The three candidates continue to campaign prior to the Nevada Democratic caucus, which will take place on February 20, 2016.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Democratic Party establishment continues to tilt the nomination battle in Clinton’s favor. First they gave in to her request to limit debates. They helped her out in Iowa by not releasing the popular vote, as has been done in the past, as Sanders was very likely the winner. When they realized that Clinton did not have an advantage over Sanders in fund raising, the DNC helped her out by relaxing the restrictions Obama had imposed on contributions from lobbyists. If this doesn’t work, there are the super delegates.

Most recently there was the Nevada caucus, which was full of shenanigans to help Clinton. The most significant was probably on the part of Harry Reid. John Ralston, a top reporter of Nevada politics, wrote:

Saturday may well be the day that altered the course of the Democratic presidential race, when Hillary Clinton blunted Bernie Sanders’ campaign, when she was forced to work as hard as she ever has for a week (with a little help from a lot of friends) and slingshotted her with new momentum into South Carolina and then Super Tuesday. Nevada may indeed prove to be the day that saved Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

But the caucus, which Clinton won by about 5 percentage points, also cemented Prince Harry as a man Machiavelli would have bowed to, a man who with one eye who still sees the field better and is still more dangerous, effective and cunning as any pol the state (the country?) has ever seen. Clinton may not have won Nevada if Reid had not interceded last week when the man feigning neutrality saw what everyone in the Democratic elite saw: Sanders erasing a once mountainous lead and on the verge of perhaps winning Nevada and rendering inoperative the “Hillary is more electable” argument.

The story of the Nevada caucus is that a lame-duck senator and a self-neutered union conspired to revive the Clinton campaign in a remarkable bit of backroom maneuvering that helped Madame Secretary crush Sanders in Clark County, the key to winning almost any statewide election. Combined with a Clinton machine, erected last spring and looking invincible, that suddenly had to scrape the rust off its gears and turn out her voters, Caucus Day also was a remarkable story of an indomitable candidate, her nonpareil Nevada staff and a ragtag but committed Sanders operation that made them sweat.

But, ultimately, what turned this race was Reid, who clearly came home to find that Clinton’s insurmountable lead was being surmounted. Despite being furious with Team Clinton for its panic-stricken spin that Nevada was as white as Iowa and New Hampshire, undermining Reid’s argument why the state was given early-state status (and, you know, being false, too), the senator decided he would single-handedly save the state for Clinton.

In the middle of last week, Reid made a phone call, first reported by The New York Times’ Amy Chozick, to D. Taylor, the head of the parent of the Culinary Union local in Las Vegas. Before that call, the Culinary, facing difficult contract negotiations and seeing no advantage in enmeshing itself in a bloody internecine fight, had declared it was more Swiss than Hispanic. With the Culinary not endorsing and unwilling to even engage in the caucus, turnout at six casino sites on the Las Vegas Strip was forecast at a combined 100 or so. That is, insignificant.

“He’s been extremely cooperative,” Reid told Chozick of Taylor. “Probably 100 organizers will be at the caucus sites and in hotels to make sure people know what they’re doing.”

But Reid did not stop there. He also called casino executives, sources confirm, with a simple message: “Let your people go.”

That is, he wanted to ensure the workers would be allowed time off from work to caucus. No one said no to Prince Harry.

Despite their common public neutrality, Taylor and Reid surely believe, as do most Democratic power brokers, that a Sanders nomination would be a disaster. Reid knew that Taylor would get his swarms of organizers to turn out mostly Latino workers, who would likely vote for Clinton.

A gamble? Yes. But like going all-in with a straight flush.

And it paid off…

This changed the whole narrative of the race. Imagine how different things would be if it was first reported that Sanders won the popular vote in Iowa, he had his landslide victory in New Hampshire, and then had a win in Nevada.

It is still premature to write off Sanders. Clinton won the Nevada caucus by approximately the same margin she won eight years ago, and that certainly did not prevent Obama from winning the nomination. Far less shenanigans can occur in a primary as opposed to a caucus. Plus young voters, who did not turn out as expected in Nevada, might be more willing to cast a vote in a primary as opposed to going through a more difficult caucus session. If nothing else, this might have reinforced the need for everyone to turn out to vote. Sander does also need to improve his vote among Africa Americans, but should do better when more northern states are voting.

Still, there is the danger that many people will vote for the winner without fully considering the candidates, and all the hype of Clinton winning big in Nevada could provide her with momentum. If that is the case, she might be able to thank Harry Reid for the nomination. However, by winning this way, along with her dishonest attacks on Sanders, the Democratic Party is looking far too much like the Republicans, which could greatly suppress turnout for Clinton in the general election.

While the Democratic Party leadership might get away with acting undemocratically in choosing its preferred candidate, the Republicans are in the opposite situation. Donald Trump has the lead despite opposition from the Republican leadership, which is now throwing its support behind Marco Rubio. It sure puts the Democrats in a bad light when they are rigging their nomination battle but the Republicans are leaving it more up to the voters.

Whether the Republicans nominate Trump or Rubio, Sanders has the best shot of handing the Democrats a victory in the general election.

Bernie Sanders Fights Back Against Conservative Attacks From Wall Street Journal & Clinton Camp

Sanders Responds WSJ

I imagine it is a good thing that both conservatives and the Clinton campaign now see Bernie Sanders as a threat, with both attacking him from the right.

The Wall Street Journal ran a scare story earlier this week entitled, Price Tag of Bernie Sanders’s Proposals: $18 Trillion:

He proposes $1 trillion to repair roads, bridges and airports. His college-affordability program would cost $750 billion over a decade. Smaller programs would provide youth jobs and prevent cuts to private pension plans. He would raise an additional $1.2 trillion in Social Security taxes in order to increase benefits and pay those already promised for 50 years. That would bolster the program but fall short of the 75 years of solvency that is typically what policy makers aim to achieve.

Mr. Sanders says he also would propose an expansion of federal support for child care and preschool, though he hasn’t said how much those programs would cost, and they aren’t included in this total.

His most expensive proposal, by far, is his plan to extend Medicare, the federal health program for seniors, to all Americans.

Sanders has responded, pointing out how a single payer plan would be more cost effective:

“That is not the reality. We will be responding to The Wall Street Journal on that,” Sanders told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell of the overall estimate.

“I think most of the expense that they put in there, the expenditures have to do with the single-payer healthcare system,” he continued. “They significantly exaggerated the cost of that, and they forgot to tell the American people in that article that that means eliminating the costs that you incur with private health insurance.”

Paul Waldman has also defended Sanders in a post entitled, No, Bernie Sanders is not going to bankrupt America to the tune of $18 trillion:

…while Sanders does want to spend significant amounts of money, almost all of it is on things we’re already paying for; he just wants to change how we pay for them. In some ways it’s by spreading out a cost currently borne by a limited number of people to all taxpayers. His plan for free public college would do this: right now, it’s paid for by students and their families, while under Sanders’ plan we’d all pay for it in the same way we all pay for parks or the military or food safety.

But the bulk of what Sanders wants to do is in the first category: to have us pay through taxes for things we’re already paying for in other ways. Depending on your perspective on government, you may think that’s a bad idea. But we shouldn’t treat his proposals as though they’re going to cost us $18 trillion on top of what we’re already paying.

He next discussed single payer systems, leading to this key point:

There’s something else to keep in mind: every single-payer system in the world, and there are many of them of varying flavors, is cheaper than the American health care system. Every single one. So whatever you might say about Sanders’ advocacy for a single-payer system, you can’t say it represents some kind of profligate, free-spending idea that would cost us all terrible amounts of money.

He next discussed spending on infrastructure, and then how much less we would have to spend under Republican tax plans which primarily provide tax cuts to the wealthy:

The conservatives who are acting appalled at the number the Journal came up with are also the same people who never seem to care what a tax cut costs, because they think cutting taxes is a moral and practical good, in the same way that liberals think providing people with health coverage is a moral and practical good. For instance, Jeb Bush recently proposed a tax cut plan whose 10-year cost could be as high as $3.4 trillion. That’s a lot of money that the government wouldn’t be able to spend on the things it’s doing right now, although the campaign argues that we’d get much of that money back in increased revenues because of the spectacular growth the tax cuts would create. If you remember the claims that George W. Bush’s tax cuts would create stunning growth and prosperity for all, you might be just a bit skeptical of the Jeb campaign’s similar assertions. But in any case, we can’t evaluate the value of Jeb’s plan just by saying that $3.4 trillion is a big number. If you knew that the average family in the middle of the income distribution would get less than $1,000 from Jeb’s plan, while the average family in the top one percent would get a tax cut of over $80,000, then you’d have a better sense of whether it’s a good or bad idea.

Sanders not only defended himself against this attack from the right on economics. He has also defended himself against attacks from a Clinton Super PAC in a recent fund raising email.

Attacks from the right from the Clinton camp might become increasingly common. Many liberals have been certain that Clinton’s move to the left was insincere, and that she would move to the right for the general election and if elected. We never guessed she would move towards the right so soon. As I noted last week, Clinton’s support has been falling among liberals, with Clinton now returning to calling herself a centrist to contrast herself with Sanders. Jonathan Allen picked up on this shift more recently writing, While everyone else was talking about her authenticity, Hillary Clinton changed her position.

The revelation that Hillary Clinton is planning to be more spontaneous and authentic brought a booming collective laugh from Republicans, some Democrats, and opinion writers last week. The group guffaw drowned out a related shift in her positioning that is far more important: Now she wants to be known as a moderate.

“You know, I get accused of being kind of moderate and center,” Clinton said in Ohio September 10, according to CNN. “I plead guilty.”

That’s a tire-squealing turn from the first five months of her campaign, when Clinton emphasized her progressive credentials. She built a policy platform significantly to the left of where many Democrats expected her to stand — in favor of new regulations of the financial services industry, “ending the era of mass incarceration,” and reforming campaign finance laws, to name a few items on her agenda. The focus on populism was described as a newfound affinity for the left, a return to liberal roots, an effort to crowd out the competition, a general election strategy based on energizing Democrats, or some combination thereof. The truth is that Clinton’s record is pretty liberal, except when it comes to national defense and trade.

Now she’s pivoting back toward the centrist label that defined her husband’s campaigns and presidency. The obvious reason for Clinton to switch tacks now is that her initial strategy didn’t work: On the strength of backing from liberals, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has surged to leads in New Hampshire and Iowa. That’s a good reason for her to shake things up a bit, but it’s only part of a story that is more about drawing a contrast with Sanders, sending a signal to her supporters that she’s ready to really fight for the nomination, and making sure that she’s comfortable in the political skin she’s wearing for the rest of the campaign.

Allen caught the general direction of the shift, but missed how conservative her record actually is. Beyond national defense and trade which he mentioned, she has also been rather conservative on civil liberties, the environment, and social/cultural issues. While her views on economics might technically be labeled as liberal, she is far to the right of where Democrats influenced by the views of people such as Elizabeth Warren are now at.

After looking at more wonkish policy matters, Allen hit the key matter with the subtitle: The shift is partly about portraying Sanders as too extreme

By portraying herself as a moderate, Clinton is subtly saying that Sanders is too extreme — that he’s one of the people standing on the sidelines shouting rather than trying to “get something done.” The inference voters are supposed to draw is that would make it harder for Sanders to win the presidency and even harder for him to govern.

Running as a moderate (or to be honest, a conservative) might be more “authentic” for Clinton, but in joining the right wing in calling Sanders too extreme, Clinton is missing the direction much of the country is moving in. As I have pointed out many times before, Bernie Sanders Is The Future Of The Democratic Party. As I’ve also pointed out previously, Sanders’ Views Are Becoming More Mainstream Than Clinton’s Conservative Views.

Juan Williams Debunks GOP Attempts To Blame Democrats For Lack Of A Surgeon General

While discussing the Republican hypocrisy in their response to an Ebola Czar earlier this month, I pointed out how the Republicans blocked  Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General due to his concerns about gun violence, which kills far, far more people than Ebola in this country. Republicans who 1) are rarely willing to take responsibility for their action,  and 2) are fond of projecting their faults upon others, have been trying to shift the blame and falsely claim that the Democrats are responsible for blocking the nomination. Juan Williams of Fox News has called them out on this in a column at The Hill (also a Republican-leaning site even as not as overtly Republican as Fox). Williams also debunked the Republican claims that Harry Reid has not been fair due to not allowing them to add their “poison pill” amendments to bills, which would cause even greater gridlock. Williams wrote:

Republicans on the campaign trail tell voters that the Senate gets nothing done because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) blocks votes on GOP legislation.

Away from the Halloween funhouse mirror, the reality is this: Reid is willing to hold votes — but not with an endless open amendment process that merely creates a stage for Republican political theater. “Poison pill” amendments on partial birth abortions and gay marriage would sprout everywhere.

The real problem is that Senate Republicans can’t agree on which amendments to attach to bills because of the Tea Party versus Establishment war raging among them.

Yet I’ve personally seen voters nodding in agreement at Senate debates and campaign events as Republicans put the fright-night mask on Reid as the evil ogre responsible for dysfunction in the Senate.

The GOP is having success by repeating this distorted version of political life on Capitol Hill. Their tactic on that score is consistent with an overall strategy that includes blocking President Obama’s nominees to courts, federal agencies and ambassadorial posts while condemning any mistakes made by the administration.

According to the Senate’s website, there are currently 156 nominations pending on the executive calendar.

With all of the fear-mongering by Republican candidates over the administration’s response to Ebola — part of a broader approach to scare voters by undermining faith in government, the president and all Democrats — there is one screaming nomination still pending that reveals the corruption of the GOP strategy.

The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?

In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.

But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.

When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.

When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.

The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.

“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was also put on the spot recently over the GOP’s refusal to deal with the surgeon general vacancy.  As he railed against the president for perceived errors in handling the situation, NBC’s Chuck Todd interrupted to ask: “The NRA said they were going to score the vote and suddenly everybody froze him… Seems a little petty in hindsight, doesn’t it?”

“Well, the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly then we should confirm them, there’s no question about that,” said the senator, trying to find his footing as he backpedaled.

The fact remains that Senate Republicans, in lockstep with the NRA, have left a worthy nominee dangling while this vital post remains vacant.

This kind of game playing is what led Senate Democrats to consider using the so-called “nuclear option.” In its original form, it would have changed the Senate rules to require a simple majority for all confirmations, instead of the current 60-vote supermajority. But the Democrats decided to go with a more modest change that allowed a simple majority vote to confirm only federal judicial nominees, not presidential picks for the Supreme Court, the cabinet or the position of surgeon general.

Reid, speaking on the Senate floor this summer, said that despite the rules change “Republicans are still continuing to try and slow everything down…It is just that they want to do everything they can to slow down [Obama’s] administration, to make him look bad…even though they’re the cause of the obstruction… Everyone will look at us and say, Democrats control the Senate — why aren’t they doing more?”

As a matter of brazen politics, the Republican strategy of obstruction has worked.

What a shame.

I have seen contradictory interpretations regarding the filibuster rules as to whether the Surgeon General can be confirmed with 51 votes or if the post still requires a super-majority. It is academic in this case. Republican Senators have placed a hold on this nomination and if it goes to a vote are likely to vote unanimously against it. The NRA has indicated that they will include a vote on Murthy in their ratings, which makes it difficult for some Democratic Senators in red states who are up for reelection. Between these Democrats and the uniform Republican opposition there are probably not 51 votes for confirmation, although this could change after the election.

Despite the Republican actions to block the Surgeon General nomination, it is questionable as to how much of a difference it would have made. We don’t know how much Murthy would have said on the topic, and if he could have gotten a discussion of the science through, considering all the fear and misinformation being spread about Ebola by Republicans.

Despite all the panic, we have seen how small a threat Ebola actually is in a developed nation such as the United States. Ebola is a problem of developing nations which lack an adequate Public Health infrastructure. While the outbreak began in West Africa last December, we have had a tiny number of people who are infected enter this country, and the potential harm has been easily contained. Even in Texas, which does share some of the problems of a third world nation due to Republican rule, multiple mistakes were made with minimal harm. A patient was sent home despite meeting criteria for hospitalization, and yet he did not spread the infection to anyone else in the community. This is because Ebola is not contagious early in the disease before someone is symptomatic, and even then it does not spread by casual contact.

Maybe if there was a Surgeon General speaking about Ebola, the Emergency Room staff at Texas Presbyterian Hospital would have been better acquainted with the guidelines and hospitalized Thomas Duncan when he first presented. Maybe the hospital would have done a better job at following protocols to protect the staff. While possible, it is far from certain that having a Surgeon General would have made any difference.

Perhaps if there was a Surgeon General discussing the science there would have been less panic when Dr. Craig Spencer was found to have traveled on the subway and visit a bowling alley, where he did not spread Ebola. (Similarly the nurse from Texas Presbyterian who flew with a low grade fever has not spread the disease despite turning out to be infected). This might have prevented the poor, and unscientific decisions made by the governors in states such as New Jersey and New York. While I can see Chris Christie make such a mistake, I would  hope for better from Andrew Cuomo, even if he is faced with a Republican using fear tactics against him in his reelection campaign. This might have spared Kaci Hickox from being quarantined in an unheated tent in New Jersey despite showing no signs of being infected. Inhibiting health professionals from volunteering can only harm the cause of eradicating Ebola in West Africa–which is the only way of ending this matter.

It is impossible to know if a Surgeon General could have been effective in reducing the hysteria. Republicans are masters at spreading fear, and never have any qualms about ignoring science. It is very possible they could have still won out. We already have many Infectious Disease experts explaining the facts about Ebola, but that hasn’t been enough to maintain reason. While a Surgeon General might have had a little bigger soap box to speak from, I don’t know if that would have really mattered.

Kansas Independent Might Be Key To Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate so close, anything which might alter a race in a state felt to be dominated by one party could have huge ramifications. Sam Wang offers a plausible scenario which could make Kansas competitive:

In national politics, Kansas is considered as Republican as they come: Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by twenty-two percentage points, and the last Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Kansas was Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. But this year, the reliability of Sunflower State politics seems to have been upended. With control of the Senate in a tight, uneasy race, Kansas may be a game changer on a national level, thanks to an unusually strong independent candidate.

The Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts, is heartily disliked by Kansas voters: his approval rate is only twenty-seven per cent, even lower than the thirty-three per cent who approve of President Obama’s performance. Roberts, who is in his third term, recently survived a primary challenge by the radiologist Milton Wolf. Dr. Wolf ran under the Tea Party banner and gained attention for posting gruesome X-ray images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page that were accompanied by macabre banter with his friends. Still, Roberts’s margin over Wolf was only forty-eight per cent to forty-one per cent. It seems that Kansas voters will seriously consider just about anyone but Roberts.

Except, maybe, a Democrat. Shawnee County’s district attorney, Chad Taylor, cruised to a relatively easy victory in the state’s Democratic primary, but in recent general-election surveys, Taylor trails Roberts by a median of six percentage points. Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, and it’s unlikely that it will this year.

The third candidate in the race is the businessman Greg Orman. Orman, who comes from Olathe, a city in the eastern part of the state with about a hundred twenty-five thousand people, has been crisscrossing Kansas by bus, meeting voters and preaching a message of fiscal restraint and social tolerance. A former Democrat, he decried the gridlock and lack of action in Washington, and now declines to identify himself as a member of either major party.

Orman’s formula seems to be working with Kansas voters. Despite the fact that thirty per cent of voters still have not heard of him, a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows that in a one-on-one matchup, Roberts would lose by ten percentage points, forty-three to thirty-three. In contrast, Roberts would survive a one-on-one matchup with Taylor by a margin of four points. So if you’re Roberts, you either want Taylor and Orman to split the vote, or to run against Taylor alone.

This means that, paradoxically, Pat Roberts’s political future may depend on his Democratic opponent staying in the race. And that, in turn, affects the balance of power in the closely contested Senate—by converting a Republican seat into an independent one.

Control of the Senate appears to be so close that one seat could certainly make the difference. It would be ironic if the key race turns out to be in Kansas due to backlash against how far right the Republicans have moved.

The first question is whether the Democratic candidate would really get out of the race and if Orman would really win. Polls show that there is an excellent chance of this happening should Taylor agree to drop out. The Democratic Party has plenty of incentive to offer Chad Taylor a lot in return for agreeing to this, and he certainly might accept a decent offer considering that he is not going to win if he remains in the race.

The next question is whether Orman would then caucus with the Democrats if he won. Chances are better that a former Democrat than a former Republican would do so, but he might also look ahead to having a better chance of holding on to the seat long term in Kansas if he becomes a Republican.

If Orman wins there will be intense pressure from both sides, and it might also impact the leadership of either party. Orman has said that both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell “have been too partisan for far too long” to gain his vote of confidence. Would members of either party initiate a revolt against their leader if they thought it would mean retaining control?

Update: Taylor drops out of race

Tea Party Has Republicans Afraid To Discuss Scientific Consensus On Climate Change

ocean temperature increase

Republicans must say idiotic things to get elected, often denying science, but that does not mean that all elected Republicans are idiots. Bloomberg has discussed the scientific consensus on climate change with many Republicans. While well ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree on how human action has caused global warming, rank and file Republican remains in denial, often seeing this as stemming from a left wing conspiracy. Republicans must play to this attitude even if they know better:

In stark contrast to their party’s public stance on Capitol Hill, many Republicans privately acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is at least partially responsible for climate change and recognize the need to address the problem…

In Bloomberg BNA interviews with several dozen former senior congressional aides, nongovernmental organizations, lobbyists and others conducted over a period of several months, the sources cited fears of attracting an electoral primary challenger as one of the main reasons many Republicans choose not to speak out.

Most say the reluctance to publicly support efforts to address climate change has grown discernibly since the 2010 congressional elections, when Tea Party-backed candidates helped the Republican Party win control of the House, in part by targeting vulnerable Democrats for their support of legislation establishing a national emissions cap-and-trade system…

While environmental groups continue to search for Republican candidates to back, Goldston said the Tea Party movement has swept many more deniers of climate change into Congress than ever before, and it has pushed Republicans away from basic environmental principles. He disagreed with others who said many Republicans privately acknowledge the risks of climate change, even if they don’t say so publicly.

“It’s very comforting for people to think that these people are pretending,” Goldston said. “It’s not true. The problem would be in many ways easier to solve if it was true.”

Chris Miller, who served as a senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agreed with Goldston’s assessment that the Tea Party has made it “impossible” for Republicans to speak on the issue.

“I have had no or very few private and honest interactions with Republicans on the topic,” Miller told Bloomberg BNA. “They’re all too scared of speaking the truth.”

It is ironic that Republicans are now afraid to express support for cap and trade considering that this was largely a Republican idea in the past, similar how Republicans now oppose aspects of the Affordable Care Act which were initially advocated by Republicans such as the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

In order to oppose the scientific consensus on climate change, conservatives frequently spread false claims and distort statements from scientists. For example, Rebecca Leber recently described how conservatives misquoted climate scientists to promote their claims that global warming is on hiatus:

Norman Loeb, an atmospheric scientist with NASA, gave a crash course in climate change science for the public at Virginia Air and Space Center on Tuesday. He talked about all the evidence that the planet is warminglike the fact that temperatures right now are the hottest they’ve been since record-keeping began in 1850. He also noted that the rise in surface temperatures has slowed considerably since 2000. This doesn’t contradict the theory of global warming, he explained. Land temperature regularly varies, and much of the warming in the last decade is happening unseen in the ocean.

The same day, the frequently conservative-leaning Washington Times ran a short story on the talk. It said that a prominent NASA scientist had admitted global warming is on “hiatus.” As the writer explained, “The nation’s space agency [has] noticed an inconvenient cooling on the planet lately.”

It was pretty much the opposite of what Loeb was trying to say. But it’s not an isolated incident. Conservatives love to cite the relative stability of global surface temperatures for the last 15 years as proof that climate change is a hoax. And they frequently twist the words of scientists to do it. I read or hear versions of this argument all the timefrom outlets like Forbes, National Review, and Fox News. Sometimes the conservatives even talk about “global cooling,” joking that maybe we should be more worried about that, instead. This sort of commentary probably helps explain why still find that just 67 percent of Americans accept that humans cause climate change, even though there is nearly unanimous scientific consensus.

Needless to say, the conservatives have it all wrong. And the science really isn’t that hard to understand…

Republicans Attack Obama For Capturing Terrorist Involved In Benghazi Attack

rush-limbaugh-600x400

One of the major attacks on Obama from the right was that they never captured those responsible for Benghazi–never mind how many people responsible for embassy attacks under Reagan and Bush were never apprehended, or that it was Obama that got bin Laden years after Bush let him escape at Tora Bora. Now one of those responsible for Benghazi has been captured

You might think that even Republicans would find this to be reason to celebrate, but instead many did what the usually do and twist anything into a way to attack Obama.

Fox claims this was done to boost Hillary Clinton’s book tour and presidential prospects.

Allen West calls this “Orwellian message control” to distract the populace from other problems.

On talk radio Rush Limbaugh and Joe Walsh are among those who join Fox in questioning the timing.

Steve Benen, Bob Cesca, and Caitlin MacNeal have more conservative reaction.

I imagine next they will threaten impeachment because Obama didn’t inform Congress before he acted.

This should really come as no surprise. The conservative movement is packed with people who will do anything for political gain, regardless of how much it harms the country. Attacking Obama is now their number one goal, but it didn’t start with Obama. They played politics with the 9/11 attack, and used it to justify both the war in Iraq and infringements on civil liberties. More recently they have played politics with the deaths of Americans in Benghazi. These are also the people who have fought to hinder economic recovery after their policies crashed the economy, and caused a lowering of our credit rating while playing politics over the debt ceiling.

Harry Reid has responded to the Republican attacks:

It doesn’t matter what your ideology is, you should feel good about this. There’s no conspiracy here, this is actual news. But the reaction of some of the Republicans, I’ve been told, is to downplay and insult the brave men and women of our special forces and the FBI. They’re trying to say, oh, it’s no big deal. I wonder if the men and women who captured the terrorist agree. But the Republicans said it’s no big deal.

Even in these days of polarization, created by the obstruction, the delay, and diversion of the Republicans, even in these days of polarization, their reaction is shocking and disgusting. They’re so obsessed with criticism, criticizing anything President Obama does. They’ll go so far as to sit here and insult the men and women in uniform and in law enforcement. They should stop and think, just for a little bit, about what it’s like to put your life on the line and to do something for our country — that’s what they did. They’re insulting these good men and women who did some courageous things, heroic things, in order to criticize President Obama. I think they’ve lost touch with reality; it’s really pathetic, there’s no other word for it.

Koch Brothers Donate $25 Million To The United Negro College Fund

David Koch

I think it was a smart move by the Koch Brothers to give a $25 million grant to the United Negro College Fund. If their goal is to improve their public reputation in response to the campaign by the Democratic Party to vilify them, such a move is likely to be far more effective than Charles Koch’s whiny and misleading op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Maybe they hope that this will help counter some of the harm done by their financing of the Tea Party which, while containing a variety of views, far too often looks like the KKK without the white sheets. The willingness and ability of the Koch Brothers to receive this form of favorable publicity also gives an example of why it is foolish for the Democrats to spend so much effort in their campaign against the Koch Brothers personally as opposed to actually learning how to promote a coherent message.

There are many reasons to vote for the Democrats over the Republicans with the Republicans adopting an extremist agenda, acting to undermine the foundations of our Democratic system, and failing to engage in any rational thought as they pursue policies in contradiction of economics, science, and the very principles of individual liberty which this nation was founded upon. There are so many issues for the Democrats to concentrate on, yet Harry Reid wants to concentrate on a pair of brothers who most people have never heard about. Sure attacking the Koch Brothers might be good for fund raising emails, but this is no substitute for coming up with a real message.

The fact of the matter is that the Koch Brothers are not the worst enemy faced by the Democrats and supporters of liberty (true liberty, not the plutocracy and religious authoritarianism promoted by the right wing under this label). There is certainly quite a bit of hypocrisy  in the economic views of the Koch Brothers, who made their fortune taking advantage of government programs while selectively arguing for economic libertarianism as a means to escape regulation. However in some ways the Koch Brothers are preferable to the standard Republican line, from opposing the Iraq War to being more libertarian on social issues. David Koch also has a long history of philanthropy. They could even be a force for moderation of some of the extreme views of the Republican Party.

Of course this is not meant to excuse all their behavior, including suspected illegal activity and funding of efforts to deny climate change (which on at least one occasion has blown up in their faces). The most reprehensible has been the funding of dishonest advertisements against the Affordable Care Act.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when they spread false information which contributes to mistrust of a law which has resulted in improvements in the lives of millions, they risk doing serious harm to those who remain uninsured based upon misinformation. The Affordable Care Act is also a good thing for the economy, helping to reduce the deficit, reduce unemployment, and enable people to leave jobs they remain in for insurance coverage to work for or form small businesses of their own. Those who truly support freedom, as opposed to giving it lip service as the right wing does, would prefer a system which gives more choice to individuals rather than leaving them at the mercy of an insurance industry which has existed without serious competition in most markets, and which found it to be more profitable to find ways to deny providing care. Support of Obamacare is the only rational position for those who support the rights of the individual over the rights of abusive monopolies. Unfortunately such a choice is beyond the thought process of those on the right who have been brainwashed to see our tradition of self-government as the source of tyranny.

I would find it far easier to ignore the Koch Brothers if they would cease spending their money on these dishonest ads and ideally use their influence to truly promote freedom. Regardless, we could show appreciation for contributions such as this and perhaps it is time for Harry Reed to find a new bogey man–or preferably to do a better job of actually promoting ideas.

More Information Comes Out On Republican Misinformation As Democrats Stand Up To Koch Brothers

The Affordable Care Act is bringing about considerable reductions in health care expenses for millions of Americans. Republicans opposing health care reform have tried to undermine support for the law with a series of false ads in which  they falsely claim people such as cancer patients have to pay more than in the past for health care coverage. Whenever these claims are actually examined, it has turned out that the claims are false. Considering the subsidies for coverage, the increased protections for those with medical problems, the elimination of limitations on coverage, and the caps on out of pocket expenses, it is generally not possible for anyone to really come out behind who had previously been purchasing coverage on the individual market. The only “losers” are those of us who don’t qualify for subsidies and are healthy enough to not have significant health care costs. Even the “losers” under the Affordable Care Act, who are affluent enough to pay the higher premiums for better coverage, will come out ahead if we develop major medical problems.

The case of Julie Boonstra was already covered when newspapers and fact checkers revealed that the ad, paid for by the Koch brothers, was spreading incorrect information. Previous reports revealed that her claims of paying more were untrue. As more information has become available on her policy, the facts show that she benefits even more than initially reported. The Detroit News has updated the facts on this case with this information:

A Dexter cancer patient featured in a conservative group’s TV ad campaign denouncing her new health care coverage as “unaffordable” will save more than $1,000 this year.

Julie Boonstra, 49, starred last month in an emotional television ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity that implied Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters’ vote for the Affordable Care Act made her medication so “unaffordable” she could die. Peters of Bloomfield Township is running for an open U.S. Senate seat against Republican Terri Lynn Land.

The Detroit News and fact checkers last month cast doubt on the accuracy of the TV ad. On Monday, Boonstra acknowledged which health plan she chose, offering the first evidence of cost savings..

Boonstra said Monday her new plan she dislikes is the Blue Cross Premier Gold health care plan, which caps patient responsibility for out-of-pocket costs at $5,100 a year, lower than the federal law’s maximum of $6,350 a year. It means the new plan will save her at least $1,200 compared with her former insurance plan she preferred that was ended under Obamacare’s coverage requirements.

Glenn Kessler reevaluated his report on this ad writing, “one cannot claim that a plan is ‘unaffordable’ when over the course of the year it will provide you with substantial savings. Thus we are changing the rating on this ad from Two Pinocchios to Three Pinocchios.”

Boonstra, and others claiming to be losers under Obamacare, might very well believe what they are saying, even if wrong:

When advised of the details of her Blues’ plan, Boonstra said the idea that it would be cheaper “can’t be true.”

“I personally do not believe that,” Boonstra said.

The Republicans are spending a tremendous amount of money spreading false misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, and an alarming number of people believe what they hear on Fox, right wing talk radio, and from other portions  of the right wing noise machine.  They have no idea that what they hear from right wing outlets is propaganda to promote a political agenda and is not actual news. Therefore we see pe0ple like Boonstra who are better off under the Affordable Care Act but do not look at the facts and do not believe this. Others have listened to “warnings” from the right wing and have not purchased coverage on the exchanges, and then complain about higher premiums because of not receiving the subsidies they would receive if they purchased coverage on the exchanges. Many have no idea that their old policies had limitations on how much would be covered while the new policies under the ACA have caps on what they would have to pay which usually greatly reduce what they will have to pay out of pocket compared to their previous policies.

Many people are harmed by the deliberate misinformation being spread by the right wing, including many who are now failing to sign up and take advantage of the benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Many of these dishonest ads are funded by the Koch brothers through Americans for Prosperity (a poorly named organization for one pursuing an agenda which would impoverish the middle class and turn the United States into a banana republic).

The New York Times has been reporting on how the Democrats are staring to stand up to the Koch brothers for their misinformation on health care and other actions to rig the system to benefit a small oligarchy. They summarized this in an op-ed today:

Democrats have for too long been passive in the face of the vast amounts of corporate money, most of it secret, that are being spent to evict them from office and dismantle their policies. By far the largest voice in many of this year’s political races, for example, has been that of the Koch brothers, who have spent tens of millions of dollars peddling phony stories about the impact of health care reform, all in order to put Republicans in control of the Senate after the November elections.

Now Democrats are starting to fight back, deciding they should at least try to counter the tycoons with some low-cost speech of their own. Democrats may never have the same resources at their disposal — no party should — but they can use their political pulpits to stand up for a few basic principles, including the importance of widespread health-insurance coverage, environmental protection and safety-net programs.

The leader of this effort has been Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, who has delivered a series of blistering attacks against the Kochs and their ads on the Senate floor over the last few weeks. In addition, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has set up a website, www.kochaddiction.com, to remind voters of just what the Kochs stand for, and why they raised $407 million in the 2012 election. And individual candidates are making sure voters know who is paying for the ad blitz.

“The billionaire Koch brothers,” says one of the people quoted in an ad released Monday by Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, who has been the object of one of their blatantly false television barrages. “They come into our town, fire a refinery, just running it into the ground, leaving a mess.” Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina reminds voters that the Kochs and their allies have pressed for high-end tax breaks that burden the middle class.

Mr. Reid’s comments have gone to the heart of the matter. In his most recent speech, he pointed out that the fundamental purpose of the Kochs’ spending is to rig the economic system for their benefit and for that of other oligarchs. They own an industrial network that ranks No. 14 on the list of the most toxic American air polluters, and got their money’s worth in 2010 by helping elect a Republican House majority that has resisted environmental regulation…

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice