Sanders and O’Malley Challenge Clinton On Foreign Policy And Economics In Second Democratic Debate

Democratic Debate 2

After failing to challenge Hillary Clinton in the first Democratic Debate, both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley put Clinton on the defensive in the second (transcript here). The added focus placed on the terrorist attacks might have played to the candidate who tries to sound the toughest on terrorism, but instead highlighted how (as I discussed  prior to the debate) it was Clinton’s neoconservative foreign policy views, which are essentially the same as George Bush’s, which led to the destabilization of the region and creation of ISIS. While Clinton admits that her vote for the Iraq war was a mistake, this does not get her off the hook for being one of the strongest advocates of going to war. She also demonstrated that she did not learn from her mistake in advocating greater military involvement in Syria and Libya.

Sanders did make a mistake in his opening statement, insisting on sticking with his planned concentration on economic matters rather than shifting to say more about the Paris terrorist  attacks as Clinton and O’Malley did. From there, both Sanders and O’Malley criticized Clinton’s policies, but sometimes appeared to pull back, failing to give the knock out punch before a partisan crowd invited by Clinton ally Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Sanders’ first major criticism of Clinton was blunted by John Dickerson asking him about his statement at the previous debate that “the greatest threat to national security was climate change.” This forced Sanders to defend his previous statement before getting to the more relevant point:

Absolutely. In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism. And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say you’re gonna see countries all over the world– this is what the C.I.A. says, they’re gonna be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops. And you’re gonna see all kinds of international conflict.

But of course international terrorism is a major issue that we’ve got to address today. And I agree with much of what– the secretary and– and the governor have said. Only have one area of– of disagreement with the secretary. I think she said something like, “The bulk of the responsibility is not ours.”

Well, in fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely. And led to the rise of Al Qaeda– and to– ISIS. Now, in fact, what we have got to do– and I think there is widespread agreement here– ’cause the United States cannot do it alone. What we need to do is lead an international coalition which includes– very significantly– (UNINTEL) nations in that region are gonna have to fight and defend their way of life.

In response to follow up questions, which made it clear that Sanders had opposed the invasion of Iraq and Clinton had been in favor of it, Sanders also said, “I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now. I think that was one of the worst foreign policy plunders in the modern history of United States.” He also discussed other attempts at regime change, concluding, “And that I am not a great fan of regime changes.” Meanwhile Hillary Clinton didn’t help her cause by quoting George W. Bush along with justifying her polices with neocon talking points.

John Heer at The New Republic summed up the danger Clinton is in with her conservative foreign policy views:

…for the first time in this election season, she’s being challenged by Democrats on foreign policy. That’s a very different dynamic than the Benghazi hearing, where the Republican focus on esoteric conspiracy theories made her look good. Against Sanders and O’Malley, she’s having to to defend something larger: her foreign policy vision, which led her to support the Iraq War and later made her a strong advocate for intervention in Libya and Syria. Sanders made a palpable hit by noting the problem with regime change as a policy goal. There are strong echoes here of Obama’s successful challenge of Hillary Clinton in 2008, where sharp differences in foreign policy visions defined the characters.

Clinton was doing so poorly on foreign policy that she had me wondering if she would next say that as president she would tell ISIS to cut it out, as she has said about Wall Street. Matters went from bad to worse for Clinton when the debate turned to her Wall Street ties. Sanders dismissed Clinton’s plans as “Not good enough.” He took a hard line against Wall Street with lines such as, “The business model of Wall Street is fraud.”

Martin O’Malley also put up a strong argument here, saying, “I believe that we actually need some new economic thinking in the White House.” He differentiated himself from Clinton in saying, “I won’t be taking my orders from Wall Street” and dismissing Clinton’s policies as “weak tea.”

Clinton 911 and gender cards

Clinton totally fell apart in trying to respond, relying on both the 9/11 and gender cards, even if these made no sense in this context. Chris Cillizza called this one of “a few verbal and/or policy mistakes that will likely haunt her in the days to come.” Glenn Thrush wrote that, “Wall Street is Hillary Clinton’s golden albatross” and further described her off the wall defenses:

Hillary said something really cray-cray. The pressure of the dual Sanders-O’Malley attack on Clinton’s Wall Street connections prompted her to say one of the craziest things she’s uttered in public during this campaign or any other. When Sanders acidly pointed out that Clinton has raked in millions from the wealthy executives at Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, she riposted with a clever reference to gender politics: “You know, not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small, and I’m very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60%.”

Cool. But things got weird. Even though Bill Clinton had close ties to Wall Street (his Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin would go on to become head of Citigroup) and financial sector’s donors ponied up plenty of cash for her 2000 New York Senate run, she claimed that the main reason bankers have flocked to her cause is – wait for it – because of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. “So I— I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked,” she said, as the moderators from CBS gaped, gob-smacked. “Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”

Needless to say, the remark – delivered in her emphatic shout-voice — raised eyebrows 24 hours after the terror attacks in Paris killed more than 120 people. And it’s not likely to go away…

Alexandra Petri pointed out that she didn’t even play the gender and 9/11 cards all that well:

The only trouble with the Card Playing answer that you have to be a little bit subtle when you deliver this answer or else people will notice what you are doing and their sympathy will evaporate like morning dew and they will say things like “The woman card AND the 9/11 card, wow!”

In fact, later in the evening, a follow-up — from Twitter, no less — (out of the mouths of eggs!) commented: “I’ve never seen a candidate invoke 9/11 to justify millions of Wall Street donations until now.”

Clinton was widely criticized on Facebook and Twitter for these comments, with many women being offended over Clinton’s use of the gender card, and many Democrats objecting to her use of 9/11. Some of the Twitter responses on her use of the 9/11 card were listed here. Clinton is not likely to live down this moment, with a Clinton response when in trouble now likely to be defined as a noun, a verb, a gender reference, and 9/11.

Sanders also had one of the better lines of the evening when he pointed out how we have had much higher marginal tax rates in the past. He said, “I’m not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower.” In reality we are not seeing more affluent Democrats avoiding Sanders out of fear of higher tax rates with a recent poll showing Sanders doing the best among Democrats earning over $100,000 per year.

John Dickerson, who did an excellent job as moderator, challenged the manner in which Clinton has been attacking Sanders’ record on guns by distorting their records. He asked, “Secretary Clinton, you’ve said that Senator Sanders is not tough enough on guns. But basically he now supports roughly the same things you do. So can you tell us some of the exact differences going forward between the two of you on the issue of gun control?” He challenged the idea of attacking Sanders based upon a single vote:


Secretary Clinton just a quick follow up, you say that– Senator Sanders took a vote that– on immunity that you don’t like. So if he can be tattooed by a single vote and that ruins all future– opinions by him on this issue, why then is he right when he says you’re wrong vote on Iraq tattoos you for offering your judgment?


I– I said I made a mistake on Iraq. And I would love to see Senator Sanders join with some of my colleagues– in the senate that I– see in the audience, let’s reverse the immunity. Let’s let’s go to the gun makers and tell– on notice that they’re not gonna get away with it.

In reality Sanders had more than a single vote which gun control advocates could disagree with, but far more votes in favor of gun control than his opponents give him credit for. However, Clinton’s support for the Iraq war, along with her continued support for increased military action, is hardly comparable. Sanders has a record of generally supporting gun control, while Clinton has a record of generally supporting military intervention. As I asked during my comments on the debate on Facebook, “If Hillary Clinton hates guns so much, why does she want to send people off to more wars with guns?”

Martin O’Malley pointed out how many times Clinton has flip-flopped on the gun issue:

But Secretary Clinton, you’ve been on three sides of this. When you ran in 2000 you said that we needed federal robust regulations. Then in 2008 you were portraying yourself as Annie Oakley and saying that we don’t need those regulation on the federal level. And now you’re coming back around here. So John, there’s a big difference between leading by polls and leading with principle.

Clinton’s flip-flopping on gun control can be seen in an excerpt from a debate back in 2008 which I quoted extensively here.

Sanders and O’Malley did fail to contradict other statements where Clinton dodged and distorted the truth. They let her get away with using her Benghazi testimony as evidence she can withstand further damage from the FBI inquiry into her personal email server. However Benghazi and the alleged mishandling of classified information under investigation by the FBI are two different matters. Her violations of new transparency requirements instituted under Obama in 2009 is yet another issue independent of Benghazi, and something which Sanders and O’Malley should hold Clinton accountable for.

Sanders also let Clinton get away with totally distorting what a single payer plan is. When she expressed regrets that everything would not be run from the federal government, she had me wondering if she even understands how Medicare is currently run by several intermediaries which typically are responsible for a handful of states, or how Medicaid is currently run by the states.  While Sanders didn’t correct Clinton’s distortions, he did make his principles on universal health care clear in saying, “I want to end the international embarrassment of the United States of America being the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right and not a privilege.”

Clinton also had a rather absurd response to Sanders’ plan for paying for college tuition in saying, “I disagree with free college for everybody. I don’t think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump’s kids to college.” That makes no more sense than saying we should not provide free education for kindergarten through twelfth grade so that we don’t send Donald Trump’s kids to school. Plus, as Karoli pointed out at Crooks’s And Liars:

Honestly, I don’t want to pay for Donald Trump’s kids to go to school either, but I also doubt any of them would go to school at a public university anyway, so we won’t have to worry about that…So let’s not worry about Donald Trump’s kids and just focus on the majority of kids and parents out there who are going way too far into debt to get educated. There must be a better way.

Sanders and O’Malley further criticized Clinton in their closing comments. Sanders once again called for “a political revolution” and O’Malley echoed the same idea in saying, “will not solve our nation’s problems by resorting to the divisive ideologies of our past or by returning to polarizing figures from our past.” Earlier O’Malley accused Clinton of supporting crony capitalism and I wonder when he will run an ad quoting Clinton as saying “I come from the ’60s, a long time ago.” We are also likely to see this line repeated (if she wins the nomination) should a younger Republican, such as Marco Rubio, be her opponent.

O’Malley did quit well during the debate but Sanders once again dominated the on line buzz on Facebook and Twitter, along with winning the non-scientific online polls. The bigger question is whether showing the stark contrasts between his views and Clinton’s will remind Democratic voters that the same reasons Obama challenged Clinton in 2008 still hold. Mark Halparin pointed out in discussing Sanders,  “If he improves this much again by the next debate, Clinton could have a real problem.” Unfortunately far too few people watched a debate which Debbie Wasserman Schultz scheduled on a Saturday night to minimize viewership. The scheduling of the next debate is even worse (unless the goal is to protect Hillary Clinton from criticism), occurring on the Saturday night before Christmas.

Update: The New York Times has an op-ed entitled Hillary Clinton Botches Wall Street Questions

Middle-class Americans associate Wall Street with the 2008 meltdown of the economy that cost so many their homes and savings. In the debate Mrs. Clinton repeatedly referred to her plan for reining in banks, but offered precious few specifics. This is what happens when Hillary Clinton the candidate gets complacent. The debate moderator, Mr. Dickerson, had even tipped her off before a commercial break that the next topic was Wall Street.

Her effort to tug on Americans’ heartstrings instead of explaining her Wall Street ties — on a day that the scars of 9/11 were exposed anew — was at best botched rhetoric. At worst it was the type of cynical move that Mrs. Clinton would have condemned in Republicans.

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NSA Increases Credibility Gap With Latest Claims About Edward Snowden

The documents released by Edward Snowden have already demonstrated that the government has lied to the American people, and to our representatives in Congress, regarding violations of the law and the Constitution in conducting surveillance of American citizens following 9/11. Just as the attack was used by the Bush administration to launch the war in Iraq based upon lies, the attack was also used to greatly expand government surveillance in an atmosphere where there was too little scrutiny of government actions. There have been a lot of side issues raised to try to distract from these real issues. The latest such side issue raised by the NSA actually casts even more doubt on their credibility.

The government is denying claims made by Edward Snowden since he first became known publicly that he had first tried unsuccessfully to complain about these abuses internally. They are doing this based upon releasing a  single email he had sent in April 2013 which did not raise major concerns. Here is a portion of Snowden’s response:

The NSA’s new discovery of written contact between me and its lawyers – after more than a year of denying any such contact existed – raises serious concerns. It reveals as false the NSA’s claim to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in December of last year, that “after extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities – such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies – are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.

If the White House is interested in the whole truth, rather than the NSA’s clearly tailored and incomplete leak today for a political advantage, it will require the NSA to ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA’s improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities. It will not take long to receive an answer.

Ultimately, whether my disclosures were justified does not depend on whether I raised these concerns previously. That’s because the system is designed to ensure that even the most valid concerns are suppressed and ignored, not acted upon. The fact that two powerful Democratic Senators – Ron Wyden and Mark Udall – knew of mass surveillance that they believed was abusive and felt constrained to do anything about it underscores how futile such internal action is — and will remain — until these processes are reformed.

Still, the fact is that I did raise such concerns both verbally and in writing, and on multiple, continuing occasions – as I have always said, and as NSA has always denied. Just as when the NSA claimed it followed German laws in Germany just weeks before it was revealed that they did not, or when NSA said they did not engage in economic espionage a few short months before it was revealed they actually did so on a regular and recurring basis, or even when they claimed they had “no domestic spying program” before we learned they collected the phone records of every American they could, so too are today’s claims that “this is only evidence we have of him reporting concerns” false.

Considering all the evidence that has been released of dishonesty on the part of the NSA and its defenders, I find Snowden’s statements that he had raised concerns about NSA activities to sound far more credible than the current NSA claim that this suddenly discovered email constitutes his sole complaint.

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Republican Benghazi Truthers Go Wild In Preparation For Midterm Elections

What do the Republicans do when the Affordable Care Act is exceeding expectations, their latest  lies have been exposed, and there are no real scandals for them to attack with? Benghazi. Sure it has been investigated over and over again with nothing coming up, but that doesn’t matter. Politics, especially in a year with a midterm election, is all about firing up the base to get out to vote, and we know the Republican base doesn’t care about facts. They have a new email which adds nothing new to the story, but that is apparently enough for John Boehner to call for yet another investigation. Or as Paul Waldman put it, The GOP hunt for a Watergate-scale scandal continues (even though there is nothing there).

David Weigel reported on the “shocking” news that the email showed that the White House agreed with the CIA talking points.

But it’s just lazy journalism or lazy politicking to blame Rhodes for a talking point that was fed from the CIA. The White House’s shifty-sounding excuse, that the “demonstration” story line came not from its spin factory but from the CIA, remains surprisingly accurate. (And I mean really lazy. It does not take very much time to compare the new Rhodes email to the previously known timeline of emails.)

From there Weigel presented a time line which you might want to go through to help put all this nonsense into perspective.

Peter Weber at The Week tried to find an actual crime which the Republicans might be accusing Obama of:

If the crime is that the Obama administration, two months before a presidential election, was concerned with putting the best face on the attack, Team Obama is probably guilty. But the emails do not suggest that the administration lied to the American public, let alone orchestrated a vast cover-up of some massive intelligence or policy failure.

Maybe they need a new committee to investigate as Darrel Issa’s witch hunt is falling apart.

If Congress really wants to investigate preventable deaths of Americans, they can look at how George Bush ignored intelligence briefings warning about the 9/11 attack, and then responded by sending more Americans to their death in the Iraq war based upon lies. Rather than dwelling further on Susan Rice, they might look at how Condoleezza Rice lied when she denied receiving the anti-terrorist strategy from the Clinton administration. They could look at previous embassy attacks under Republican presidents, including the over 320 Americans who died in embassy attacks under Ronald Reagan or question why Republicans cut funding for embassy security.

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Republican Extremism Gives Democrats The Edge

Jonathan Chait looked at demographic and political trends to consider whether the trend towards the Democratic Party is likely to continue. Much of what he wrote is a recap of the conventional wisdom these days, with some disagreeing. He considered multiple factors including the tendency of the young and minorities to vote Democratic. To some degree this could be offset by an increased trend for white voters to vote Republican out of a backlash against the increase in minorities. While Democrats are expected to dominate in presidential elections, there certainly can be exceptions if there is a major occurrence favoring Republicans as the party out of power. Plus Republicans should continue to maintain a sizable portion of Congress due to the higher turnout among Republicans in off year elections as well as structural advantages in each House. Republicans have an advantage in the House of Representatives due to gerrymandering and the greater concentration of Democrats in urban areas, giving Democrats victories by larger margins in a smaller number of states. Republicans have an advantage in the Senate due to smaller Republican states having the same number of Senators as the larger Democratic states. Republicans therefore have a reasonable chance of controlling each House, or come close as is now the case in the Senate, despite a larger number of people voting for Democrats to represent them.

The key point which gives us our status quo, and gives the Democrats the edge, is that the Republican Party is now firmly in the hands of a radical fringe which will always have difficulty winning a national election, but which is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future:

My belief, of which I obviously can’t be certain, is that conservatism as we know it is doomed. I believe this because the virulent opposition to the welfare state we see here is almost completely unique among major conservative parties across the world. In no other advanced country do leading figures of governing parties propose the denial of medical care to their citizens or take their ideological inspiration from crackpots like Ayn Rand. America’s unique brand of ideological anti-statism is historically inseparable (as I recently argued) from the legacy of slavery. Whatever form America’s polyglot majority ultimately takes, it is hard to see the basis for its attraction to an ideology sociologically rooted in white supremacy.

Jonathan Bernstein sees the United States as remaining more of a 50:50 nation as in 2000, also citing George Bush’s victory over John Kerry in 2004. However the Democratic advantage in the electoral college has increased tremendously since 2000 when George W. Bush was able to come in a close enough second to take the presidency due to irregularities in Florida and a friendly Supreme Court. This victory in 2000, along with the 9/11 attack, gave Bush, as an incumbent during time of war, an edge which future Republican candidates are unlikely to enjoy.

The current political divisions won’t last in their current form forever. At sometime there is likely to be a major event which shakes up the current divisions. Chait noted that this might have been the 9/11 attack if the Republicans hadn’t squandered their political advantages by their disastrous invasion of Iraq. I would add to that being on the wrong side of far too many other issues prevented the Republicans from becoming a long-term majority party.

Most likely at some point in the future the far right will lose their grasp on the Republican Party as those who actually want to be able to win an election eventually regain control. Perhaps this will come as a newer generation rejects the most extreme ideas of the current conservative movement. If the Republicans don’t change, eventually a third party might challenge them, as difficult as it is for third parties to compete in our current political system. We might also see the Republicans persisting in their current form as a southern regional party as others battle for political control in the rest of the country.

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John Hagee Sees Russian Invasion Of Ukraine As Fulfillment Of Biblical Prophesy On The End Times

There is a tendency in any crisis to find analogies to similar events. It is inevitable that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will bring back memories of previous wars in Europe, especially the Cold War and Nazi Germany. While still not how we want borders drawn in the 21st century, and a clear violation of international law, even if Russia were to annex Crimea on the pretext of a popular vote, this would not be the same as the Soviet Union invading Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. There are certainly some comparisons which could be made, but Hillary Clinton was right to walk back her comparison to Nazi Germany.

Commentary on the Ukrainian crisis has varied. I have previously linked to some of the better commentary here and here. We have hysterical Republicans trying to place the blame on Obama, as they do with everything which happens in the world. Politico is more reasonable today in pointing out Why the Cold War isn’t back. Among the nuttiest commentary came from John Hagee (video above) who has for a long time found Biblical references to the Soviet Union and now Russia. He sees the Russian invasion of Ukraine as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and that we are now in the End Times. Hagee has previously seen events including the 9/11 attack, the 2008 financial breakdown and Katrina as part of God’s judgment.  Hagee also believes that God created the United States and the Constitution, views recently repeated by Tom DeLay.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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The Past Week In Conservative Stupidity

Over a year ago Bobby Jindal warned that Republicans “must stop being the stupid party.” They have not been doing particularly well at following his advice. To extrapolate this to the conservative movement, this week provided two more examples of what can only be labeled as stupidity dominating conservative conversation–the intentional misinterpretation of the Congressional Budget Office report on the Affordable Care Act and reaction to Olympic coverage from Russia.

This is not to say that all conservatives believe these things or are stupid. However, the prevalence of stupidity does seem to have increased tremendously in the conservative movement and Republican Party in recent years. Even ignoring the easy targets such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, the caliber of conservative discourse generally seen today is far different from what came from past conservatives such as William F. Buckely, Jr., who also fought to keep the Birchers and other predecessors of today’s Tea Party out of the GOP. Barry Goldwater might have many views which liberals find objectionable, but he also warned about what would happen if the religious right took control of the Republican Party. Even Ronald Reagan was not so foolish as to oppose any tax increase or to prevent increases in the debt ceiling to allow the Unites States to honor its debts.

It is understandable that some conservatives might have been misled by the initial headlines on the report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Many journalists, overly influenced by conservative arguments and lacking adequate understanding of health care policy, initially were inaccurate in their coverage. Once the report was more fully evaluated, it was clear that the CBO report actually showed that there is no evidence of an increase in unemployment due to the Affordable Care Act as Republicans had been predicting would occur.  Instead the portions of the report on employment showed that Obamacare was projected to be successful in one of its goals--saving people from the “insurance trap.”

Until the Affordable Care Act came into effect many people continued in jobs they did not want because they would be unable to obtain health insurance if they left their current job. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance is no longer tied to employment. Now people are free to retire at an earlier age if they desire, instead of waiting until age 65 when they qualify for Medicare. They are also free to leave large corporations to work for small businesses, or perhaps even start a business of their own. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct. This can help boost the economy.

While an initial mistake regarding this might have been unintentional, there has subsequently been many corrections. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post,  corrected errors in reporting in writing, “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs”.  Kessler concluded with saying, “we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong.” also corrected the misconceptions.

As some people leave jobs they no longer want or need, their jobs can open up for others. In testimony before the House Budget Committee, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf confirmed that the CBO report suggests the Affordable Care Act will reduce unemployment. Even Paul Ryan corrected fellow Republicans on this point. Besides reducing unemployment, the CBO report showed that, while Republicans had been demanding an end to the risk corridors in order to agree to an increase in the debt limit, the risk corridors actually wind up saving the government eight billion dollars. The CBO projects a deficit of $514 billion in 2014, representing three percent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is down from 2009 when deficit was at 10.1 percent of GDP, and more in line with the average size of the deficit compared to GDP over the past forty years.

Conservatives are rarely willing to give up on their criticism of the Affordable Care Act even when contradicted by the facts. They continue to repeat fallacious arguments about death panels or their false claim that Obamacare constitutes a government takeover of health care. Finding that those who received cancellation notices from insurance companies generally received better coverage at a lower price under the Affordable Care Act did not end their claims of people supposedly losing their insurance under Obamacare.

Conservatives remain unwilling to give up the argument about people leaving their jobs, spinning it to suggest that the Affordable Care Act encourages people to be lazy parasites on society instead of working, ignoring the actual types of people this is likely to affect. Conservatives have been presenting “horror stories” of people allegedly harmed by the Affordable Care Act which typically turn out to be untrue once the details are examined. Finally we are seeing newspaper reports emphasizing the positive aspect of freeing people from the “insurance trap.”

While conservative columnists such as Ross Douthat fear that Obamacare will lead to a “strong work disincentive while looking at a population of childless, able-bodied, mostly working-class adults,” these are not the type of people I am seeing as benefiting by freedom from the “insurance trap.” If the health care debate is turning into one of anecdotal cases, I’m thinking of an affluent friend who, because of health history, cannot obtain insurance on the individual market so his wife has been working full time in a job purely for the health insurance, even though they have no need for the income beyond the benefits. I have a patient who was left without insurance when her husband retired in his early sixties and then struggled to pay her medical bills. As of January she finally has comprehensive coverage she can afford. These are the types of people who are benefiting from the supposed disincentive to work under Obamacare.

In theory there is a risk that “able-bodied, mostly working-class adults” might have less incentive to work, but I hardly think that providing affordable health care is enough to do this on a widespread level. Far more able-bodied adults are not working because jobs are not available. Besides making more jobs available, the Affordable Care Act can help relieve this problem in another way. In addition to freeing people to retire in their early sixties or leave jobs held solely for the insurance, people will be able to start small businesses without losing health insurance. In Republican-speak, this should also be beneficial to the economy due to making more “job creators.” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote about projections for an increase in entrepreneurship and self-employment last May. The CBO report confirms that they were correct, and to a greater degree than previously projected.

Conservatives were wrong about this argument, and now appear stupid, and dishonest, when they continue to repeat the same mistakes. I spent more space on this first example than intended, but in retrospect this is an important point which deserves repeated explanations as long as conservatives are claiming that this positive aspect of the Affordable Care Act is somehow undesirable.

The second example is bizarre outrage from the right wing over the video below which comes from NBC’s coverage of the Olympic games:

Their objection is to this line: “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

This is being spun by right wing bloggers as praise for Communism, including by FoxMarco Rubio, along with other conservatives commenting, does not appear to understand what pivotal means. The word refers to points which are critical or vitally important. The Russian Revolution was a pivotal point in their history, along with the history of the world. Similarly, Hitler’s rise to power was a pivotal moment. Both 9/11 and Katrina were pivotal moments during the Bush years.  The computer problems during the first month of the exchanges has unfortunately become a pivotal moment for the Obama administration. The word pivotal says nothing about whether the events were good or bad.

This was one line in a video narrated by Peter Dinklage as introduction to NBC’s sports coverage of the Olympics. If this was a political documentary we would expect information on the horrors of communism. This is unnecessary, and probably out of place, in sports coverage, especially if they desire to be polite and avoid criticism of the host country over a political system which has been overthrown (even if the current regime is repeating many of the same mistakes as under Communism).

I suspect this is outrage is partially motivated by the desire of conservatives to falsely paint liberals as socialists or Communists, such as with the absurd claims that a moderate such as Barack Obama is a socialist. To the conservative mind, the mainstream media represents liberals, especially when they fail to differentiate the evening commentary shows on MSNBC from the rest of NBC. There are rare examples, such as the absurd argument I noted a couple of weeks ago at Salon to nationalize the news media, but putting aside such outliers, there no meaningful interest in Marxist-style socialism or Communism on the left. In contrast, I would think that today’s Republicans would love modern Russia. Between its homophobia and substitution of a plutocracy for a working market economy, Russia has become an example of the end-result of the Republican platform.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Democratic Strategy For 2014: Get Out The Vote But Don’t Ignore The Message

This should be a bad year for Democrats if we go by historical trends. The party holding the presidency typically loses Congressional seats in their sixth year. It makes matters worse when their are economic problems, even if many people do realize that they are primarily due to a combination of problems created by the Bush administration and problems perpetuated by Republican actions to hinder economic recovery in Congress.

Making matters worse, the Democrats have to defend Senate seats in red states, including states where incumbent Democrats are not running for reelection. Democrats do worse in off year elections, when young voters and minorities are less likely to vote compared to presidential elections. Republicans also have a huge advantage in a system where small Republican states receive as many Senators as far larger Democratic states. Their advantage extends to the house. Between gerrymandering and the higher concentration of Democrats in cities. Republican will still control Congress unless Democrats receive about seven percent more votes.

On top of this, Republicans see voter suppression as a valid electoral strategy.

Democrats did much better in 2008 and 2012 than in 2010. They also expect to do much better in 2016, including picking up several Senate seats due to the playing field being reversed with Republicans being forced to defend Senate seats in blue states. The Democrats see the solution as making 2014 more like 2012. Their strategy:

The Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

A campaign based upon getting out the vote isn’t terribly exciting, but it is a realization that this is how elections are won in this polarized era. There aren’t very many swing voters, but there can be huge differences between which party does better in getting their supporters out to vote.

Besides, a high tech get out the vote campaign and an old fashioned campaign to try to sway voters are not mutually exclusive. I do hope that the Democrats also think about better ways to get out their message as the Republicans often win by doing a better job here. Sure the Republican message is pure lies, claiming to be the party of small government while supporting increased government intrusion in the lives of individuals, and primarily using big government to redistribute wealth to the top one tenth of one percent.

Democrats need a coherent message, but they often fail because they are afraid of alienating some voters by saying what they believe in. I suspect that this cowardice turns off even more voters, along with reducing the motivation of their supporters to turn out. Once again, a campaign based upon promoting ideas and one based upon voter turnout are not mutually exclusive. They can be complimentary.

Rather than shying away from social issues, Democrats need to campaign as the party which supports keeping government out of our personal lives and out of the bedroom.

Rather than running away from the Affordable Car e Act, Democrats need to stress its benefits. Beyond all the millions who are assisted by the ability to obtain affordable health coverage, there are the two million people who are freed from the “insurance trap” which forces them to work in jobs they do not otherwise want or need in order to obtain health insurance. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has shown, the Affordable Care Act will help reduce unemployment, decease the deficit, and strengthen the economy. Besides, we saw what happened to the Democrats when they tried running away from Obamacare in 2010.

In recent years Democrats have taken national security away from Republicans as an issue. If the Republicans want to run on their debunked conspiracy theories about Benghazi, it might be time for Democrats to remind voters of the very real failings of Republicans on 9/11, from ignoring warnings before the attack to invading the wrong country in retaliation. We saw how that turned out. It is also time for Democrats to take additional issues from the Republicans.

Challenge voters who support Republicans based upon misinformation. If they are concerned about the deficit, point out how much the deficit has dropped under Obama (as it previously dropped under Bill Clinton). Repeatedly we see polls in which voters support liberal positions but identify themselves as conservatives. They say the oppose Obamacare but also support most of the individual components of the Affordable Care Act. The only way to fight the misinformation spread by Fox is for Democrats to clearly say what they believe in and defend their positions.

Democrats are planning to run on income inequality. That is fine, but they better make sure that they make it clear that the reason is that the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top one tenth of one percent is a major cause of crippling the economy and keeping down the middle class. Failure to make this connection just plays into Republican memes.

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Wingnuts Say The Darndest Things: Michele Bachmann on 9/11 Pray

“It’s no secret that our nation may very well be experiencing the hand of judgment. It’s no secret that we all are concerned that our nation may be in a time of decline. If that is in fact so, what is the answer? The answer is what we are doing here today: humbling ourselves before an almighty God, crying out to an almighty God, saying not of ourselves but you, would you save us oh God? We repent of our sins, we turn away from them, we seek you, we seek your ways. That’s something that we’re doing today, that we did on the National Day of Prayer, it’s something that we have chosen to do as well on another landmark day later this year on September 11. Our nation has seen judgment not once but twice on September 11. That’s why we’re going to have ‘9/11 Pray’ on that day. Is there anything better that we can do on that day rather than to humble ourselves and to pray to an almighty God?” —Michele Bachmann

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Bipartisan Report On Torture After 9/11

In case anyone still had any doubt that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be tried as war criminals, a bipartisan report confirms the long-standing criticism of torture being used under them:

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.

Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.

While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.

It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.

But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.

The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules; all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.

In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.

The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees.

Mr. Hutchinson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he said he had no doubts about what the United States did.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. He said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.

“But I just think we learn from history,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

He added, “The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”

The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions. It questions recidivism figures published by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Guantánamo detainees who have been released, saying they conflict with independent reviews.

Many on the right justified these actions belieing they were necessary for our national security. Therefore I will repeat the line above which points out:  The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.


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Polling Belief In Conspiracy Theories

Public Policy Polling found that a substantial number of Americans believe in some conspiracy theories, but fortunately not many believe that lizard people are secretly taking power. The most significant finding related to current public policy is that a large majority of Republicans believe global warming is a hoax. A significant number of Republicans still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Here is a summary of their findings:

–          37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at  41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax

–          6% of voters believe Osama bin Laden is still alive

–          21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up. More Romney voters (27%) than Obama voters (16%) believe in a UFO coverup

–          28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.  A plurality of Romney voters (38%) believe in the New World Order compared to 35% who don’t

–          28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.  36% of Romney voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, 41% do not

–          20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not

–          7% of voters think the moon landing was faked

–          13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22% of Romney voters

–          Voters are split 44%-45% on whether Bush intentionally misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 72% of Democrats think Bush lied about WMDs, Independents agree 48-45, just 13% of Republicans think so

–          29% of voters believe aliens exist

–          14% of voters say the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic in America’s inner cities in the 1980’s

–          9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health)

–          4% of voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power

–          51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone

–          14% of voters believe in Bigfoot

–          15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (the so-called Tinfoil Hat crowd)

–          5% believe exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons

–          15% of voters think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry “invent” new diseases to make money

–          Just 5% of voters believe that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966

–          11% of voters believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen, 78% do not agree

Most of these beliefs are ridiculous, but a few do not really relate to conspiracy theories. Question 10 is “Do you believe aliens exist, or not?” The  question is regarding their existence (not whether they are visiting our planet) and, while we don’t know for certain, most likely there is life on some other planets, and therefore there aliens probably do exist.

Question 18 depends upon how it is interpreted: “Do you believe that the pharmaceutical  industry is in league with the medical industry
to ‘invent’ new diseases in order to make money, or not?” If you consider the marketing tactics used by drug companies. the National Institute of Health is promoting this “conspiracy theory.”

Question 9 is “Do you believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to promote the Iraq War, or not?” The Bush administration was making statements which were blatantly untrue and which knowledgeable people at the time realized were false.  This leaves two possibilities. Either George Bush and people in his administration were utterly incompetent or they were lying. There is also good reason, based upon his actual statements and actions, that Bush had desired to invade Iraq even before 9/11, and used 9/11 as justification.  Granted there is no way to know for sure which is the explanation, but it is hardly believing in a conspiracy theory to believe that dishonesty is a more likely explanation for what occurred than the degree of incompetence necessary to rule out dishonesty. (This is not the same as believing that the Bush administration faked or was behind the 9/11 attack.)

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