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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Bernie Sanders Answers Questions And NBC Advises Not To Count Him Out

Bernie Sanders facebook

Bernie Sanders will be holding a rally in Vermont to kick off his campaign tonight. Sanders answered ten questions from MSNBC–almost as many questions Hillary Clinton has answered in her entire campaign to date. Some excerpts, which show that while on the left of our political spectrum, he is still not out to destroy our market system as conservatives are bound to claim.

HARWOOD: In the latter part of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan came along and there was a big pivot in our politics. It revolves around the idea that we need less government and more market forces. Do you think that basic pivot was wrong?

SANDERS: Let me answer it this way, John. I think there is obviously an enormously important role for the free market and for entrepreneurial activity. I worry how free the free market is. In sector after sector, you have a small number of companies controlling a large part of the sector.

Certainly, in my view, the major banks should be broken up. We want entrepreneurs and private businesses to create wealth. No problem. But what we’re living in now is what I would call—what Pope Francis calls—a casino-type capitalism, which is out of control, where the people on top have lost any sense of responsibility for the rest of the society. Where it’s just “It’s all me. It’s all me. And to heck with anybody else.” I want to see the result of that wealth go to the broad middle class of this country and not just to a handful of people.

HARWOOD: If the changes that you envision in tax policy, in finance, breaking up the banks, were to result in a more equitable distribution of income, but less economic growth, is that trade-off worth making?

SANDERS: Yes. If 99 percent of all the new income goes to the top 1 percent, you could triple it, it wouldn’t matter much to the average middle class person. The whole size of the economy and the GDP doesn’t matter if people continue to work longer hours for low wages and you have 45 million people living in poverty. You can’t just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don’t think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on. People scared to death about what happens tomorrow. Half the people in America have less than $10,000 in savings. How do you like that? That means you have an automobile accident, you have an illness, you’re broke. How do you retire if you have less than $10,000, and you don’t have much in the way of Social Security?

HARWOOD: It came out in disclosure forms the other day that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, in the last 16 months, have made $30 million. [More on their disclosure here.] .What does that kind of money do to a politician’s perspective on the struggles you were just talking about? Does it make it difficult for recipients of that kind of income to take on the system?

SANDERS: Well, theoretically, you could be a multibillionaire and, in fact, be very concerned about the issues of working people. Theoretically, that’s true.

I think sometimes what can happen is that—it’s not just the Clintons—when you hustle money like that, you don’t sit in restaurants like this. You sit in restaurants where you’re spending—I don’t know what they spend—hundreds of dollars for dinner and so forth. That’s the world that you’re accustomed to, and that’s the world view that you adopt. You’re not worrying about a kid three blocks away from here whose mom can’t afford to feed him. So yes, I think that can isolate you—that type of wealth has the potential to isolate you from the reality of the world.

HARWOOD: I read an interview that you did about the corporate media. And you said the corporate media was reluctant to call out people for lying in public debates. You’re on corporate media right now. Who’s lying in our politics?

SANDERS: I’m the ranking member of the Budget Committee, OK? Leader of the opposition. The Republican budget does the following: It throws 27 million people off of health care by ending the Affordable Care Act and cutting Medicaid by $440 billion. Have you seen that in print? Have you seen that statement? There is a reality that goes on here. And you have many people who try to be, “Oh, I’ve got to be even-handed here and even-handed there. You got the Koch Brothers there, Bernie Sanders there.” That’s nonsense. And I think a lot of right-wing people get away with murder because the media doesn’t call them out on it.

Elsewhere at NBC, Steve Kornacki advised not to count Bernie Sanders out, although he was writing more in terms of Sanders winning enough delegates to shape the platform. That is hardly a satisfactory outcome if it still means Clinton wins the nomination. It is not as if a more liberal platform has any real bearing on what she will do if elected.

First Read has a slightly different, and more desirable, take:

For political historians out there, think of Sanders as a potential Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy’s ability to gain traction against LBJ drove LBJ out in 1968 and sparked more Dems to run. If Sanders gets enough traction to actually knock off Clinton in an early state, then Katie bar the door.

The closest political analogy would be the sitting Vice President winning on to win the nomination as Hubert Humphrey did in 1968. While Joe Biden is not my first choice, he would be far preferable to Clinton. He spent four years opposing Clinton’s more interventionist views when she was Secretary of State, and it was Biden who pushed Obama into announcing support for same-sex marriage. Knocking out Clinton could also result in other more liberal Democrats entering the race. Martin O’Malley, who will be announcing his candidacy later this week, is certainly seeing such a scenario as opening the way for him to win the nomination. I also wouldn’t rule out the chances of Sanders himself winning.

Update: Text of Sander’s speech here.

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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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Further Revelations On Payments Received By Clintons Raise Questions About Both Their Ethics And Judgment

Clinton Money

About two weeks ago  Bill Clinton said he would continue to give paid speeches, regardless of the conflicts of interest this entails, because “I gotta pay our bills.” This was despite having made $105 million dollars in speaking fees between 2001 and 2013. The latest financial disclosures continue to show that Bill and Hillary should be able to pay their bills without Bill continuing to get paid for speeches. From The New York Times:

Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband made at least $30 million over the last 16 months, mainly from giving paid speeches to corporations, banks and other organizations, according to financial disclosure forms filed with federal elections officials on Friday.

The sum, which makes Mrs. Clinton among the wealthiest of the 2016 presidential candidates, could create challenges for the former secretary of state as she tries to cast herself as a champion of everyday Americans in an era of income inequality.

The $25 million in speaking fees since the beginning of last year continue a lucrative trend for the Clintons: They have now earned more than $125 million on the circuit since leaving the White House in 2001.

In addition, the report shows, Mrs. Clinton reported income exceeding $5 million from her memoir of her time as secretary of state, “Hard Choices.”

The Clintons’ riches have already become a subject of political attacks, and her campaign has been eager to showcase Mrs. Clinton as a more down-to-earth figure. Her only declared Democratic opponent at this point, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is an avowed socialist, while Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin have considerably more modest means.

A major dimension of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy is expected to be policy proposals to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and to address stagnant wages. Yet she is far from those problems; while she said she and President Clinton were “dead broke” when they left the White House in early 2001, they are now part of the American elite.

While many conservative Democrats who support Clinton are likely to ignore this along with all the other revelations to be reported in the past couple of months, many bloggers see serious problems in nominating Hillary Clinton. John Cole says, This Just Stinks:

You knew you were running for President. You knew this would put a bullseye around you. Why, for the love of FSM, why?

Let’s earn 25 mill real quick then pivot to speaking for the common man. No one will notice, amirite?

Ezra Klein explains why this is significant for the ethically-challenged Democrats who are still willing to support Clinton (emphasis mine):

Almost a decade ago, as Hillary Clinton ran for re-election to the Senate on her way to seeking the presidency for the first time, the New York Times reported on her unusually close relationship with Corning, Inc., an upstate glass titan. Clinton advanced the company’s interests, racking up a big assist by getting China to ease a trade barrier. And the firm’s mostly Republican executives opened up their wallets for her campaign.

During Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, Corning lobbied the department on a variety of trade issues, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The company has donated between $100,000 and $250,000 to her family’s foundation. And, last July, when it was clear that Clinton would again seek the presidency in 2016, Corning coughed up a $225,500 honorarium for Clinton to speak.

In the laundry-whirl of stories about Clinton buck-raking, it might be easy for that last part to get lost in the wash. But it’s the part that matters most. The $225,500 speaking fee didn’t go to help disease-stricken kids in an impoverished village on some long-forgotten patch of the planet. Nor did it go to a campaign account. It went to Hillary Clinton. Personally.

The latest episode in the Clinton money saga is different than the others because it involves the clear, direct personal enrichment of Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate, by people who have a lot of money at stake in the outcome of government decisions. Her federally required financial disclosure was released to media late Friday, a time government officials and political candidates have long reserved for dumping news they hope will have a short shelf life.

Together, Hillary and Bill Clinton cleared $25 million on the lecture circuit over the last 16 months, according to a Hillary Clinton’s personal financial disclosure required of presidential candidates. A lot of the focus will naturally go toward the political argument that Clinton’s wealth makes her out of touch. The US has had plenty of good rich presidents and bad rich presidents. What’s more important is whether they are able to listen to all of the various interests without being unduly influenced by any of them.

There’s a reason government officials can’t accept gifts: They tend to have a corrupting effect. True, Hillary Clinton wasn’t a government official at the time the money was given. But it is very, very, very hard to see six-figure speaking fees paid by longtime political boosters with interests before the government — to a woman who has been running for president since the last time she lost — as anything but a gift.

After further details he continued with a word for Democrats who are probably ignoring this, questioning not only Hillary Clinton’s ethics but her judgment:

By this point, most Clinton allies wish they had a button so they didn’t have to go to the trouble of rolling their eyes at each new Clinton money story. The knee-jerk eye-roll response to the latest disclosure will be that there’s nothing new to see here. But there’s something very important to see that is different than the past stories. This time, it’s about Hillary Clinton having her pockets lined by the very people who seek to influence her. Not in some metaphorical sense. She’s literally being paid by them.

That storyline should be no less shocking for the fact that it is no longer surprising. The skimpy fig leaf of timing, that the speeches were paid for when she was between government gigs, would leave Adam blushing. And while most Democrats will shrug it off — or at least pretend to — it’s the kind of behavior voters should take into account when considering whether they want to give a candidate the unparalleled power of the presidency. It goes to the most important, hardest-to-predict characteristic in a president: judgment.

Hopefully Democrats will wake up and choose a more ethical nominee, or we face the danger that scandals such as this will return a Republican to the White House in the general election. Besides, it hardly makes sense to compromise principles  and nominate Clinton when she has spent her career pursuing a socially conservative agenda along with her quasi-neoconservative foreign policy views. As Lawyers, Guns, & Money said earlier when these scandals were being revealed:

For progressives, all this is, to put it mildly, depressing. Working to get someone with Hillary Clinton’s political views elected would require a certain amount of nose-holding even if she and her husband were above reproach, ethically speaking.

Under the circumstances, a race between Clinton and, say, Scott Walker is going to be akin to trying to acquire a sprained ankle instead of a major heart attack.

Update: Clinton’s Unethical Behavior Has Already Been Well Established–And It Has Nothing To Do With The Right

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Russ Feingold Needed Back In The Senate

Russ Feingold has announced plans to attempt to win back the Senate seat he lost six years ago in the video above.

“People tell me all the time that our politics and Washington are broken. And that multi-millionaires, billionaires and big corporations are calling the shots,” Feingold says in the video. “They especially say this about the U.S. Senate, and it’s hard not to agree. But what are we going to do? Get rid of the Senate?

“Actually, no one I’ve listened to says we should throw in the towel and give up — and I don’t think that either,” he adds. “Instead, let’s fight together for change. That means helping to bring back to the U.S. Senate strong independence, bipartisanship and honesty.”

Feingold lost his seat in the Republican sweep of 2010, and is considered to have a better than even chance of winning it back in a presidential election year. It would be unusual in recent years for this to occur:

While Feingold is seen as a very strong candidate with perhaps better than even odds to pick up the seat he lost to Ron Johnson during the 2010 Republican tsunami, his return to the chamber would certainly be a rarity in the modern political era.

Smart Politics first reported in February that only two U.S. Senators have returned to the chamber after losing their seat at the ballot box since 1956.

The last U.S. Senator to be defeated at the ballot box and then later win an election back to the chamber was Washington Republican Slade Gorton

From the beginning of direct elections in 1913 until the mid-1950s, such comebacks were much more common, with 14 defeated ex-U.S. Senators winning back a seat in the chamber…

Feingold’s return to the Senate is very important for those of us who vote Democratic based upon issues such as civil liberties, opposition to unnecessary wars, campaign finance reform, and transparency in government. If Hillary Clinton should win the Democratic nomination as most expect, this would leave us with a choice of both a Democrat and most likely also a Republican who is very conservative on all of these issues. (The lone exception on these issues might be Ron Paul, but he has been flip-flopping to sound like a more conventional Republican).

Russ Feingold has battled with Clinton in the past, and he will hopefully be a strong voice in the Senate for liberalism as opposed to Clintonian conservatism. Feingold would also make a far better presidential candidate than Clinton, but it is understandable he would concentrate on winning back his Senate seat as opposed to an uphill battle for the presidential nomination.

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Clinton Scandals vs Deflategate, And Other Thoughts Of The Day

If we as a country were as concerned with political leaders following the rules as much as football teams, Hillary Clinton would be suspended for one-fourth of the primaries and the Clinton Foundation would face a hefty fine. To complete the analogy I’d throw in Clinton losing two Supreme Court picks, but the Supreme Court is the main reason I’d hold my nose and vote for Clinton over a Republican in the general election and hope that she doesn’t choose someone as conservative on civil liberties and social issues as she is.

Jeb Bush has previously been known as George’s younger, smarter brother. In light of his defense of the Iraq War with all we’ve learned, from now on the two will be known as Dumb and Dumber.

Verizon is buying AOL, which will make them a major force in the internet in 1987.

Rand Paul is threatening to filibuster the Patriot Act. Why is this coming from a Republican (even if one the rest of his party disagrees with) as opposed from Democrats? Ron Wyden is also talking about filibustering. I wish he would also challenge Clinton for the nomination.

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Major Party Debate Plans Do Not Sound Conducive To A Full Airing Of Issues

Democratic Debate

Both major political parties have announced plans for their debates, and some people are going to be unhappy. The Democrats will only have six debates, down significantly from 2008. Fewer debates make it more difficult for challengers to upset the presumptive frontrunner. There is also an exclusivity agreement this year preventing other organizations from hosting additional debates, as has occurred in the past. The proposed plans are seen as helping to protect Clinton from competition.

Martin O’Malley’s campaign has indicated displeasure with this plan:

“If Governor O’Malley decides to run, we will expect a full, robust, and inclusive set of debates — both nationally and in early primary and caucus states,” O’Malley spokesperson Lis Smith said Tuesday. “This has been customary in previous primary seasons. In a year as critical as 2016, exclusivity does no one any favors.”

There has been no comment yet from Bernie Sanders.

The Nation opposed this idea:

Wasserman Schultz and the Democrats should leave that sort of “control freakery” to Priebus and the Republicans. If several candidates decide to debate, particularly in a state that might not otherwise host a session, that’s to the good. If civil-rights or labor groups want to schedule forums and invite candidates, the contenders should not be able to use the excuse that they do not want to violate party rules.

The American political process features too few debates. And the ones that do take place are too controlled. The Democratic National Committee ought not be in the business of restricting options for additional debates. It should be encouraging more of them.

The big question are whether the format of the debates will protect Clinton from any serious challenge, and whether she will agree to answer questions at all. She has been mocked by the press recently for only taking seven questions since starting her campaign–and has avoided answering almost every one of them. If she had her way, she would probably have staged events with hand-picked “opponents” comparable to her staged events when campaigning in Iowa.

So far only Bernie Sanders has officially announced plans to run against Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb have indicated that they are considering runs. Joe Biden has said he will delay a decision until summer. Elizabeth Warren, who many Democrats are urging to enter the race, says she does not plan to run.

The Republicans have a unique problem in organizing their debates. It is estimated that there will be about sixteen or seventeen candidates, making it difficult for individual candidates to receive any meaningful amount of speaking time. It could be difficult to determine which candidates qualify for the debates, or limit the number, as with a field this large many candidates might only poll in single digits. Lacking much time for each candidate to speak. they might have to resort to a show of hands, as has sometimes been done as a part of  past debates. They could indicate by raising their hands whether they believe in evolution, climate change, and whether the earth is flat.

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Hillary Clinton’s Insufficient Repudiation Of Her Previous Right Wing Views On Crime And The Drug War

Hillary Clinton Crime Speech

The recent events in Baltimore, leading to the indictment of six police officers, have demonstrated the failure of the war on drugs and overly-aggressive police action. Hillary Clinton gave one of her typical speeches based upon the direction the wind is blowing, lacking details or any real sense of conviction, and failing to go far enough. It is a good thing that to some degree she her repudiated previous views, but for most opponents of the war on drugs and the Clinton’s right-wing approach to crime, this was too little and too late.  Jacob Sullum, who covers “the war on drugs from a conscientious objector’s perspective,” wrote Why Hillary Clinton Lacks Credibility On Criminal Justice Reform.

For critics who have long argued that our criminal justice system puts too many people behind bars for too long, Clinton’s words of outrage were welcome. But they were also hard to take seriously given her history on this issue. While condemning overincarceration, she glided over her own role in promoting it and exaggerated her efforts to correct it. She referred only obliquely to the war on drugs, which has played an important role in sending nonviolent offenders to prison. And three decades after the prison population began the dramatic climb that she now considers shameful, Clinton offered almost no specific ideas for reversing it, which makes her look like a dilettante compared to politicians in both major parties who have given the issue serious thought.

As first lady in the 1990s, Clinton was a cheerleader for the “tough on crime” policies that produced the “era of mass incarceration” she now condemns. “We need more police,” she said in a 1994 speech. “We need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders. The ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.” The Clinton administration gave us all that and more, bragging about building more prisons, locking up more people (including nonviolent offenders) for longer stretches, opposing parole, expanding the death penalty, putting more cops on the street, and implementing a “comprehensive anti-drug strategy.”

In a 2001 report, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) noted that Bill Clinton “stole the ‘get tough on crime’ show” from Republicans by “consistently support[ing] increased penalties and additional prison construction.” The highlight of his efforts was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which subsidized cops and prisons, restricted gun ownership, expanded the use of the death penalty, created new mandatory minimum sentences, and added to the list of federal crimes, which were already too numerous to count. Looking at the results of the crackdown that Clinton led at the federal level and encouraged at the state level, JPI dubbed him “the incarceration president.” The total prison population grew by 673,000 during Clinton’s eight years in office, compared to 448,000 during Ronald Reagan’s two terms. The number of federal prisoners doubled under Clinton, rising more than it did during the previous 12 years under his two Republican predecessors.

By the end of his second term, Clinton seemed to be having second thoughts about this incarceration binge. “We really need a reexamination of our entire policy on imprisonment,” he told Rolling Stone in October 2000. “There are tons of people in prison who are nonviolent offenders.” Seven years later, while seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton’s wife expressed similar qualms. “Mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate,” she said during a debate in June 2007, “but it has been too widely used.”

During another debate that December, Clinton was asked whether she regretted how “your husband’s crime bill…has affected the black community, or do you stand by that?” Both, apparently:

I think that the results not only at the federal level but at the state level have been an unacceptable increase in incarceration across the board, and now we have to address that….There were reasons why the Congress wanted to push through a certain set of penalties and increase prison construction, and there was a lot of support for that across a lot of communities because…the crime rate in the early ’90s was very high. And people were being victimized by crime in their homes, in their neighborhoods and their business. But we’ve got to take stock now of the consequences, so that’s why…I want to have a thorough review of all of the penalties.

As Dara Lind notes at Vox, Clinton nevertheless attacked her rival Barack Obama as soft on crime because he thought some of those penalties were too harsh. A month after Clinton decried “an unacceptable increase in incarceration,” her campaign tried to undermine Obama by citing his criticism of mandatory minimums.

Clinton’s position on her husband’s crime policies—that they were appropriate back then but maybe went a little overboard—rankles activists who were resisting the war on drugs when Bill Clinton was escalating it. Here is how Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, put it in a Huffington Post essay on Wednesday:

“Even as I rejoice at this outbreak of bipartisanship on a cause to which I’ve devoted my life, I must admit it also brings up feelings of anger and disappointment at the failure of Hillary Clinton, and other candidates, and so many other ostensible leaders to acknowledge that they were willing and even eager proponents of the very policies that produced America’s records-breaking rates of incarceration. The laws and policies we embraced back in the 1980s and 1990s, they’re all saying in one way or another, were the right thing at the time—but now we just need to roll them back now that times have changed.

“But the drug war policies of that era were never justifiable, and the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that they did far greater harm than good. No policy that results in the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and the highest in the history of democratic nations, is justifiable. And no policy that generated such devastating consequences for African American citizens and communities can or should ever be excused as a necessary response to the drug and crime problems a generation ago.”

Sullum noted Clinton’s lack of interest in reform as a Senator. I’d add that she was too busy collaborating with Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback, and others in The Fellowship. Instead of calling for reform of the criminal justice system, she was busy backing both the war in Iraq and the war  on drugs, and busy pushing to make flag burning a penalty and for censorship of video games. Of course it is not rare for Clinton, after years of being on the wrong side of an issue, to finally come around. Quite often she as learned from her mistakes, but not until long after the damage was done. While it is common for Clinton to be to the right of the Democratic Party, on this issue she is even to the right of some Republicans:

Clinton is late to this party, and endorsing reforms backed by Republicans such as Paul, Cruz, and Lee would highlight that fact. Paul’s office responded to her speech by noting that “Hillary Clinton [is] trying to undo some of the harm inflicted by the Clinton administration” and “is now emulating proposals introduced by Senator Rand Paul over the last several years.” The press release cited five criminal justice bills Paul already has introduced this session, addressing mandatory minimum sentencesasset forfeiturerestoration of felons’ voting rightsexpungement of criminal records, and police body cameras. “We welcome her to the fight,” it said.

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

Clinton Global Iniative

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

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

It hasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama Took On The Right At White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Obama White House Correspondents Dinner

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner has turned into a major event in recent years, and Barack Obama did a fine job. Among his jokes:

“For many Americans, this is still a time of deep uncertainty. I have one friend, just weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year, and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”

“Michele Bachmann predicted I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now that’s big. … Lincoln, Washington — they didn’t do that.”

On Bernie Sanders: “Apparently people really want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all.”

On Dick Cheney: “He thinks I’m the worst president of his lifetime, which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime.”

Cecily Strong, while not as good a comedian, as Barack Obama, did better in this situation than as anchor on SNL’s Weekend Update. She had a number of jokes about the media, from the number of prison documentaries on MSNBC to the nature of Fox’s audience: “Fox News has been losing a lot of viewers lately, and may they rest in peace.”

She was clearly backing Hillary Clinton but she did mention the email scandal: “Hillary Clinton said that she used her private email because she didn’t want to use more than two devices. Now if that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also one of the rules of the sex contract of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.'”

Obama’s expression of political views has received far more attention than Strong’s. On climate change: “Look at what’s happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day, and instead of doing anything about it, we’ve got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate! It is crazy! What about our kids?! What kind of stupid, short-sighted, irresponsible…”

Both conservative liberal blogs agreed that Obama was expressing liberal views in such jokes, but the spin was quite different. Power Line’s headline was Our Mean-Spirited President Cuts Loose. Ezra Klein put it differently (and more accurately): The joke was that Obama wasn’t joking.

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