Polls: Approval For Trump Falls; Rises For Obama & Obamacare

A new CNN poll shows the same finding as a recent Gallup poll which found that Donald Trump has record low approval for modern presidents:

Donald Trump will become president Friday with an approval rating of just 40%, according to a new CNN/ORC Poll, the lowest of any recent president and 44 points below that of President Barack Obama, the 44th president.

Following a tumultuous transition period, approval ratings for Trump’s handling of the transition are more than 20 points below those for any of his three most recent predecessors. Obama took the oath in 2009 with an 84% approval rating, 67% approved of Clinton’s transition as of late December 1992 and 61% approved of George W. Bush’s transition just before he took office in January 2001.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll had similar findings. Donald Trump has tweeted the polls are rigged.

In contrast, Barack Obama is leaving office with a 58 percent favorability rating. While the news has been dominated by Republican plans to repeal Obamacare, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the Affordable Care Act is more popular than ever. This poll was conducted before today’s report from the Congressional Budget Office showing that repeal of Obamacare would result in millions of people losing their insurance and in increase in premiums:

  • The number of people who are uninsured would increase by 18 million in the first new plan year following enactment of the bill. Later, after the elimination of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility and of subsidies for insurance purchased through the ACA marketplaces, that number would increase to 27 million, and then to 32 million in 2026.
  • Premiums in the nongroup market (for individual policies purchased through the marketplaces or directly from insurers) would increase by 20 percent to 25 percent—relative to projections under current law—in the first new plan year following enactment. The increase would reach about 50 percent in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and the marketplace subsidies, and premiums would about double by 2026.

Republican Attempts To End Obamacare May Have Died

As I’ve discussed previously, Republican plans to repeal Obamacare are not going well for them. Donald Trump is still talking about immediate repeal, while having no idea what is actually going on. Repeal might not be possible as more Senators, in addition to those mentioned in the previous post, are jumping ship.  Jonathan Chait writes that their plans to destroy Obamacare may have died, reporting that additional Republican Senators are now pushing to include a replacement plan with legislation to repeal Obamacare.

Over in the House, Paul Ryan is also talking vaguely about including portions of a new plan in the repeal legislation.

Including a replacement plan could very well kill off any Republican plans to repeal Obamacare. From a public relations stand point, they will have difficulty obtaining public support for a health plan which does not include popular components of the Affordable Care Act. Politico confirmed this in a new poll:

Voters want — and expect — President-elect Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to repeal the 2010 health care law, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Tuesday, but they are skeptical of repeal without a plan to replace Obamacare and some of its most popular elements…

Testing eight separate elements of the law, more voters want to keep each of the eight provisions than want to repeal them, in some cases by overwhelming margins.

Nearly two-thirds of voters, 66 percent, favor keeping a provision that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. Sixty-three percent of voters want to keep the requirement that insurance companies allow policyholders to keep their children on their plans until age 26. Fifty-six percent think subsidies for low-income Americans to buy insurance should stay, and the same percentage wants to keep federal funding for states to expand their Medicaid programs.

A 55-percent majority also wants to keep the requirement that businesses and companies with more than 50 full-time employees offer health insurance to those employees, while only 27 percent want that provision repealed. Many Republicans say that requirement has led businesses to slash jobs and hours to avoid hitting that threshold.

And 53 percent of voters want to keep requiring insurance companies to cover prescription birth control, while just three-in-10 want that requirement repealed. (The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that employers may exclude contraceptive coverage for their employees if it violates the employers’ religious beliefs.)

Pluralities of voters also want to keep two other provisions of the law, though by narrower margins: 46 percent want to keep the elimination of lifetime and annual limits on health reimbursement to individuals, while 32 percent want that repealed. And 33 percent of voters want to repeal the long-derided medical-device tax, compared to 37 percent who want to keep it.

The most-popular elements of the law are also well-regarded by Republicans. Sixty-three percent of Republicans want Trump and Congress to keep the prohibition on denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and 56 percent want to retain requiring insurance companies to allow the children of policyholders to stay on their plans until age 26.

In other words, as has been the case all along, the public opposes Obamacare by name but supports its components when asked.

Besides the public relations issues, the repeal of Obamacare might be dead due to Senate rules. The Senate can repeal Obamacare as part of a budget resolution with a simple majority, but a bill which repeals Obamacare and establishes a replacement program can be blocked with a filibuster if it lacks sixty votes. If Republicans cannot get a simple majority for repeal now, they could wind up with a choice of continuing Obamacare or only replacing it with a plan which can obtain bipartisan support. Such a plan will very likely be much like Obamacare, even if under a different name.

Republicans Might Lack Votes In Senate To Repeal Obamacare

As I discussed earlier in the week, it was far easier for Republicans to vote to repeal Obamacare when it would be blocked by a filibuster or veto. Republicans might not have the votes in the Senate for repeal. The plan was to repeal the Affordable Care Act through budget reconciliation, where only a simple majority is necessary, with promises to replace it with something else in the future. The absurdity of that is obvious to pretty much everyone who is not a Republican.

The Republicans might not be able to achieve even a simple majority to repeal Obamacare. Now four Republicans, Rand Paul, Bob Corker, Tom Cotton, and Susan Collins are now showing skepticism towards the plan. Susan Collins also opposes the plans to defund Planned Parenthood.

Bloomberg reports that it is unclear how this will play out:

Only one of the senators — Rand Paul of Kentucky — has so far said he plans to vote against the procedural gambit that sets up Obamacare repeal, citing unrelated budget concerns. Paul and three others are concerned that Republicans haven’t said yet how they would replace the health insurance scheme after repeal, with one of them also opposing the plan to defund Planned Parenthood as part of the repeal.

The skeptics could end up yielding to pressure from their colleagues to support the plan when it reaches the Senate floor, but Republicans can only afford to lose two senators. If they lose a third, the effort would stall, and they’d be forced to return to the drawing board. Such a delay would be an embarrassing setback for Republicans, given the intense pressure from conservatives and the Trump team to speed this through.

One problem faced by the Affordable Care Act is that, with lack of Republican cooperation, it was rarely possible to pass further legislation to make adjustments, which a program this massive would normally receive. The ideal situation would be if Republicans fail to defund Obamacare and are forced to take ownership of health care policy, leading them to work in a bipartisan manner with Democrats to pass an improved plan. Unfortunately we cannot count on the Republicans acting in such a reasonable manner.

AMA Warns Of Risks Of Gutting Health Care Reform

With Republicans appearing to make abolishing Obamacare a top priority (following their failure to gut ethics oversight of Congress), the American Medical Association has weighed in with this letter (emphasis mine) stressing the importance of making coverage more affordable, providing greater choice, and increasing the number insured:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing regarding our ongoing commitment to reform of the health care system and potential legislative actions during the first months of the 115th Congress.

The AMA has long advocated for health insurance coverage for all Americans, as well as pluralism, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, and universal access for patients. These policy positions are guided by the actions of the AMA House of Delegates, composed of representatives of more than 190 state and national specialty medical associations, and they form the basis for AMA consideration of reforms to our health care system.

Health system reform is an ongoing quest for improvement. The AMA supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at that time. We continue to embrace the primary goal of that law—to make high quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all Americans. We also recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed. As such, we welcome proposals, consistent with the policies of our House of Delegates, to make coverage more affordable, provide greater choice, and increase the number of those insured.

In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.

Consistent with this core principle, we believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.

We stand ready to work with you to continue the process of improving our health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care coverage.

Sincerely,
James L. Madara, MD

Medical groups and physicians have been conflicted regarding expected health care policy under Donald Trump. There was some early support for Tom Price to head Health and Human Services in the hope that he will work to reduce the regulatory burden, but many doctors have come out in opposition to him out of concern for reductions in coverage for many Americans.

While health care policy could likely a major impact of the all-Republican government, it received very little attention during the presidential campaign. This is partially due to the media’s preference to cover the horse race and scandal, Donald Trump making more noise on matters such as the Wall, and an extraordinarily poor campaign by Hillary Clinton which concentrated on stressing Trump’s negatives and avoiding issues. Democrats are now starting to speak out on health care. Chuck Schumer is trying to turn Trump’s slogan against him, warning that Republicans will “Make America Sick Again.” Hopefully they can provide a resistance beyond coming up with a slogan.

Democrats were successful in blocking George Bush when he attempted to partially privatize Social Security in his second term, and similarly have a chance of receiving public support in opposing Republican attempts to reduce health care coverage, including cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans are also getting jittery about health care legislation. They could safely please their constituents by voting to abolish Obamacare when Barack Obama was in office and they knew he would veto their efforts if it made it past a filibuster. Many now realize they will be held accountable for what happens, including if people lose coverage, and insurance costs continue to rise rapidly. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, typically conservative on government  spending,  has outline the costs of repealing Obamacare, giving further reasons for Republicans to be cautious.

Donald Trump remains a huge wild care, having both promised to abolish Obamacare and to provide a plan to cover all Americans. So far he has given no meaningful specifics, talking primarily about health savings accounts and allowing insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines. Neither is a real plan. One point to Trump’s credit is that, while his major appointees have been from a very narrow group (primarily wealthy conservatives), he has spoken to a wider range of people. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, came out of a meeting with Trump expressing optimism, as reported by NPR. He believes Trump might seek to have a bipartisan bill after Republicans have complained about how Obamacare was passed by only Democrats. He also pointed out that some conservatives are pushing for “repeal and replace” as opposed to the currently discussed tactic of “repeal and delay” and discussed how legislation might be handled after an initial resolution (even if along party lines) to abolish the ACA utilizing budget reconciliation:

And so that you really do need to repeal and replace, and you need to do it in one bill. Otherwise, you’re really going to disrupt the individual insurance market in a very bad way, and you’ll be responsible for millions of people losing their coverage but also health insurance premiums going up. And I think that is not a scenario that a lot of Republicans really want…

So one possibility is that they pass a resolution saying that they will then come back and pass a bill that will repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time have a replacement for those parts of the Affordable Care Act…

The resolution can be party lines, but the bill would then have to construct both the repeal part but simultaneously the replacement part. And I think if you do it that way, you could begin to negotiate with Democrats. If you just have a repeal and we’ll be back in three years and tell you how we’re going to fix it, then the Democrats are simply going to walk away. Chuck Schumer has made that clear.

And they should walk away because then it’s all – it’s the old pottery barn principle that Colin Powell made famous, which is, you break it; you have to fix it, and you take responsibility. And the Democrats will not want their fingerprints anywhere near the breaking of Obamacare and the disruption of the insurance industry in the United States…

The question is, what is the shape of that bill? Is it just a repeal bill, or is it a repeal with replacement? And that negotiation about that bill could take several months. My own estimate is if both sides come with good faith, they could probably hammer this out in about six months. It’s not a small item. I mean health care reform is big.

The question is, what are the gives and takes? I do think – again, one of the reasons I’m optimistic is that when you look at conservative and liberal health policy experts, there’s about 70 or 80 percent overlap between the two groups about the shape of the future and what you would need. And I think that’s, again, why I’m optimistic – because there aren’t that many ways of doing health care reform. They’re really limited.

Of course counting on the sanity of Republicans is a very risky bet.

The Death of Clintonism

The 2016 election had the deleterious result of electing Donald Trump president, but at least we did not wind up with another Bush or Clinton as many had predicted. While some still talk about Clinton running again in 2020, hopefully her loss this year will be the end of her political career, with 62 percent of Democrats and independents not wanting her to run again.

Todd Purdam is probably right in declaring The Death of Clintonism in his article in Politco, but he  does not seem to understand the reasons. He white washed the triangulation under Bill while ignoring most of the consequences. He repeated the conventional wisdom on how such compromise led to a victory for Bill, but ignored how much the Democrats have suffered afterwards in failing to stand for anything in a changing world. Running as a Republican-lite party lead to major Democratic defeats in 2010, 2014, and now 2016.

There is not a word on how the Clintons and the DLC were on the wrong side of the major issue to divide the country politically after Bill left office–the response to terrorism and the Iraq war. Hillary  not only supported the Iraq war, but was one of its strongest proponents, spreading false claims of ties between Saddam and an Qaeda. She made the same mistakes with support for regime change and interventionism in Libya and Syria.

Similarly Clinton was on the wrong side of the the response to 9/11 in her support for increasing the power of the surveillance state, sounding just like Donald Trump in mocking freedom of speech. Clinton has never had a very good record on civil  liberties, including introducing legislation to make flag burning a felony while in the Senate, and even after the 2016 election calling for government action against the “fake news” which harmed her in the election. Regardless of how undesirable fake news might be, there is not a requirement for accuracy in the First Amendment.

Clinton’s horrible record on First Amendment rights also included her working with The Fellowship while in the Senate to increase the role of religion in public policy. Her religious views made her further out of touch with an increasingly secular nation.

Clinton’s support for mass incarceration was wrong when Bill was president, and her continued hard line on drugs, including marijuana, made her further out of touch with current views. At least she did revise her views with the times on marriage equality, but even this change looked like a change for political expediency.

Clinton made a comeback after the 2008 election, but had a very negative influence on the Obama administration. Obama ultimately recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton has continued to defend her failed policy. Clinton continued to push for further intervention in Syria, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt the Democrats the most politically also involved accepting a Clinton policy position. Congressional Democrats and Obama implemented the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after Obama had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program. Clinton has never understood the difference between providing a safety-net when necessary and nanny-state programs which intrude upon everyone’s life.

While Purdam downplayed Clinton’s Wall Street ties, this became a bigger issue with the increased concentration of wealth among the ultra-wealthy. Clinton was seen as part of this problem, not someone who would do anything serious about it. Her change in views on  trade deals was not convincing. Purdam also ignored concerns about the corrupting influence of money in politics, especially with people such as the Clintons who used their political connections to amass a large personal fortune.

Purdam was right that Hillary Clinton lacks the political skills of Bill Clinton. It was also a mistake for Clinton to run by trying to stress Donald Trump’s negatives, while failing to provide a positive argument to vote for her, when her own negatives were comparable to Trump’s. It was another variation in Democrats losing because they were afraid to stand for anything.

The death of Clintonism is not about giving up once-winning ways as Purdam put it. It is about putting aside conservative views on social issues, rejecting the damage of the warfare/surveillance state which grew tremendously after 9/11, rejecting corruption, as well as rejecting a strategy which is not working for the Democrats.

Why Obama, Or Sanders, Could Have Beaten Donald Trump

There has been a lot of playing “what if” after Donald Trump unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Now Barack Obama has joined in, saying he could have beaten Donald Trump if he was able to run again:

“I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama told his former senior adviser, David Axelrod, on the “Axe Files” podcast published Monday. “I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.”

Full transcript of the interview is here.

I agree Obama would have probably won, but to say he would have won because of his vision alone is an over-simplification. There are many more specific reasons why I think Obama could have beaten Trump, even if Clinton could not.

While Clinton tried to run by winning the Obama coalition and running for Obama’s third term, she failed to understand that part of the Obama coalition came together in 2008 due to seeing Obama as the best shot at beating Hillary Clinton and keeping her out of the White House. We continued to oppose Clinton in 2016 for the same reasons we opposed Clinton in 2008, and opposed George W. Bush prior to that.

Clinton was about the worst possible candidate to put up against Donald Trump, and some of this could be seen in the differences between Clinton and Obama. While disappointed that we remain at war in Iraq and the region, at least Obama opposed the war from the start. He recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton continued to defend her failed policy. Obama opposed escalating intervention in Syria which Clinton backed, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt Obama the most also involved accepting a Clinton policy position–accepting the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after he had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program.

Obama managed to keep his administration free of scandal–except for the actions by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. This made her a much weaker candidate than Obama, and eliminated what would have been an advantage for Democrats on the conflicts of interest Trump faced. Clinton’s dishonesty, emphasized by both her dishonest campaign against Sanders and her frequent lies in response to the email scandal, also negated Trump’s negatives for his dishonesty.

Obama would have also done a far better job of campaigning. He had an approval rating far stronger than either Clinton or Trump. He wouldn’t have hidden from the press as Clinton often did. People would have turned out to see him, as they did with Trump but not with Clinton. Clinton was weak in the traditional battle ground states, among independents, and among young voters. Obama could have kept most of these voters. He might have lost an occasional state such as possibly Ohio, but not multiple states as Clinton did.

Of course similar arguments would have applied to other potential candidates. While Obama could not legally run again, the Democrats did have a strong alternative in Bernie Sanders. He did much better than Clinton in head to head polls against Trump and other Republicans during the nomination battle.  Sanders also could have turned out the voters which Clinton could not. He could have won in the rust belt states which Trump picked up. There would have been no FBI investigations, and no revelations of a crooked process for Wiikleaks to release if Sanders was the nominee.

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.