Down To One Liberal And One Defender Of Civil Liberties In The Presidential Race

Colbert Hungry for Power Games

The number of presidential candidates should drop quickly now that voting has begun. It is not surprising that many of the candidates are waiting to see if they do better than the polls have predicted, which is reasonable considering how poorly polls often are at predicting primary results. Some of the more mainstream candidates are putting their hopes on New Hampshire. For other candidates, a loss in Iowa was enough to tell them that they had no chance.

On the Democratic side, Martin O’Malley announced that he is suspending his campaign while the Iowa caucus was in progress. It has been clear for months that O’Malley had no real chance with the conservative/establishment voters going for Clinton and the liberal/pro-insurgent voters going for Sanders. There was no middle lane for O’Malley, who certainly would be a far better choice than Clinton. He campaigned hard in Iowa, and there was no point in continuing once this failed to result in support at the caucuses. This leaves Bernie Sanders as the only liberal or progressive left in the race from either party.

For the Republicans, the Iowa caucus is the best shot for a candidate from the religious right to win, as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have done in the past. Republicans this year are bucking their usual trend of backing the next in line, with Ted Cruz winning this year. Huckabee at least deserves credit for realizing there is no hope and not dragging it on any longer. I wonder how much longer Rick Santorum and Ben Carson will stay in the race.

Rand Paul dropped out today, realizing it made more sense to work at holding on to his Senate seat, especially when he is increasingly being excluded from the Republican debates. While I disagree with Paul on many things, I did like having Paul criticizing the other candidates for their conservative positions on military interventionism, civil liberties, and the drug war. For that matter, while he has done so at times, I also wish Bernie Sanders would do the same regarding Clinton’s views.

With Paul out, this leaves Sanders as the only candidate opposing unnecessary foreign intervention, the only candidate opposing the surveillance state and other restrictions on civil liberties, and the only candidate who opposes the drug war. By concentrating on economic issues, where he also differs substantially from all the remaining candidates, other issues are receiving too little attention this year.

Stephen Colbert did not do his usual segment on Hungry For Power Games last night, concentrating on the caucus instead. Now he has three candidates to mock tonight.

Update: Rick Santorum is also dropping out.

Dana Milbank Is Wrong–Nominating Sanders Is The Rational Choice For Democrats

Bernie Sanders Large Crowd

Dana Milbank repeated the establishment line in a column fallaciously entitled, Democrats would be insane to nominate Bernie Sanders.

I adore Bernie Sanders.

I agree with his message of fairness and I share his outrage over inequality and corporate abuses. I think his righteous populism has captured the moment perfectly. I respect the uplifting campaign he has run. I admire his authenticity.

And I am convinced Democrats would be insane to nominate him.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is a dreary candidate. She has, again, failed to connect with voters. Her policy positions are cautious and uninspiring. Her reflexive secrecy causes a whiff of scandal to follow her everywhere. She seems calculating and phony.

And yet if Democrats hope to hold the presidency in November, they’ll need to hold their noses and nominate Clinton.

Milbank dismissed the evidence that Sander would do better against the Republicans than Clinton:

Sanders and his supporters boast of polls showing him, on average, matching up slightly better against Trump than Clinton does. But those matchups are misleading: Opponents have been attacking and defining Clinton for a quarter- century, but nobody has really gone to work yet on demonizing Sanders.

Milbank ignores how Clinton and her surrogates have already been launching right-wing sounding attacks against Sanders. Despite this, Sanders does better than Clinton against Republicans in national polls. More significantly in terms of winning the general election, Clinton does poorly with independents and in the battle ground states.

Right wing attacks on Sanders won’t be any different from right wing attacks on Obama, who they already claim is a Marxist Socialist, and a foreign-born Muslim, who will be sending the black helicopters out any minute now to take away their guns and put them in FEMA concentration camps.

Milbank also ignores the importance of turn out. Republican attacks on Sanders will primarily appeal to Republican voters–not people who would ever vote for Sanders. However both Sanders own campaigning and Republican attacks will motivate Democratic leaning voters to turn out. It is Sanders, not Clinton, who has been exciting voters for the past several months, and inspiring many new voters to get involved.

There are traditionally two ways to win an election–motivate your base to turn out in high numbers or win over independents. Sanders can do better than Clinton at both. Plus he can get votes from people who have not voted for the major political parties in the past.

Plus as a general rule of thumb, it is best not to nominate the candidate whose practices are the subject of an active FBI investigation. A Clinton candidacy, assuming she is not indicted, will be dominated by talk of scandal, most likely suppressing the Democratic vote and energizing the Republicans.

Milbanks admits that voters must be willing to hold their nose to vote for Clinton, but what makes him so sure that they will do so as opposed to staying home? Running on the argument that “my candidate is bad, but yours is even worse” is not how to win an election. Voters want to vote for something, not just vote for the lesser of two evils.

With all their faults, at least Republicans are willing to stand for something, even if the wrong things. Republicans don’t worry if their candidates are too extreme, and they reject those who they consider to be Republicans In Name Only.

Many Sanders supporters back him primarily because of the economic issues which have dominated the campaign. Many of us became active in the blogosphere in response to the abuses of the Bush administration. We are not going to be excited by a Democrat who advocates the same neoconservative foreign policy, has supported the same types of restrictions on civil liberties and expanded power for the Executive Branch, and who as actively worked to increase the role of religion on public policy. She has been a hawk on the drug war. While better than the Republicans in agreeing with the scientific consensus on climate change, she is so indebted to the petroleum industry that her environmental policies have not been much better.

This is hardly a record to get people who vote based upon principle, as opposed to party affiliation, to get out to vote for Hillary Clinton. No wonder Milbank realizes we would have to hold our noses.

Democrats, and some of their supporters in the media, think Democrats need to hide from principles and run candidates who are Republican-lite. They never get the lesson, no matter how often that results in the Democrats losing.

Fortunately not everyone agrees. The Nation gave one of their rare endorsements to Sanders and The Washington Post also ran a recent op-ed by arguing that Bernie Sanders is the realist we should elect.

Many of the pundits agree — this is a choice between head and heart. If Democrats think with their heads, they will go with Hillary; with their hearts, with Bernie.

But this conventional wisdom clashes with the reality that this country has suffered serial devastations from choices supported by the establishment’s “responsible” candidates. On fundamental issue after issue, it is the candidate “of the heart” who is in fact grounded in common sense. It wasn’t Sanders’s emotional appeal, but his clearsightedness that led the Nation magazine, which I edit, to make only its third presidential endorsement in a primary in its 150-year history.

For example, foreign policy is considered Clinton’s strength. When terrorism hits the headlines, she gains in the polls. Yet the worst calamity in U.S. foreign policy since Vietnam surely was George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Clinton voted for that war; Sanders got it right and voted against. Clinton has since admitted her vote was a “mistake” but seems to have learned little from that grievous misjudgment. As secretary of state, she championed regime change in Libya that left behind another failed state rapidly becoming a backup base for the Islamic State. She pushed for toppling Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war and lobbied for arming the Syrian opposition, a program that ended up supplying more weapons to the Islamic State than to anyone else. Now she touts a “no fly zone” in Syria, an idea that has been dismissed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as requiring some 70,000 troops to enforce, and by President Obama as well. People thinking with their heads rather than their hearts might well prefer Sanders’s skepticism about regime change to Clinton’s hawkishness.

The worst economic calamity since the Great Depression came when the excesses of Wall Street created the housing bubble and financial crisis that blew up the economy. Clinton touts her husband economic record, but he championed the deregulation that helped unleash the Wall Street wilding. The banks, bailed out by taxpayers, are bigger and more concentrated than they were before the crash. Someone using their head — not their heart — would want to make certain that the next president is independent of Wall Street and committed to breaking up the big banks and shutting down the casino. But Clinton opposes key elements of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) rational reform agenda for the banks, and her money ties to Wall Street lead any rational observer to conclude she’s an uncertain trumpet for reform.

Americans continue to suffer from a broken heath-care system that costs nearly twice per capita as those in the rest of the industrialized world — with worse results. Obama’s health reforms have helped millions get health care — particularly through the expansion of Medicaid and by forcing coverage of pre-existing conditions. But millions continue to go without care, millions more are underinsured and unable to afford decent coverage, and even more are gouged by drug companies and insurance companies that game the system’s complexities. Eventually the United States will join every other industrial nation with some form of simplified universal care. Sanders champions moving to “Medicare for all.” Clinton has mischaracterized his proposal, erroneously claiming it would “basically end all kinds of health care we know, Medicare, Medicaid, the Chip Program. It would take all that and hand it over to the states.” She says she would build on Obamacare but has yet to detail significant reforms that would take us closer to a rational health-care system. Sanders supported Obamacare but understands we can’t get to a rational health-care plan without leaders willing to take on the entrenched interests that stand in the way. It isn’t romantic to think that it is long past time for the United States to join every other industrial country and guarantee affordable health care for all…

In the face of the Sanders surge, Clinton supporters have resorted to the “electability argument”: that Sanders can’t be elected because he’s too far left. Put aside the irony of Clinton dismissing the electoral viability of someone she might lose to. Clinton has inevitable baggage of her own that raises doubts about her electoral prospects. And Clinton’s decision to present herself as the candidate of continuity in a time of change is problematic.

Clinton’s closing ad before Iowa makes her central argument clear: Trust her. She’s experienced and committed. She’ll keep Republicans from taking away the progress we’ve made. Sanders’s ad makes his argument clear: Trust yourself. Come together, take back the country and make this nation better. The first appeals to the head; the latter to the heart. But even the most hard-headed pragmatist might think the latter has as good a chance at getting elected and a better chance of forcing change than the former.

Update: Washington Post Editorial Board Spreading Fictions About Bernie Sanders

Clinton Campaign Underestimated Sanders–But Also Underestimated Clinton’s Weaknesses

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton listens to a speaker during a campaign stop at the YMCA in Rochester, New Hampshire June 15, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTX1GLP8

With Clinton falling in the polls and acting desperate, it is no surprise to see The New York Times run a headline saying, Clinton Campaign Underestimated Sanders Strengths, Allies Say.

Advisers to Hillary Clinton, including former President Bill Clinton, believe that her campaign made serious miscalculations by forgoing early attacks on Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and failing to undercut his archliberal message before it grew into a political movement that has now put him within striking distance of beating her in Iowa and New Hampshire.

According to Democrats close to the Clintons and involved with her campaign, Mrs. Clinton and the former president are also unnerved by the possibility that Mr. Sanders will foment a large wave of first-time voters and liberals that will derail her in Iowa, not unlike Barack Obama’s success in 2008, which consigned Mrs. Clinton to a third-place finish. They have asked her advisers about the strength of the campaign’s data modeling and turnout assumptions in Iowa, given that her 2008 campaign’s predictions were so inaccurate.

…Mrs. Clinton’s problems are broader than just her message: Opinion polls show that some Democrats and other voters continue to question her trustworthiness and whether she cares about their problems. Recent polls show that her once-formidable lead over Mr. Sanders in Iowa has all but vanished, while he is holding on to a slight lead over her in New Hampshire.

While they have underestimated Sanders, as they underestimated Obama eight years ago, this isn’t the real problem. The problem for the Clinton campaign is that they failed to see the weaknesses in their candidate and they hopefully underestimated the ability of Democratic voters to recognize them. Clinton lost in 2008 and is struggling today not only because of the attributes of Obama and Sanders, but because Clinton does not have what it takes to a leader in the Democratic Party. She should have remained a Republican.

As the linked article notes, she is weak on ethics. She is weak in policy, both in terms of a history of showing poor judgment on the big issues and in term of opposing liberal viewpoints. By now everyone is aware of the considerable differences between the two with regards to Wall Street, despite Clinton’s attempts to distort the issueThe Nation did an excellent job of succinctly summarizing how often she has been wrong on foreign policy in their endorsement, briefly quoted here. Democratic voters, especially the young, also do not want a candidate who is so conservative on social issues that she teamed up with The Fellowship in the Senate, or who who has a long history of taking conservative stands on civil liberties and government transparency. She has similarly opposed campaign finance reform in the past as she has benefited from money from the special interests, making it hard to believe she will take serious action on the issue. Her record on the environment suggests she is more concerned about protecting the special interests she is indebted to as opposed to supporting any serious change to deal with climate change.

These are many of the same issues which led Democrats to support Obama over Clinton eight years ago.

Clinton’s campaign based upon inevitability and electability against Sanders has fallen apart, as the same strategy did eight years ago, as her lead in the polls has evaporated, and as many head to head polls against Republicans show that Sanders is more electable than Clinton is. Plus, as a general rule of thumb, it is not wise for a political party to nominate a candidate involved in a major scandal, and who has the FBI investigating their actions.

As Van Jones put it last week, the Democratic base is in “full-on rebellion” against Hillary Clinton. This can also be seen in the endorsements from MoveOn and Democracy for America, as well as in DFA’s defense of Sanders from the dishonest attacks from the Clinton campaign.

If there wasn’t a Barack Obama in 2008 and a Bernie Sanders today, somebody else would be challenging Clinton as they are because of the weaknesses of Hillary Clinton.

Jim Webb and Gary Johnson Taking Steps Towards Independent Runs For The Presidency

Jim Webb

Jim Webb continues to talk about an independent run for the presidency, and has now hired former Draft Biden finance director Sam Jones to handle fund raising should he decide to run.

It is doubtful that such a third party candidacy will receive any meaningful support nationally, but The Washington Post notes that “polling suggests he could have a significant effect on the race in his home state of Virginia, taking between 13 and 19 percent of the vote from the two major candidates.”

Should Hillary Clinton win the Democratic nomination there we will have a situation where the Democratic candidate is at least as hawkish, and very likely more hawkish, than the Republican candidate–and we have seen how the Republicans cannot be trusted on foreign policy.

Webb would be preferable to Clinton or any likely Republican candidate on foreign policy, having disagreed with Clinton on her support for both the Iraq war while in the Senate and her push for regime change in Libya as Secretary of State. Both of these policies supported by Clinton have resulted in disasters. While Donald Trump also has a better track record than Clinton regarding regime change, he has far too many other negatives to be seriously considered as commander in chief.

Having Webb in the race could theoretically provide a counter to the likely neocon policies of both Clinton, should she defeat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, and most Republican candidates, Webb is otherwise too conservative to provide a meaningful choice. As any vote for a third party would amount to only a protest vote, other possibilities look far more intriguing. At this time, should I make a protest vote (which is easier not living in a battle ground state), I lean towards Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Gary Johnson, who also ran in 2012, has also announced his candidacy for the Libertarian Party nomination. Considering that Clinton’s record on civil liberties is also extremely conservative, I might also consider him as a protest vote should Clinton win the Democratic nomination. Entrepreneur Austin Petersen and cybersecurity expert John McAfee have also announced candidacies for the Libertarian Party nomination. Jesse Ventura has also expressed interest, which might make the race even more interesting.

Donald Trump’s Dangerous Pandering To The Far Right

Trump Muslim Database

Donald Trump has devolved from businessman and reality show host who often supported Democrats over Republicans to an extreme right winger. He went from criticizing Mitt Romney for being too hard line on immigration in 2012, to taking this issue to new lows this year. Most likely this is because it is what he has calculated what is the best path to win the Republican nomination in a crowded field, but a politician who says what he says is unacceptable. While words such as fascist are thrown around far too often in political discourse, now we even have some conservatives calling Trump a fascist.

Trump has tried to capitalize on Republican racism and xenophobia from the start of his campaign, and he has now turned to capitalizing on anti-Muslim hysteria. There includes his talk  of surveillance of mosques to  Muslim registries, although in subsequent statements it is not clear if this is to be only of refugees, which is less extensive but still disturbing. Considerations of civil liberties do not appear to ever cross his mind.

With the combination of his egomania and outlandish claims, at times Trump gives the feeling of a television or movie supervillian. He is clearly evil, such as in supporting torture for the sake of torture. He even mocks the disabled (which he later denied). He said he approves of water boarding even if it doesn’t work.  He claimed to have the world’s best memory. He says he has an ability to predict terrorism by feeling it. He says he saw people jump from the World Trade Center from his home in midtown Manhattan, which would require super vision.  This occurred at roughly the same time as he was watching Muslims celebrating in New Jersey. Does he also have super speed? Or is he just a politician going after “applause lies” as The New York Times editorial board put it.

Byron York sees this as Trump’s version of compromise. Ask for three times what you want, and then win when  you settle for less than you first asked for.  It also helps Trump that the most extreme positions are exactly what the Republican base wants.  National polls this far before a primary often have little predictive value, but at very least it is clear that many in the Republican base are excited by what he says and not revolted as decent people should be. Maybe his support is exaggerated by the current polls as Nate Silver suggests. We will have a much better idea as to whether his front runner status is real if he does win in Iowa and New Hampshire.

My bet is that his plan is to first win the nomination by saying whatever he has to, and then take a new approach in the general election, assuming that the majority of voters won’t even notice. It is a scary thought, but he just might pull this off, especially if he runs against Hillary Clinton, who has her own issues with changing her views based upon the latest focus group.

Post was updated with additional links on November 27, 2017

 

Why Liberals Should Support Bernie Sanders And Not Hillary Clinton

Sanders Clinton

Conor Friedersdorf is a little late with this article at The Atlantic in calling for more Democratic candidates to enter the race, but his arguments against nominating Clinton are solid:

Most Democrats regard the Iraq War as a historic disaster. Clinton voted for that conflict. That hawkishness wasn’t a fluke. She pushed for U.S. intervention in Libya without Congressional approval and without anticipating all that has gone wrong in that country. She favored U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war as well. Why haven’t Democrats concluded that she has dangerously bad judgment on foreign policy? She certainly hasn’t done anything to distinguish herself in that realm.

Along with the Iraq War, Democrats disdained George W. Bush for the Patriot Act, his expansive views on executive power, and his awful record on transparency. Clinton voted for the Patriot Act. She shows every sign of embracing a similarly expansive view of executive power. And she took extraordinary steps to shield her emails from federal public-records and freedom of information laws.

Then there are her financial backers.

Many Democrats are sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street and to the notion that wealthy special interests on Wall Street are rigging the system by buying off politicians. Who is more bought off than Clinton? It isn’t just her campaign coffers and her family’s foundation that benefit from Wall Street money. Her family’s private accounts are flush with funds from big banks, including at least one that benefitted from her tenure at State and paid her husband seven figures for a speaking gig. It is naive to think that she won’t look out for the interests of Big Finance in Washington.

And on social issues like gay marriage and police misconduct her approach has been to lag public opinion rather than to lead it toward an embrace of progressive reforms.

These are significant flaws.

Nothing costs more in blood and treasure than dubious wars of choice. In an era of terrorism, it is more important than ever to elevate reliable guardians of civil liberties. Wall Street malfeasance contributed to a painful financial crisis in recent memory…

Bernie Sanders has exposed Clinton’s electoral weakness. Her response to the email scandal has reminded voters how willing she is to dissemble. At the very least, Clinton’s weaknesses suggest that a coronation would be a folly––and one without any apparent upside.

Friedersdorf’s argument elsewhere in the article for more Democrats to challenge Clinton would have made sense months ago, when most Democrats were afraid to enter the race because of the fallacious belief that Clinton’s victory was inevitable. At this point it would be very hard for other candidates to launch a campaign unless they have considerable name recognition and connections, such as Joe Biden or Al Gore. Gore’s name comes up occasionally, but there is no sign he has any real interest, and Biden has not yet decided. Democrats who were afraid of the challenge of taking on Clinton six months ago when they thought her victory was inevitable are unlikely to take up the challenge of entering the nomination battle at this late date.

While this might change if Biden gets in the race or O’Malley’s campaign should come back from the dead, at this time Sanders is the only viable alternative to Clinton. Friedersdorf arguments against Clinton are the reasons why liberals should vote for Bernie Sanders.

This article also reminded me of another article I’d recommend at TruthoutFive Reasons No Progressive Should Support Hillary Clinton. The article summarizes Clinton’s conservative record on Foreign Policy, the Economy, the Environment, Civil Liberties, and Culture War issues. I would add a sixth–government transparency and ethics, but note that this was written in February, before the email and Foundation scandals.

Occupy Calls Clinton and Most Candidates Unfit To Lead; Sanders Receives Favorable Coverage

Sanders Clinton

The rise of Bernie Sanders has sometimes called a progression from the Occupy Wall Street movement which drew attention to the dangers of income inequality. Occupy.com recently looked at presidential candidates they consider Unfit To Lead. Their arguments against Hillary Clinton:

As the junior U.S. Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton voted for not only the USA PATRIOT Act that codified some of the U.S. government’s most intrusive and unconstitutional surveillance programs, but for the Iraq War resolution that led our nation into the bloodiest boondoggle of the 21st century. As a result of Clinton’s vote and the resulting destabilization of Iraq, thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died – and Iraq is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world, overrun by Daesh (ISIS) terrorists who have destroyed cultural icons, forced children to become soldiers, raped thousands of women, and committed genocide upon the Yazidi population. Even after the Iraq vote, Clinton still hadn’t backed down from her hawkishness. In 2008, Clinton was quoted saying, “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m president, we will attack Iran… we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

As President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton created a culture of corruption within the agency, allowing corporations who donated to her family foundation to benefit from State Department contracts and projects. Clinton propagated fracking in a number of Eastern European countries, allowing Clinton Foundation donors ExxonMobil and Chevron to have a foothold into new markets. Meanwhile, a recent report by David Sirota exposed how Clinton’s State Department approved $165 billion in arms sales to 20 countries whose governments donated millions of dollars to her foundation. Many of those countries, like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have reputations of trampling on human rights.

Hillary Clinton has remained ambiguous about how she would handle a future financial crisis as president. While Bernie Sanders has made his positions clear on breaking up the big banks, jailing the bankers responsible for reckless behavior that crashed the economy, and implementing a financial transactions tax to fund jobs creation, Clinton has only chastised Wall Street for “risky behavior” in public. In private, Clinton gave two closed-door speeches to Goldman Sachs, each paying $200,000. So far, the Clinton campaign has raked in at least $46 million from Wall Street, and there’s still a year and a half to go.

Ed Schultz also has pointed out how Clinton has avoided answering questions in contrast to Sanders:

When you ask Bernie Sanders about [the Keystone pipeline], you get an answer. When you ask Bernie Sanders a question about the Trans Pacific Partnership… you get an answer. When you ask Bernie Sanders what he would do to the big banks on Wall Street, you get an answer. When you ask Bernie Sanders about, ‘Do you think that the oil companies should pay their fair share – and continue to get billions in dollars of subsidies from the United States Treasury?’ you get a direct answer.

While economic policy has dominated the campaign, as would be expected with the state of the economy, I am glad Occupy did also discuss some of the non-economic reasons to oppose Clinton, including her support for the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and the environment.

The same post is critical of Martin O’Malley for his “zero-tolerance” policies. Bernie Sanders has frequently received favorable coverage from them. Six of the Republican candidates are also discussed, and it seems a safe bet that similar objections apply to the rest. I wonder if the article left out Donald Trump due to not taking his campaign seriously, but that could be a mistake considering how his views resonate with the base, as opposed to Jeb Bush, who the Republicans show no excitement for.

An updated version of this has been posted at The Moderate Voice

Desperate Conservatives Calling Bernie Sanders A Nazi

Bernie Sanders National Socialism

Bernie Sanders must be scaring the right wing as calling Sanders a socialist isn’t enough for them. An article from National Review practically calls him a Nazi, along with including some references to Stalin. The article outright claims he is a national socialist, which is just a more polite way to say Nazi:

In the Bernieverse, there’s a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.

The rest of the article isn’t any better. The article accuses Sanders of xenophobia, based upon twisting his views on the adverse effects of  outsourcing jobs overseas, which is especially absurd coming from a conservative movement which thrives on racism and xenophobia.

Later in the article are twisted claims that, “criminalizing things is very much on Bernie’s agenda, beginning with the criminalization of political dissent” and that he would get rid of the First Amendment. This is hardly consistent with Sanders’ actual record on civil liberties. It was also Bernie Sanders who was calling for the repeal of laws by which the government infringes upon the private lives of individuals, going back to his campaign for governor of Vermont in the 1970’s:

Bernie Sanders Letter

In this letter, Sanders complained about the erosion of freedoms under Richard Nixon and wrote: “…there are entirely too many laws which regulate human behavior. Let us oppose all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or ‘right’ on people. Let’s abolish all laws dealing with abortion, drugs, sexual behavior (adultrey, homosexuality, etc.).”

We know where the right wing stands on such issues. They are truly the ones who not only compromise First Amendment rights, but support “criminalizing things” which vary from their brand of morality.

I would think that just being a self-described democratic socialist would be enough to satisfy the paranoia of the right wing. Maybe they realize that once voters take a close look at Sanders’ economic policies, many Americans would be quite pleased. While the top one percent might object to losing the special favors from government which help them accumulate their wealth, the rest of the country would come out ahead, including those in the private sector. Creating a stronger middle class would be good for capitalism, and Sanders has made it clear he has no objection to the private sector. As I pointed out in May, there was no Red Dawn in Vermont when Sanders became mayor of Burlington. As Politco noted:

In 1988, toward the end of Sanders’ four-term tenure — long after a local Democratic leader predicted the movement that swept Sanders into office would be gone in a decade — the U.S. Conference of Mayors named Burlington the most livable city in the country with a population of under 100,000 (in a tie). Then Sanders’ director of community and economic development succeeded him in the mayor’s office and Inc. Magazine named Burlington the best city in the Northeast for a growing business.

Steve Benen also pointed out this bizarre criticism of Sanders from the right:

Sanders and his supporters will very likely find this criticism infuriating, and with good reason. But what’s striking to me is the fact that the criticism exists at all.
It wasn’t long ago that the Republican establishment and conservative media were content to ignore Sanders and his ideas. If his name came up at all, it was used as a punch-line – Sanders was a liberal caricature, not to be taken seriously.
That’s obviously changed. As Sanders’ crowds grow and his poll standing improves, the Vermonter has positioned himself as worthy of National Review condemnation. To be sure, it’s unpersuasive, needlessly provocative condemnation, but it’s also evidence of a prominent national figure whom the right is no longer inclined to discount as irrelevant.

Justice Department Subpoenas Blog To Identify Anonymous Commenters

The Justice Department has issued a subpoena against Reason demanding information on the identities of anonymous commentaters. BuzzFeed reports:

The Justice Department has issued a federal grand jury subpoena to Reason, a prominent libertarian publication, to unmask the identity of commenters who made alleged threats against a federal judge.

In the June 2 subpoena, first published by the blog Popehat on Monday, the Justice Department orders Reason to provide a federal grand jury with “any and all identifying information” on the identities of commenters who mused about shooting federal judges and/or feeding them through a wood chipper.

A May 31 article on Reason’s blog about the prosecution of Silk Road founder Ross “Dread Pirate Roberts” Ulbricht spurred the anonymous commenters’ vitriol. Ulbricht pleaded for leniency, but a federal judge sentenced Ulbricht to life in prison without parole for setting up the illicit online drug market.

“It’s judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” one Reason commenter wrote…

The subpoena raises several First Amendment issues, such as whether the comments rise to the level of a “true threat” or are protected free speech. The Supreme Court recently ruled that “true threats” must be made with some knowledge or intent that the threat will be taken seriously.

Kimberly Chow, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the comments on Reason clearly fall within the internet’s regular, if outrageous and often vile, discourse.

“In terms of the comments, everybody knows the internet is a forum where exaggeration and hyperbole take place,” Chow told BuzzFeed News. “These comments are in that category. Nobody believes that these people are going to go and put this judge in a wood chipper.”

Free speech advocates also worry that such subpoenas burden websites with significant legal costs and could have a chilling effect on speech. The subpoena also has specific implications for anonymous speech.

Kyu Youm, a professor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and First Amendment scholar, called the Justice Department subpoena “a misplacement of priorities” in an interview with BuzzFeed News.

“Generally speaking, anonymity is still a part of freedom of expression, and just because the government wants to unmask the commenters does not mean it has a strong case,” Youm said. “At least, if there is doubt as to the validity of the subpoena, anonymity should be given the benefit of the doubt.”

Popehat further criticized the subpoena:

The subpoena raises a few questions:

First, are Those Comments True Threats?

Second, if they are not true threats on their face, does the U.S. Attorney’s Office still have the power to use a grand jury subpoena to identify the commenters?

Third, even if the U.S. Attorney’s Office has the power, should it have that power?

Are the Reason.com Comments “True Threats?” No. NO. AND HELL NO!

True Threats” are those threats that are outside the protection of the First Amendment; they are not mere political hyperbole or bluster. For instance, in 1967, when Mr. Watts said that if he were drafted the first man he’d want in his rifle sights was President Lyndon B. Johnson, that wasn’t a true threat: it was conditional political hyperbole. In other words, it was mere angry bluster of the sort no reasonable person would take to be a serious threat.3

What of these comments on Reason.com, then? I submit that they are very clearly not true threats — that this is not even a close call.

True threat analysis always examines context. Here, the context strongly weighs in favor of hyperbole. The comments are on the Internet,  a wretched hive of scum, villainy, and gaseous smack talk.4 The are on a political blog, about a judicial-political story; such stories are widely known to draw such bluster. They are specifically at Reason.com, a site with excellent content but cursed with a group of commenters who think such trash talk is amusing.

The “threats” do not specify who is going to use violence, or when. They do not offer a plan, other than juvenile mouth-breathing about “wood chippers” and revolutionary firing squads. They do not contain any indication that any of the mouthy commenters has the ability to carry out a threat. Nobody in the thread reacts to them as if they are serious. They are not directed to the judge by email or on a forum she is known to frequent.

Virginia Postrel, a former editor of Reason, in an op-ed at Bloomberg News stressed the civil liberties aspects of the case:

The real threats aren’t coming from the likes of Agammamon and croaker. They’re coming from civil servants in suits. Subpoenaing Reason’s website records, wasting its staff’s time and forcing it to pay legal fees in hopes of imposing even larger legal costs and possibly even a plea bargain (or two on the average Joes who dared to voice their dissident views in angry tones ) sends an intimidating message: It’s dangerous not just to create something like Silk Road. It’s dangerous to defend it, and even more dangerous to attack those who would punish its creator. You may think you have free speech, but we’ll find a way to make you pay.

Yes, this is about civil liberties and our First Amendment rights, not whether you agree with Ulbricht or how you feel about the specific comments. I, along with other bloggers who have commented on the case, would have probably deleted some of the more vile comments which have been cited from our blogs. However that is the decision of the owner of the blog, not something the government should be involved in.

Obama Acts To Limit Use Of Military Equipment By Police

Police Missouri

The events in Ferguson are primarily remembered for raising national awareness as to the frequency of unarmed black men being killed by police, and how we have two systems of justice. Ferguson also led to people on both the left and right joining together to oppose the militarization of police. President Obama has responded to this concern:

President Obama on Monday banned the federal provision of some types of military-style equipment to local police departments and sharply restricted the availability of others.

The ban is part of Mr. Obama’s push to ease tensions between law enforcement and minority communities in reaction to the crises in Baltimore; Ferguson, Mo.; and other cities.

He took the action after a task force he created in January decided that police departments should be barred from using federal funds to acquire items that include tracked armored vehicles, the highest-caliber firearms and ammunition, and camouflage uniforms. The ban is part of a series of steps the president has made to try to build trust between law enforcement organizations and the citizens they are charged with protecting…

The report from the task force on military equipment cited the police response to the Ferguson unrest as an example of how the “militarization” of police departments can lead to fear and mistrust. In addition to prohibiting some equipment outright, officials said, Mr. Obama accepted the group’s recommendation to impose new restrictions on other military-style items, such as wheeled armored vehicles, pyrotechnics, battering rams and riot gear, and more stringent requirements for training and information collection for departments that acquire them.

“The idea is to make sure that we strike a balance in providing the equipment, which is appropriate and useful and important for local law enforcement agencies to keep the community safe, while at the same time putting standards in place,” said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of Mr. Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.

The report represents a two-pronged response to a problem that has emerged as a central predicament for Mr. Obama in recent months. He has struggled to acknowledge the sense of fear, grievance and victimization by the police that dominates many minority communities without seeming to forgive violence or condemn law enforcement with a broad brush.

In doing so, he is grappling with the limits of his power to force changes in police departments around the country, where practices and procedures are varied and the federal government’s ability to influence change can be minimal. The equipment task force stems from an executive order, and its conclusions affect only the material supplied by the federal government, while the policing recommendations are merely a blueprint for what Mr. Obama would like to see happen in jurisdictions throughout the country.

Mr. Obama announced $163 million in grants to encourage police departments to adopt the suggestions. The administration also will launch a “tool kit” for the use of body-worn cameras; the Justice Department created a grant program for law enforcement agencies to purchase them.

The American Civil Liberties Union released this comment:

President Barack Obama announced a ban, effective immediately, on the federal government’s transfer of certain military vehicles and weaponry to local and state police departments in the U.S.

Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, had this comment:

“Through this ban, the president has taken a critical step towards rebuilding trust between police and the people they have pledged to serve. Now, the federal government will no longer be permitted to supply police departments with military weapons and vehicles designed for the battlefield. Grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons, armored vehicles – this equipment never belonged in our neighborhoods. In our report War Comes Home, we detailed the devastating impact of militarized policing, with communities of color hit especially hard by the weapons and tactics of war.

“We hope that Congress will protect today’s reforms by making them law.”

While a good start, more work is needed to resolve this problem. Radley Balko has some positive comments on Obama’s announcement (emphasis mine):

This announcement is significant. There are types of objections to how the 1033 Program affects police militarization in America. The first is a practical objection — this equipment was designed for use on the battlefield. There’s just no appropriate domestic application for a tracked tank or for guns that shoot .50-caliber ammunition.

The second objection is more about mindset, symbolism and the kind of society in which we want to live. There are plenty of scenarios under which a police department would legitimately need a bulletproof truck. But there’s really no reason why that truck needs to be an MRAP, or painted camouflage or military green, or designed to look as imposing and intimidating as possible. Imagery is important. It’s an indication of how the police see themselves, how they see the community they serve and how the perceive their relationship with that community. And all of that in turn affects how the community views the police. It isn’t difficult to understand how a cop who is dressed in camouflage who rides around the neighborhood in an MRAP is likely to approach to his job with a different mindset than a cop in traditional police blues who conducts daily foot patrols in the same neighborhood.

From what has been reported, this new initiative addresses these concerns as well and seems to indicate that the Obama administration understands and appreciates that the symbolic component of police militarization is just as important as the practical component. I’m uncomfortable with any military vehicles going to local police. Free societies tend to draw a clear line between cops and soldiers. Blurring that line indicates a failure to appreciate its importance. But this initiative is moving toward reestablishing that line, not moving it or further blurring it. Federal programs are pretty difficult to disband, so a blanket ban was probably never in the cards. Conditioning the acceptance of this gear on increased transparency, accountability and a move toward community policing seems like a good compromise. We’ll either get less use of this military-issued equipment, or we’ll get more and better information about how it’s used. Either outcome is progress.

He also continues to see problems:

There’s no understating the role the 1033 Program played in militarizing U.S. police forces. Though it was codified in the 1990s, the transfer policy existed informally dating back to the early 1980s. So reining it in is important. It sends a clear message that the administration really gets this issue.

That said, most of the militarization today happens outside the 1033 Program. As the Heritage Foundation reported last year, few of the weapons we saw in those iconic images coming out of Ferguson were obtained through 1033. That program created the thirst for militarization, but police agencies can now quench that thirst elsewhere. Since 2003, for example, the Department of Homeland Security has been giving grants to police departments around the country to purchase new military-grade gear. That program now dwarfs the 1033 Program. It has also given rise to a cottage industry of companies that build gear in exchange for those DHS checks. Those companies now have a significant lobbying presence in Washington. I suspect that presence will now only grow stronger. So if the Obama administration really wants to roll back police militarization, this program needs reform, too.

Police agencies also sometimes buy the gear directly from manufacturers. Some purchase gear through donations. In some cases, even individual officers buy their own stuff. There really isn’t much the Obama administration can do about these sources of militarized weapons.

Ultimately, I think going after the symbolism component to militarization is more important than attacking the the practical component. Most police departments are always going to have a SWAT team. Larger departments will have several. So the option to use militarized force will always be available. The key is to get them to opt for it only when it’s appropriate. (A good start would be to remove the incentives to use such force when it isn’t.) Or better yet, to instill a healthy reluctance to use such force at all — to make deescalating conflicts the priority instead of overwhelming them.

The good news is that this new policy suggests that the Obama administration understands this. But the push will have to come from the bottom up, too. The federal government can stop contributing to the problem, but it will be up to local activists, voters and elected officials to actually change it. There will be resistance, from unions, from police advocates and probably from politicians. But police agencies are ultimately answerable to the communities they serve. If a city’s police leadership has adopted use of force policies that don’t conform with a community’s values, the community should demand new leadership. If the city’s politicians don’t comply, then the community should demand new politicians.

Common Dreams has additional opinions here.