Sanders Wins Mock Election In Landslide But Can We Believe This, Or Even The Conventional Polls?

Sanders Mock Election

The above electoral map prediction from Western Illinois University has received a lot of attention, especially among supporters of Bernie Sanders, for showing Sanders winning in a landslide. Some argue that we should take this seriously because the mock election model has been right in every election it was used in since 1975. The catch is that it was only used three times since 1975. They deserve some credit for correctly predicting victories for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford before many people had heard of Carter, and for predicting the election of Obama when many were (as with Sanders now) claiming he was unelectable.

While I would love for this to be true, it is also very hard to accept the results in specific states, such as Sanders winning Mississippi and Georgia but losing in Hawaii and Maryland. Of course the claims of being right are limited to the final results and not accuracy of state by state predictions. A victory for Sanders, even if closer and involving a different set of states, would still be welcome.

It is easy to dismiss this prediction, and I could not blame either Clinton or the Republicans for denying any meaning to it beyond the enthusiasm of college students for Sanders. The bigger question this year is whether we can believe the conventional polls, especially when they are being used to determine who qualifies for the debates, which can potentially influence the outcome. Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie have been eliminated from Tuesday’s main debate, along with George Pataki and Lindsay Graham being excluded from the undercard debate. Even some pollsters have argued that the polls should not be used in this manner.

One problem is that the Republican candidates are too close together to use the polls to separate them. Then there is the question of whether the polls are all that accurate in predicting a primary election well before the vote. I’ve followed the Democratic primaries far more closely, and have noted many times how little predictive value the polls have. This polling report from December 2007 described how Clinton had a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton.

Among the problems with these polls, many voters in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire do not decide until the last minute. People are far more likely to switch between relatively similar members of their own party than they are to switch from a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican in a general election. Pollsters also adjust the raw results based upon projections as to who will actually vote, but that is difficult to predict. Some polls this year are basing their prediction upon whether someone voted in previous Democratic primaries, but this excludes the people are who, at least from discussions on line, are saying they have just recently registered to vote Democratic in order to vote for Sanders. There is no good way to determine how many of these people, or how many who are turning out in huge numbers for Sanders events, will really vote. The results out of Iowa and New Hampshire could radically alter the results in subsequent states when the media covers the winners more favorably and voters see them in a new light.

Pollsters are having an even more difficult time. An article at The New Yorker described how much fewer people are even responding to polls:

The participation rate—the number of people who take a survey as a percentage of the population—is far lower. Election pollsters sample only a minuscule portion of the electorate, not uncommonly something on the order of a couple of thousand people out of the more than two hundred million Americans who are eligible to vote. The promise of this work is that the sample is exquisitely representative. But the lower the response rate the harder and more expensive it becomes to realize that promise, which requires both calling many more people and trying to correct for “non-response bias” by giving greater weight to the answers of people from demographic groups that are less likely to respond.’s Mark Blumenthal has recalled how, in the nineteen-eighties, when the response rate at the firm where he was working had fallen to about sixty per cent, people in his office said, “What will happen when it’s only twenty? We won’t be able to be in business!” A typical response rate is now in the single digits.

Another problem is that fewer people have landlines:

Even if more people could be persuaded to answer the phone, polling would still be teetering on the edge of disaster. More than forty per cent of America’s adults no longer have landlines, and the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act bans autodialling to cell phones. (The law applies both to public-opinion polling, a billion-dollar-a-year industry, and to market research, a twenty-billion-dollar-a-year industry.) This summer, Gallup Inc agreed to pay twelve million dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of everyone in the United States who, between 2009 and 2013, received an unbidden cell-phone call from the company seeking an opinion about politics. (Gallup denies any wrongdoing.) In June, the F.C.C. issued a ruling reaffirming and strengthening the prohibition on random autodialling to cell phones. During congressional hearings, Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, who is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, asked F.C.C. chairman Tom Wheeler if the ruling meant that pollsters would go “the way of blacksmiths.” “Well,” he said, “they have been, right?”

Difficulties in polling people over a cell phone will also bias the poll toward older voters, as opposed to younger voters who do not have a landline.

With the accuracy of polls in question, perhaps it should not come as a surprise that so few candidates have dropped out. Any conventional Republican candidate can have hopes that outsiders like Donald Trump and Ben Carson will lose in Iowa and New Hampshire, and that their chances are as good as any other candidate’s of being at or near the top.

Both Sanders or Clinton have reasonable hopes for winning the first two states. There is also the possibility that the Democratic electorate might turn more towards Sanders as he gets his message out due to a desire, as Greg Sargent has written in describing the research of Stan Greeenberg, “a reform agenda geared to reducing the influence of the wealthy, the lobbyists, and the special interests.” While Hillary Clinton can sound more liberal by copying ideas from Sanders and O’Malley during the nomination battle, voters should wonder about what happens if she is elected. Where will she get ideas from, how will she know how to respond to new issues, and what will keep her from expressing her naturally conservative inclinations?

While currently far behind in the polls, even Martin O’Malley, who has spent a lot of time in Iowa, might have a chance of doing far better that he currently polls in a state where organization is often what counts and upsets are common.

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Sanders and O’Malley Express Reservations On Troops On Syria While Clinton Flip Flops On Another Issue

Clinton Flip Flop

Barack Obama’s decision to send limited troops into Syria has shown the predictable divisions in the Democratic field. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have expressed strong reservations, while Hillary Clinton has taken only seventeen days to flip flop on her position regarding troops on the ground.

The Washington Post reported on Sanders’ reservations:

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders voiced concerns Friday about President Obama’s decision to dispatch a small number of Special Operations troops to northern Syria, saying through a spokesman that he fears the United States could be drawn into “the quagmire of the Syrian civil war.”

The independent senator from Vermont “believes that the crisis in Syria will be solved diplomatically, not militarily,” Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said in a statement.

Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the White House, was asked about the issue later Friday by an audience member at a town hall in Derry. He said that he agrees with Obama’s overall objective to provide support to groups and countries battling the Islamic State in the region.

But Sanders added: “You have a quagmire in a quagmire. . . . My nightmare is that we get sucked into a never-ending war in that part of the world.”

Stars and Stripes also note his “concern about the United States being drawn into the quagmire of the Syrian civil war which could lead to perpetual warfare in that region.

Martin O’Malley also expressed concerns while campaigning in Iowa. The Souix City Journal reported:

ISIS must be stopped, and the U.S. should support the coalition to defeat the Syria-based Islamic militant group, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley said Friday.

But the Democratic presidential candidate hesitated to support a move that would place U.S. troops on the ground, pointing to past examples of U.S. interference in Middle Eastern affairs.

“We have to stay involved, but we also have to be very, very cautious because it’s hard to point to an example where putting American boots on the ground gave us the desired result in the last 15 years,” O’Malley s

O’Malley’s comments came hours after the White House announced that Democratic President Barack Obama had authorized the deployment of fewer than 50 special operations U.S. troops in the Kurdish-controlled region of Syria.

If elected, O’Malley said he’d like to find ways to cut off ISIS’ finances and stop its propaganda.

Hillary Clinton has previously advocated a no-fly zone in Syria, with Sanders disagreeing. On October 13 at the first Democratic Debate, Hillary Clinton said, “We don’t want American troops on the ground in Syria.”  It only took Clinton seventeen days to flip-flop on this position. On October 30 Clinton’s campaign released this statement:

Hillary Rodham Clinton supports the decision by President Barack Obama to deploy a small number of special operations forces to northern Syria to work with local ground forces in the fight against Islamic State militants. Campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement that Clinton “sees merit in the targeted use of special operations personnel.’ He added that Clinton also strongly ‘supports ongoing diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.’

Clinton’s quick reversal on this issue reinforces the view that her more progressive statements while campaigning for the Democratic nomination provide no guarantee that she will not return to her more conservative views if elected.

Republican candidates also took the expected positions.  Rand Paul opposed sending in ground troops. The Des Moines Register reports:

 Sen. Rand Paul said Saturday he is not ready to “send our sons and daughters back to a war in Iraq,” but is “not completely for doing nothing” to fight the Islamic State.

The Kentucky senator spoke to members of the Jasper County Farm Bureau in Newton before taking a tour of a pipeline farm in Reasnor. Paul touched on a variety of rural issues in front of the small group, but was firm on his stance on Syria following the news that the Obama administration will send 50 special operations soldiers to consult with rebel groups fighting ISIS.

“The fighting on the ground needs to be done by the people who live there,” he said. “The Sunnis will have to rise up and say ‘enough is enough.'”

Paul said while the radical group needs to be fought, it should not be by the United States military. He said he “would help the Kurds fight” but is against putting troops in Syria because the first Iraq War was bad for foreign relations and the national debt.

In contrast, Chris Christie took the more conventional Republican line, stating he believes the military should go “whole hog.”

The New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate addressed the issue during a town hall in response to news that the Obama administration approved up to 50 special operations soldiers to enter Syria and work as military advisers with rebel groups fighting the group known as ISIS.

“For me, this is too little. too late from the president, and if you’re going to involve American troops, you’d better go whole hog,” he said.

The U.S. should deploy boots on the ground only if the strategy of arming U.S. allies in the region fails to defeat ISIS, Christie added.

“I think we have to keep American troops as an option on the table, but to me it is a later option, not a first option, and the president should have been doing all these other things first,” he said.

Quick tip for Chris Christie: Think twice before using terms like “whole hog” as the listener might conjure up a different image when  you say this than  you desire.

Update:  Donald Trump expressed opposition to Obama’s plan, but he hardly expressed an anti-war viewpoint. He opposed limiting to fifty people, telling CNN, “You either do it or you don’t do it. Fifty people. He puts 50 people.” Trump also supports returning ground troops to Iraq.

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Marijuana And The Death Penalty: Sanders and Clinton Engage In More Significant Off Stage Debate Than The Republicans In Colorado

Bernie Sanders Marijuana

The third Republican debate was widely considered to be a train wreck. It was probably the worst for Jeb Bush as it largely turned into an excuse for pundits to write off his chances to win the Republican nomination. Failing to inspire enthusiastic support is a greater political sin than to fail to show up to one’s job in the Senate (a failing common to candidates running for the presidential nomination of either party). Meanwhile the Democratic candidates have spent the last couple of days disagreeing over issues, including marijuana and the death penalty.

While the Democrats could not actually debate, as this would violate Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s rules, they had a far more interesting disagreement on the issues. Marijuana barely came up at the Republican debate in Colorado, where recreational use has been legalized, but Bernie Sanders did make major news on the issue. He took a position quite different from the pro-drug war views of Hillary Clinton, and far more significant than Martin O’Malley’s position:

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his support Wednesday for removing marijuana from a list of the most dangerous drugs outlawed by the federal government — a move that would free states to legalize it without impediments from Washington…

“Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use,” Sanders told a live audience of more than 1,700 students, which erupted with applause. “That’s wrong. That has got to change.”

No other presidential candidate has called for marijuana to be completely removed from the schedule of controlled substances regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Long-shot Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, has said that he would put marijuana on Schedule 2, a less-strict designation. The party’s front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has repeatedly said she wants to see how legalization experiments in Colorado, Washington and other states play out before committing to any changes at the federal level…

His plan would also allow marijuana businesses currently operating in states that have legalized it to use banking services and apply for tax deductions that are currently unavailable to them under federal law.

Sanders previously indicated his interest in legalization of marijuana when appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Sanders’ proposal would put an end to raids by the federal government on medical marijuana facilities where medical marijuana is legal and block the current impediments to research on medical uses of marijuana. Wonkblog also points out that this would restore marijuana to the status which was intended before Richard Nixon interfered. (With Hillary Clinton taking the more Nixonian position here, it is yet another in a long list of similarities between Clinton and Nixon which seem to keep coming up).

Marijuana was originally placed on Schedule 1 as a temporary measure in 1970 while a government-convened panel of experts figured out how to handle it from a legal standpoint. Two years later, the panel recommended complete decriminalization of small amounts of the drug: “the Commission recommends … [that the] possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense, [and that the] casual distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration, no longer be an offense.”

But President Richard Nixon ignored his own commission’s findings and kept marijuana on Schedule 1, saying “we need, and I use the word ‘all out war,’ on all fronts” when it came to weed.

Sanders and Clinton also disagreed on the death penalty this week:

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stood by his long-standing opposition to the death penalty on Thursday, calling for an end to the policy during a Senate speech on criminal justice.

“When we talk about criminal justice reform, I believe it is time for the United States of America to join almost every other Western, industrialized country on Earth in saying no to the death penalty,” Sanders said during his speech on the Senate floor. “We are all shocked and disgusted by some of the horrific murders that we see in this country, seemingly every week. And that is precisely why we should abolish the death penalty. At a time of rampant violence and murder, the state should not be part of that process.”

Sanders’ remarks come one day after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also running for president, came out against ending capital punishment, adding that she believes the use of the death penalty should be “very limited and rare.”

…The Vermont senator has publicly opposed the death penalty for his entire tenure in Congress. In 1991, his first year as a member of the House of Representatives, Sanders spoke out against the policy during debate on the Violent Crime Prevention Act of 1991, which sought to expand the death penalty.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another primary rival of Clinton and Sanders, is also opposed to the death penalty. In 2013, he signed a bill abolishing the practice in Maryland.

According to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year, 61 percent of Americans are in favor of the death penalty in murder convictions, while 37 percent are not.

Of course. Hillary Clinton remains guided by the polls as opposed to principle. In calling for the death penalty to be rare, it is interesting that she uses the same word she uses for what should come of abortion, a position which has long frustrated many abortion rights activists for the manner in which it stigmatizes women who choose to have an abortion, and it provides cover for the religious right’s battle to restrict access to abortion.

The Democrats were disagreeing over real issues, while the Republicans were engaged in distortions of the facts and bashing of the mainstream media. Among the Republican lies debunked, PolitiFact classified Chris Christie’s claim that Bernie Sanders is “going to raise your taxes to 90 percent” as “pants on fire.”

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Another Deadline For Joe Biden & New Criteria For Next GOP Debate

Ridin With Biden

The Los Angeles Times reports on another deadline for Joe Biden to consider when deciding whether to announce a candidacy for the Democratic nomination. He has until November 20 to register for the New Hampshire primary.

As I recently noted, he can wait until October 13, the date of the CNN Democratic debate, to declare his candidacy and still qualify for the debate.

There is speculation that Biden might hold off on officially entering the race and wait to see if Clinton is forced from the race due to the scandals or if her campaign no longer looks viable should she lose to Bernie Sanders in Iowa and/or New Hampshire. The November 20 deadline might also not be of concern to him if he plans on going this route as he is expected to concentrate on South Carolina, as opposed to Iowa and New Hampshire, should he enter the race, which in normal years would be a risky strategy.

Turning to the Republican campaign, CNBC has changed the rules for qualifying for their October 28 debate. Instead of setting an arbitrary number (and then expanding it by one) as in the first two debates, CNBC has announced they will decide by a fixed standing in the polls. As they will round up, a candidate averaging 2.5 percent can make it into the evening debate:

National polls will be used to determine a candidate’s eligibility and placement on the stage. To be eligible to appear in either segment, a candidate must have at least 1% in any one of the methodologically sound and recognized national polls conducted by: NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN and Bloomberg, released between September 17, 2015 and October 21, 2015.

To appear in the 8pm debate a candidate must have an average of 3% among these polls. The polls will be averaged and will be rounded up to 3% for any candidate with a standing of 2.5% or higher. Candidates who average below that will be invited to the 6pm debate.

The Wall Street Journal has speculated on who will make the cut:

A Real Clear Politics average of national polling suggests that the candidates who would make the cut for primetime are Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie. Candidates who rank at 2.5% or above in the polls have their numbers rounded up to 3%. Rand Paul’s average in the polls RCP tracks is 2.3%.

Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham—all of whom took part in the undercard debate earlier this month—all rank at 0.5% or less, alternately winning 1% or 0% in the polls.

This formula might help speed up the elimination of the weaker candidates from the race. I do hope that Rand Paul manages to remain in. While I disagree with him on many other issues, I did like seeing him challenge the other candidates on military intervention and the drug war in the second Republican debate.

Update: CNN is now reporting as of October 1 that Biden is not expected to participate in the first debate and plans to delay his decision until later in the month. He might be able to delay but I suspect that the longer he does wait the harder it will be to launch a full scale campaign.

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Fox Republican Debate Dominated By The Donald

Fox Debate August 2015

Fox brought in a record 24 million viewers for the first Republican debate on Thursday night , and nobody doubts it was because of Donald Trump. CNN explained what this number means:

For perspective, the first GOP primary debate four years ago, also on Fox, attracted 3.2 million viewers.

The most-watched primary debate that year, broadcast by ABC, reached 7.6 million.

Thursday’s debate audience more than tripled that one.

The audience easily exceeded pretty much everything that’s been on American television this year, from the finale of “The Walking Dead” to the final episode of David Letterman’s “Late Show.”

The debate was bigger than all of this year’s NBA Finals and MLB World Series games, and most of the year’s NFL match-ups.

It also trumped Jon Stewart’s Thursday night’s sign-off from “The Daily Show,” which averaged 3.5 million viewers.

Trump is a known ratings magnet. His reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice” used to reach 20 million viewers a week. But it has slipped over the years, averaging 6 to 8 million viewers for recent seasons.

The debate, as well as most of the talk afterwards, was about Donald Trump. They might as well have named it Presidential Apprentice. By the end, many viewers might have been expecting to go to the boardroom to see who Trump would fire. Hint–it might not have been one of the candidates considering what he has been saying about Megyn Kelley and the other Fox correspondents. Among the most crude:

Trump was the center of attention from the start when the very first question was a show of hands  as to “who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person.” Only Donald Trump raised his hand. (Full transcript of the debate can be found here).

Donald Trump did make a great case for campaign finance reform:

I will tell you that our system is broken. I gave to many people, before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give.

And do you know what?

When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.

QUESTION: So what did you get?

TRUMP: And that’s a broken system.

QUESTION: What did you get from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi?

TRUMP: Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said be at my wedding and she came to my wedding.

You know why?

She didn’t have a choice because I gave. I gave to a foundation that, frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world. It was.

Trump also restated his opposition to the Iraq war but flip-flopped on his previous support for a single payer system. Trump could have been the best candidate in the room if he hadn’t turned into a Tea Party clown.

There were some other moments when Republican candidates deserved credit. This includes Rand Paul criticizing both his fellow Republican candidates and Hillary Clinton for their policies which on sending more arms to middle east:

I’ve been fighting amidst a lot of opposition from both Hillary Clinton, as well as some Republicans who wanted to send arms to the allies of ISIS. ISIS rides around in a billion dollars worth of U.S. Humvees. It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.

This was followed by John Kasich defending taking funds for the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare:

First of all, Megyn, you should know that — that President Reagan expanded Medicaid three or four times.

Secondly, I had an opportunity to bring resources back to Ohio to do what?

To treat the mentally ill. Ten thousand of them sit in our prisons. It costs $22,500 a year to keep them in prison. I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life.

Rand Paul made a another good point when he argued with Chris Christie over NSA surveillance:

The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.

Beyond this, we primarily learned from the debates that Republicans hate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood.

I am looking forward to seeing Bernie Sanders debate Hillary Clinton on foreign military intervention and suppression of civil liberties. Clinton’s record on these topics does fit well in the GOP mainstream.

I am hesitant to write about winners because we have learned that the winner of a debate is not based upon the debate itself, but the perception of the candidates after people have listened to the talking heads in the days following the debate. This is further complicated with the Republican Party as most of their voters receive their thoughts from Fox. Criticism from the Fox commentators could make Donald Trump look like a loser, but so far he has managed to survive better than the pundits have predicted, and it is not looking like Fox will be successful against him.

From my perspective, which could be quite different from that of Fox, the winners were John Kasich and Marco Rubio. Kasich barely squeaked into the prime time debate, and the two debates did show that Kasich really did deserve to be there more than Rick Perry, who was excluded, possibly by fudging the results of the polls. Kasich and Jeb Bush looked the most stable in the group. Bush already has his position as top contender after Trump, but now Kasich might replace Scott Walker as the leading challenger to Bush and move into the top tier.

I also downgraded Bush for his discussion of his brother’s policies. It wasn’t faulty intelligence which got us in Iraq as he claimed, but his brother twisting the intelligence to justify the war he wanted to start. Jeb! also seemed oblivious to the fact that ISIS and the other problems now occurring in Iraq are due to his brother destabilizing the region. They all seemed oblivious, when talking about the deficit, to the fact that the deficit is a consequence of George W. Bush both fighting the war on credit and cutting taxes on the wealthy.

The other Republican who looked good, if you ignore his actual views, was Marco Rubio. He could make a good candidate in a television-based campaign. The entry of Trump into the race made it hard for candidates like Rubio to get attention, but he did get a shot at being noticed Thursday.

On the other hand, it seemed a battle throughout the evening between Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz to be the most bat-shit candidate on stage, which was impressive considering that Donald Trump was on the same stage. I was edging towards awarding this to Huckabee, with lines such as, “The purpose of the military is kill people and break things,” until Cruz gave his closing statement, and clinched the title:

If I’m elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these videos and to prosecute Planned Parenthood for any criminal violations.

The next thing I intend to do is instruct the Department of Justice and the IRS to start (sic) persecuting religious liberty, and then intend to cancel the Iran deal, and finally move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

I will keep my word. My father fled Cuba, and I will fight to defend liberty because my family knows what it’s like to lose it.

In contrast, Huckabee went for the laugh as opposed to Cruz’s tirade:

It seems like this election has been a whole lot about a person who’s very high in the polls, that doesn’t have a clue about how to govern.

A person who has been filled with scandals, and who could not lead, and, of course, I’m talking about Hillary Clinton.

So, in conclusion, Trump wins for continuing to totally dominate the discussion, Kasich and Rubio had smaller victories which might improve their position if the race should return to be about the more conventional candidates, and Cruz edged Huckabee for the scariest Republican in the room. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders must really have felt happy seeing this debate and the caliber of candidate they might come up against in the general election.

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Jeb Bush Not As Transparent As He Claims

The revelations this week regarding Hillary Clinton’s use of private email (discussed here, here, and here) added to questions about her secrecy, opposition to transparency in government, and her character. Her actions also look remarkably foolish for a major candidate, especially considering how she had previously criticized Republicans in the Bush administration for the same actions. Her actions, and her poor response to the situation, have also reinforced concerns among some Democrats that Clinton is not a very good campaigner.

Initially it appeared that Jeb Bush had out-maneuvered her by recently releasing email from when he was Governor of Florida. Now CNN is reporting that Bush is exaggerating the transparency of his administration:

Bush has released hundreds of thousands of emails from the personal account he used during his eight years as governor in the name of transparency — and after public records requests for those emails. A Bush aide told NBC News that a number of his staffers and his general counsel’s office decided which emails to release.

But a CNN review of those emails turned up evidence a number of his official aides and family members also had email addresses housed at — and used them to conduct both official and political business — raising questions about how transparent that email dump ultimately was.

Of course Bush isn’t the only potential Republican candidate with email problems. Chris Christie’s administration had similar problems. Perhaps that is why Hillary Clinton thinks she can get away with primarily keeping quite about the whole thing.

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Clinton’s Use Of Private Email Suggests Democrats Need To Consider A Plan B For 2016

Clinton Email

The reports I discussed yesterday regarding Hillary Clinton using private email as Secretary of State are leading some, such as Frank Rich, to wonder if Democrats need a backup plan for 2016. A follow up story in The New York Times reports how Clinton used her private email to thwart requests for information, including requests from Congress and Freedom of Information requests from journalists. These ethical breaches by Hillary Clinton are of particular concern taking place so soon after scandals in the Bush administration regarding private use of email, making many liberals besides myself question why Clinton could have done something so foolish.

As The Guardian summarized the significance of the news:

It leaves Clinton vulnerable to at least three lines of criticism: that she potentially broke fundamental rules governing the handling and security of state secrets; that she skirted around guidelines put in place to ensure historical accountability and transparency within high public office; and the political attack that she must have had something to hide.

Perhaps the most serious accusation facing Clinton is that she may have breached one of the fundamental tenets of classified information. J William Leonard, former director of the body that keeps watch over executive branch secrets, the Information Security Oversight Office, told the Guardian that if Clinton had dealt with confidential government matters through her personal email, that would have been problematic. “There is no such thing as personal copies of classified information. All classified information belongs to the US government and it should never leave the control of the government.”

The Associated Press is considering legal action in response to her failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for email:

The unusual practice of a Cabinet-level official running her own email server would have given Clinton — who is expected to run for president in the 2016 campaign — significant control over limiting access to her message archives.

It also would complicate the State Department’s legal responsibilities in finding and turning over official emails in response to any investigations, lawsuits or public records requests. The department would be the position of accepting Clinton’s assurances she was surrendering everything required that was in her control…

The AP said Wednesday it was considering taking legal action against the State Department for failing to turn over some emails covering Clinton’s tenure as the nation’s top diplomat after waiting more than one year. The department has failed to meet several self-imposed deadlines but has never suggested that it doesn’t possess all Clinton’s emails.

Having checked more coverage in the media and blogosphere since my initial post, I was pleased to see that most liberal bloggers I read did question Clinton’s conduct. For example, rather than a partisan defense Steve Benen‘s post raised the same objective points:

There’s no shortage of problematic angles to this. Obviously, there’s the question of transparency and compliance with the Federal Records Act. Clinton wasn’t the first Secretary of State to make use of a personal email account – Colin Powell did the same thing during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration – but preservation rules have changed and Clinton apparently faced more stringent requirements.
There’s also the matter of security: as Secretary of State, Clinton sent and received highly sensitive information on a daily basis, including classified materials, from officials around the world. By relying on private email, instead of an encrypted State Department account, Clinton may have created a security risk.

Other liberal bloggers have been far harder on Clinton.  Clinton is also receiving criticism on MSNBC, as opposed to the partisan defense we would expect in the reverse situation from Fox. Needless to say, conservatives tended to be quite critical, and  hypocritical, usually ignoring the comparable use of private email by many Republicans, including officials in the Bush administration, Chris Christie, and Sarah Palin.

It was disappointing but not surprising to see that the Clintonistas did quickly get some writers out to defend Clinton. Typically their defenses were no more honest than a report from Fox. Defenses of Clinton tended to concentrate on the arguing that Clinton did not actually break the law. This is definitely a case of moving the goal posts and possibly also incorrect. The initial articles raising these concerns did note that Clinton may have broken the law and with the complexity of the regulations involved avoided a definite conclusion, but it was her conduct and judgment, not whether she was in violation of the law, which is the heart of the issue.  The defenses of Clinton point out that Colin Powell used private email, but ignore the changes in regulations made in 2009 which “required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system.” Her defenders have also ignored the more stringent requirements put into place in 2011. As a consequence of these rules changes, John Kerry has used government email for his communications, as has Barack Obama since taking office in 2009.

Many of the other defenses of Clinton are rather trivial attacks on the journalist who wrote the story. The statements that these revelations came out as part of the Benghazi hearings is contradicted with finding a journalist who had reported on this previously. This is analogous to the debates as to who discovered America. Finding that someone had previously reported on Clinton’s private email does not change the substance of this story any more than discovering that Vikings beat Columbus to America substantially other facts regarding American  history post-Columbus.

The rapid release of such dishonest defenses of Clinton by her allies is yet another reason why I would hate to see Hillary Clinton as president. I have always been disturbed by the degree of secrecy when she was working on health care reform, her push for war against Iraq based upon fictitious claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, along with many questionable statements I’ve heard from her over the years. Electing Clinton would be a great blow to honesty and transparency in government. Democrats should be able to do better.

There is no question that Clinton was at least skirting the rules in effect when she became Secretary of State, if not outright breaking them. Her honesty has already been a serious question. Someone with a reputation for dishonesty and lack of transparency should have realized that this would only make matters worse. Her credibility, already in question, will be even lower when there is always the question of secret emails looming. Republicans will be able to drag out their hearings on Benghazi even longer because of this. If she runs against Jeb Bush she would be on the defensive over transparency after the release of his emails. Clinton has never been a very good campaigner, and her lack of judgment in this matter only raise.

Update: Hillary Clinton On Private Email 2007 And 2015

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Conservatives Celebrate “Darwin Was Wrong Day”

Ken Ham believes that “Darwin Was Wrong Day” has been a big hit. It is not clear that it was a hit beyond thinking it is good that he is being mocked considerably on Twitter today. Declaring a day to claim a falsehood hardly makes it true, even if a number of right wing science-deniers were to back the day.

I imagine that next we will start seeing a whole new set of holidays from the anti-science/anti-fact right. These might include “Climate Change Is A Hoax Day,” “Cigarettes Do Not Cause Cancer Day,” “Ebola Can Become Airborne Day,” “Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves Day,” “Saddam Had WMD And Helped Osama bin Laden Day,” “Vaccines Cause Autism Day,” “Ban Abortion Because A Twenty-Week Fetus Can Feel Pain Day,” and “The Earth Is Flat Day.” In Texas, Rick Perry will proclaim “Texans Don’t Want Insurance Day.”

There is one group which might help Ken Ham celebrate “Darwin Was Wrong Day.” Denial of evolution is popular among the current group of potential Republican nominees, with Scott Walker being the latest Republican to look foolish on evolution. Salon looked at the views of all the candidates after summarizing the overall anti-scientific mood of the Republican candidates:

From climate change to vaccines to the theory of evolution, much of the Republican Party has made clear that it’s not exactly enamored of modern science. This anti-intellectualism can take a few forms: Republicans may flatly reject empirical evidence. They may accept parts or all of the evidence, but with major caveats — the climate is warming, but humans aren’t causing it; vaccines work, but parents should have the right to opt their children out of them; evolution occurred, but it should be taught alongside creationism in public schools. Or, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, they take the “I’m not a scientist” tack, and simply decline to state their views.

Asked during a trade mission to London today whether he accepts evolution, Walker replied, “I’m going to punt on that one… That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another.” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser quipped that following Chris Christie’s disastrous trip across the pond, during which the New Jersey governor said that “parents need to have some measure of choice” in whether to vaccinate their children, Walker seemed to have learned that the best approach is to stay mum on such topics.

But Walker’s refusal to indicate whether he accepts a fundamental tenet of biology underscores the GOP’s tortured relationship with science, not least on evolution. With Walker and other GOP hopefuls gearing up to launch their 2016 campaigns, Salon now provides you with a comprehensive guide to where the Republican candidates stand on the origin of life.

Check out the full article for the break-down by candidate. While there is a range in how much each candidate is on the record denying science, not a single one of the potential Republican candidates is willing to say they accept the science regarding in evolution without qualifications.

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Measles Outbreak Shows How Republicans Have A Serious Problem With Science And Facts

Statements from many prominent Republicans, including Chris Christie and Rand Paul, on the measles outbreak have served to remind people that Republicans really are the Party of Stupid. This follows recent problems with Republicans ignoring the science to promote hysteria in response to Ebola.  As The New York Times wrote:

The vaccination controversy is a twist on an old problem for the Republican Party: how to approach matters that have largely been settled among scientists but are not widely accepted by conservatives.

It is a dance Republican candidates often do when they hedge their answers about whether evolution should be taught in schools. It is what makes the fight over global warming such a liability for their party, and what led last year to a widely criticized response to the Ebola scare.

As concern spread about an Ebola outbreak in the United States, physicians criticized Republican lawmakers — including Mr. Christie — who called for strict quarantines of people who may have been exposed to the virus. In some cases, Republicans proposed banning people who had been to the hardest-hit West African countries from entering the United States, even though public health officials warned that would only make it more difficult to stop Ebola’s spread.

On climate change, the party has struggled with how to position itself, with some Republicans inviting mockery for questioning the established science that human activity is contributing to rising temperatures and sea levels.

There are two types of misinformation being spread by conservatives regarding vaccines. The most extreme is to deny the basic science, claiming that vaccines do not work or are harmful. Some limit their arguments to denying the public health dangers resulting when some people refuse to vaccinate their children, often on libertarian grounds. While herd immunity has generally protected Americans from the effects of some refusing vaccines, the current measles outbreak shows what can happen. This also highlights a major problem with libertarianism. Sometimes, as even Fox’s Megyn Kelly has argued, “some things do require some involvement of Big Brother.”

It is also hard for Chris Christie to hide behind any libertarian justification for allowing parents to refuse to vaccinate their children after he involuntarily quarantined nurse Kaci Hickox despite the lack of either legal or medical justification.

It does make it much worse for the Republicans when they show similar problems with science and facts on other issues, not limited to evolution, climate change, vaccines, and Ebola. As I discussed yesterday, Republicans are also basing their attempts to restrict abortion rights on pseudo-science, such as claiming that a fetus can feel pain before it has developed a cerebral cortex, and framing the debate around unscientific claims that there is a definite point when life begins.

While economics is not as exact a science, there is ample data which disputes Republican Voodoo Economics. Tax cuts on the wealthy do not pay for themselves, do not stimulate the economy, and do not lead to wealth trickling down. The multiplier effect of government spending on economic development, along with the benefits of giving tax breaks to the poor and middle class, as opposed to the wealthy, often provide far greater benefit. These are among the reasons that the economy does so much better under Democrats than Republicans.

We are still seeing the disastrous effects of Republicans ignoring the facts in Iraq to go to war.

Facts matter, and Republican denial of the facts do not change this. What does happen is that we all suffer when Republicans decide public policy while denying science and facts.

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The Republicans Now Have A God Problem

If you listen to Republicans, they are running to uphold moral values based upon Christianity. Many Republican candidates in the past have even claimed that god wanted them to run, and have cited god to justify their policies. Suddenly it is no longer the case that the Republicans are running on god’s platform. Amy Davidson looked at God and the GOP at The New Yorker:

Indeed, other potential G.O.P. candidates are now having to recalculate how another religion figures into the equation. There has never been a Catholic Republican nominee for the White House (the Mormons, interestingly, got there first), although there may be one this year, with a field that includes Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush, who converted to Catholicism, his wife’s faith, some twenty years ago. For them, the issue is not one of religious bigotry, such as John F. Kennedy faced in his 1960 campaign, with insinuations of adherence to secret Papist instructions. In a way, it’s the opposite: the very public agenda of the all too authentic Pope Francis.

Early signs of trouble came in the summer of 2013, when the new Pope, speaking with reporters about gays in the Church, asked, “Who am I to judge?” The conservative wing of the Party had relied on his predecessors to do just that. Then he proved much less reticent about issuing a verdict on capitalism. In an apostolic exhortation issued at the end of 2013, he labelled trickle-down economic theories “crude and naïve.” The problems of the poor, he said, had to be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality.” That went quite a ways beyond the sort of tepid proposals for job creation and “family formation” that Romney made on the Midway, and the response from Republicans has involved a certain amount of rationalization. “The guy is from Argentina—they haven’t had real capitalism,” Paul Ryan, Romney’s former running mate, and a Catholic, said.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope,” Santorum noted last month, after Francis, in remarks about “responsible parenting”—widely interpreted as an opening for a discussion on family planning—said that there was no need for Catholics to be “like rabbits.” Santorum echoed Ryan’s suggestion that Argentine exceptionalism might be at work: “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to there. Maybe he’s speaking to people in the Third World.” On that front, when it emerged that Francis had been instrumental in the diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba, Jeb Bush criticized the deal, and Senator Marco Rubio, also a Catholic, said that he’d like the Pope to “take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As if all that weren’t enough, His Holiness is preparing an encyclical on climate change, to be released in advance of his visit to the United States later this year. In January, he said of global warming, “For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature.” Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, has written, “On the environment, the pope has allied himself with the far left.” Actually, Francis is very much in the center in terms of scientific opinion, but the leading potential G.O.P. contenders, with the possible exception of Christie, sit somewhere on the climate-change-denial-passivity spectrum—Jeb Bush has said that he is a “skeptic” as to whether the problem is man-made.

In recent decades, liberal Catholic politicians were the ones with a papal problem; both Mario Cuomo and John Kerry had to reckon with the prospect of excommunication for their support of abortion-rights laws. John Paul II, meanwhile, was a favorite of conservatives; despite his often subtle views, he became at times little more than a symbol of anti-Communism and a certain set of social strictures. He cemented an alliance, in the political realm, between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. (Rubio also attends an evangelical church.) Abortion was a significant part of that story. By contrast, the Franciscan moment will push some Republican candidates to make decisions and to have conversations that they would rather avoid.

It will also offer a chance to address the knotty American idea that faith is an incontrovertible component of political authenticity. (Why is the Romney who thinks about God the “real” one?) The corollary should be that nothing is as inauthentic as faith that is only opportunistically professed, something that this Pope, who has extended a hand to atheists, seems to know. Still, the campaign will be defined not by theological questions but by political ones, prominent among them inequality and climate change. Both can have spiritual dimensions and speak to moral issues, such as our obligations to one another. But neither can be solved by faith alone.

For those who buy the false claims which have come from some Republicans in the past that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it might conceivably cause some problems to see Republican candidates at odds with the Pope’s views on religion. While this could be amusing, most likely it won’t matter. The Republican base, which never allows facts to get in the way of their beliefs, sure aren’t going to alter their view based upon what the Pope says. We have seen how willing they are to ignore science when it conflicts with their views on evolution, climate change, or abortion. Republicans also don’t allow economic data which shows that their beliefs (essentially held as a religion) on economics are total hogwash interfere with this religion, no matter how often the economy performs better under Democrats than Republicans. Still, Republicans who could never justify their policies based upon facts, might lose even more legitimacy when they also lose religious justification for their policies.

While most people, or at least those who respect the desire of the founding fathers to establish a secular state, would not use religious views as justification for public policy decisions, there will at least be a bit of satisfaction in seeing Republicans lose even this basis to justify their absurd positions.

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