Report Clinton To Oppose Iran Deal & The Politics Of Tipping

Clinton Iran

The Hill is running a story that major Clinton contributor Haim Saban is hinting that Hillary Clinton will come out against the Iran deal. Clinton was often more hawkish than others in the Obama administration, and had criticized Obama for his plans to negotiate with Iran during the 2008 campaign. She had claimed that the United States could “totally obliterate” Iran.

Clinton’s views on Iran have remained unclear. Clinton’s 2014 book, Hard Choices, claimed that she helped initiate the negotiations, but this was a ghost written campaign book and might not be a very reliable account. Obama has said that Clinton was wary of the negotiations, but interested. Since the agreement was announced, Clinton has been supportive, but has left herself some wiggle room.

With all the mixed signals about her position on Iran, it would be helpful if Clinton faced press interviews to clarify her views–ideally with follow-up questions allowed. Instead Clinton has avoided the press since announcing her candidacy, rather than allowing interviews and having the press along on a campaign trip, as is generally seen in such a political campaign. Her campaign aides have instead held off-the-record dinners to attempt to woo the press which Clinton did not attend. She held a single press conference about a week after the email scandal broke in which she took limited questions, and fact-checkers found her to be lying on multiple points.

The other campaign controversy today was far less serious than this matter of war and peace. Clinton has come under criticism for failing to leave a tip when she ate at Chipotle. I see no fault in Clinton’s actual actions. While it is customary to leave a tip for servers, it is far less usual to leave a tip for counter service. The bigger issue is one of understanding how campaigns work. Politicians generally understand that every act is scrutinized, and know it is better to always tip, and tip generously. For example, The Hill contrasted Clinton and Obama:

President Obama has gained a reputation as a big tipper dating back to his first presidential campaign in 2008.

One month before Clinton conceded the nomination to Obama, he stopped at The Raleigh Times Bar in North Carolina, where he reportedly left an $18 tip on a $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Obama and Vice President Biden lunched at Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Va. in 2009, and the president left $5 in the tip jar.

And during the government shutdown in Oct. 2013, Obama and Biden walked to the Taylor Gourmet sandwich shop on Pennsylvania Ave., which was giving a 10 percent discount to furloughed government workers.

The president paid a $21.56 lunch tab and left a tip of $18.44.

This does not necessarily mean that Obama is a better person than Clinton or even more generous. It does show that Obama was better at campaigning, at least in this type of situation:

The majority of Democrats do favor a primary opponent, whether because of opposition to Clinton or believing it will make her a better candidate in the general election. Personally I think that if Clinton doesn’t have this down by now, she probably never will. The Democratic National Committee aims to please. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says this will be a contested primary and has scheduled a series of debates. She named the same potential candidates who have often been mentioned:

Wasserman Schultz said she has been talking about the planned debate series with both official candidates (so far, there’s only one) and potential entrants. She mentioned Vice President Joe Biden, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, former Senator (and Governor) Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Senator Bernie Sanders—although she noted that Sanders, a Vermont independent, would have to change parties to qualify for a Democratic primary.

 

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Left And Right Agree On Why Hillary Clinton’s Views Are To The Right Of The Democratic Mainstream

Timothy Carney, a columnist at The Washington Examiner, has a conservative attack on Democrats of the very worst kind–an attack in which he is correct. Cerney criticizes Democrats for supporting Hillary Clinton, pointing out that Clinton represents everything Democrats say they oppose. He looked at Clinton’s foreign policy record, her relationship with K-Street and lobbyists, and her resistance to government transparency. She is guilty on all three counts, and it is disappointing to see so many Democrats fall in line to hand her the nomination.

Of course such hypocrisy does not apply to every Democrat. I have criticized Clinton for her conservative record on these points, and in other areas,  in previous posts. At some point would like to get together a post outlining them all in the same post. In the meantime, I came across a link to an article on Facebook which does a good job of bringing up many of the points I would make in such a post. From Truth-Out in February, Five Reasons No Progressive Should Support Hillary Clinton. The post is divided into sections on Foreign Policy, Economy, Environment, Civil Liberties, and Culture Wars.

It is not a complete list, but a good compilation and I recommend reading it in full. Additional areas where liberals have disagreed with Clinton include her hard line on the drug war, including opposition to needle exchange programs and support for strict sentencing, her opposition to government transparency,  and Clinton’s opposition to liberal calls for an increase in Social Security.

The question is how many liberals are unaware of how conservative Clinton is, or if they just don’t care about promoting liberal principles.

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Clinton Announces: One More Quasi-Neocon Enters Presidential Race

Hillary Clinton has officially entered the race, adding one more neocon, and still leaving a large hole for a liberal candidate. There’s no doubt she is better than the Republicans in the race (a very low bar to beat) but I am still hoping a true Democrat gets in oppose her. He announcement is exactly the type of video expected although, unlike former Clinton adviser Bill Curry, I’m not sure that the announcement itself matters. Curry wrote, based upon media reports prior to the actual announcement, Hillary Clinton just doesn’t get it: She’s already running a losing campaign:

For months Clinton has run a front-porch campaign — if by porch you mean Boo Radley’s. Getting her outdoors is hard enough; when she does get out it’s often to give paid speeches to people who look just like her: educated, prosperous and privileged.  Needing desperately to connect with the broader public, she opts for the virtual reality of a pre-taped video delivered via social media. Go figure.

Her leakers say she’ll head out on a listening tour like the one that kicked off her first Senate race. They say listening to real people talk about real stuff will make her seem more real. This too may be a good idea, but it made more sense when she was a rookie candidate seeking a lesser office in a state she barely knew. Running for president is different. So are the times. Voters are more desperate now, and in a far worse mood. If you invite their questions, you’d better have some answers. I’ll return to this point shortly.

Her leakers say she’ll avoid big events, rallies, stadiums, that sort of thing. This is about 2008, when she and her tone-deaf team seemed to be planning a coronation. This time they say she doesn’t want to come off as quite so presumptuous. Yet next week she keynotes a ‘Global Women’s Summit’ cohosted by Tina Brown and the New York Times, at which “world leaders, industry icons, movie stars and CEOs convene with artists, rebels, peacemakers and activists to tell their stories and share their plans of action.” Orchestra seats go for $300.

Clinton personifies the meritocracy that to an angry middle class looks increasingly like just another privileged caste. It’s the anger captured best by the old ‘Die Yuppie Scum’ posters and in case you haven’t noticed, it’s on the rise. Republicans love to paint Democrats as elitists. It’s how the first two Bushes took out Dukakis, Gore and Kerry — and how Jeb plans to take out Hillary. When she says she and Bill were broke when they left the White House; when she sets her own email rules and says it was only for her own convenience; when she hangs out with the Davos, Wall Street or Hollywood crowds, she makes herself a more inviting target…

There are three problems that go far deeper than Hillary’s image or her campaign’s operations. Each is endemic to our current politics; all are so deeply connected as to be inseparable. You already know them. The first is how they raise their money. The second is how they craft their message. The third pertains to policy…

On Friday, Clinton’s campaign began the quick, quiet buildup to her Sunday announcement by placing a new epilogue to her last memoir in the Huffington Post. It’s mostly about how being a grandmother gives her new energy and insight. At the end of the piece she says it also inspires her to work hard so every child has as good a chance in life as her new granddaughter has. Her recent speeches, even those her leakers tout as campaign previews, say little more than that.

Barring a Jeremiah Wright-level crisis, a presidential candidate gets just two or three chances to make her case to a big audience. Her announcement is often her best shot. That Hillary passed on hers is unsettling. If she thinks she doesn’t have to make her case real soon she’s wrong. If she thinks she can get by on the sort of mush Democratic consultants push on clients she’s finished. On Thursday the Q poll released three surveys. In two states, she now trails Rand Paul. In all three a plurality or majority said she is ‘not honest or trustworthy.’ You can bet the leak about her $2.5 billion campaign will push those negatives up a notch.

Clinton seems as disconnected from the public mood now as she did in 2008.  I think it’s a crisis. If she doesn’t right the ship it will be a disaster. In politics it’s always later than you think. Advisors who told her voters would forget the email scandals probably say this too will pass. If so, she should fire them…

Like Bill Clinton’s 1992 race, this election is about the economy. But this one’s about how to reform the economy, not just jumpstart it. Our political system isn’t set up to debate whether or not our economic system needs real reform. It will take a very different kind of politics, and leader, to spark that debate. We’ll soon know whether anyone is ready, willing and able to fight.

I agree with much of his criticism, but not that the announcement is her best shot. That might apply to a lesser known candidate, but people already know Clinton, and most have opinions about her. What matters in her case is not any single statement, even her announcement, but what she says throughout her campaign, and she can never escape her record. Pundits expect her to continue to triangulate, compromise liberal principles, and try to avoid saying anything meaningful. In other words, she is playing not to lose–and we see how that often turns out, from football games to her 2008 campaign. At some point she will need to come out of her comfort zone, and hopefully at some point she will truly answers from the press.

Clinton began the invisible primary portion of the race with a huge lead, and it is now withering away. She still has the edge due to name recognition, but she is already slipping seriously in the polls. The most recent national poll available, from Public Policy Polling, shows her lead over Republican challengers down from 7-10 points in February to a 3-9 point lead at present over various Republican challengers. Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul are all within four points of her, and Rand Paul leads Clinton among independents by 14 points. The latest battleground poll also shows her slipping in key states. Multiple polls show that voters do not find Clinton honest, trustworthy, or that she understands people like them. She probably will get a bounce after the announcement, but after that she cannot afford any further decrease in support.  She still looks most likely to win both the nomination and general election, but there is also a considerable risk that her campaign will be derailed by scandals along the way. Hopefully this will not happen in the fall of 2016, leaving us with a Republican president.

What Clinton can do at this stage of her career is somewhat limited. It is hard to overcome a career most notable for her poor judgment whenever facing the big issues. Stories about influence peddling are bound to continue. With all the connections between the two, it is worth remembering that the family business for the Clinton and Bush family is essentially the same. The email scandal would not by itself derail Clinton, but it will continue to hurt as it reinforces the view that the Clintons do not follow the rules, or tell the truth, along with her long-standing propensity towards secrecy.

There are many reasons why most Democrats want to see Clinton face a primary opponent, with a Bloomberg poll finding that the number of Democrats who say they would definitely vote for Clinton  down from 52 percent in June 2013  to 42 percent at present.  At this point, Martin O’Malley looks most likely to challenge Clinton from the left but there are many months to go before the first contests and other might still get in the race. Clinton should be challenged not only on her economic views, which O’Malley and others are now doing. This should include her foreign policy positions, from pushing for war with Iraq based upon non-existent connections between Saddam and al Qaeda, to advocating a more hawkish viewpoint in the Obama administration. (While Rand Paul initially was seen as a candidate opposing nonconservative foreign policy views, he has been quickly flip flopping to sound like every other Republican.) Environmentalists also question Clinton’s weak and vague record, along with her advocacy for fracking.  Many liberals are also dissatisfied with her record and views on civil liberties and on social issues, ranging from gay rights to feminism and reproductive rights. Clinton has entered the race as the lesser evil, but Democrats should be able to do better.

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Clinton Receiving Criticism On Economic And Foreign Policy From Two Potential Democratic Challengers

With Hillary Clinton’s formal announcement that she is running for the Democratic nomination imminent, we now have something resembling a political campaign. Unfortunately (especially considering how Clinton is slipping in the battle ground polls) the race is rather one sided. Politico points out that even many of those who do not support her for the nomination see her as an unstoppable train. The article did look at a few possible challenges to Clinton from the left:

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Virginia senator Jim Webb, and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — the trio who have shown the greatest interest in mounting a challenge to Clinton — face a steep path, Democratic operatives say, while the two most famous names mentioned as potential challengers — Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren — seem increasingly far from running.

Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island senator and governor, emerged in the last few days to stake a possible claim to be the Clinton alternative, raising Warren-like concerns about Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street. But he’s a maverick whose shift from Republican to independent to Democrat is unlikely to excite the progressive base.

…Clinton aides point to O’Malley as the most viable alternative candidate, believing he will eventually pick up support from many of the liberal activists currently urging Warren to run. The silver lining in his low name recognition is that he has an opportunity to introduce himself to the American people on his own terms.

Warren, meanwhile, repeatedly insists she will not throw her hat in the ring despite an organized campaign put together by progressive groups intended to draft the bank antagonist.

And even though the vice president has run for president twice before — including against Clinton and Obama in 2008 — he has no political operation to speak of. Biden’s supporters insist that he would need little preparation to jump in due to his existing networks and the goodwill generated by his trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina earlier this year. But he shows no signs of seriously considering a run.

MSNBC, which might be expected to be more willing than other media outlets to cover a challenge to Clinton from the left, reported on Martin O’Malley campaigning in Iowa:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley says if he runs for president, he will try to pull the Democratic Party back to its populist roots.

“You know what it’s about? It’s really about calling our party back to its true self,” he said in a wide-ranging MSNBC interview airing Friday. “Our politics has been greatly impacted, for the worse, by big money and the concentration of big money.”

O’Malley, in Iowa this week for meetings and a local Democratic Party event, took a break to talk about his potential 2016 challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Smokey Row Coffee, a bustling coffee shop on the West side of Des Moines. Clinton is expected to begin her presidential campaign as early as this weekend.

Widely known as number-crunching technocrat, O’Malley sounds pretty blunt when criticizing what he calls Wall Street’s growing dominance of campaigns and government – including some members of the Obama administration.

“For 30 years we’ve followed this trickle-down theory of economics that said, ‘Concentrate wealth at the very top, remove regulation and keep wages low so we can be competitive – whatever the hell that means,” O’Malley says.

“What it led to was the first time since the Second World War where wages have actually declined, rather than going up – where almost all of the new income earned in this recovery has gone to the top 1%,” he says, invoking the famous phrase from the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he continues, arguing, “these things are not effects that blew in on a gulf stream or on a polar vortex – these are the products of the policy choices we made over these 30 years.”

O’Malley says the system is rigged “in many ways” – a concern pressed by the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of the Democratic Party – and contends middle class priorities should be “at the center of our economic theory.”

…O’Malley freely admits most Iowans he meets haven’t heard of him, but he believes they are receptive to his economic focus – and they aren’t all ready for Hillary.

Many Iowans want to literally “meet every candidate” before they decide, he says, and they don’t accept “the inevitability or the punditry or whatever the polls happen to say.”

O’Malley should know. He got started in politics working on Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign in Iowa, and he believes history shows there’s really no such thing as inevitable candidates.

“There is an ‘inevitable’ front-runner who remains ‘inevitable’ right up until he or she’s no longer inevitable,” he says. “And the person that emerges as the alternative is the person that usually no one in America had heard of before – until that person got into a van and went county to county to county.”

O’Malley is careful not to criticize Hillary Clinton by name, but her presence clearly looms over his possible candidacy.

While O’Malley has avoided criticizing Clinton by name, Lincoln Chafee has no such reservations. The New York Times interviewed Chafee about his intentions to run against Clinton:

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Chafee offered sharp criticism of Mrs. Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq and for accepting foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.

“The donations to the Clinton Foundation are alarming to me,” Mr. Chafee said, arguing that decision making can be compromised when enormous amounts of money change hands.

The Clintons have defended the family foundation’s acceptance of donations from foreign governments, which was mostly suspended when Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state and resumed after she left. Last month, former President Bill Clinton said taking money from foreign countries, including those in the Middle East, was crucial to keeping the foundation’s programs running

As Barack Obama did as a senator in 2007, Mr. Chafee argued that Mrs Clinton’s support for the war in Iraq should disqualify her from the White House.

“It’s still relevant,” Mr. Chafee said. “I would argue that the next president of the United States should not have voted for that war.”

Besides Clinton’s vote, Clinton has additional problems on foreign policy. These range from being one of the strongest supporters of the Iraq war, falsely claiming a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, to advocating a more hawkish viewpoint in the Obama administration.

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Tom Cotton Thinks War With Iran Would Be Quick And Easy

Tom Cotton

After the Cotton letter, which undermines the ability of any American president to negotiate on the behalf of the United States, was written and signed by 47 Republicans, the question raised was whether Republicans really want to see a war with Iran. The same question was raised again with Republicans opposing the deal reached with Iran. Tom Cotton now shows  how delusional he is on war with Iran:

Sen. Tom Cotton says bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would take several days and be nothing like Iraq War.

The Arkansas Republican, who earlier this year upset Democrats and the White House by sending a letter warning the Iranian government to think twice about entering into a deal on its nuclear program with President Obama, said President Obama offered a “false choice” by saying it was his deal with Iran or war…

Cotton said any military action against Iran would not be like the Iraq War and would instead be similar to 1999’s Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq ordered by President Bill Clinton.

“Even if military action were required — and we certainly should have kept the credible threat of military force on the table throughout which always improves diplomacy — the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case,” Cotton said.

“It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior. For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions. All we’re asking is that the president simply be as tough as in the protection of America’s national security interest as Bill Clinton was.”

It reminds me of the view held by those in the Bush administration who claimed that the Iraq war would be quick while we would be greeted as liberators.

Even some conservatives are horrified by Cotton’s remarks. Daniel Larison responded at The American Conservative:

One couldn’t ask for a more misleading presentation of the costs and dangers of military action against Iran. First, no one seriously believes that a bombing campaign against Iran would take only a few days. It would very likely take several weeks at least, and that probably underestimates the difficulty. Starting a war with Iran will last longer and cost more than anyone anticipates. That has been true of all other U.S. wars of choice over the last two decades, and there’s no reason to think that a war with Iran would be easier or less dangerous than any of those. Assuming that Iran retaliates, the conflict would escalate and go on much longer than Iran hawks are claiming.

All that Iran hawks promise is that the nuclear program would be set back by a few years. However, the attack would push Iran to acquire the weapons that the hawks don’t want them to have, and it would drive them to make the nuclear program less vulnerable to future attacks. If Iran hawks were intent on destroying Iran’s nuclear program permanently through military action, they probably would have to argue for an invasion of Iran at some point. When the time came, Cotton would probably be among the first to tell us how cheap, quick, and easy that would be, too.

Like most hawks, Cotton minimizes the costs and duration of military action, he ignores the likely consequences, and he treats an attack on Iran as cavalierly as possible. The comparison with Desert Fox is laughable. That operation took place years after the U.S. had already destroyed Iraqi defenses, which clearly isn’t the case with Iran. Cotton further misleads the public to think that the only thing that can qualify as war with Iran is a scenario involving “150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground.” It is the Iran hawks that want the public to think that a major ground invasion is the only thing that can be called war, which allows them to advocate for a different kind of war against Iran while pretending that they don’t favor war. They don’t want to face the potential political cost of warmongering, so they pretend that they are advocating for something that isn’t “really” war. But, of course, war is exactly what they’re demanding.

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Rand Paul Flip Flopping Away From Libertarianism As He Enters Republican Race

Rand Paul Conservative

Rand Paul has a problem much like Mitt Romney did, even though the details are different. Mitt Romney took many liberal positions when a politician in Massachusetts, and then had to flip flop on them to claim to be have been severely conservative to win the Republican nomination in 2012. Rand Paul has developed his base as sort of being a libertarian, and now is trying to fit more into the Republican mold to campaign for the 2016 presidential nomination.

Much of Rand Paul’s support has come from his opposition to foreign intervention, but he has been sounding more and more like a traditional Republican over the past  several months. and wrote:

…Paul is a candidate who has turned fuzzy, having trimmed his positions and rhetoric so much that it’s unclear what kind of Republican he will present himself as when he takes the stage….

There are at least two areas where Paul has moved more in line with the conservative Republican base, somewhat to the consternation of the purists in the libertarian movement: adopting a more muscular posture on defense and foreign policy, and courting the religious right.

Where he once pledged to sharply cut the Pentagon’s budget, for instance, Paul late last month proposed a $190 billion increase over the next two years — albeit one that would be paid for by cutting foreign aid and other government programs. His tour following the announcement of his candidacy will include an event at Patriots Point in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, with the World War II-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown as a backdrop.

BuzzFeed News describes this as Rand Paul’s Bid To Be Everything To Every Republican Voter Politico reported on Paul being confronted on his changing views in a Today Show interview. Time recently described Paul’s new views on defense spending:

Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending…

The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

The boost would be offset by a two-year combined $212 billion cut to funding for aid to foreign governments, climate change research and crippling reductions in to the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce and Education.

Paul’s endorsement of increased defense spending represents a change in direction for the first-term lawmaker, who rose to prominence with his critiques of the size of the defense budget and foreign aid, drawing charges of advocating isolationism. Under pressure from fellow lawmakers and well-heeled donors, Paul in recent months has appeared to embrace the hawkish rhetoric that has defined the GOP in recent decades. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February Paul warned of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “Without question, we must now defend ourselves and American interests,” he said. Asked about federal spending, he added, “for me, the priority is always national defense.”

While Paul is sounding more like a Republican on defense spending and foreign policy, like many Republican “libertarians,” Paul has never been all that libertarian on social issues. While Rand Paul might not share all the faults of Ron Paul, I have discussed at length in the past how this brand of “libertarianism” does not promote individual liberty. The New York Times found that libertarian Republicans are 1) rare, and 2) not all that libertarian:

In one sense, you could argue that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party barely exists at all. According to a large Pew Research survey in 2014 of 10,000 respondents, 11 percent of Americans and 12 percent of self-identified Republicans considered themselves libertarian. They met a basic threshold for knowing what the term meant. But there wasn’t much “libertarian” about these voters; over all, their views were startlingly similar to those of the public as a whole.

The likeliest explanation is that “libertarianism” has become a catchall phrase for iconoclasts of all political stripes. “Libertarian” seems to have become an adjective for the liberal millennials who are more skeptical of regulations and assistance for the poor than their Democratic contemporaries. The same holds for the deeply conservative college students who may want to, for example, signal socially acceptable views about homosexuality. These “libertarians” have little resemblance to the true believers who might scare everyone else out of the room with their views on a flat tax, the Civil Rights Act and a return to the gold standard.

If we take a different tack and use issue positions, rather than self-identification, to identify libertarian voters, we still find only a small number of Republicans who consistently agree with Mr. Paul’s libertarian views. Only 8 percent of self-identified Republican-leaners in the Pew data take the libertarian position on four issues that he emphasizes: disapproval of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program; support for a more restrained American role in the world; skepticism of the efficacy of military intervention; and a relaxation on drug sentencing.

Paul has been especially conservative as opposed to libertarian on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He has been repeating a common line of right wing revisionist historians who deny the establishment of separation of church and state:

Paul also has been trying to find common cause with evangelical Christian voters, who have been skeptical of and even hostile toward the energized libertarian element of the GOP.

“The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government,” he told a group of pastors at a private breakfast on Capitol Hill on March 26.

Many contemporary writers, such as here and here, have already taken Paul to task for botching the meaning of the First Amendment. For further explanation, I’ll turn to someone who not only was around at the time the First Amendment was written, but is also a hero to many libertarians–Thomas Jefferson:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” —Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802

Paul has recently been having difficulty answering questions as to whether he would permit any exceptions in laws he supports prohibiting abortion rights. He tried to throw back the question to the Democratic National Committee, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz quickly responded:

“Here’s an answer,” said Schultz. “I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story. Now your turn, Senator Paul. We know you want to allow government officials like yourself to make this decision for women — but do you stand by your opposition to any exceptions, even when it comes to rape, incest, or life of the mother? Or do we just have different definitions of ‘personal liberty’? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond without ’shushing’ me.”

That is a far better response than what we have been accustomed to from Hillary Clinton, who has repeatedly undermined liberal proponents of  abortion rights with calls for abortion to be safe, legal, and rare, stigmatizing women who do seek abortions. Still, while many liberals are unhappy with the prospect that the Democrats will nominate someone as conservative as Hillary Clinton, her views (and the likely views of any Supreme Court justices she would appoint) are far preferable to Paul’s views on social issues, while Paul’s views on national security issues are rapidly moving to be as far right as the views of both Clinton and the other Republican candidates. On the other hand, I do welcome seeing Paul challenge Clinton on other civil liberties issues, such as NSA surveillance–assuming he doesn’t also flip flop on this.

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Calls For War With Iran From The Right

Washington Post War with Iran

There is no question that the letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican Senators was irresponsible. I will leave it to others to argue whether it breaks the law or constitutes treason, but it definitely ignores how foreign policy is conducted in the United States. At very least this was a curious move from the party which claims to be such strict backers of a Constitution which in reality they cite only when convenient. My initial reaction was more basic–why would anyone, regardless of party, want to derail an effort to negotiate a peaceful solution to having nuclear weapons in Iran? Yes, there is another election in two years and the United States could change course, but don’t undermine the ability of the current, and every future, president to negotiate on behalf of the United States by suggesting that agreements with the President of the United States are meaningless.

There are many possible explanations, ranging from incompetence (the signers didn’t read the letter) to the theory of many on the left, including Bernie Sanders, that Republicans want to go to war. I certainly would not accuse all Republicans of desiring war. They might even have legitimate concerns, even if this was the wrong way to express them. Fred Hiatt has added considerable credence to the belief that the right desires to go to war in publishing an op-ed from Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. Muravchik argues that War with Iran is probably our best option:

What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? That, in fact, is probably the reality. Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal…

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.

James Fallows responded:

Right, repeated bombing raids “as necessary.” What could possibly go wrong with that approach? Yes, “surely the United States could best Iran.” Surely we could polish off those backward Viet Cong. Surely invading Iraq would work out great. (I haven’t taken the time to see if the author was a fan of invading Iraq, but I have a guess.) Surely the operational details of these engagements are a concern only for the small-minded among us.

How would we think about a “scholar” in some other major-power capital who cavalierly recommended war? How would we think about some other capital-city newspaper that decided to publish it? The Post’s owners (like those of the NYT and other majors papers) have traditionally had a free hand in choosing the paper’s editorial-page policy and leaders, while maintaining some distance from too-direct involvement in news coverage. Jeff Bezos, behold your newspaper.

While not all have explicitly called for war as Muravchik has, opposition to a negotiated settlement is becoming a wide-spread view among Republicans. This includes Mitt Romney:

I say courage because signing an agreement — any agreement — would undoubtedly be a political home run. The news media would repeatedly feature the signing ceremony. The coverage would rehearse the long and tortured history between our two countries and exalt at the dawn of a new era. The Iranian pooh-bahs would appear tame and responsible. The president would look, well, presidential.An agreement would also boost the prospects for Hillary Clinton: achievement by association.

Walking away from all that would be courageous. It would also be right.

As I noted yesterday, this is starting to become an issue going into the 2016 elections. This country rushed into a disastrous war with Iraq based upon the emotions following the 9/11 attack and lies from the Bush administration. During the 2016 election we need to carefully examine the views of the candidates regarding war and peace. This is not limited to the Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s views also need to be reviewed. While she has correctly criticized the Republicans for this letter, her views regarding use of military force must be questioned. Not only was she often among the most hawkish voices in the Obama administration, she was in the Joe Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party in urging war with Iraq based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

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The Primary Battles Beyond Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein wrote about how Hillary Clinton is crushing the opposition for the Democratic nomination, primarily due to winning the support of the Democratic elite. He does end with this thought:

The question for the Democratic Party is whether Clinton is going to be as strong in the visible primary — and the visible election — as she is in the invisible one. The skills necessary to win over Democratic Party elites may not be the skills necessary to win the election — and if Hillary doesn’t face serious opposition in the visible primary, Democrats may not find that out until too late.

Her mishandling of both her book tour and her response to the news on her private email server should be enough to suggest to the elites, and everyone else, that Clinton is no more prepared to run now than she was in 2008. Most likely she will win the nomination, but I’m not going to give up hope that the Democrats will nominate a liberal instead of Clinton with so much time to go. Martin O’Malley is a long shot but he does stand out in one way–he says he is running. Joan Walsh interviewed him at Salon. He primarily spoke about economic matters, positioning  himself to go after the Elizabeth Warren backers. He had little to say on issues beyond economics saying, “Let me say that over the course of the next couple of months we’ll be laying out a number of policy speeches, almost certainly on national security and foreign policy.”

Bernie Sanders would also go after Clinton from the left on economic matters but he is sounding less enthusiastic about running.

While Clinton definitely deserves to be challenged from the left on economic matters, I do wish there was a comparable potential challenger on the civil liberties and social issues which I’m more interested in. Ron Wyden’s name sometimes comes up in wish lists of Democratic candidates, and he would be high on my list. Any consideration of Democrats who have been strong on civil liberties issues will naturally turn to Russ Feingold. He is is leaving his current  job as a special envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa and there has been a lot of speculation that he is planning to run for the Senate in 2016. If Clinton should self-destruct, I wonder if he would aim higher.

Meanwhile over on the dark side, The Politico Caucus believes that the Republicans have harmed themselves with the Iranian letter:

“The Republicans handed the Democrats a perfect issue going in to 2016,” said a New Hampshire Democrat. “No matter what they do from now until November 2016, Democrats have endless editorials to pull devastating quotes from to demolish the Republicans. Truly a gift.”

“I talked to a number of non-political Granite Staters who were, to be blunt, shocked by its appalling lack of respect for the presidency,” said another, “by its undermining of American credibility and by what they felt was essentially an un-patriotic act.”

Far too few people who don’t follow politics closely do not realize how extreme the Republicans are, and the degree to which their actions are contrary to American interests. Can this be the issue which opens more eyes?

Despite how unethical Clinton’s behavior has been, both with the use of her private email server and her dishonest response, I doubt that this will have  any significant impact on the election results. The political meaning isn’t that people will turn against Clinton because of this, but that it shows Clinton’s ability to self-destruct as more controversies come up during the campaign. I did receive a link to one poll which claims, “Majority of Americans believe email controversy will hurt Clinton’s 2016 ambitions.” Being skeptical I checked into Vox Populi, which conducted the poll. It turns out to be a Republican outfit, with Mary Cheney a partner.

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Doomsday Clock Moves Two Minutes Closer To Midnight

The Doomsday Clock from The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was more commonly seen during the Cold War but CNN reports that they have moved the clock to three minutes to midnight,  two minutes closer than its previous setting. This was the first move since 2012, precipitated by both nuclear arsenals and the risk to humanity from climate change:

“Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernization of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity. And world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a news release. “These failures of leadership endanger every person on Earth.”

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board looks at global issues on a regular basis and decides whether to move the minute hand of the clock, with particular stress on the status of nuclear arms and reaction to climate issues.

In recent years, the clock has moved the wrong direction for humanity. After standing at 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 — the furthest it’s ever been from the end of the world — it’s gotten closer each time it’s been changed since, with the exception of 2010, when it was pushed back by one minute to 11:54 p.m.

This is the closest the Doomsday Clock has been to midnight since 1984.

They point out that the science is clear on these problems:

The science is clear: Insufficient action to slash worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases can produce global climatic catastrophe. Even a so-called “limited” nuclear weapons exchange will produce massive casualties and severe effects on the global environment … We implore the political leaders of the world to take coordinated, quick action to drastically reduce global emissions of heat-trapping gases, especially carbon dioxide, and shrink nuclear weapons arsenals.

The following steps are recommended:

·        Take actions that would cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

·        Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs.

·        Re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results.

·        Deal now with the nuclear waste problem.

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Right Wing Outrage Over Obama Missing A Photo-Op In Paris

The latest lunacy from conservatives like Ted Cruz  is to make a huge fuss about Obama not attending the Paris memorial march, while ignoring the substantive assistance he has been providing to fight terrorism.

Considering the security measures utilized whenever the president leaves the White House, it was not practical for Obama to have attended with such short notice. Even if time permitted, his presence would have been disruptive for such an event.

The French certainly are not offended:

 French President François Hollande’s office also defended Obama. A senior official told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the U.S. president has been “very present” since the attacks, noting that he was one of the first leaders to call Hollande last Wednesday.

The official also pointed to Obama’s visit to the French Embassy in Washington last week. “For us It was an emotional moment of solidarity,” the official said.

They actually would have preferred that Obama and Biden not attend due to the security issues, already having to contend with Benjamin Netanyahu attending when asked not to.

Obama essentially missed a photo op–not a true case of world leaders leading a March, as pictures from the march have demonstrated:

Many on the right repeated their automatic opposition to anything Obama does. We know that if he had gone, the same conservatives would have been the first to attack Obama for grabbing the limelight, the cost of the trip, and disrupting the march with his security measures. We also know that if it had been a Republican president who did not attend they would have had no complaints.

Ron Fournier, not a common defender of Obama, had several points on this faux controversy:

His critics seem to forget a few things.

1. The United States has some 66,000 military personnel deployed in Europe. More than 6,800 U.S. service members have died in post-9/11 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury finance intelligence and military operations across the globe, making the United States the most stalwart enemy of terrorists.

2. The president of the United States doesn’t need to march in the streets of Paris to prove his nation’s commitment.

3. Somebody should find out how many federal agents, spies, and intelligence assets the United States has dispatched to Europe since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Does anybody think the Obama administration hasn’t flooded the zone?

4. Obama’s presence at the rally would have been disruptive. The apparatus that follows the U.S. president is isolating and suppressive – a direct counter to the vibe that organizers achieved in the streets of Paris.

5. Obama and his national security team are rightly worried about the next 9/11. Only hard work and good luck have kept the wolves at bay this long. An attack like the ones in Paris last week keeps U.S. national security personnel awake at night because among their greatest fears are so-called lone wolf attacks on soft targets in the United States. There could have been a copycat.

Here’s my thought process: Had there been an attack on U.S. soil while Obama marched in Paris, I would have wondered whether the president and his team had taken their eyes off the ball. Wouldn’t that be the natural reaction? The conservative Outrage Machine would have demanded impeachment proceedings.

Personally, I’ve got no problem with the U.S. ambassador representing my country in Paris. If it was my call to make, I would have put Biden on a plane.

But did Obama let the world down? Take a breath. After all this country has done for Europe in the last century, let’s not confuse a mistake with something more meaningful.

He wrote this earlier in the day before all the information was in, and the same security issues related to Obama would probably also apply to Biden. Whether it was still a mistake not to send Biden is far more debatable with more facts now in, but regardless Fournier is correct that, even if it was a mistake, it is “no disgrace” and hardly anything meaningful.

Update: Dana Milbanks wrote about the hypocrisy of the Republican attacks. He also pointed out that sending Obama with this little lead time was “never a possibility, for security and logistical reasons.” As most reasonable people (meaning non-Republicans) would, he characterizes the failure to send anyone else of higher rank than the ambassador a faux pas. He also states that, “Officials I spoke to said it was a simple screw-up: They didn’t understand how significant the event would be, with leaders of some 40 countries in attendance.” There was no strategic importance to Obama being there and there was no insult to the French (which until this week would hardly be of concern to conservatives).

The White House admits it was wrong, but again the error was one of public relations, not of anything of real significance or to justify the current attacks from the right, which are more about their usual pattern of attacking anything done by Obama.

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