Donald Trump Is Least Popular President-Elect In Modern History

A Pew Research Center survey shows what was expected after a campaign with the two most unpopular candidates in memory. Donald Trump is the least popular president-elect in modern history. Even George W. Bush, who like Trump failed to win the popular vote, received a 50 percent approval rating in a country which was divided 50:50. Trump is well below this with an approval of only 41 percent.

A majority also disapprove of his cabinet choices and appointments by a 51 percent to 40 percent margin. This is hardly surprising in light of appointments including Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn at NSA, Ben Carson at HUD, and Betsy DeVos at Education. It says something when one of his least objectionable choices is someone known as Mad Dog (James Mattis at Defense).

The poll found many of the same negatives which came out during the campaign:

…many of the same doubts and concerns that voters expressed about Trump’s qualifications and temperament during the campaign are evident as he prepares to take office. Just 37% of the public views Trump as well-qualified; 32% of registered voters described Trump as well-qualified in October. Majorities continue to say Trump is reckless (65%) and has poor judgment (62%), while 68% describe him as “hard to like.”

In addition, more than half of the public (54%) says that Trump has done too little to distance himself from “white nationalist groups” who support him, while 31% say he has done the right amount to distance himself from such groups; 6% say he has done too much in this regard.

And despite all this, the Democrats managed to come up with a candidate who still managed to lose to Trump. There are many reasons why Clinton was such a terrible candidate, all of which were predictable. It also came as little surprise that Clinton ran such an awful campaign, concentrating on personal attacks and avoiding discussion of issues. As people saw Clinton as being as terrible a person as Trump, and were supplied with plenty of confirmation of this with her behavior during the campaign, personal attacks on Trump were not enough to win the election. Perhaps Clinton should have discussed major issues such as Medicare, which the voters had little knowledge of. Pew found:

Overall, only about half of the public (51%) has heard a lot (12%) or a little (39%) about a proposal to change Medicare to a program that would give future participants a credit toward purchasing private health insurance. About as many either have heard nothing (48%) or don’t know (1%).

Instead Clinton gave no reason to vote for her beyond her gender and it being her turn. This left the race as an unpopularity contest among two incredibly unpopular candidates.

Donald Trump Is Right On This One: Hillary Clinton’s Syria Policy Could Lead Us Into World War III

Clinton bombs

When Donald Trump says something stupid, such as when he botched his comments on Obamacare today, or when he claimed that he is the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton, that is a “dog bites man” story. We have come to expect this from Donald Trump, who is  running the most inept campaign for president that I have ever seen. The more interesting “man bites dog” story, one of the rare times when Trump gets it right, was with Trump warning of the risk of Hillary Clinton getting us involved in World War III.

Donald Trump had this to say in an interview with Reuter’s:

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Democrat Hillary Clinton’s plan for Syria would “lead to World War Three,” because of the potential for conflict with military forces from nuclear-armed Russia.

In an interview focused largely on foreign policy, Trump said defeating Islamic State is a higher priority than persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, playing down a long-held goal of U.S. policy…

On Syria’s civil war, Trump said Clinton could drag the United States into a world war with a more aggressive posture toward resolving the conflict.

Clinton has called for the establishment of a no-fly zone and “safe zones” on the ground to protect non-combatants. Some analysts fear that protecting those zones could bring the United States into direct conflict with Russian warplanes.

“What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” said Trump as he dined on fried eggs and sausage links at his Trump National Doral golf resort. “You’re going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton,” he said.

“You’re not fighting Syria any more, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk,” he said…

On Russia, Trump again knocked Clinton’s handling of U.S.-Russian relations while secretary of state and said her harsh criticism of Putin raised questions about “how she is going to go back and negotiate with this man who she has made to be so evil,” if she wins the presidency.

While I have also expressed concerns about Trump’s general incoherence on foreign policy, I have previously noted the same dangers as Trump discussed in Clinton’s history of belligerence towards Russia. As I discussed after Clinton repeated her support for a no-fly zone in Syria during the last debate, this is a very dangerous policy. Last  month Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford testified before Congress that imposing a no-fly zone “would require us to go to war, against Syria and Russia.” Clinton admitted that “you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians” in one of her leaked Goldman-Sachs speeches.

Spencer Ackerman also wrote in The Guardian Why Hillary Clinton’s plans for no-fly zones in Syria could provoke US-Russia conflict.

The proposal of no-fly zones has been fiercely debated in Washington for the past five years, but has never attracted significant enthusiasm from the military because of the risk to pilots from Syrian air defenses and the presence of Russian warplanes.

Many in US national security circles consider the risk of an aerial confrontation with the Russians to be severe.

“I wouldn’t put it past them to shoot down an American aircraft,” said James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, on Tuesday in response to a question from the Guardian at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Those who have patrolled no-fly zones over the relatively freer skies of Bosnia and Saddam-era Iraq fear that a President Clinton would oblige the US to what one retired US air force three-star general described as an indefinite “air occupation”. Such a move would risk the lives of US pilots – and dare confrontation with a Russian military which is more aggressive than it has been in years.

Critics of the plan also question how using US military power to establish and police a safe space for beleaguered Syrian civilians would contribute to the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad – the explicit goal of US policy in Syria.

“If she is not politically posturing, it’s going to be a disaster. I hope it’s political posturing,” said John Kuehn, a retired navy officer who flew no-fly zone missions over Bosnia and Iraq. Kuehn who called denying an adversary its airspace “the cocktail party military application of power of choice”.

David Deptula, a retired air force lieutenant general who commanded the no-fly zone operations over northern Iraq in 1998 and 1999, said the Russians were a “complicating factor” but considered the problems with a no-fly zone to be more fundamental…

The challenges for a no-fly zone over Syria outstrip those the US has faced over Libya, Bosnia and Iraq. Assad’s surface-to-air missiles, protecting the Mediterranean coast and southern regions the regime still controls, were formidable before the recent Russian addition of what Clapper, a former air force general, called “very advanced” S-300 and S-400 systems that can blanket the majority of Syrian airspace with missiles.

Staging a no-fly zone requires either the assent of regional allies – Turkey is the nearest potential partner to Syria, but it has concentrated in recent months on improving ties with Moscow after Turkish forces shot down a Russian jet in November 2015 – or an expensive, open-ended and risky deployment of aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean.

But the most distinguishing feature of a Syria no-fly zone in 2017 would be the aerial presence of another great-power air force with an objective which is diametrically opposed to Washington’s.

Even without the involvement of Russia, a no-fly zone is a major military undertaking, likely to drag us into a larger war in Syria. The added problem of Russia’s involvement very well could lead to World War III. There are many reasons not to vote for Donald Trump, but that does not mean that voting for Hillary Clinton is a wise choice either, as a vote for Hillary Clinton is essentially a vote for war.

war-or-peace

Trump Goes Nuclear And Clinton Channels Pence In Second Presidential Debate

No, the above picture does not show Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton singing a duet of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart or I Got You Babe. The second presidential debate (transcript here) was a perfect display of how absurd this year’s election is. It was inevitable that Donald Trump would come out the loser once it became clear that it would center around the recently released videotape of Donald Trump talking about abusing women.There was no possible way Hillary Clinton could lose this one.

Trump was more forceful, beating expectations and perhaps preventing the total collapse of his support. As it stands, he does trail by double digits. While it is very doubtful it will be enough to change the race, many of Trump’s attacks on Clinton might help him get more Republicans out to vote, although attacks on Hillary Clinton based upon Bill’s sex life are likely to backfire.

Clinton benefited from so little being said about the other major leak of the past few days–the emails released by Wikileaks which provided further verification of everything opponents of Clinton on the left thought about her. Clinton evaded the single question on this, first bringing up Abe Lincoln, and then the Russians. By the time she got through with her word salad, the actual question was long forgotten.

lincoln-clinton

Clinton also channeled the strategy of Mike Pence of denying the facts during the debate. This was most blatant when she repeated her false claim that the emails which were deleted were all personal.

Once again there were many falsehoods, probably far more from Trump. There were far too many to discuss. Trump getting the facts wrong is not news, but Trump getting it right is. He has been dinged by the fact checkers multiple times for his accusation that Hillary Clinton was behind the Birther movement. Some fact checkers even missed the fact that he corrected his account last night, and now got it right:

TRUMP: Well, you owe the president an apology, because as you know very well, your campaign, Sidney Blumenthal — he’s another real winner that you have — and he’s the one that got this started, along with your campaign manager, and they were on television just two weeks ago, she was, saying exactly that. So you really owe him an apology. You’re the one that sent the pictures around your campaign, sent the pictures around with President Obama in a certain garb. That was long before I was ever involved, so you actually owe an apology.

obama-turban

Clinton never explicitly claimed that Obama was not born in the United States or is a Muslim, but there were certainly rumors that her campaign was involved in spreading the smears which people in the Obama campaign believed were true. There is no question that the Clinton campaign did make a point of trying to suggest something foreign about Obama. As can be verified from The Guardian, the campaign did spread the above picture in 1988, which Trump referred to. The strategy memo from her campaign manager, Mark Penn, also made it clear in 2007 that it was part of their strategy to portray Obama as foreign. Besides what they would say about Obama, Clinton would routinely say in her speeches how she was “born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century.”

The rare times that issues were brought up, the points went to Clinton. Trump repeated the standard GOP talking points about repealing Obamacare, but had no meaningful replacement plan. Clinton was also right about Trump’s tax plan primarily benefiting the wealthy, and in supporting background checks and closing the gun show loopholes (even if she did run as a pro-gun churchgoer in 2008).

Mike Pence Wins VP Debate, But It Doesn’t Really Matter

vice-presidential-debate

Mike Pence won the vice-presidential debate in terms of style points, but it is not likely to affect the election very much. At best it changes the conversation this news cycle away from the most recent round of stupid things said by Donald Trump to the debate, but it is a safe bet that Trump will soon dominate the news with new stupid comments. While Pence did a better job than Tim Kaine, it was not at the level of Joe Biden reviving the ticket after Barack Obama’s lackadaisical first debate against Mitt Romney four years ago. Of course Pence had a much harder job which would require going well beyond style points to make up for Donald Trump.

Both candidates had many factual errors which kept the fact checkers busy. Both candidates did the best when attacking the opposing presidential candidate, and ran into trouble trying to defend their own awful running mates. Rather than defending his statements, Pence denied that Trump made the statements Kaine confronted him with. In rare cases Kaine’s accusations weren’t entirely true, but for the most part they were.

Pence had the advantage with his previous professional career in radio, allowing him to win if looking purely at style, and ignoring his atrocious record. Pence gave the appearance of someone who could perhaps be a stabilizing figure in a Trump administration–or the 2020 Republican nominee. He very likely would be leading, as any sane candidate would, if he was the one now running against Hillary Clinton.

Kaine came off poorly, but certainly not at the depths of some past candidates such as Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle. It was amusing to see the hypocrisy after the debate as Clinton supporters who were appalled at how Trump would interrupt Clinton had no problems with how Kaine was constantly interrupting Pence.

While Pence wins on points, he could not get a victory which is likely to be significant enough to actually impact the election results. Actually defending, as opposed to ignoring, Trump’s faults is beyond the abilities of any mere mortal. Pence also had mixed results in trying to attack Hillary Clinton. He did get in some blows, but somewhat like Trump, he could not articulate a better alternative even when there were grounds to attack Clinton.

Pence raised Clinton’s scandals, but the Republicans have not been able to simply articulate grounds for why this really matters. Her mishandling of classified information is certainly worth mentioning, but the scandal was fundamentally about her failure to follow rules designed to increase government transparency and reduce corruption. Clinton violated the ethics agreements she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State. That alone should disqualify her from further government positions.

Pence was also limited in valid grounds to attack on policy. It was bad enough that he opposed abortion rights, and made his case even weaker when bringing up the right wing’s nonsensical talking points on “partial birth abortions.” Pence had the usual Republican difficulty in attacking ObamaCare (even if Bill Clinton foolishly helped out the Republicans), as he has no better alternative to offer.

It was amusing to see that, for obvious reasons, Kaine did not disagree when Pence falsely tied the entire foreign policy of the Obama administration to Clinton. In reality, Clinton was a failed Secretary of State. She was a glorified diplomat, but actual policy was generally made in the White House, with the Obama administration almost always overriding her hawkish inclinations. While they did listen to her regarding Libya, Obama subsequently agreed it was a disaster and the worst mistake of his presidency.

If Trump and Pence were coherent on foreign policy, they could make a case that it is time for the United States to stop being the world’s policeman (while footing the bill), along with questioning the risk of war with Russia under Clinton. Neither Republican is capable of articulating such an argument, and Trump’s naivety towards Putin is almost as bad as Clinton’s belligerence. Both Pence and Kaine were clueless on dealing with terrorism, believing that we can someday kill them all. Neither realizes (or if they do realize it, will admit) that such policies only lead to creating more terrorists.

This was basically two conservative career politicians (one more conservative than the other) defending either the DLC/neocon status quo or the Republican fantasy worldview. Neither presented a true candidate of meaningful change, and liberal views remained absent, as has been the case since Bernie Sanders left the race. Green Party candidate Ajamu Baraka and Libertarian Party candidate William Weld (who appears to be giving up the third party fight to concentrate on taking down Trump) both used social media to respond, but their views are being kept out of the nationally televised debates.

Aetna Deals Blow To Obamacare Showing Sanders Was Right On Need For Single Payer Plan

Aetna

Aetna has announced that they are going to greatly scale back the number of markets in which they will participate in on the exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. This is very bad news for Obamacare. Last year it was looking like insurance companies were doing well and wanted to increase participation. The big question is what happened.

One possibility is that Aetna is telling the truth that the plans were not profitable as sicker people than they anticipated were joining, leading to greater costs.

Another possibility is that Aetna is doing this to retaliate against the Obama administration for fighting their desire to merge with Humana.

Consumers are screwed either way. Having less competition in the exchanges due to fewer companies offering plans will likely lead to higher premiums. On the other hand. allowing further consolidation of the insurance industry will also lead to less competition and higher costs.

During the fight over the Affordable Care Act there were proposals for a public option modeled on Medicare or for an option for older individuals (who are probably the most responsible for the higher costs Aetna complains about) to buy into Medicare. Both were blocked because the two most conservative Senators voting with the Democrats, Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, opposed these plans. With no Republicans voting for Obamacare, they could effectively block either idea. It is unknown if things would have been any different if the White House had pushed more forcibly for these plans.

Of course Bernie Sanders had the right idea in taking these concerns over profit out of the equation in proposing Medicare for All, which Hillary Clinton opposed during the campaign. It is also unknown if Sanders could have brought enough liberal Democrats into Congress with him over the next few elections if he was the nominee. It is probably a safe bet that a DLC based Democratic Party under Hillary Clinton will not move the country to the left in such a manner.

Hillary Clinton Responds To DEA Decision On Marijuana But Continues To Back Prohibition

Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during her primary night gathering at the Philadelphia Convention Center on April 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton defeated her democratic rival Bernie Sanders in the Pennsylvania presidential primary.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has released a response to the decision of the FDA which I discussed yesterday to keep marijuana a Schedule I drug. From Think Progress:

In a statement published yesterday in the Cannabist, Maya Harris, a senior policy adviser to the Clinton campaign, applauded the DEA’s concurrent move to loosen restrictions on growing marijuana for research — and indicated Clinton will go even further to accomplish what Obama has failed to so far.

“We applaud the steps taken today by the Obama Administration to remove research barriers that have significantly limited the scientific study of marijuana,” Harris said. “Marijuana is already being used for medical purposes in states across the country, and it has the potential for even further medical use. As Hillary Clinton has said throughout this campaign, we should make it easier to study marijuana so that we can better understand its potential benefits, as well as its side effects.”

“As president, Hillary will build on the important steps announced today by rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance,” she continued. “She will also ensure Colorado, and other states that have enacted marijuana laws, can continue to serve as laboratories of democracy.”

As is common with Clinton, there is some benefit to her conservative approach, while she remains behind the times on the issue. With regards to medical marijuana, reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug would be a tremendous improvement over its current status as a Schedule I drug. While physicians cannot prescribe Schedule I drugs, Schedule II drugs can be prescribed. Presumably this would put an end to the federal government interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal.

On the other hand, Schedule II drugs are the most restricted class of drugs which are prescribed. The class includes drugs such as Morphine, OxyContin, Methadone, and Norco. Written prescriptions, or a highly secure electronic prescribing system, must be used, and refills cannot be included. One reason to support the medical use of marijuana is to reduce the use of the more addictive and dangerous medications now in use.

More importantly, while a Schedule II drug can be prescribed for medical purposes, it does not end prohibition of marijuana. Over the past several years there has been growing support for legalization, with sixty-one percent in favor as of last March. The change Clinton supports would do nothing to resolve the problem of mass incarceration and the disproportionate incarceration of minorities.

In contrast, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson both support an end to prohibition. As I also noted yesterday, the generally incoherent Republican nominee Donald Trump is for and against legalization of marijuana.

DEA Refuses To Reclassify Marijuana But Acts To Facilitate Research

Reefer Madnes

The DEA has rejected a request to reclassify marijuana and it will remain a Schedule 1 drug. NPR reported on the decision, and the questionable rational:

The Obama administration has denied a bid by two Democratic governors to reconsider how it treats marijuana under federal drug control laws, keeping the drug for now, at least, in the most restrictive category for U.S. law enforcement purposes.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Chuck Rosenberg says the decision is rooted in science. Rosenberg gave “enormous weight” to conclusions by the Food and Drug Administration that marijuana has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and by some measures, it remains highly vulnerable to abuse as the most commonly used illicit drug across the nation.

“This decision isn’t based on danger. This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine,” he said, “and it’s not.”

Marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, alongside heroin and LSD, while other, highly addictive substances including oxycodone and methamphetamine are regulated differently under Schedule II of the law. But marijuana’s designation has nothing to do with danger, Rosenberg said.

This conflicts with a growing body of evidence that marijuana does have medical benefits, along with being safer than opiates for treatment of chronic pain.

The DEA did include one item in its decision which could lead to an increase in research on medical benefits of marijuana:

DEA announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers. This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana. At present, there is only one entity authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi, operating under a contract with NIDA. Consistent with the CSA and U.S. treaty obligations, DEA’s new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.

Of the presidential candidates this year, Hillary Clinton has been the most conservative on marijuana and drug policy, while Jill Stein and Gary Johnson support legalization. Donald Trump has spoken of legalization in the past, but is hardly consistent on this, or virtually anything else.

It Is Sad To See Some Sanders Supporters Acting Like Clinton Supporters & Republicans

Sanders Clinton CNN

We are accustomed to seeing Clinton supporters spread misinformation, ignore facts, and try to prevent those they disagree with from expressing their views. It is a shame to see some Sanders supporters using the same tactics.

There are many valid sources of information about Hillary Clinton which are relevant to the campaign. There are also right wing sources which spread misinformation which Sanders supporters would be wise to stay away from. I recently found a Sanders supporter spreading bogus claims about Clinton, claiming that being on Coumadin should disqualify her from being president.

The claims were written by Jerome Corsi, one of the writers who spread the Swift Boat Lies against John Kerry. The article they linked to was one of many on the same topic posted by him at World Net Daily. The source is a second reason for Sanders supporters to be skeptical.The article uses pseudo-science to make claims which are contrary to current standards of medical care. The source of the information is a quack physician who lost his license due to holding views which could jeopardize the lives of his patients.

As both a physician and long-time Sanders supporter I attempted to correct this misinformation after it was reposted in the Progressive BERN Party Facebook group. Besides noting the medical fallacies in the argument and how untrustworthy the source was, I pointed out that if Sanders had a medical condition which required the use of such a medication we would be defending his ability to still be president.

There are enough valid arguments against Clinton being president. There is no benefit in repeating  bogus claims from the far right. This is true of this particular argument, as well as many others from right wing sources which are sometimes repeated by Sanders supporters.

The reaction at the Progressive BERN Party Facebook group was to ban me from the group after pointing out the medical facts. That is certainly an intellectually dishonest and cowardly way to respond to being corrected on the facts. We might expect such thinking from Clinton supporters, and from Republicans. Unfortunately it is also seen in some Sanders supporters. Besides, if the goal is to really promote a new political party along the lines of Sanders’ views, and in opposition to Clinton’s views, what sense does it make to ban someone who has been promoting such views for quite a long time? Sanders supporters should be seeking to broaden their groups, not play games such as this.

Utah Declares Porn To Be A Public Health Crisis

Pornography Utah

The authoritarian right loves to legislate what others may or may not do, especially when it comes to sex. Utah is passing a resolution declaring porn to be a public health crisis. USA Today reports:

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will sign a resolution declaring pornography a “public health crisis” at the Utah state capitol today.

The resolution was introduced by Republican state Senator Todd Weiler in January 2015, to battle the “pornography epidemic harming” the state and the country.

The resolution, which was passed last month, calls for increased “education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level,” to combat pornography.  Anti-pornography group, the Utah Coalition Against Pornography posted on Facebook that the resolution signing marks a “time to celebrate and recognize this historic moment.”

Weiler maintains that the resolution is not a ban on porn or an attack on masturbation, but the first steps toward creating a plan to protect children and families from it.

“Due to advances in technology and the universal availability of the Internet, young children are exposed to what used to be referred to as hard core, but is now considered mainstream, pornography at an alarming rate,” according to the bill. 

Ian Kerner, a psychotherapist and sex expert, says the anti-pornography movement is rooted in a long history of stigmatizing sex and masturbation.

“So much of the anti-porn movement is based on a sense of alarmism,” Kerner said, adding that the anti-pornography movement has blurred the line between child and adult access to pornography. “In this country, we really bundle together children and teens with consenting adults, and the issues are not the same for children and teens as they are for consenting adults.”

In contrast, the American College of Physicians recently called on doctors to do more regarding a real public health crisis which is ignored by many conservatives–climate change.

Larry Flynt is responding by sending a free issue of Hustler to every member of the Utah state legislature, although I’m not sure why he would want to reward those people (other than for the free publicity).  He also issued this statement:

“[T]he Utah Legislature is obviously confused about what constitutes a public health crisis, so I’ll send them our latest issue and they can see for themselves that we’re no danger to the public, only to the repressed,” Mr. Flynt said in a statement.

“In 1969 President Lyndon Johnson and the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography found that no evidence exists that exposure to explicit sexual materials cause any kind of criminal behavior,” the 73-year-old self-declared smut peddler said. “This report has been gathering dust for over 40 years, and Utah is only dragging out this issue now to satisfy religious zealots.”

The porn website XHamster.com responded in the opposite manner compared to Flynt in protest over the passage of the recent “religious liberties” law in North Carolina. They protested by blocking access to the site from computers located in North Carolina. That probably hurt even more than Bruce Springsteen canceling a concert in North Carolina.

Obama, Clinton, and Sanders & The Drug War (Sanders Has The Best Position)

Commuted Sentences Obama

The drug war is one of several areas where Obama has tried to move in the right direction, but his overall accomplishments over the last seven years have been disappointing. Far too little has changed. The White House has now announced that President Obama is reducing the sentences of sixty-one more individuals imprisoned due to drug laws, bringing the total to 248:

Today, the President announced 61 new grants of commutation to individuals serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws. More than one-third of them were serving life sentences. To date, the President has now commuted the sentences of 248 individuals – more than the previous six Presidents combined. And, in total, he has commuted 92 life sentences.

Underscoring his commitment not just to clemency, but to helping those who earn their freedom make the most of their second chance, the President will meet today with commutation recipients from both his Administration and the previous administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. During the meeting, the commutation recipients will discuss their firsthand experiences with the reentry process and ways that the process can be strengthened to give every individual the resources he or she needs to transition from prison and lead a fulfilling, productive life…

While this is welcome news, both liberal and libertarian commentators have expressed regrets that Obama hasn’t done more. Vox notes:

…the White House is still falling far short of the expectations it set for itself two years ago, when it encouraged thousands of prisoners to apply for shorter sentences. Then–Attorney General Eric Holder even went so far as to speculate that 10,000 prisoners might get their sentences reduced by the end of the Obama administration.

In that context, the 61 new commutations — and even the 248 total commutations — look different: a very small, incremental change that may signal the White House will do more in future but almost certainly won’t help it live up to its own expectations.

This comes not long after considerable discussion in the medical field regrading the negative impact of handling drug abuse as a criminal as opposed to a health matter, including in an article in The Lancet:

In a report published Thursday in The Lancet medical journal, Beyrer and an international team of researchers assessed the growing body of evidence for the public health impacts of programs such as opioid substitution therapy and needle exchange programs. In addition to criminal justice changes, the researchers made specific recommendations for policy makers to improve access to services that can reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV.

“We think there is the first opportunity in a generation to have meaningful drug reform,” said Beyrer, who led the research for the report , which was commissioned by The Lancet and Johns Hopkins University

The report comes weeks before the United Nations General Assembly Special Session convenes on April 19 to discuss drug policy for the first time since 1998.

“There is pressure from a number of countries who feel the war on drugs has failed them, particularly Central and South America, where there is some of the worst drug-related violence,” Beyrer said. “We sought to review all the scientific evidence so it would be available to the U.N. member states when this is being debated.”

According to the report, injection drug use has led to increases in new HIV and HCV infections. Unsafe injection practices, such as sharing needles, are linked to about 30% of HIV transmission outside of sub-Saharan Africa. HCV transmission is also high among people who inject drugs, and a study in the United States found that more than half of people got infected in the first year they were injecting.

Hillary Clinton’s opposition to needle exchange programs, along with her hard line overall on the drug war, was an issue in the 2008 election. This year Bernie Sanders differs from his current opponents in going the furthest to oppose the continuation of the drug war:

Bernie Sanders’ campaign is now officially neck and neck with Hilary. Considered by many of us, to be a voice of progress and a champion for a new America. Much of his platform is forward-looking and based on reimagining what Americans should value in the future. To reinforce this outlook, many of his major policies address the redistribution of wealth and the reevaluation of some of the country’s long-standing campaigns—with the the War on Drugs being at the top of the list. Bango, Bernie!

Now pay close attention here, his mandates related to the War on Drugs are to treat and rehabilitate non-violent drug offenders rather than imprison them, to prevent large companies from further profiteering off of prisons and to legalize cannabis. If he is elected and this reform is passed by Congress, America would look very different—for the better, we like to think.

As much as Big Bernie is an advocate for policy change, he’s also focused on creating a major cultural shift. This is most strongly evidenced by his plan to create treatment facilities for non-violent drug offenders. If implemented correctly, the plan would encourage Americans to be more sympathetic towards those who have fallen victim to drug addiction, regardless of how or why. As Sanders sees it, it takes a community to help someone get back on their feet, and we need to be in the business of creating the infrastructure to make this happen…

There were also recent reports that a top Nixon aide had described the real reasons for the war on drugs:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday.

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

This also fits into the Clinton model of expanding police power. I fear that if Clinton is elected we will slide backwards on continuing the disastrous drug war.