Civil Liberties Groups Urge Obama To Curtail Government Surveillance Following Trump Victory

trump-constitution

After the revelations of NSA surveillance my concern, along with others such as Daniel Ellsberg, was not that we were already in an Orwellian totalitarian state, but that the infrastructure for a police state was being developed. In 2013 Ellsberg warned:

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

Civil libertarians now fear another development which risks the progression to a police state–the election of Donald Trump. Even those who trusted Obama with these powers recognize the dangers of abuse under Trump. Politico reports:

Tech and civil liberties advocates are imploring the Obama administration to rein in the government’s massive surveillance apparatus before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, fearful he will carry out his campaign promises to register Muslims, spy on mosques and punish companies that offer Americans unbreakable encryption.

But many national security experts and former administration officials say the effort is almost certainly doomed to fail. “I don’t know how you tie the king’s hands in just the weeks going out,” said Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama.

And some civil libertarians blame Democrats for being too content to allow President Barack Obama to wield the sweeping, post-Sept. 11 surveillance powers he inherited from George W. Bush, rather than rolling them back so that no future president could use them.

“We shouldn’t be relying on the benevolence of the leaders put in power after an election to ensure that people’s privacy and civil liberties are protected,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“You have a situation where the executive branch has control of a surveillance apparatus that is unparalleled in history,” said Trevor Timm, a surveillance critic and head of the activist group Freedom of the Press Foundation. “And because the Obama administration either retained the right to use a lot of these unprecedented powers, or expanded them, they are now in the hands of somebody who many people consider to be a madman.”

…Hoping to head Trump off, civil liberties, digital rights and watchdog groups are pleading with Obama to take a series of actions to weaken the surveillance state. Those include releasing classified inspector general reports and the secret legal rationales behind the government’s spying efforts, which could help advocates challenge Trump in court. Some also urged Obama’s team to purge the NSA’s databases of some of the information they hoover up, wiping out reams of data that are focused on foreigners but incidentally drag in details on an unknown number of Americans.

Thirty advocacy groups banded together this week in a letter telling Obama to take action, writing: “No less than our shared legacy of a vibrant democratic government is at stake.”

…Obama came into office vowing to “revisit” many of these powers, but privacy advocates believe he has largely failed to do so. While the president has regularly spoken about the need for greater checks and public oversight of the system, he has defended the powers themselves.

“This may go down in history as President Obama’s most consequential mistake,” Timm said.

Civil libertarians have been concerned about the danger of abuses under Donald Trump, but the degree of government surveillance placed civil liberties at risk regardless of whether Trump was elected. Other than for Trump’s xenophobia, Hillary Clinton’s views on civil liberties and the surveillance state are not all that different from those of Donald Trump.

There is one benefit to Trump as opposed to Clinton winning–Democrats will be far more likely to protest abuses under Trump than they would protest abuses from Clinton. Many partisan Democrats have been whitewashing her record and excusing her extremely conservative views on First Amendment rights. Those of us who protested the growth of the surveillance state under both Bush and Obama were often ignored by Democrats when Obama was president and they thought he would be succeeded by Clinton. The election of Donald Trump is opening more eyes to the danger of such powers in the hands of the president.

Creating A State Of Perpetual Warfare

Orwell Continuous War

The Orwellian aspects of our foreign policy have been apparent to its opponents for quite a while. Former CIA officer Barry Eisler did not mention Orwell in an article on perpetual warfare at Boing Boing but either he was considering several aspects of warfare in 1984 or came to similar views as Orwell independently. Some excerpts:

If you were the government and wanted to maintain a state of perpetual war, how would you go about it?

First, you’d need an enemy, of course, but that part would be pretty straightforward. After all, if the US government could convince the citizenry that Iraq was the 9/11 enemy but that Saudi Arabia was our friend when nineteen out of the twenty 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, it’s fair to say that just about anything is possible.

But the next part would be harder. On the one hand, you’d have to claim progress in the war so that the citizenry would maintain its support for the war. On the other hand, you couldn’t actually defeat the enemy, lest the war end.

Eisler here was referring to the latest in a long string of news reports on a significant victory, such as killing a key member of ISIS, while nothing actually changes.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that according to the Pentagon, we’ve achieved yet another concrete War on Terror victory, while according to American officials and counterterrorism specialists, outright victory is still intangible and elusive. Maybe it’s a coincidence that this narrative is precisely the one a team of social scientists would devise if tasked to come up with something that would maintain indefinite support for a never-ending war.

But it would be foolish not to at least wonder. War is awful for almost everyone. But for a few narrow factions, there’s a lot of money to be made and power to be accrued. You could even go out on a limb and argue that war is a racket.

While in 1984,”We‘ve always been at war with Eastasia” the enemy does periodically change. Eisler points out that this could be happening with our perpetual war:

If you were really clever, you’d probably want a backup enemy–a Plan B in case the current enemy du jour were ever somehow actually defeated. In which regard, maybe it’s a coincidence that we are now being told we are now in a new cold war with a resurgent Russia and that Vladimir Putin is behind everything bad in the world. But once again, it would be foolish not to at least wonder.

In 2008, Barack Obama was the peace candidate, yet the war continues and the use of drones has increased. The choices in 2016 appear even worse. Hillary Clinton is probably the most hawkish war monger to run for president in recent memory. Besides pushing for the Iraq war based upon false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, she is the architect of our disastrous policy in Libya, and wanted to repeat the same mistakes in Syria based on absurd arguments. She has also been pushing to extend the conflict to Russia, with a new Cold War, if not an outright hot war.

Her opponent, Donald Trump, has at times spoken out against Clinton’s interventionism, but has been far too incoherent on foreign policy (and everything else) to be seen as a serious alternative. While Clinton appears most likely to win, with Clinton’s favorability at records lows Trump has been cutting into Clinton’s lead, including pulling into a tie in the latest Reuter’s poll.

Third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson might provide a real difference but are marginalized by our system, not even being allowed in the presidential debates, despite widespread dislike for the major party candidates. Just today, Bernie Sanders did say that the threshold for minor parties participating in the debates should be lowered. It is unlikely we will see any real change, or an end to our perpetual war, unless other voices are heard.

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:

JOHN DICKERSON:

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?

HILLARY CLINTON:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.” Factcheck.org 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

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.

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