What Bernie Sanders Believes

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has become the first to officially announce his plans to run against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. The conventional wisdom is that he has no chance to win (a type of prediction which I fear the media helps become true) but will move the conversation to the left. Unlike most politicians, Sanders’ views have remained quite consistent, making it a good bet that looking at his past statements will give a good idea of what he will be talking about while campaigning.

Common Dreams has a lengthy article on Sanders. This includes, “In December of last year, Sanders put forth what he called an Economic Agenda for America, a 12-point plan”

  1. Invest in our crumbling infrastructure with a major program to create jobs by rebuilding roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools.
  2. Transform energy systems away from fossil fuels to create jobs while beginning to reverse global warming and make the planet habitable for future generations.
  3. Develop new economic models to support workers in the United States instead of giving tax breaks to corporations which ship jobs to low-wage countries overseas.
  4. Make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for higher wages and benefits.
  5. Raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour so no one who works 40 hours a week will live in poverty.
  6. Provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.
  7. Reform trade policies that have shuttered more than 60,000 factories and cost more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs.
  8. Make college affordable and provide affordable child care to restore America’s competitive edge compared to other nations.
  9. Break up big banks. The six largest banks now have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product, over $9.8 trillion. They underwrite more than half the mortgages in the country and issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards.
  10. Join the rest of the industrialized world with a Medicare-for-all health care system that provides better care at less cost.
  11. Expand Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs.
  12. Reform the tax code based on wage earners’ ability to pay and eliminate loopholes that let profitable corporations stash profits overseas and pay no U.S. federal income taxes.

PBS Newshour has this information on his views, including additional links:

Campaign finance: Limit corporate and interest-group spending in campaigns.

Sanders proposes a Constitutional amendment that would effectively reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling and ban corporations and nonprofits from unlimited campaign expenditures. The independent senator would also require disclosure of any organizations spending $10,000 or more on an election-related campaign.

Climate change: Charge companies for carbon emissions

Considered to be a “climate change hawk” and use some of the money raised to boost renewable energy technology.

Education: Two years free tuition at state colleges. Reform student loans.

Sanders would provide $18 billion to state governments to allow them to cut tuition at state colleges by 55 percent. And he would allow anyone paying off a student loan currently to refinance at a lower rate.

Federal Reserve and banks: Break up big banks. Open up the Fed.

Sanders would divide large banks into smaller entities and charge a new fee for high-risk investment practices, including credit default swaps. In addition, he believes the Federal Reserve is an opaque organization which gives too much support to large corporations. His pushed for a 2011 audit of the Fed and he would use the Fed to force banks into loaning more money to small businesses. Finally, he would ban financial industry executives from serving on the 12 regional boards of directors.

Guns: A mixed approach. No federal handgun waiting period. Some protection for gun manufacturers. Ban assault weapons.

In the House of Representatives, Sanders voted against the pro-gun-control Brady Bill, writing that he believes states, not the federal government, can handle waiting periods for handguns. Soon after, he voted yes for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that included an assault weapons ban. He has voted to ban some lawsuits against gun manufacturers and for the Manchin-Toomey legislation expanding federal background checks.

Health care: Change to single-payer government-provided health care

Sanders voted for the Affordable Care Act, but believes that the new health care law did not go far enough. Instead, he espouses a single-payer system in which the federal and state governments would provide health care to all Americans. Participating states would be required to set up their own single-payer system and a national oversight board would establish an overall budget.

Immigration: Offer path to citizenship. Waive some deportations now.

Sanders generally agrees with President Obama that most of the undocumented immigrants in the country now should be given a path to citizenship. He voted for the senate immigration bill in 2013, which would have increased border security and issued a provisional immigrant status to millions of undocumented residents once some significant security metrics had been met. In addition, Sanders has supported President Obama’s use of executive orders to waive deportation for some groups of immigrants, including those who were brought to the United States as children.

Taxes: Raise some taxes on the wealthy. Cut taxes for middle class.

The current ranking minority member on the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders would nearly double taxes on capital gains and dividends for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. In addition, this year Sanders asked President Obama to use executive action to close six tax deductions benefitting corporations and hedge funds. The Vermont senator would use some of the revenue gained from higher taxes on the rich to lower taxes for middle and lower class Americans.

Iraq, Islamic State and Afghanistan: Opposed the Iraq war. Calls for troop withdrawal as soon as possible.

A longtime anti-war activist, Sanders voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002. He has regularly called for the U.S. to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq as soon as possible. Regarding the Islamic State, Sanders has said the U.S. should not lead the fight. In general, he believes the U.S. should focus less on international conflict and more on the domestic needs of the middle class.

Iran and Israel: Supports current talks with Iran. Critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In an interview with ABC News Sanders called the Clinton Foundation money, along with money from conservative sources, a very serious problem:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said he is concerned by the millions of dollars flowing into the Clinton Foundation at a time when he thinks money plays too strong a role in politics.

“It tells me what is a very serious problem,” Sanders said in an interview with ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl. “It’s not just about Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton. It is about a political system today that is dominated by big money. It’s about the Koch brothers being prepared to spend $900 million dollars in the coming election.

“So do I have concerns about the Clinton Foundation and that money? I do,” he added. “But I am concerned about Sheldon Adelson and his billions. I’m concerned about the Koch Brothers and their billions. We’re looking at a system where our democracy is being owned by a handful of billionaires.”

The issues in the above lists are primarily, but not exclusively, based on economic views. Sanders, as opposed to Clinton, also has a strong record of support for liberal positions on foreign policy and social issues. While it is inevitable that economic issues will dominate the campaign this year, I hope that during the course of the campaign more is said about both Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy views, along with her conservative cultural views.

Clinton Failed To Report 1100 Foreign Contributions Despite Her Disclosure Agreement; Fact Checker Gives Three Pinocchios To Clinton Foundation Response

Clinton Global Iniative

Hillary Clinton continues to receive criticism from the mainstream and liberal media, along with fact checkers, for major ethical violations  and the dishonest responses from her supporters. When Clinton became Secretary of State there were essentially two requirements placed upon her by the Obama administration to avoid the breaches which we are now seeing: disclose all the donors to the Clinton Foundation and archive her email on government servers. She failed to do comply with each of these. Bloomberg reports that the Clinton Foundation failed to report 1100 foreign donations:

The reason this is a politically explosive revelation is because the Clinton Foundation promised to disclose its donors as a condition of Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of state. Shortly after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the Clinton Foundation signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the Obama White House agreeing to reveal its contributors every year. The agreement stipulates that the “Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative” (as the charity was then known) is part of the Clinton Foundation and must follow “the same protocols.”

It hasn’t.

The Washington Post has more on this story.  Elsewhere in The Washington Post, Karen Tumulty asked, Are the Clintons too cozy with the people who give them money? She is one of many journalists who have pointed out the irony of Clinton’s empty talk on campaign finance reform. Not only do the current revelations make a mockery out of any attempts at campaign finance reform, but it should be recalled that the laws now on the books came about as a result of previous actions by the Clintons:

Nonpartisan advocates of limiting money in politics say the problem is, in no small measure, one of the Clintons’ own making. “It would be in everyone’s best interest if the Clinton Foundation adopted a policy of accepting no money whatsoever from any foreign countries, foreign corporations and foreign individuals,” said Fred Wertheimer, a veteran of the fights over campaign finance who is now president of the watchdog group Democracy 21.

There is indeed an echo of the furor that was generated in the 1990s when the Clintons wooed big Democratic Party donors with overnight sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom and intimate coffees in the Map Room, where they could rub elbows with the government officials who regulated their industries…

The controversies of the 1990s paved the way for passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 — also known as the ­McCain-Feingold Act for its sponsors, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then-Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). A key feature of the law was a ban on the unregulated “soft money” that the Clinton White House had been so adept at raising with its many overtures to deep-pocketed donors.

She proceeded to clash with Russell Feingold over campaign finance reform.

In light of the recent revelations, several non-partisan watchdog organizations, including some mentioned in Tumulty’s article, are questioning the ethics of the actions by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Common Cause has called for an independent audit of contributions to the Clinton Foundation.

The Clinton Foundation made insufficient responses recently and their excuses for failing to disclose some of the contributions have failed to hold up. The Washington Post Fact Checker gave Three Pinocchios for one recent misleading excuse.

This his hardly the only dishonest response from Clinton’s supporters regarding her recent ethical violations. Ron Fournier noted “the predictable, paint-by-numbers response from the Bill and Hillary Clinton political operation.”

1. Deny: Salient questions are dodged, and evidence goes missing. The stone wall is built.

2. Deflect: Blame is shifted, usually to Republicans and the media.

3. Demean: People who question or criticize the Clintons get tarred as right-wing extremists, hacks, nuts, or sluts.

This is essentially the same as what David Corn described in Mother Jones last month.

Clinton supporters have concentrated on trying to make it appear that they are dealing with attacks from the right. In reality, Clinton does not currently have a Fox problem as much as she has a problem with The New York Times, Reuters, AP, The Guardian, media Fact Checker sites, and some liberal magazines. They have concentrated on claiming to debunk Peter Schwitzer’s book Clinton Cash by screaming that there is no smoking gun in the book. The reality is that Schwitzer’s book is only a small part of the evidence against Clinton, with other reports doing more to demonstrate her guilt than Schwitzer, who never claimed to prove the case in his book. Clinton supporters felt so threatened by the fact that Schwitzer has also been working a similar book on Jeb Bush, diminishing their claims of a right wing attack, that they have been repeating a false claim from a pro-Clinton blog that he is not writing the book on Bush. Their “evidence” consists of a statement that the conservative publisher of Clinton Cash is not publishing the book on Bush, but Schwitzer had said he is seeking a different publisher for that book.

While failing to respond to the real questions, Clinton supporters also demand deflect from the facts in demanding that a quid pro quo be demonstrated, but such evidence is rarely preserved in such cases. Nor is it considered necessary for proof, at least when people other than the Clintons are involved.  The standards in such a case are that the Clintons failed to abide by the regulations.  That is the key fact, but beyond this there is demonstrated transfers of unusual amounts of money, both in the form of contributions to the Foundation and unprecedented speaking fees paid to Bill. This was followed by those who made the payments receiving favors, sometimes including changes in position on the part of Hillary Clinton. Analogous cases in matters such as insider trading are based upon establishing such violations of rules and in patterns of the transfer of money, not in proving a quid pro quo.

On top of this, by her own admission, Hillary Clinton has destroyed evidence. She admits to wiping the server. The usual standard in a criminal case would be to assume that any evidence which has been destroyed would be detrimental to the person who destroyed the evidence. This should certainly be sufficient to raise serious doubts in a matter of ethics as opposed to criminal prosecution.

Amy Davidson has a set of five questions on the uranium mining deal which are well worth reading in The New Yorker.The first deals with the question of a quid pro quo:

Was there a quid pro quo? Based on the Times reporting, there was certainly a lot of quid (millions in donations that made it to a Clinton charity; a half-million-dollar speaker’s fee) and multiple quos (American diplomatic intervention with the Russians; approvals when the Russian firm offered a very “generous” price for Uranium One). The Clinton perspective is that, although the approvals were delivered by the State Department when Clinton led it, there is no evidence that she personally delivered them, or of the “pro” in the equation. The Clinton campaign, in its response to the Times, noted that other agencies also had a voice in the approval process, and gave the Times a statement from someone on the approvals committee saying that Clinton hadn’t “intervened.” The Clinton spokesman wouldn’t comment on whether Clinton was briefed about the matter. She was cc’d on a cable that mentioned the request for diplomatic help, but if there is a note in which she follows up with a directive—an e-mail, say—the Times doesn’t seem to have it.

This speaks to some larger questions about political corruption. How do you prove it? Maybe the uranium people simply cared deeply about the undeniably good work the foundation is doing, and would have received the help and approvals anyway. In cases like this, though, how does the public maintain its trust? Doing so becomes harder when the money is less visible, which leads to the second question:

That led a discussion of the failure to meet disclosure requirements, and then three further difficult questions for the Clintons.

So far it looks like Schwitzer has provided valuable information in his book for legitimate, non-partisan journalists to investigate, and from media reports he has also made some mistakes. That is why it is so important that he has allowed journalists to evaluate his research. This conservative writer is certainly not the only one with ideological connections investigating this topic. David Sirota and other liberal investigative journalists have also dug up problems in the recent past, and reported earlier this week on another situation in which payments were made to the Clintons prior to receiving favors, along with millions in additional payments to Bill Clinton “just before or just after firms lobbied his wife’s State Department.”

While the more serious issue is that Clinton failed to disclose over one thousand donors, Vox reviewed those which have been disclosed and even there found a serious problem:

The size and scope of the symbiotic relationship between the Clintons and their donors is striking. At least 181 companies, individuals, and foreign governments that have given to the Clinton Foundation also lobbied the State Department when Hillary Clinton ran the place, according to a Vox analysis of foundation records and federal lobbying disclosures.

After presenting the data the article states, “That’s not illegal, but it is scandalous” and concluded:

Ultimately, it is impossible to tell where one end of the two-headed Clinton political and philanthropic operation ends and where the other begins. The “trust us” model is insufficient for the public. It’s also an ongoing political liability for Hillary Clinton. Both she and the public would benefit from greater controls. She’s not the first politician forced to defend contributions to her charity. Tom DeLay, the legendary former House majority leader and whip, was hammered by the left for taking donations for his children’s charity from corporations and lobbyists with business before Congress.

On one level, there’s little difference between special interests donating money to politicians’ campaigns and donating to their charities. The nature of the objections raised by the Clintons taking money from interested parties also applies to their solicitation of contributions to her presidential campaign — and to similar asks made by every other politician. On another level, though, a politician’s charity is a special avenue of access.

Politicians’ charities are an attractive place for special interests to funnel money. They can give much larger sums to charities than they can in hard campaign dollars. Because the charities are, by definition, nonpartisan, the contributions look less political. The politician who runs the charity usually has a pretty strong emotional tie to its sustainability and often benefits from payment in the form of travel and accommodations in conjunction with the charity’s activities. Last but not least, donations to the charity are tax-deductible, in contrast to campaign contributions.

Candidates for office should seek to set the bar for their own conduct higher than the level required by current law. More important, at a time when the American public has rightly lost confidence that politicians serve the public first, foremost, and exclusively, Hillary Clinton has fallen short of that standard.

Update: Ethical Violations At Clinton Foundation Tarnishing Clinton Brand And May Cripple Campaign

Clinton Failed To Answer Questions About Use Of Private Server Two Years Ago

The cover-up continues to look bad for Hillary Clinton. The New York Times (not Fox for those Clinton-apologists who try to pretend this is a right wing attack) reports that Hillary Clinton Was Asked About Email 2 Years Ago and failed to give an honest answer:

Hillary Rodham Clinton was directly asked by congressional investigators in a December 2012 letter whether she had used a private email account while serving as secretary of state, according to letters obtained by The New York Times.

But Mrs. Clinton did not reply to the letter. And when the State Department answered in March 2013, nearly two months after she left office, it ignored the question and provided no response.

The query was posed to Mrs. Clinton in a Dec. 13, 2012, letter from Representative Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Mr. Issa was leading an investigation into how the Obama administration handled its officials’ use of personal email.

“Have you or any senior agency official ever used a personal email account to conduct official business?” Mr. Issa wrote to Mrs. Clinton. “If so, please identify the account used.”

A State Department spokesman declined to answer questions from The New York Times as to why they did not respond to this question but a letter from the State Department noted their guidelines:

In the State Department’s letter back to Mr. Issa, Thomas B. Gibbons, the acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs, described the department’s records management policies and guidelines.

He said “employees may use personal email on personal time for matters not directly related to official business, and any employee using personal email ‘should make it clear that his or her personal email is not being used for official business.’ ”

The statement also noted that training was being offered on records management to the department’s employees. Under Clinton, the ambassador to Kenya was fired, with failure to use government as opposed to private email being cited as one of the reasons for the firing. (pdf of Inspector General report here.)

While Clinton has claimed she did not violate the rules, the top Freedom of Information Act official has confirmed that Clinton did violate the rules put in effect in 2009. Her claim of using private email to avoid using two devices was also contradicted by evidence that Clinton actually did carry two different devices.

Chris Cillizza points out how the scandal is not going away, and can hurt Clinton in the general election:

As I have written since the start of the story of Clinton’s handling of e-mail as secretary of state, the problem that exists here for her is that it reinforces many of the negative things that people either believe or are ready to believe about her. One of the biggest (and most negative) of those is that the Clintons don’t think the rules apply to them.  And could there be any better example of the rules not applying than what Schmidt’s story alleges — that Clinton and her team refused to answer a direct question about her use of a private e-mail at state until she left the job?

Again, I am not saying that Clinton’s camp isn’t telling the truth in their statement above about the timing and logistics of the response. But I am saying that it looks really bad — particularly given the perception of secrecy and above-the-law-ness that already swirls around the Clintons.

Close your eyes for a second and imagine it’s next October: An ad appears on your TV screen (or smartphone or tablet or laptop) that notes — in a dark and ominous voice-over — that Hillary Clinton kept her own e-mail server when she was secretary of state and that she deleted tens of thousands of e-mails from that server.  Then the narrator says: “The worst part? Clinton refused to answer questions from Congress about her e-mail address when she was in office. What’s Hillary Clinton hiding?”

In other campaign news, Clinton, like many Democrats, has called for a Constitutional amendment to address campaign finance reform. This is necessary to make serious changes in light of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. As is often the case when Clinton does take a liberal position, her position does fall short of what many on the left are pushing for, as discussed in this article at The Nation: Hillary Clinton Is Still Too Cautious on Campaign Finance Reform.

Republican Tactics Of Fear And Voter Suppression

Republicans, lacking a real agenda or any solutions to problems, are basing their campaign this year on a combination of fear and voter suppression. They are even trying to politicize Ebola with threats that it will cross our borders (along with people of other colors) and even mutate to become airborne to attack us. (Does their belief that Ebola will change into an airborne infection suggest a new found belief in evolution for some?) First Read writes:

…these advertisements we’re seeing (here, here, and here) go well beyond faith in institutions or government competence. They’re about fear. And frankly, they come when there’s no evidence of ISIS coming across the border and when (remarkably) there’s still been just one confirmed case of Ebola in the United States. Now we understand why Republicans are picking up this theme — they want to nationalize the election, and they have every incentive to. (The more they get voters going into the voting booth upset at Washington, the more likely they are to get Republicans defeating Democratic incumbents in Senate races.) But some of these candidates are walking a fine line; there is a Chicken Little aspect here regarding Ebola and it can border on the irresponsible.

The New York Times reports:

Playing off feelings of anxiety is a powerful strategy for motivating the Republican base. And few issues have proven as potent when linked together as border security and the fear of terrorism. Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, said this week on Fox News that border agents had told him they apprehended 10 Islamic State fighters in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security said his statement was “categorically false.”

Fear has always been a centerpiece of Republican strategy. They scare poorly educated white males into fearing that minorities and women will take their money. They scare Republican voters into believing that Democrats will take away their guns and their bibles. More recently they have been concentrating on fear of Obamacare, even if every single one of their predictions of dire consequences has failed to come about.

Republicans rely upon fear to get their supporters to turn out to vote, and resort to voter suppression to try to keep Democrats from voting. As the GAO reported, Republican-supported voter ID laws aimed at voter suppression result in fewer minorities and young people voting. Fortunately the Supreme Court has thrown out voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas, but they have also allowed a law to stand in North Carolina.

Obama Warns Of Threats To Right To Vote

Protect Vote

If one followed politics superficially from the mainstream media, they might come to the incorrect view that we have a two party system in which the two parties differ on some issues but are essentially mirror images of each other. Looking more closely, it becomes apparent that instead we have a centrist party which has been struggling to continue our system of self-government and an extreme right wing party which seeks the destroy the vision of America held by our founding fathers. Among those who have bucked the usual media narrative and have reported on this are Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. This pair of centrists who have pointed this out in an essay, Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem, and in their book  It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, which clearly laid out the extremism of the current Republican Party. They have explained that the mainstream media missed the big story of the 2012 campaign–the dishonesty and extremism of the Republican Party.

Republicans benefit by rigging the system in their favor as much as possible. Some of this is built in to the structure of our government, such as giving small Republican states the same number of Senators as larger, Democratic states. Gerrymandering, as well as the tendency of Democrats to concentrate more in urban areas, give Republican an advantage in the House, even in elections such as in 2012 when more people voted for Democratic representatives than Republicans. Republicans take advantage of control over large segments of the mainstream media, including Fox which operates essentially as a house propaganda organ, and then “play the refs” by complaining of fictitious liberal media bias. If this isn’t enough, they try to rig election laws to make it harder for Democrats to vote.

While Republicans use their influence over the mainstream media to promote misinformation to further their cause, Democrats have done a poor job of promoting a message or even of exposing what their opponents are doing. I was therefore happy to see that Barack Obama has spoken out against Republican restriction of voting rights.

“The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” Mr. Obama said in a hotel ballroom filled with cheering supporters, most of them African-American. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

Speaking a day after a conference in Texas commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Mr. Obama linked the issue to the movement that helped pave the way for him to become the nation’s first black president.

“America did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for themselves and for others only to see it denied to their kids and their grandchildren,” he said.

Republicans in some swing states have advanced new laws that go beyond the voter identification requirements of recent years. Among other things, state lawmakers are pushing measures to limit the time polls are open and to cut back early voting, particularly weekend balloting that makes it easier for lower-income voters to participate. Other measures would eliminate same-day registration, make it more difficult to cast provisional ballots or curb the mailing of absentee ballots.

Over the last 15 months, at least nine states have enacted voting changes making it harder to cast ballots. A federal judge last month upheld laws in Arizona and Kansas requiring proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a passport, leading other states to explore following suit.

I hope we see more of this. Warnings about the Republican threat to freedom and democracy should not be limited to a single date commemorating a past event. This should be an important part of the political debate between the parties every day. Hopefully people will then realize that they should be wary of a political party which finds that its success depends upon keeping people from voting.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

John Kerry Warns Of A Trend Towards Authoritarianism In Eastern Europe–Don’t Forget Our Problems At Home

John Kerry has warned about a disturbing trend of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe. He is probably right, but what about that trend here? The Republican Party has made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. The party of small government increasingly advocates using the power of government to infringe upon the private lives of individuals. They claim to support capitalism while they work to redistribute the nation’s wealth and replace our system with a plutocracy.

An informed electorate is essential to the workings of a democracy but the Republicans use their propaganda machine, such as Fox, to intentionally spread misinformation. They have been preventing the normal workings of a legislative branch, meeting on election night to organize to oppose any measures initiated by Obama, regardless of the merits, how needed they are, or even if they are former Republican positions. They talk of supporting the Constitution, but it is a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads, and is not what was intended by the Founding Fathers. They totally deny the essential liberties in the First Amendment intended to form a secular state as they promote the agenda of the religious right. Even their so-called libertarians don’t have a very good record with regards to supporting liberty.

The Republican War On Democracy

There has been plenty of talk about the Republican war on science and war on women. We are also faced with a Republican war on the basic principles of democracy. There was opposition to Medicare before it first passed and became the law of the land. Once Medicare passed Republicans might have still complained but they didn’t have forty-two House votes to try to defund it. It has only become a recent event that House Republicans supported changes which would destroy Medicare. Past Republicans certainly didn’t threaten to shut down the government and harm the economy by having the government default on its debts. Steve Benen wrote about how if Republicans are allowed to have their way elections would not have meaning:

It may seem like ages ago, but about 10 months ago, the United States held national elections. One party, the Republican Party, ran on a fairly specific platform, near the top of which was a promise to destroy the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. Their rivals, the Democratic Party, also had a platform, which included preservation of the Affordable Care Act.

The “American people” were asked to make a choice. And they did.

At the presidential level, the Democratic candidate won with relative ease, and became only the sixth presidential candidate in American history to win 51% of the popular vote twice. In the U.S. Senate, Democrats not only held their majority for the fourth consecutive election cycle, they also unexpectedly added seats. In the U.S. House, Democratic candidates collectively won 1.4 million more votes than Republican candidates.

These are not minor details. We have a constitutional system of government and free national elections in which we, the people, help set a course for our country. GOP candidate made their case, lost, and forfeited their claims to a popular mandate.

And yet, when it came time to govern, Republicans decided it was still time to pursue an aggressive, right-wing agenda, predicated on manufactured crises, extortion politics, a misguided culture war, and non-negotiable demands.

We’ve all heard the “elections have consequences” adage many times, but let’s be clear about what we’re witnessing in 2013: Republicans are very clearly telling the country, “No, actually, elections don’t have consequences. We’re still going to do as we please.”

Democracies aren’t supposed to work this way.

Unfortunately this is not the only example of the Republican war on democracy. Republicans abuse the system when they changed use of the filibuster to require sixty votes for virtually everything. Voter suppression has become a major Republican tactic. Even the Republican strategy of spending fortunes to spread misinformation is contrary to what we would desire in a democratic nation where an informed electorate chooses its leaders.

Quote of the Day

“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” —Bill Clinton

Kerry Brings About Resumption Of Mideast Peace Talks

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. It is too early to say whether the talks will be successful, but it is a hopeful sign that the two parties are engaging in direct negotiations for the first time since 2008 and an attempt in 2010 which quickly fell apart.

Getting this far is a promising sign from John Kerry in just his first year as Secretary of State. Imagine how much better the world might be if things had turned out differently and he had won in 2004, completing his second term as president last year (with perhaps a Barack Obama with four additional years of Washington experience starting his first term this January). A few more voting booths in Democratic urban areas of Ohio might have made all the difference–something to keep in mind as Republicans increasingly turn to voter suppression as an election tactic.

How Republicans Control Congress After Democrats Received More Votes

Bloomberg  looks at how the Republicans have kept control of the House despite more people voting for Democratic representatives:

More than two centuries later, the politics of redistricting still are shaping Congress.

A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party’s favor that it will retain control of the House. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans.

Graphic: 2010 Gains Give Republicans Redistricting Edge

The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

This is a rare event:

Still, it’s rare for one party to win more House seats while securing fewer votes than the other party. The last time it happened before 2012 was in 1996, when Democrats won the nationwide House vote by 43.6 million to 43.4 million as Republicans held their majority and Bill Clinton was re-elected president, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s office.

Redistricting is intended to ensure House members represent roughly equal size populations. Yet from the first Congress, party leaders began exploiting the map-making exercise by weakening the voting strength of some groups to gain partisan advantage, a practice known as gerrymandering.

The greater concentration of Democratic voters in cities also adds to the Republican advantage in House seats. Having more voters concentrated in smaller areas leads to having a smaller number of districts where your candidate will win by large majorities, while the other party might have narrow victories in many other districts. When this gerrymandering is added to this dynamic, the Republicans have had the opportunity to pick up significantly more seats than they would receive if Congressional delegations were strictly proportional to the vote.

The Founding Fathers did not want a pure democracy, but I wonder if they would be happy with this outcome. We have seen occasions such as 2000 a president was elected while losing the popular vote. (2000 also provided even more disturbing problems with the Supreme Court blocking a recount along partisan lines). The Senate is even more intentionally undemocratic, giving the Republicans an advantage by giving small states where they dominate as many Senators as states with much larger populations. Republicans have further exploited their advantage by using the filibuster in ways  never intended to require sixty percent to pass virtually anything.  Historically the House has provided a more democratic outcome, more representative of the voters, but this is no longer the case.