Obama, Clinton, and Sanders & The Drug War (Sanders Has The Best Position)

Commuted Sentences Obama

The drug war is one of several areas where Obama has tried to move in the right direction, but his overall accomplishments over the last seven years have been disappointing. Far too little has changed. The White House has now announced that President Obama is reducing the sentences of sixty-one more individuals imprisoned due to drug laws, bringing the total to 248:

Today, the President announced 61 new grants of commutation to individuals serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws. More than one-third of them were serving life sentences. To date, the President has now commuted the sentences of 248 individuals – more than the previous six Presidents combined. And, in total, he has commuted 92 life sentences.

Underscoring his commitment not just to clemency, but to helping those who earn their freedom make the most of their second chance, the President will meet today with commutation recipients from both his Administration and the previous administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. During the meeting, the commutation recipients will discuss their firsthand experiences with the reentry process and ways that the process can be strengthened to give every individual the resources he or she needs to transition from prison and lead a fulfilling, productive life…

While this is welcome news, both liberal and libertarian commentators have expressed regrets that Obama hasn’t done more. Vox notes:

…the White House is still falling far short of the expectations it set for itself two years ago, when it encouraged thousands of prisoners to apply for shorter sentences. Then–Attorney General Eric Holder even went so far as to speculate that 10,000 prisoners might get their sentences reduced by the end of the Obama administration.

In that context, the 61 new commutations — and even the 248 total commutations — look different: a very small, incremental change that may signal the White House will do more in future but almost certainly won’t help it live up to its own expectations.

This comes not long after considerable discussion in the medical field regrading the negative impact of handling drug abuse as a criminal as opposed to a health matter, including in an article in The Lancet:

In a report published Thursday in The Lancet medical journal, Beyrer and an international team of researchers assessed the growing body of evidence for the public health impacts of programs such as opioid substitution therapy and needle exchange programs. In addition to criminal justice changes, the researchers made specific recommendations for policy makers to improve access to services that can reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV.

“We think there is the first opportunity in a generation to have meaningful drug reform,” said Beyrer, who led the research for the report , which was commissioned by The Lancet and Johns Hopkins University

The report comes weeks before the United Nations General Assembly Special Session convenes on April 19 to discuss drug policy for the first time since 1998.

“There is pressure from a number of countries who feel the war on drugs has failed them, particularly Central and South America, where there is some of the worst drug-related violence,” Beyrer said. “We sought to review all the scientific evidence so it would be available to the U.N. member states when this is being debated.”

According to the report, injection drug use has led to increases in new HIV and HCV infections. Unsafe injection practices, such as sharing needles, are linked to about 30% of HIV transmission outside of sub-Saharan Africa. HCV transmission is also high among people who inject drugs, and a study in the United States found that more than half of people got infected in the first year they were injecting.

Hillary Clinton’s opposition to needle exchange programs, along with her hard line overall on the drug war, was an issue in the 2008 election. This year Bernie Sanders differs from his current opponents in going the furthest to oppose the continuation of the drug war:

Bernie Sanders’ campaign is now officially neck and neck with Hilary. Considered by many of us, to be a voice of progress and a champion for a new America. Much of his platform is forward-looking and based on reimagining what Americans should value in the future. To reinforce this outlook, many of his major policies address the redistribution of wealth and the reevaluation of some of the country’s long-standing campaigns—with the the War on Drugs being at the top of the list. Bango, Bernie!

Now pay close attention here, his mandates related to the War on Drugs are to treat and rehabilitate non-violent drug offenders rather than imprison them, to prevent large companies from further profiteering off of prisons and to legalize cannabis. If he is elected and this reform is passed by Congress, America would look very different—for the better, we like to think.

As much as Big Bernie is an advocate for policy change, he’s also focused on creating a major cultural shift. This is most strongly evidenced by his plan to create treatment facilities for non-violent drug offenders. If implemented correctly, the plan would encourage Americans to be more sympathetic towards those who have fallen victim to drug addiction, regardless of how or why. As Sanders sees it, it takes a community to help someone get back on their feet, and we need to be in the business of creating the infrastructure to make this happen…

There were also recent reports that a top Nixon aide had described the real reasons for the war on drugs:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday.

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

This also fits into the Clinton model of expanding police power. I fear that if Clinton is elected we will slide backwards on continuing the disastrous drug war.

Fighting The Machine, Including Adverse Consequences Of Clinton Policies On Minorities

Sanders Marijuana Racism

Camille Paglia captures the feelings of many of us who back Sanders, and would like to see virtually anyone other than Hillary Clinton be the Democratic candidate. I’ll ignore her attack on ” upper-middle-class professionals” and try not to take it personally. Otherwise she captures the mood:

Democrats face a stark choice this year.  A vote for the scandal-plagued Hillary is a resounding ratification of business as usual–the corrupt marriage of big money and machine politics, practiced by the Clintons with the zest of Boss Tweed, the gluttonous czar of New York’s ruthless Tammany Hall in the 1870s.  What you also get with Hillary is a confused hawkish interventionism that has already dangerously destabilized North Africa and the Mideast.  This is someone who declared her candidacy on April 12, 2015 via an email and slick video and then dragged her feet on making a formal statement of her presidential policies and goals until her pollsters had slapped together a crib list of what would push the right buttons.  This isn’t leadership; it’s pandering.

Thanks to several years of the Democratic party establishment strong-arming younger candidates off the field for Hillary, the only agent for fundamental change remains Bernie Sanders, an honest and vanity-free man who has been faithful to his core progressive principles for his entire career.  It is absolutely phenomenal that Sanders has made such progress nationally against his near total blackout over the past year by the major media, including the New York Times.  That he has inspired the hope and enthusiasm of an immense number of millennial women is very encouraging.  Feminists who support Hillary for provincial gender reasons are guilty of a reactionary, reflex sexism, betraying that larger vision required for the ballot so hard-won by the suffrage movement.

The Democratic National Committee, as chaired since 2011 by Clinton sycophant Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has become a tyranny that must be checked and overthrown.  Shock the system!  Here are the flaming words of one of my heroes, Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley.  In 1964, he declared from the steps of Sproul Hall to a crowd of 4,000 protesters:  “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part!  And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!”

A vote for Bernie Sanders is a vote against the machine, the obscenely money-mad and soulless juggernaut that the Democratic Party has become.  Perhaps there was a time, during the Hubert Humphrey era, when Democrats could claim to be populists, alive to the needs and concerns of working-class people.  But the party has become the playground of white, upper-middle-class professionals with elite-school degrees and me-first values.  These liberal poseurs mouth racial and ethnic platitudes, acquired like trophy kills at their p.c. campuses, but every word rings hollow, because it is based on condescension, a patronizing projection of victimhood onto those outside their privileged circle.  There is no better example of this arrogant class bias than Wellesley grad Hillary Clinton lapsing into her mush-mouthed, Southern-fried dialect when addressing African-American audiences.

It does make no sense for either feminists or minorities to support Clinton considering her conservative world view and propensity to throw political allies under the bus at the moment it becomes politically expedient. Apparently some African Americans do have their doubts about her, as seen in the interruption of a recent campaign event by Black Lives Matters activists:

Youth activist Ashley Williams demanded that the Democratic presidential candidate account for inconsistencies in her record on race, specifically around comments she made about crime in 1996.

Williams said she and a colleague, whom she did not identify, contributed $500 to attend the Clinton event, which was held at a private residence and was attended by around 100 guests…

As Clinton spoke to the crowd, Williams stood to her side and held a sign quoting controversial statements Clinton made in 1996 in reference to at-risk youth, when she said “we have to bring them to heel.”

…Williams, who is from Charlotte, North Carolina, said she was motivated to protest because policies during President Bill Clinton’s administration led to an increase in mass incarceration that mostly affected black communities. She pointed to three-strike federal sentencing laws, the elimination of rehabilitative programs for drug abuse and an emphasis on prison construction as part of the destructive Clinton legacy on crime.

Clinton has distanced herself from these policies and recently issued a detailed agenda on racial justice. But Williams wants more.

“Hillary Clinton has a pattern of throwing the Black community under the bus when it serves her politically,” Williams said in a statement before the event. “She called our boys ‘super-predators’ in ’96, then she race-baited when running against Obama in ‘08, now she’s a lifelong civil rights activist. I just want to know which Hillary is running for President, the one from ’96, ’08, or the new Hillary?”

Bernie Sanders has been discussing the effects of welfare reform under Bill Clinton, which Hillary has supported, on minorities:

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont began his day of campaigning Wednesday by criticizing Hillary Clinton’s support of welfare reform in 1996, accusing her of backing legislation that ultimately increased poverty levels and led more Americans to face economic anxiety.

Mr. Sanders said Mrs. Clinton helped round up votes to pass the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the welfare reform legislation that President Bill Clinton signed into law. The senator said the bill hurt Americans by punishing poor people rather than helping them. He added that if elected he would work especially hard to lower the poverty rate of the United States, increase wages, and provide health care for all people.

“What welfare reform did, in my view, was to go after some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in this country,” Mr. Sanders said. “And, during that period. I spoke out against so-called welfare reform because I thought it was scapegoating people who were helpless, people who were very, very vulnerable. Secretary Clinton at that time had a very different position on welfare reform — strongly supported it and worked hard to round up votes for its passage.”

Mr. Sanders said that since the legislation was signed into law, the number of families living in extreme poverty has more than doubled. He said that if elected, he would work to reverse that trend.

“What we are going to do in this country if I have anything to say about it is to say if somebody works 40 hours a week, that person is not going to live in poverty,” Mr. Sanders said , adding that he would raise the federal minimum wage to $15. “Today the minimum wage of $7.25 is nothing less than a starvation wage.”

At other times Sanders has also discussed the devastation created in minority neighborhoods by the policies supported by the Clintons on crime and drug laws.

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

Benefits Seen Two Years After Legalization Of Marijuana In Colorado

colorado.first.to.legalize.250

AlterNet noted the two year anniversary of legalized marijuana in Colorado, describing the economic benefits along with the decrease in incarceration:

1) Thousands Not Arrested for Marijuana in Colorado

This initial and foundational aspect of marijuana legalization is often overlooked – marijuana arrests in Colorado have plummeted. We’ve seen possession, cultivation and distribution charges for marijuana cumulatively drop over 80%. Thousands of people in the state are no longer facing the immediate or collateral impact of a marijuana arrest. These thousands we speak of are disproportionately young black and brown men who now face one less obstacle of the many they endure in this country. We’ve also seen all drug-related charges drop by 23% on a judicial district level since the passage of amendment 64.

2) Revenue Allocation for Important Services

Colorado is projected to have brought in over 125 million dollars in taxes for 2015.  These monies are put into a fund to improve local public schools or are collected by the state to be divvied up via the Governor’s allocation plan.  The Governor’s plan provides a snapshot as to what a public health approach to marijuana looks like—funds are distributed to public education, behavioral health, law enforcement and youth prevention…

The article also noted the benefits reported after the first year by the Drug Policy Alliance:

The city of Denver saw a decrease in violent crime rates in the first 11 months of 2014, following a similar trend in 2013. Statewide traffic fatalities continue to decline, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Conservative groups opposed to marijuana legalization previously issued their own negative report, with the results being seen by others as politically motivated.

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.”

Hillary Clinton Resorts To Dirty Politics & Bernie Sanders Responds By Showing Differences On The Issues

Sanders Jefferson Jackson

Hillary Clinton has had a very good month, especially with Joe Biden deciding not to run, which is starting to solidify her support among the Democratic mainstream. Therefore it is puzzling that she would decide to take the low road in the campaign, playing the sex card much like she played the race card against Barack Obama eight years ago. She not only continued her campaign strategy of distorting Sanders’ record on gun control, but twisted a statement to falsely accuse him of sexism. While some of  Clinton’s supporters have frequently accused anyone who disagrees with Clinton’s views, or objects to her low ethical standards, of sexism, as far as I am aware this is the first time Hillary Clinton has stooped this low during this campaign.

During the recent Democratic debate, Sanders repeated a line he frequently uses in  his stump speech, criticizing the shouting from both sides on the issue. Democrats who are seen as opposing the private ownership of guns under any circumstance do not have the credibility which Sanders has, having supported both sensible gun control and the rights of hunters to own guns, to bridge this issue. When talking about shouting on the issue, Sanders is talking about all parties. Clinton twisted this in her response: “I’m not shouting. It’s just that when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”

Clinton is foolish to play dirty in the campaign when she has the lead as she already faced a challenge, should she go on to win the nomination, to get those independents who support Sanders but do not normally vote Democratic to turn out to vote for her in the general election. This will only make it harder. It is also foolish for Clinton to dwell on a single issue to make a bogus case of being more consistently liberal than Sanders when she has spent much of her career triangulating and undermining liberal principles.

Bernie Sanders responded to Clinton by bringing up just a small number of the many issues where Clinton has not been consistently liberal at the Democratic Jefferson-Jackson dinner. While he has mentioned some of these in the past, he was much more forceful in showing the differences between himself and Clinton, as I suggested he should do after the first debate. Sanders raised Clinton’s inconsistent views on trade, the Keystone XL Pipeline, campaign finance reform, the Iraq war, and gay rights. NBC News reported:

Without mentioning her by name, Sanders fired off a series of back-to-back jabs clearly aimed at the weakest parts of Clinton’s resume as he portrayed himself as the true progressive in the race who “will govern based on principle not poll numbers.”

His section of supporters roared at this key party event, which has a history of dislodging frontrunners — including Clinton in 2008 — in the state that holds the nation’s first nominating contest.

On the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Clinton recently opposed, Sanders said he was there first.

“I did not support it yesterday. I do not support it today. And I will not support it tomorrow,” he said. “It is not now, nor has it ever been, the gold standard of trade agreements.”

Clinton once called the TPP the “gold standard” of trade deals as she helped negotiate it as President Obama’s secretary of state.

On the Keystone XL pipeline, which Clinton seemed to favor as secretary of state but recently opposed, Sanders said he was there first too.

“If you agree with me about the urgent need to address the issue of climate change, then you would know immediately what to do about the Keystone pipeline. Honestly, it wasn’t that complicated,” he said. “To me, that was a no-brainer and that is why I have opposed the Keystone Pipeline from the beginning.”

On the Iraq War vote, where Clinton now says her “yes” vote was a mistake, Sanders said he was there first as well. “Let me tell you that I listened to what Bush had to say, to what Cheney had to say, to what Rumsfeld had to say. I didn’t believe them and I voted no,” he said.

And on the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law signed by Bill Clinton that banned the federal government from recognizing gay marriages — which Hillary Clinton now opposes — Sanders said he was there first once again.

“Today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse. Let us be clear. That’s just not true,” he said. “There was a small minority opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters. Not everybody held that position in 1996.”

Clinton told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Friday that her husband supported DOMA as a “defensive action,” since something worse would have been passed in its stead.

On every issue, Sanders said he faced a “fork in the road.”

“I am proud to tell you when I came to that fork in the road I took the right road even though it was not the popular road at the time,” he said.

And one of his biggest applause lines, ostensibly on campaign finance, was also a veiled shot at Clinton. “I am the only Democratic candidate for president who does not have a Super PAC and we are going to prove them wrong,” he said. Clinton has two super PACs.

Sanders sought to position himself as the rightful heir to Obama, who stunned observers at this very event in 2007 by delivering an inspiring speech that drew clear contrasts with Clinton.

“Eight years ago the experts talked about how another Democratic candidate for president, Barack Obama, couldn’t win. How he was unelectable. Well Iowa, I think we’re going to prove the pundits wrong again. I believe we will make history,” he said.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In order to prove the pundits wrong, make history, and to win, Bernie Sanders will need to continue to draw a contrast between himself and Hillary Clinton on the issues, showing Democratic voters that he, and not Clinton, better represents Democratic values. Of course the Democratic Party is a big tent and Clinton’s generally center-right positions will appeal to many of those who vote in Democratic primaries. To win Sanders will also need to turn the independent support he is achieving into primary votes.

Many of  his supporters are young voters who do not traditionally turn out in hight numbers. Sanders just might change this with positions which attract the young, including  his more left-libertarian views on social/cultural issues, including legalization of marijuana, along with his proposal to make public college education free. His support for expanding Social Security also represents a policy difference with Hillary Clinton which could help Sanders make inroads at the other end of the age range.

Sanders repeated his criticism of Clinton on CNN Sunday Morning, this time mentioning Clinton by name:

“I have consistently been a critic of what is going on on Wall Street, the greed, the recklessness, the illegal behavior. I helped lead the effort to — against the deregulation of Wall Street. I believe that we should bring back Glass-Steagall legislation so that you do not have the absurd situation of commercial banks and investment banks and large insurance companies being together,” Sanders told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“You do not have six financial institutions having assets equivalent to 60 percent of the GDP,” he continued. “With all the economic and political power that these banks have, I think you’ve got to break them up. That has always — that has been my view for a very, very long time. That is not Hillary Clinton’s view.”

ABC News began their report of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner which an example which seems to represent the philosophical difference between Clinton and Sanders supporters:

On one half of the space, the Clinton fans looked organized and polished. They wore matching, glow-in-the-dark, blue t-shirts that read, “I’m fighting for her.” They held battery-operated foam lights that shone brightly when the lights dimmed and doubled as noise-makers.

Sanders’ fans had glow sticks, too, the kind that glow after being snapped. While many of his fans wore Bernie 2016 t-shirts, they were mismatched and different colors. His section also included several homemade signs.

I think this says a lot about the types of people who support Sanders as opposed to Clinton. Most importantly, Democratic voters need to keep in mind that, to paraphrase Sanders, when there has been a fork in the road on policy, throughout their careers Sanders has taken the right fork while Clinton has made the wrong decision. We need a president who makes the right choices at the time, not one who will admit her mistakes and change her views years down the road.

Update: Video posted here.

Update II: Press & Bloggers Show Sanders Was Right In Accusing Clinton Of Practicing Revisionist History On DOMA

The Democratic Debate: Clinton Wins On Style And Gets Support Of Pundits; Sanders Wins On The Issues And Wins The Focus Groups

CNN Democratic Debate

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders each entered the first Democratic debate with different goals, and both accomplished them. Clinton was more polished, with both more debating experience, and having prepared in a conventional manner. She was also better at evading questions she did not want to answer. She won the chattering class. The same journalists who have underestimated Sanders from the start, and have not taken his campaign seriously, say that Clinton won.

Sanders won on the issues, and did what he intended to enhance his campaign. Sanders won the focus groups. He gained 35,163 followers on Twitter, compared to 13,252 for Clinton. Although unscientific and of questionable meaning, he won the online polls by large margins. Alternet summarized:

Bernie Sanders by all objective measures won the debate. Hands down. I don’t say this as a personal analysis of the debate – the very idea of “winning” a debate is silly to me. I say this because based on the only objective metrics we have, online polls and focus groups, he did win.  And it’s not even close.

Sanders won the CNN focus group, the Fusion focus group, and the Fox News focus group – in the latter, he even converted several Hillary supporters. He won the Slate online poll, the CNN/Time online poll, 9News ColoradoThe Street online poll, Fox5 poll, the conservative Drudge online poll and the liberal Daily Kos online poll. There wasn’t, to this writer’s knowledge, a poll he didn’t win by at least an 18 point margin.  But you wouldn’t know this from reading the establishment press. The New York Times, The New Yorker, CNN, Politico, Slate, New York Magazine, and Vox all of which unanimously say Hillary Clinton cleaned house.

Sanders went into the debate with an unconventional preparation as I discussed last week. Sanders did not go into the debate memorizing zingers or planning to try to take down Hillary Clinton. He used the debate to get access to potential voters who were not aware of him, and succeeded. This is also seen in the number of Google searches for him. To some degree this could be the novelty factor, from people who already knew about Clinton but not Sanders, but the large number of people expressing interest is bound to translate into some new supporters.

While Clinton did receive far more favorable reviews from the mainstream media, there are exceptions. Philip Bump at The Washington Post did point out how Sanders was the candidate breaking through. The Chicago Tribune considered Sanders to be the winner. Russell Berman at The Atlantic  argued that Sanders might receive a bigger bounce from the debate than Clinton. As might be expected, many blogs on the left also felt that Sanders won the debate.

With his lack of conventional debate preparation, there were areas in which Sanders could have explained himself better, along with other points where Sanders clearly won on the issues.  He should have been  prepared for a question based upon the recent Meet the Press interview. I recently discussed why the Democratic Socialist label is not hurting Bernie Sanders. Despite the labels he prefers, Sanders seeks to reform capitalism, not eliminate it. It is notable that he did point out his support for small and medium sized business:

SANDERS: I think everybody is in agreement that we are a great entrepreneurial nation. We have got to encourage that. Of course, we have to support small and medium-sized businesses.

But you can have all of the growth that you want and it doesn’t mean anything if all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. So what we need to do is support small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of our economy, but we have to make sure that every family in this country gets a fair shake…

Sanders could have also done a better job on guns, but he did note his D- lifetime rating from the NRA (with Sanders also receiving an F at  least once).

Let’s begin, Anderson, by understanding that Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating (ph) from the NRA. Let’s also understand that back in 1988 when I first ran for the United States Congress, way back then, I told the gun owners of the state of Vermont and I told the people of the state of Vermont, a state which has virtually no gun control, that I supported a ban on assault weapons. And over the years, I have strongly avoided instant background checks, doing away with this terrible gun show loophole. And I think we’ve got to move aggressively at the federal level in dealing with the straw man purchasers.

Also I believe, and I’ve fought for, to understand that there are thousands of people in this country today who are suicidal, who are homicidal, but can’t get the healthcare that they need, the mental healthcare, because they don’t have insurance or they’re too poor. I believe that everybody in this country who has a mental crisis has got to get mental health counseling immediately

While some Democrats will attack his record, I believe that Sanders’ approach of considering both the need for gun control and the rights of hunters to be a stronger position for a general election. Sanders would also be in a stronger position than Clinton to bring both sides to the table to work on sensible gun legislation.

Sanders was more prepared for the questions about Black Lives Matter. Note that Sanders repeated the phrase, but Clinton did not. Sanders wins a point over Clinton in his support for expanding Social Security. In contrast to the Republicans, it was good to see a political party which faced reality on climate change, but there are also aspects of Clinton’s environmental record which could have been challenged.

Sanders was right in arguing that war should only be considered as a last resort. Clinton was unable to defend her mistakes on Libya or Syria, but her opponents could also have done a better job of criticizing her on these. Perhaps it would have been different if Joe Biden was there, considering how he spent four years opposing Clinton’s hawkish views. Sanders was also far better than Clinton when discussing civil liberties, including his opposition to NSA surveillance, and marijuana laws, including opposition to the drug war. Despite calling himself a Democratic Socialist, in many ways Sanders is the most libertarian candidate running from either party (at least for us left-libertarians who concentrate on civil liberties as opposed to greater freedom for giant corporations).

Clinton was right in saying that the economy does better when a Democrat is in office. It was clear that any of the participants in last night’s debate would have been better than the Republicans running. She was knocked for her flip-flopping on the issues. Factcheck.org exposed her for trying to throw her previous statements on TPP down the memory hole:

Clinton revised her earlier position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries, claiming that she merely said she “hoped” it would be a “gold standard.” But her earlier support was more unequivocal.

The topic arose when debate moderator Anderson Cooper asked Clinton if some of her recent position changes were tied to political expediency, and he specifically referenced Clinton’s recent decision to oppose the TPP.

“You supported his trade deal dozens of times. You even called it the ‘gold standard.’ Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it,” Cooper said. “Will you say anything to get elected?”

Clinton said that over the course of her career, her values and principles have remained consistent, though some positions have evolved as she “absorb[s] new information.”

“You know, take the trade deal,” Clinton said. “I did say, when I was secretary of state, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn’t meet my standards. My standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans. And I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, ‘this will help raise your wages.’ And I concluded I could not.”

But Clinton didn’t add the “hoped it would be” qualifier when she made the initial comment about the TPP in 2012.

“This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” Clinton remarked in Adelaide, Australia, on Nov. 15, 2012. “And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

Two days later, in Singapore, Clinton again sang the praises of the TPP.

“The so-called TPP will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region,” Clinton said. “It will cover 40 percent of the world’s total trade and establish strong protections for workers and the environment. Better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others too often in the past excluded from the formal economy will help build Asia’s middle class and rebalance the global economy.”

The same article also noted that Clinton has repeated some of the same lies she told in the past about the email scandal which have been debunked in the past by fact checkers,

When asked about her unusual email arrangement as secretary of state, Clinton said, “What I did was allowed by the State Department.” That’s not the full story.

Clinton conducted government business exclusively using a personal email account (hdr22@clintonemail.com), and those emails were stored on a private server.

As we have written before, the State Department and the Clinton campaign have cited a National Archives and Records Administration rule issued in 2009 that said federal agencies that allow the use of personal emails must preserve them “in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system.” So personal emails were allowed.

But federal rules also required Clinton to preserve her work emails “at the end of the Secretary’s tenure or sooner if necessary.” She did not turn over copies of her emails to the State Department until Dec. 5, 2014 — nearly two years after she left office on Feb. 1, 2013.

Also, whether the State Department allowed it or not, Clinton’s decision “to conduct all e-mail correspondence through a private e-mail network, using a non-.gov address, is inconsistent with long-established policies and practices under the Federal Records Act and NARA regulations governing all federal agencies,” according to congressional testimony of Jason R. Baron, a former director of litigation at the National Archives, who is now a lawyer at Drinker Biddle.

Sanders’ biggest error was to present statistics for underemployment when making statements about unemployment, and got the ranking of the United States in income inequality wrong.

Sanders did provide an unexpected lifeline to Clinton when the email scandal came up, objecting to discussing this instead of the issues. It makes sense that he would not want to include this in his campaign, especially at a Democratic debate in front of partisan Democrats invited by the DNC. Besides, if Sanders had his way, he would talk about nothing other than income inequality and related economic matters throughout the debate, and the campaign. It is also unnecessary for Sanders to discuss this when there are still around thirty-six FOIA suits in progress along with the Justice Department investigation. If this was a debate in the general election, the Republicans could have raised a lot of valid points against Clinton, and this time would not have had to make things up as with Benghazi. As The Washington Post noted, the email scandal is not a problem which is going away. Sanders can sit back and let it all play out.

While both Clinton and Sanders could claim victories in this debate, the night did not go as well for the other candidates. I thought Martin O’Malley often did a fine job, including setting Clinton straight on economic policy at one point, but so far there are no signs he is receiving credit for this.  He has shown he could make a fine cabinet member, but it is hard to see him becoming a viable candidate for the nomination this year.

I give Lincoln Chafee credit for taking on Clinton over both her support for the Iraq war and over ethics. While he has no chance at becoming president, probably not now or ever, I do hope he remains around in politics, and perhaps in the next administration, to provide a conscience. Unfortunately he will be most remembered for being unprepared for his first vote as a Senator. Jim Webb blew any chance of using this debate to improve his campaign, and probably will only be remembered for having said he killed somebody.

Donald Trump also tried to get in on the action by live-blogging the debate, but he seemed totally over his head when issues came up. Once again, the Democrats showed they were far superior to the Republican candidates.

 

How Negative Will Clinton Go Against Sanders and Biden?

Sanders Raise Money Clinton Super Pac

Considering how dirty her 2008 campaign was against Obama, there has been speculation as to how negative Hillary Clinton will get against Bernie Sanders, and against Joe Biden if he decides to run. The New York Times notes that Clinton must be cautious in debating Sanders:

Over the next week, Mrs. Clinton and her aides will look for the best way to explain to viewers why she is a better choice than her nearest rival without sounding condescending to Mr. Sanders, or dismissive of his views, so she does not risk alienating his growing army of supporters.

“I’ve seen every attack people have thrown at him, and none of them have worked,” cautioned Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, who supports Mrs. Clinton.

Not all of them have been exactly subtle. In 2004, the Republican challenging him for his House seat sought to deride him as a political oddball. “Crazy Bernie,” an advertisement called him, “a holdover from the Woodstock days of reefer and flowers.” But Vermont voters did not seem to mind…

For Mrs. Clinton, debating Mr. Sanders poses a challenge reminiscent of the more troublesome one she faced in 2008, when Senator Barack Obama’s criticisms of her were widely characterized as fair, but Mrs. Clinton’s efforts to counter them and defend herself often were not.

Already, a “super PAC” supporting Mrs. Clinton showed the risks that can come if an unsuccessful attack on Mr. Sanders blows back. As The Huffington Post reported, the super PAC, Correct the Record, in a document that was intended to be off the record, drew a connection between Mr. Sanders and Hugo Chávez, the socialist president of Venezuela who died in 2013, because Mr. Sanders supported a deal to bring low-cost Venezuelan oil to New England. Mr. Sanders, calling it “the same-old, same-old negative politics,” seized on the report and raised more than $1 million in two days.

More on how Sanders set fund raising records in response to this attack here. Clinton’s dirty campaign in 2008 led many Democrats, such as Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy  to ultimately endorse Obama instead of her, and any dirty tricks from Clinton this campaign might have the same effect.

Clinton might try to attack Sanders’ views but this will be difficult because of how often he has been right on the issues and Clinton has been wrong. Clinton has often avoided discussing the issues in this campaign, and she did not do a good job on education. Alternet reports Hillary Clinton Delivers a Lame Attack on Bernie Sanders’ Free College Tuition Plan. Just wait until they talk about Iraq during the upcoming debate.

Clinton’s attacks on Sanders have generally come through surrogates. Politico reports on how Morning Joe is responding to the use of surrogates:

There’s a mandate on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: No candidate surrogates or spokespeople can appear on the show until the candidate agrees to be interviewed. And it all started with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“The rule was put in place for Hillary’s campaign because while just about every other candidate came on, the Clinton team kept trying to put out surrogates and staffers,” host Joe Scarborough told POLITICO. “We finally said ‘not until the candidate comes on herself.’ And then some suggested we have Jeb [Bush’s] people on a month or so ago, but we held to the same policy.”

Bush himself went on the show last week, meaning his surrogates and spokespeople can now appear as well. But Clinton, Ben Carson, John Kasich and Marco Rubio, none of whom has appeared on the show since they announced their campaigns, will have to wait.

“It applies to everybody. It just started with Hillary because her people were aggressive with getting pollsters and spokespeople on, but it applies to everyone,” Scarborough said. “That’s the fairest way to do it.”

While I often disagree with Joe Scarborough, this policy does sound like a good idea.

New York Magazine reports that Clinton’s usual hit-man, former Republican hit-man David Brock, will be leading the attacks on Joe Biden:

If Joe Biden jumps into the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton will be ready to go on the offensive. According to a source close to the Clinton campaign, a team of opposition researchers working on behalf of Clinton is currently digging through Biden’s long record in office to develop attack lines in case the vice-president runs. The research effort started about a month ago and is being conducted by operatives at Correct the Record, the pro-Hillary superpac founded by David Brock, which is coordinating with the Clinton campaign. According to the source, the research has turned up material on Biden’s ties to Wall Street; his reluctance to support the raid that killed Osma bin Laden; and his role in the Anita Hill saga as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The oppo-research project reveals how seriously Clintonworld is taking the prospect of a Biden candidacy. So far, Clinton hasn’t taken any direct shots at Biden herself. But behind the scenes, her loyalists are making moves to blunt Biden’s campaign should he run. “Even implicitly his campaign’s argument would be ‘I have integrity and you don’t,'” a Clinton ally said. “If that’s the message, this could be messier than Obama-Clinton ’08. At least Obama had the Iraq War vote and could make a case about generational change. This guy” — Biden — “is older than she is and just as conventional.”

A spokesperson for the Clinton campaign declined to comment.

Joe Biden might respond that while they voted the same on the initial Iraq vote, their views otherwise were quite different. Biden spent the next several months looking for alternatives to war while Clinton was one of the strongest advocates of going to war, including making false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. Biden often opposed Clinton’s more hawkish views as Secretary of State. Biden was pushing for Obama to “evolve” on same-sex marriage while Clinton was still opposed to it. Biden did not join up with the religious right while in the Senate as Clinton did. Biden didn’t spend his time in the Senate proposing to make flag burning a felony, or waging a war against video games as Clinton did. While Biden is not my first choice, he is certainly not as conservative as Clinton on social issues and foreign policy. Both Clinton and Biden have problems with regards to their ties to Wall Street and their hard line views on the drug war.

The Second Republican Debate: Faux Controversies, Lies, And One Candidate Was Even Right Twice

CNN Republican Debate

The second Republican debate (transcript here), this time hosted by CNN, didn’t raise as much controversy as the first. Donald Trump was still a dominant force, but whenever the talk got to policy, Trump didn’t know what to say and was quieter. CNN did try to liven things up with having the candidates respond to comments about them from other candidates. This included both comments during the debates and often insults made to the media before the debates. While at times it was a good idea to have the candidates interact, often it was over matters far to trivial to really belong in the debate.

This did allow Carly Fiorina to have one of the better moments of the debate, and she was obviously ready to comment on this insult from Donald Trump:

TRAPPER: In an interview last week in Rolling Stone magazine, Donald Trump said the following about you. Quote, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Mr. Trump later said he was talking about your persona, not your appearance. Please feel free to respond what you think about his persona.

FIORINA: You know, it’s interesting to me, Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.

While candidates often exceeded their time, Fiorina responded perfectly with this brief comment.

It was overall a good night for Fiorina, who might have done more than anyone else to improve her position in the GOP race with her debate performance. Unfortunately doing well in a Republican race does not require telling the truth. She repeated previously debunked claims about her record at HP. While she sounded more forceful than Donald Trump in saying how she would deal with Russia and Syria, Ezra Klein pointed out how she got the facts wrong. Klein, along with Sarah Kliff also pointed out how she was wrong about the Planned Parenthood tapes. There was no scene such as the one she described:

FIORINA: I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

Of course most, if not all, of the candidates were also lying about Planned Parenthood during the debate. Even if they didn’t make a claim as blatantly false as Fiorina did, they repeated the debunked claims that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.

The biggest whopper came from Jeb Bush when he responded to criticism of his brother from Donald Trump:

TRUMP: Your brother — and your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster, those last three months, that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.

BUSH: You know what? As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure. He kept us safe.

Both Trump and Jeb Bush were wrong about Obama and George Bush in the above exchange, but it is Jeb’s comments which were the most absurd. The most destructive terrorist attack on the United States occurred on George Bush’s watch, with Bush ignoring intelligence reports which might have enabled the United States to prevent the attack. Bush then followed up the attack by foolishly getting us into the quagmire in Iraq.

Rand Paul is one of the candidates who was nearly forgotten. Donald Trump, who insulted so many of the other candidates that I thought he was preparing to fire one, even said:

TRUMP: Well, first of all, Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage. He’s number 11, he’s got 1 percent in the polls, and how he got up here, there’s far too many people anyway.

While Paul is certainly wrong on many, many things, I noted he was right on two points during the debate.  For this group, just being right twice makes him stand out.

First he pointed out that military intervention is not always the best idea:

PAUL: I think this gets to the point of wisdom on when to intervene and when we shouldn’t. Had we bombed Assad at the time, like President Obama wanted, and like Hillary Clinton wanted and many Republicans wanted, I think ISIS would be in Damascus today. I think ISIS would be in charge of Syria had we bombed Assad.

Sometimes both sides of the civil war are evil, and sometimes intervention sometimes makes us less safe. This is real the debate we have to have in the Middle East.

Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, we have gotten chaos, the rise of radical Islam, and we’re more at risk. So, I think we need to think before we act, and know most interventions, if not a lot of them in the Middle East, have actually backfired on us.

Paul missed the point Obama successfully stepped back from the brink, but his overall point is correct about thinking before engaging in senseless military intervention.

Paul also also criticized the drug war during the debate:

TAPPER: Many people on social media wanted us to ask about marijuana legalization. Senator Paul, Governor Christie recently said, quote, “if you’re getting high in Colorado today,” where marijuana has been legalized, “enjoy it until January 2017, because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana.” Will you?

PAUL: I think one of the great problems, and what American people don’t like about politics, is hypocrisy. People have one standard for others and not for them — for themselves.

There is at least one prominent example on the stage of someone who says they smoked pot in high school, and yet the people going to — to jail for this are poor people, often African-Americans and often Hispanics, and yet the rich kids who use drugs aren’t.

I personally think that this is a crime for which the only victim is the individual, and I think that America has to take a different attitude. I would like to see more rehabilitation and less incarceration. I’m a fan of the drug courts which try to direct you back towards work and less time in jail.

But the bottom line is the states. We say we like the 10th Amendment, until we start talking about this. And I think the federal government has gone too far, I think that the war on drugs has had a racial outcome, and really has been something that has really damaged our inner cities.

Not only do the drugs damage them, we damage them again by incarcerating them and then preventing them from getting employment over time.

So I don’t think that the federal government should override the states. I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves.

Paul was generally right on two points, but neither are going to help him in a Republican primary battle. It is also rather sad that the Democratic front-runner has been wrong on both issues, with Clinton supporting both greater military intervention and being a hard-liner on drug laws.

Paul was more mixed on vaccines. He didn’t go along with Donald Trump’s claims about a connection between vaccines and autism, but also wasn’t consistent with the science:

TAPPER: Mr. Trump, as president, you would be in charge of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, both of which say you are wrong. How would you handle this as president?

TRUMP: Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control.

I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Because you take a baby in — and I’ve seen it — and I’ve seen it, and I had my children taken care of over a long period of time, over a two or three year period of time.

Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child, and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me.

Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.

Paul later responded:

One of the greatest — one of the greatest medical discoveries of all times was — were the vaccines, particularly for smallpox. And if you want to read a story, it’s called The Speckled Monster, it’s an amazing story, it was all done voluntary.

But people came in by the droves. George Washington wouldn’t let his wife visit until she got vaccinated. So I’m all for vaccines. But I’m also for freedom.

I’m also a little concerned about how they’re bunched up. My kids had all of their vaccines, and even if the science doesn’t say bunching them up is a problem, I ought to have the right to spread out my vaccines out a little bit at the very least.

The debate will probably not change the race very much but it is a good thing that the candidates were provided this opportunity to present their views to a national audience on a repeated basis. If only the Democratic National Committee would do the same this year and allow more than six debates total.

Update: The New York Times reviewed  Crazy Talk at the Republican Debate with Paul Krugman adding additional Fantasies and Fictions at G.O.P. Debate

Obama Plans Clemency to Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Obama plans to free dozens of federal prisoners held on nonviolent drug offenses. The New York Times reported:

Sometime in the next few weeks, aides expect President Obama to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up on nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, he will probably commute more sentences at one time than any president has in nearly half a century.

The expansive use of his clemency power is part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to correct what he sees as the excesses of the past, when politicians eager to be tough on crime threw away the key even for minor criminals. With many Republicans and Democrats now agreeing that the nation went too far, Mr. Obama holds the power to unlock that prison door, especially for young African-American and Hispanic men disproportionately affected.

It looks like a tiny step in the right direction. We also need repeal of the drug laws which place such people in prison, and an extension of this to the states. This is a tiny percentage of those held nation-wide for drug-related crimes.