Forget The Benghazi Nonsense–Clinton Finally Facing More Questions On Her Real Mistakes In Libya

Clinton Email

Republicans often turn out to inadvertently be Hillary Clinton’s best friend. They are never satisfied with criticizing Clinton’s real faults, and instead feel compelled to fabricate what sounds like far more serious crimes. Thus criticism of Clinton’s actual policy mistakes in Libya as Secretary of State have been largely ignored because Republicans think find that they can raise more money by attacking Clinton over conspiracy theories leading to the deaths in Benghazi.

Clinton’s push for intervention in Libya has often been criticized by Rand Paul, but he has too many problems with credibility. There has been some criticism from the anti-war left. The Nation recently ran a story critical of both Clinton’s rational for intervening and overthrowing Gaddafi and for her the execution. There is a sign that the issue might be entering more mainstream conversation with CNN reporting on the issue:

She’s already grappling with the political headaches from deleted emails and from the terror attack that left four Americans dead in Benghazi.

But she’ll face a broader challenge in what’s become of the North African country since, as secretary of state in 2011, she was the public face of the U.S. intervention to push out its longtime strongman, Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya’s lapse into the chaos of failed statehood has provided a breeding ground for terror and a haven for groups such as ISIS. Its plight is also creating an opening for Republican presidential candidates to question Clinton’s strategic acumen and to undermine her diplomatic credentials, which will be at the center of her pitch that only she has the global experience needed to be president in a turbulent time.

One person who is thinking of joining the Democratic primary battle does have a record of criticizing Clinton on this issue:

Democrats voice concern on Libya

Concern over what has become of Libya is not confined to the Republican Party.

Possible Democratic challenger Jim Webb, a former Virginia senator, complained in a recent appearance with CNN’s Jake Tapper that: “We blew the lid off of a series of tribal engagements. You can’t get to the Tripoli Airport right now, much less Benghazi.”

Though Webb did not criticize Clinton directly, his comments raise the possibility that the issue could surface in the Democratic primary race.

So Clinton must be ready to explain why she backed a military operation in a region laced with extremism without effective planning for the aftermath. It’s the kind of question that has long challenged Republicans in the wake of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Clinton’s campaign declined to comment for this story, so it is unclear whether what happened in Libya after Gadhafi fell has changed her thinking on military intervention.

It has been typical Clinton to refuse to answer questions from the press on controversial topics, making it difficult to take Clinton’s liberal rhetoric on limited issues seriously. This, along with other advocacy of military force as Secretary of State, suggests she has not changed her thinking sufficiently since when she pushed for war in Iraq based upon nonexistent claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. Clinton’s recommendations for Libya were often a repeat of the mistakes made in Iraq.

The article further discussed how things have gone wrong in Libya, and Clinton’s role in pushing for intervention:

Clinton has little choice but to own what happened in Libya. An email to Clinton in April 2012 from her former top adviser Jake Sullivan, released last month, appears to show that initially her aides were keen to trumpet her role in the intervention and saw it as legacy-enhancing.

Clinton ‘a critical voice on Libya’

“HRC has been a critical voice on Libya in administration deliberations, at NATO, and in contact group meetings — as well as the public face of the U.S. effort in Libya. She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime,” Sullivan wrote.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates also describes her pivotal role in the decision making in his memoir.

Gates said the intervention, which he initially opposed, split the administration down the middle, with heavy hitters such as Vice President Joe Biden and national security adviser Tom Donilon also against.

On the other side were U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Council staffers including Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power.

If Joe Biden decides to enter the race, foreign policy could receive greater consideration. This was typical of the first four years of the Obama administration, with Biden opposing Clinton on foreign policy. Bernie Sanders has also had reservations over this intervention in Libya while Lincoln Chafee has made criticism of Clinton’s support for the Iraq war a key issue in his campaign.

Clinton’s failed policies in Libya might also tie into the email and Clinton Foundation scandals since it was revealed that she was receiving advice on Libya from Sydney Blumenthal, who was both receiving $10,000 per month from the Foundation and was involved with Libyan companies, suggesting further conflicts of interest. The bigger issue is Clinton’s history of both poor decisions and hawkish views on foreign policy, which risk getting the country involved in further needless wars should she be elected.

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Clinton Foundation Donors And Weapons Deals At Clinton State Department, Plus How The Clintons Channel Their Inner Mitt Romney

Clinton apologists who fool themselves, or try to fool others, that the scandals do not matter might at some point need to reconsider whether it really makes sense for a political party to nominate a candidate with so much dirty laundry. These are not simply attacks from Fox or other right wing sources. This is news from The New York Times, AP, Reuters, McClatchy, ABC News, NBC News,  and other mainstream sources, as well as from many liberal publications, and is based upon clearly established unethical behavior on the part of Hillary Clinton. These stories will continue through election day. Republicans will take advantage of them and, in contrast to the attacks of the Swift Boat Liars against Kerry, the attacks are based upon facts (although conservatives do frequently stretch the facts even further than what there is evidence of). The court order to release Clinton’s email every thirty days will further keep this all in the news.

Some new items have hit the news this week. Award winning liberal independent journalist David Sirota reported on the relationship between weapons deals and contributions to the Clinton Foundation:

Even by the standards of arms deals between the United States and Saudi Arabia, this one was enormous. A consortium of American defense contractors led by Boeing would deliver $29 billion worth of advanced fighter jets to the United States’ oil-rich ally in the Middle East.

Israeli officials were agitated, reportedly complaining to the Obama administration that this substantial enhancement to Saudi air power risked disrupting the region’s fragile balance of power. The deal appeared to collide with the State Department’s documented concerns about the repressive policies of the Saudi royal family.

But now, in late 2011, Hillary Clinton’s State Department was formally clearing the sale, asserting that it was in the national interest. At a press conference in Washington to announce the department’s approval, an assistant secretary of state, Andrew Shapiro, declared that the deal had been “a top priority” for Clinton personally. Shapiro, a longtime aide to Clinton since her Senate days, added that the “U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army have excellent relationships in Saudi Arabia.”

These were not the only relationships bridging leaders of the two nations. In the years before Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contributed at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic enterprise she has overseen with her husband, former president Bill Clinton. Just two months before the deal was finalized, Boeing — the defense contractor that manufactures one of the fighter jets the Saudis were especially keen to acquire, the F-15 — contributed $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to a company press release.

The Saudi deal was one of dozens of arms sales approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department that placed weapons in the hands of governments that had also donated money to the Clinton family philanthropic empire, an International Business Times investigation has found.

Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure — derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) — represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama’s arrival in the White House.

American defense contractors also donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and in some cases made personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements. Such firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of Pentagon-negotiated deals that were authorized by the Clinton State Department between 2009 and 2012…

In all, governments and corporations involved in the arms deals approved by Clinton’s State Department have delivered between $54 million and $141 million to the Clinton Foundation as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to the Clinton family, according to foundation and State Department records. The Clinton Foundation publishes only a rough range of individual contributors’ donations, making a more precise accounting impossible.

There is far more information in the entire article which should be read. He pointed out how Clinton had signed an agreement to disclose donors to the Foundation, and how this was a major issue before she was confirmed, but Hillary Clinton then ignored the agreement. He went on to look at the ethics of Clinton accepting donations from those she was making decisions about  as Secretary of State:

“The word was out to these groups that one of the best ways to gain access and influence with the Clintons was to give to this foundation,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group that seeks to tighten campaign finance disclosure rules. “This shows why having public officials, or even spouses of public officials, connected with these nonprofits is problematic.”

Hillary Clinton’s willingness to allow those with business before the State Department to finance her foundation heightens concerns about how she would manage such relationships as president, said Lawrence Lessig, the director of Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics.

“These continuing revelations raise a fundamental question of judgment,” Lessig told IBTimes. “Can it really be that the Clintons didn’t recognize the questions these transactions would raise? And if they did, what does that say about their sense of the appropriate relationship between private gain and public good?”

National security experts assert that the overlap between the list of Clinton Foundation donors and those with business before the the State Department presents a troubling conflict of interest.

I have further quoted Lawrence Lessig discussing Clinton’s unethical behavior in this post. Further in Sirota’s article (and again I recommend reading it in full):

During her Senate confirmation proceedings in 2009, Hillary Clinton declared that she and her husband were “committed to ensuring that his work does not present a conflict of interest with the duties of Secretary of State.” She pledged “to protect against even the appearance of a conflict of interest between his work and the duties of the Secretary of State” and said that “in many, if not most cases, it is likely that the Foundation or President Clinton will not pursue an opportunity that presents a conflict.”

Even so, Bill Clinton took in speaking fees reaching $625,000 at events sponsored by entities that were dealing with Hillary Clinton’s State Department on weapons issues.

In 2011, for example, the former president was paid $175,000 by the Kuwait America Foundation to be the guest of honor and keynote speaker at its annual awards gala, which was held at the home of the Kuwaiti ambassador. Ben Affleck spoke at the event, which featured a musical performance by Grammy-award winner Michael Bolton. The gala was emceed by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. Boeing was listed as a sponsor of the event, as were the embassies of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar — the latter two of which had donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

The speaking fee from the Kuwait America Foundation to Bill Clinton was paid in the same time frame as a series of deals Hillary Clinton’s State Department was approving between the Kuwaiti government and Boeing. Months before the gala, the Department of Defense announced that Boeing would be the prime contractor on a $693 million deal, cleared by Hillary Clinton’s State Department, to provide the Kuwaiti government with military transport aircraft. A year later, a group sponsored in part by Boeing would pay Bill Clinton another $250,000 speaking fee.

Sirota also discussed the Foundation taking money from countries with a history of human rights abuses.

AP  reported on the pass-through or shell companies used by the Clintons to hide their finances, pointing out the similarity to actions by Mitt Romney, which Democrats objected to. First Read reported:

How the Clintons are getting turned into Mitt Romney

By itself, making money shouldn’t be an issue for Bill and Hillary Clinton; after all, so many of our past presidents have been wealthy. By itself, Bill Clinton having a shell LLC wouldn’t be an issue either. But when you add the two together, you see that the Clintons have a Mitt Romney problem on their hands — wealth and “otherness” that voters might not be able to relate to, especially when the likes of Bernie Sanders are campaigning against wealth. Of course, there’s one BIG difference between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney: Romney wanted to cut taxes for the wealthy, while Hillary likely wants to raise them and eliminate tax loopholes benefitting the well-off. As the Clintons have said before, people like them should be paying more in taxes. And you probably won’t hear that rhetoric from the eventual GOP nominee. Still, Hillary Clinton could arguably be the wealthiest (or close to it) candidate in the 2016 field. And this shell LLC story is going to sound the drumbeats for her to release her taxes.

Not only her income taxes should be released. As Common Cause and other have argued, there should be a full audit of the Clinton Foundation.

While quite trivial compared to the other revelations, the Clinton Foundation has even been dragged peripherally into the FIFA scandal. This ties back to Sirota’s article as both involve how the Clinton Foundation took money from countries with human rights abuses.

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The Clinton Clown Car Is Back

Clinton Blumenthal Email2

While it is easy to mock the Republican candidates with their extreme views which show them to be out of touch with reality as a clown car, Democrats have a clown car of their own. The email from Sydney Blumenthal released last week (some of which had actually leaked out in 2013), shows that the Clinton Clown Car will be returning should Hillary Clinton return to the White House. We will once again have to deal with her cronies and conflicts of interest. On Saturday I looked at the conflicts of interest raised in Clinton’s email which show how she blurred the lines between the Foundation, her old friends and their business interests, and her work as Secretary of State. Errol Lewis, political commentator has more. After discussing the background, including the contents of the email and how Sydney Blumenthal was barred by the Obama administration from working in the State Department, Lewis wrote:

The cozy arrangement raises big red flags. For starters, why was a non-government official — one apparently barred from working for the State Department — sending sensitive information to Clinton that hadn’t been vetted by government officials?

And how did Blumenthal get to be an expert on Libyan politics? That’s where the emails go from interesting to infuriating.

“From time to time, as a private citizen and friend, I provided Secretary Clinton with material on a variety of topics that I thought she might find interesting or helpful,” he recently said through an attorney, according to Politico. “The reports I sent her came from sources I considered reliable. I have informed the House Select Committee on Benghazi that I will cooperate with its inquiry and look forward to answering the Committee’s questions.”

That’s not quite accurate. In addition to being “a private citizen and friend,” Blumenthal, it turns out, was on the payroll of the Clinton Foundation, according to the New York Times, with duties including research, “message guidance” and the planning of commemorative events.

The Foundation has been vague about exactly when Blumenthal left; he has rebuffed press questions about the exact timeline. Blumenthal may also have received Libya information from Tyler Drumheller, an ex-CIA official who formerly ran the agency’s undercover operations in Europe, according to the investigative news organization Pro Publica.

It also turns out that Blumenthal was working with — and likely getting his Libya information from — a pair of companies, the Constellations Group and Osprey Global, that were trying to land contracts to do business in post-Gadhafi Libya.

The exact nature of Blumenthal’s work with the businessmen trying to get work remains unclear; he isn’t answering press inquiries about it, although it’s likely that the Congressional panel looking into the Benghazi debacle will soon call him in for a grilling.

Was Blumenthal trying to personally profit from his relationship with Clinton? We don’t know. Did the secretary of state know about his business interests, and whether or not they overlapped and/or conflicted with his work at the Clinton Foundation? Once again, more questions than answers.

Clinton hasn’t answered any of these questions, although she recently made a point of defending Blumenthal. “I have many, many old friends, and I always think that it’s important when you get into politics to have friends you had before you were in politics, and to understand what’s on their minds,” she said. “He’s been a friend of mine for a long time.”

That doesn’t sound like a candidate concerned about the obvious conflicts of interest and possible improprieties surrounding her. And Clinton’s seeming nonchalance could come back to haunt her: a recent national poll of registered voters showed that 54% don’t consider her honest and trustworthy, and that number goes up to 61% among independents not registered as Democrat or Republican.

There’s only one cure for being seen as less than honest: Clinton should come clean with the public, and inform even her most loyal political soldiers that the days of triangulation, ethical conflicts and constant spin are over. If Team Clinton wants to present its candidate as fresh and untainted, they should realize that persuading her to walk the straight and narrow — something she has resisted doing — might turn out to be the most direct path to the White House.

This is certainly not the worst news to come out about Clinton, whose unethical behavior has been summarized here, but it is still a matter which should be of concern, It is also one of many matters which Clinton should respond to media questions about but refuses to.

Clinton is often inadvertently saved by the right wing which doesn’t settle for the real faults in Clinton which have been established by facts, but feels compelled to embellish their criticism with added conspiracy theories, including most of what they say about Benghazi. From that perspective I did find this post at Power Line to be of interest, moving beyond the conspiracy theories to question her entire Libya policy and management style. The post concludes, “It is that poor judgment that disqualifies her as a candidate for the presidency.”

I certainly agree that Clinton has shown throughout her career that she lacks the judgment to make a good president, but the same could be said of the Republican candidates which Power Line will most likely support. Besides, the problems with her views on foreign intervention, which underly her Libya policy, apply at least as much, and possibly more so, to the views of most of the Republican contenders. (The one exception might be Rand Paul, but he is flip-flopping to sound like the other Republicans on foreign policy.) At least it would be good if conservatives would drop their Benghazi conspiracy theories and discuss the real issues such as the perils of foolish foreign intervention, but I doubt that will be the case.

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Bernie Sanders Presents Welcome Alternative To Hillary Clinton’s Conservative Record On Civil Liberties

LANHAM, MD - MAY 5:  U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a town hall meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 26 office May 5, 2015 in Lanham, Maryland. Sanders, who announced announced his candidacy for president on April 30, discussed a range of issues and took questions from the audience. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While economic differences between Hillary Clinton and her more liberal challengers for the Democratic nomination have received the most attention, Clinton’s poor record on civil liberties issues is another reason why many liberals find her to be an unacceptable candidate. While Clinton has supported the Patriot Act, Bernie Sanders has voted against it. He has also opposed the abuses in NSA surveillance, and written the following forTime in response to the appeals court ruling that the surveillance is not legal:

I welcome a federal appeals court ruling that the National Security Agency does not have the legal authority to collect and store data on all U.S. telephone calls. Now Congress should rewrite the expiring eavesdropping provision in the so-called USA Patriot Act and include strong new limits to protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.

Let me be clear: We must do everything we can to protect our country from the serious potential of another terrorist attack. We can and must do so, however, in a way that also protects the constitutional rights of the American people and maintains our free society.

Do we really want to live in a country where the NSA gathers data on virtually every single phone call in the United States—including as many as 5 billion cellphone records per day? I don’t. Do we really want our government to collect our emails, see our text messages, know everyone’s Internet browsing history, monitor bank and credit card transactions, keep tabs on people’s social networks? I don’t.

Unfortunately, this sort of Orwellian surveillance, conducted under provisions of the Patriot Act, invades the privacy of millions of law-abiding Americans…

Hillary Clinton has supported the Patriot Act and, in contrast to Sanders, has been evasive when asked about abuses by the NSA–most likley waiting to see which position polls the best. Clinton has had a terrible record on First Amendment and civil liberties issues even beyond her support for the Patriot Act. As I’ve discussed previously, Clinton’s poor record regarding civil liberties and separation of church and state includes her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act , a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, leading a campaign to censor video games and introducing a bill making flag burning a felony.

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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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