Why Many People In The Middle Now Identify With The Left

While the country has become more liberal in some ways, the Republican Party has moved to the extreme right, and the Democratic Party has filled in the vacuum in the middle by also moving to the right on many issues. As a consequence, many people who previously considered themselves in the middle are finding that the current views of the left are closer to their views. Thomas Ricks, who wrote Fiasco, and excellent look at the Iraq War, described why he moved to the left at Politico:

Disappointment in the American government over the last 10 years. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the first big shocks. I thought that invading Afghanistan was the right response to the 9/11 attacks, but I never expected the U.S. military leadership would be so inept in fighting there and in Iraq, running the wars in ways that made more enemies than were stopped. I believe that the invasion of Iraq was wrong, not only launched on false premises but also strategically foolish in that ultimately it has increased Iran’s power in the Middle East.

Torture. I never expected my country to endorse torture. I know that torture has existed in all wars, but to my knowledge, its use, under the chilling term “enhanced interrogation,” was never official U.S. policy until this century. In fact, until our recent wars, the American military had a proud heritage of handling its prisoners better than most. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington reminded his men of the need to “Treat [captives] with humanity, and Let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army.”

How we fought. I never thought that an American government would employ mercenaries in a war. And yet we did this in Iraq by hiring thousands of armed “security contractors” who in practice were subject neither to local law nor to the American military justice system, and so could and often did treat Iraqis badly. In September 2007, I remember, American officers, who by then understood the need to treat Iraqi civilians well, were outraged when Blackwater employees shot 37 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square—the rough equivalent of opening up on the lunch crowd in Dupont Circle. Yet to my knowledge, the U.S. government has not studied how the use of mercenaries poisoned the conduct of the war. Indeed, it gives every indication of planning to operate the same way in the future.

Intelligence officials run amok. I think that American intelligence officials have shown a contempt for the way our democracy is supposed to work in turning a vast and unaccountable apparatus on the citizens it is supposed to be protecting. I remain wary of Edward Snowden’s motivations and connections, yet still am worried by the intrusive surveillance by the National Security Agency he has unveiled. At the very least, in a democracy, we should be able to be informed about the actions that have eroded our privacy but supposedly were taken in our name.

Growing income inequality. I also have been dismayed by the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the richest people in the country, a policy supported over the last 35 years by successive administrations of both parties. Apparently income redistribution downward is dangerously radical, but redistribution upward is just business as usual. The middle class used at least to get lip service from the rich—“backbone of the country” and such. Now it is often treated like a bunch of saps not aware enough to evade their taxes.

This led to a lengthy discussion at The Moderate Voice, where I also blog. Many of the bloggers and regular commentators there are in a similar position, thinking of themselves as moderates but finding their views are now more in line with the left, especially on social issues. While Ricks didn’t mention social issues, the desire to keep government out of the private lives of individuals has led many people to abandon the Republicans and the conservative movement.

Opposition to the Iraq War and related issues has generally been the defining issue for the formation of the liberal “netroots” and this dominates Ricks’ reasons. Republicans typically use fear and distort Democratic views, such as with the misquotation of Obama as the theme of the last Republican convention, to falsely paint liberals as being for socialism. There are no such economic views listed by Ricks, and the same is typical of many liberals. There is a far greater variation in views on the left than on the right, but the center of gravity has moved rightwards on economic issues. Liberals tend to be  more pragmatists and closer to Eisenhower Republicans than anything close to socialist (by its classic meaning).

If the word conservative really meant anything, in many ways today’s liberals are the conservatives who want to preserve our market economy, while eliminating its abuses, while Republicans are the radicals who want to destroy the system and make our economy more like a banana republic. It is the Republicans who are irresponsible fiscally, financing their policies on credit (while Democrats are more likely to include financing for their policies), caring more about tax cuts for the rich as opposed to cutting the deficit, and rigging the system to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the rich. Besides the ethical problems with this, destroying the middle class is horrible for the economy, and in the long run doesn’t even benefit the rich either, unless you want to live in a banana republic. On top of this we have the Republicans engaging in irresponsible action such as shutting down the government and making an issue out of increasing the debt ceiling, resulting in a lowering of the country’s credit rating.

The Affordable Care Act is a good example of how both parties have moved to the right on health care. Obamacare is quite close to Richard Nixon’s health care plan, the GOP counter-proposal to HillaryCare in the 90′s, and Mitt Romney’s plan. Republicans used to push for mandates, exchanges, and recommended high deductible plans tied to medical savings accounts. Once Obama pushed for all of this, as opposed to previous more liberal health care proposals, the Republicans suddenly claimed that everything they supported in the past is socialism and amounts to a government takeover of health care. (Of course part of the Republican opposition is because Obamacare does differ from the old Republican proposals in including regulations to keep insurance companies from ripping off consumers while pushing to increase use of private insurance companies.)

Conservatives are likely to misinterpret the inclusion of concerns about income inequality by Ricks, as well as myself  in this post, as indicating support for socialism. Concern about the deleterious effects of  the concentration of wealth to our economy is not an exclusively liberal viewpoint–see the works of Kevin Phillips on this. Nor does this mean that socialism is being advocated as the solution.

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed on income inequality which is worth reviewing:

First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.

The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.

Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.

Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paper from the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.

Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much … has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”

Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.

Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”

For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking — and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s.

Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That

Fourth, inequality doesn’t necessarily even benefit the rich as much as we think. At some point, extra incomes don’t go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through “positional goods” — like the hottest car on the block.

The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.

Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.

Unfortunately, equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe.

We know some of the tools, including job incentives and better schools, that can reduce this opportunity gap. But the United States is one of the few advanced countries that spends less educating the average poor child than the average rich one. As an escalator of mobility, the American education system is broken.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Update: Norm Ornstein On The Republican Battle Between The Conservatives And Lunatic Radicals

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What The Republicans Got Wrong On Iraq

Iraq Republican Predictions

Why is anyone still listening to these people?

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Quote of the Day: John Stewart on Dick Cheney

“I guess now Dick Cheney knows what it feels like when someone you thought was a friend shoots you in the face.” –Jon Stewart after Megyn Kelly grilled Dick Cheney on Fox about being wrong on Iraq.

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Peter Beinart Says It All: Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

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Peter Beinart has an article on A Unified Theory of Hillary in today’s issue of National Journal.The entire article is worth reading but one line really sums up the article and my overall opinion of Hillary Clinton: “Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.” He also pointed out how her tunnel vision “might produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush.”

Beinart does have also have some praise for Hillary Clinton as being tough-minded, and does feel she might have a better chance of dealing with Congress than other recent Democratic presidents. Looking back to the  years when Bill was in the White House, and even earlier, he had this to say:

From their days in Arkansas, Hillary took the lead in combating the scandalmongers who threatened Bill’s career. Her default position was single-minded and relentless. She repeatedly urged her husband’s advisers to meet attacks on Bill’s character by going after the character of his opponents. (According to Bernstein, in 1992 she urged the campaign to fan rumors about George H.W. Bush’s infidelity.) It was Hillary who called in Dick Morris when Bill was losing his bid for reelection as governor in 1980, and who became Morris’s point of contact when the Clintons entered the White House. According to Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.’s biography Her Way, when a liberal Arkansas staffer objected to Morris’s presence, Hillary responded, “If you want to be in this kind of business, this is the kind of person you have to deal with.”

Tough-minded, but also showing the lack of principle she is known for.

Clinton has a history of making big mistakes on the big issues, such as her handling of health care reform:

Hillary’s failure to see that her model, which she had developed in Arkansas, was not working and needed to be altered midstream. As in Arkansas, Hillary—now aided by Magaziner—kept tight control of the process. At task force meetings, Bernstein notes, participants were forbidden from copying draft documents or, in many cases, even taking notes. The secrecy alienated not only members of Congress, health care activists, and the press, but key figures in the Clinton administration as well. Hillary and Magaziner both knew a great deal about health care policy. But neither knew as much about health care politics as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, or Office of Management and Budget Director Leon Panetta. Yet because of the task force’s secrecy, and because they feared directly confronting the president’s wife, Bentsen, Panetta, Shalala, and others in the administration often felt marginalized. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder document in The System—their indispensable book on the health care battle—Clinton officials angered by their lack of influence repeatedly leaked damaging information to a press corps angered by its lack of access.

Her biggest mistake was in getting her husband to agree to promise to veto anything other than what Hillary wanted, despite the fact that the Republican counter-proposal was extremely similar to the Affordable Care Act passed under Barack Obama, and would have served as a point to negotiate from at the time rather than having to wait until just recently to achieve health care reform. Some Clinton staffers recommended considering more modest proposals from moderate Democrats when it became clear that her entire package could not pass in Congress.

But Hillary resisted switching course, and she and Magaziner won the day. In his State of the Union address the following January—at Hillary’s urging and over Gergen’s opposition—Bill pledged to veto any health care bill that did not provide universal health coverage, even though key figures in his own party already believed that was the only kind of health care bill Congress would pass.

Hillary proceeded to move to the right to counter the false impression spread by the right that she was a left-wing radical.

IF HILLARY’S FAILURE to improvise contributed to the demise of health care reform, it also contributed to her greatest foreign policy blunder—her support for the Iraq War—and her subsequent loss to Barack Obama in 2008.

As with health care reform, Hillary’s transition from first lady to elected official relied on a clear plan, a key component of which was: Disprove the caricature of herself as a left-wing radical (an effort made easier by the fact that the caricature had never been remotely true). In her New York Senate race, Tomasky notes, Hillary ran to Rudy Giuliani’s right on abortion: She supported parental-notification laws; he did not. In the Senate, she cosponsored legislation with former impeachment champion Sam Brownback to study the effects of mass media on children and hired a staffer to reach out to abortion foes.

Clinton has also come under criticism recently for not supporting marriage equality until 2013, long after this became the politically safe position to take. She has most recently received unfavorable criticism for her handling of an interview with Terry Gross on this subject, although after listening to the interview I did not feel she did as badly as many others have written.

For the right to call Hillary Clinton a left-wing radical is even more absurd than their current claims that Barack Obama is a socialist. How would they respond if an actual leftist were to become president?

Beinart went on to describe how, after 9/11, Clinton joined Joe Lieberman on the far right of the Democratic Party, going as far as to claim 9/11 as justification for the war in Iraq and failing to recognize her mistake until virtually everyone else had abandoned her original view:

Almost as soon as the twin towers fell, Hillary began staking out positions on the right edge of her party. On Sept. 12, from the floor of the Senate, she warned—in language similar to George W. Bush’s—that regimes that “in any way aid or comfort [terrorists] whatsoever will now face the wrath of our country.” As Gerth and Van Natta detailed, Hillary did not just vote to authorize war with Iraq—something most other nationally ambitious Democrats did as well—she justified her vote by citing Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaida, a claim echoed by only one other Senate Democrat, Joe Lieberman.

Even once it became clear that governing postwar Iraq would be far harder than the Bush administration had predicted, Hillary gave little ground. In a December 2003 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she called her Iraq decision “the right vote” and insisted that “failure is not an option.” As late as February 2005, when Iraq was already in civil war, she drew attention to the “many parts of Iraq that are functioning quite well” and warned that it “would be a mistake” to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

In bucking her party’s liberal base, Hillary almost certainly believed she was doing the right thing. She was “cursed,” she declared, when explaining her refusal to join John Edwards’s 2007 call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, “with the responsibility gene.” Hillary’s intellectual failure lay in her inability to recognize that the definition of “responsibility” she had developed during the 1990s, with its emphasis on American freedom of action and the utility of military force, was being abused and misapplied in Iraq. Her political failure lay in her inability to see how dramatically the center of gravity in her party was shifting away from her point of view.

As the situation in Iraq went south, liberal activists—enraged at the Democratic Party’s ideologically hawkish, politically submissive leaders—launched an intraparty rebellion. The first sign came in 2003, when blogs like Daily Kos and activist groups like MoveOn.org powered Howard Dean’s stunning insurgency against a field of Washington Democrats who had backed the war. Yet during that period, Hillary and her top advisers were remarkably slow to recognize that the ground was shifting underneath their feet, and that the centrist strategy they had laid out at the beginning of her Senate career was now dangerously outdated.

Clinton’s failure to recognize how the Democratic party was changing could be seen in her choice of Mark Penn to be chief strategist for her campaign: “Hillary put her fate in the hands of a consultant who not only discounted their influence but loathed them.” Her presidential campaign only reinforced suspicion of her among many liberals:

But while she may have had no good way to discuss her Iraq vote, Hillary could have at least signaled to angry liberals that she would act differently on Iran. Instead, she picked a fight over Obama’s willingness to meet Tehran’s leaders without preconditions, a fight that to many liberals confirmed that Obama would change Bush foreign policy while Hillary represented more of the same.

More broadly, Hillary’s campaign failed to adequately recognize that her Iraq vote had convinced many liberals that she lacked the courage of her convictions. As an actress playing Hillary quipped on Saturday Night Live in January 2007, “I think most Democrats know me. They understand that my support for the war was always insincere.” In that environment, Hillary’s unwillingness to embrace controversial liberal causes for fear that they’d be used against her in the general election became a character issue. Arguably, the key moment in Hillary’s demise came at a Drexel University debate on Oct. 30, when she refused to forthrightly endorse New York state’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and was slammed by her opponents and the press for trying to have it both ways. Eleven days later, in perhaps his most important speech of the primary campaign, Obama wowed a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, declaring that “not answering questions because we are afraid our answers won’t be popular just won’t do.” At a time when Democratic primary voters were hungry for authenticity and backbone, Penn’s efforts to inoculate Hillary against right-wing attack convinced many liberals that she lacked both.

Beinart concluded (emphasis mine):

NONE OF THIS is to suggest that Hillary would be an ineffective president—only that her successes and failures would look different from Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s. Bill’s failures often owed to indiscipline. Obama’s have stemmed in part from aloofness. If past is prologue, Hillary’s would stem in significant measure from unwillingness to change course. Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Her successes as president, on the other hand, would likely result from the kind of hands-on, methodical, unyielding drive that both Bill Clinton and Obama struggled to sustain. In her wonkishness and her moderate liberalism, Hillary has much in common with Obama and her husband. But her “tunnel vision”—in the words of a close friend quoted in Sally Bedell Smith’s For Love of Politicsmight produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush. For years now, Democrats have yearned for a leader who champions their causes with the same single-minded, supremely confident, unwavering intensity that they believe Republican leaders bring to theirs. For better and worse, they may soon get their wish.

For better and worse. While undoubtedly far better than a presidency in the hands of any imaginable Republican opponent at present, I also feel that Democrats who are now so willing to hand her the nomination will also see the worse aspects.

Other controversies also surround Clinton at present. Matthew Contenetti has raised criticism this week of Clinton’s early defense of child rapist. See Doug Mataconis and Steve M for responses.

Even a simple question from The New York Times Book Review has created controversy as it reinforced views of Clinton as being calculating and dishonest:

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.

Gawker’s reaction was that, “Some people like Hillary Clinton. Other people dislike Hillary Clinton. However you feel about Hillary Clinton, it is difficult to deny that she is one of the most cold and calculating political figures in all the land.” This led to a link to a 2013 article on Clinton’s Cowardice As a Political Philosophy, which looked at her views on Iraq and gay marriage.

The Daily Banter responded:

But does Clinton calling the Bible her most influential book tantamount to a political calculation?

Yes it does.

It would be one thing if Clinton meant that the Bible has been the most influential on her because it’s had a profound impact on the course of human history for more than 2,000 years. However, she wasn’t talking about the book’s cultural and political impact, but rather the influence it’s had on her personally as a reader of it.

Because if the book with the biggest influence on Hillary Clinton were truly the Bible, she would never have gotten to where she is. The Bible, however beloved it may be, is not a book conducive to thinking. Rather, the Bible deals in revealed wisdom written by men of antiquity who probably knew less about the natural world than a contemporary American fifth grader. Without question there are passages in the Bible that may very well have given her a modicum of wisdom, comfort, and encouragement, but for every such excerpt there is one or more that couldn’t be more disturbing and anathema to what we today call common decency.

There is no time to air all the dirty laundry of the Bible here. Besides, most Americans are familiar with its horrors, yet many seem to accept it as a sort of general guide on how to live by focusing on passages they find agreeable while discarding the rest.

The “rest” would include the multiple instances of mass killing in the Old Testament, including the great flood started by god that wiped out nearly all of humanity. Homosexuals, witches, and Sabbath-breakers are ordered killed. The Ten Commandments say that one must only worship Yahweh, who judges people merely for what they think. Interestingly enough, rape is not mentioned in the commandments.

In the New Testament, we come to learn that those who do not accept that Jesus was brutally tortured and killed for their sins will suffer in hell in anguish for all eternity simply for not believing. This is founding principle of Christianity.

And yet this is the text that Hillary Clinton — a Yale Law School-educated former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State — says is the book that’s had the biggest impact on her life.

You can believe it if you like. And if you do, there’s a bridge near me I’d like to sell you.

While hardly the biggest campaign issue, this also underscores Hillary Clinton’s lack of self-awareness, failing to understand how a dishonest and calculating answer such as this does nothing to appease the right while reinforcing reservations about her from the left.

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Republicans Attack Obama For Capturing Terrorist Involved In Benghazi Attack

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One of the major attacks on Obama from the right was that they never captured those responsible for Benghazi–never mind how many people responsible for embassy attacks under Reagan and Bush were never apprehended, or that it was Obama that got bin Laden years after Bush let him escape at Tora Bora. Now one of those responsible for Benghazi has been captured

You might think that even Republicans would find this to be reason to celebrate, but instead many did what the usually do and twist anything into a way to attack Obama.

Fox claims this was done to boost Hillary Clinton’s book tour and presidential prospects.

Allen West calls this “Orwellian message control” to distract the populace from other problems.

On talk radio Rush Limbaugh and Joe Walsh are among those who join Fox in questioning the timing.

Steve Benen, Bob Cesca, and Caitlin MacNeal have more conservative reaction.

I imagine next they will threaten impeachment because Obama didn’t inform Congress before he acted.

This should really come as no surprise. The conservative movement is packed with people who will do anything for political gain, regardless of how much it harms the country. Attacking Obama is now their number one goal, but it didn’t start with Obama. They played politics with the 9/11 attack, and used it to justify both the war in Iraq and infringements on civil liberties. More recently they have played politics with the deaths of Americans in Benghazi. These are also the people who have fought to hinder economic recovery after their policies crashed the economy, and caused a lowering of our credit rating while playing politics over the debt ceiling.

Harry Reid has responded to the Republican attacks:

It doesn’t matter what your ideology is, you should feel good about this. There’s no conspiracy here, this is actual news. But the reaction of some of the Republicans, I’ve been told, is to downplay and insult the brave men and women of our special forces and the FBI. They’re trying to say, oh, it’s no big deal. I wonder if the men and women who captured the terrorist agree. But the Republicans said it’s no big deal.

Even in these days of polarization, created by the obstruction, the delay, and diversion of the Republicans, even in these days of polarization, their reaction is shocking and disgusting. They’re so obsessed with criticism, criticizing anything President Obama does. They’ll go so far as to sit here and insult the men and women in uniform and in law enforcement. They should stop and think, just for a little bit, about what it’s like to put your life on the line and to do something for our country — that’s what they did. They’re insulting these good men and women who did some courageous things, heroic things, in order to criticize President Obama. I think they’ve lost touch with reality; it’s really pathetic, there’s no other word for it.

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The Failure Of Republican Policy On Iraq

Iraq is now playing out as opponents of the war warned from the start. Predictably, the right wing blames Obama for Republican mistakes, when Obama understood from the start that going into Iraq was a mistake. I don’t understand why the media keeps playing clips of John McCain attacking Obama over the events in Iraq. First of all, shouldn’t the man who was wrong every step of the way keep quiet now that his policies have been shown to be a disaster? Secondly, even if McCain does keep talking, why should any news organization consider this newsworthy?

Paul Waldman explained why we should pay no attention to McCain and the others who were wrong from the start:

We have now reached the rather ironic situation in Iraq where we find ourselves allied with Iran in an effort to save the corrupt and thuggish government of Nouri al-Maliki, while the army we spent eight years training falls apart. I’m not going to pretend to have unique insight into Iraqi politics (I’d suggest reading Marc Lynch, for starters, as a way of getting up to speed on what has led to this point).

But there are few people who understand Iraq less than the Republican politicians and pundits who are being sought out for their comments on the current situation.

As you watch the debate on this issue, you should remind yourself that the most prominent voices being heard are the very ones who brought us the Iraq War in the first place, who promised that everything was simple and the only question was whether we’d be “strong” and “decisive” enough — the same thing they’re saying today. They’re the ones who swore that Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda, that he had a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, that the war would be quick, easy and cheap, that since Iraq was a largely secular country we wouldn’t have to worry about sectarian conflict, and that democracy would spread throughout the region in short order, bringing peace and prosperity along with it.

We can start with the man on every TV producer and print reporter’s speed dial, John McCain. McCain does provide something important to journalists: whatever the issue of the moment is, he can be counted on to offer angry, bitter criticism of the Obama administration, giving the “balance” every story needs. The fact that he has never demonstrated the slightest bit of understanding of Iraq is no bar at all to being the most quoted person on the topic.

For context, here’s a nice roundup of some of the things McCain said when he was pushing to invade Iraq in the first place. When asked if Iraqis were going to greet us as liberators, he answered, “Absolutely.” He said, “Post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is going to be paid for by the Iraqis” with their oil wealth (the war ended up costing the American taxpayer upwards of $2 trillion). And my favorite: “There is not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias, so I think they can probably get along.”

The conflict between Sunnis and Shiites is the central dynamic of the Iraq conflict, of course. Yet today, the media once again seek out John McCain’s wisdom and insight on Iraq, which is kind of like saying, “Jeez, it looks like we might be lost — we really need to ask Mr. Magoo for directions.”

…We’re facing yet another awful and complex situation in the Middle East where we have a limited set of options, and none of them are good. But whenever you hear anyone say that the answer is simple and that being “strong” is the key — as one conservative after another will no doubt be saying in the coming days — don’t forget what happened the last time the country listened to them.

Keith Olbermann blasted McCain’s views on Iraq in a Special Comment back in 2008.

While the Republicans deserve the blame for the disastrous foreign policy moves which brought us to this position, there were unfortunately also  Democrats who supported their actions. Now that events in Iraq have completely disintegrated, why is anyone still taking Hillary Clinton seriously as a presidential candidate? Shouldn’t Democrats nominate someone who got the big issues right? Clinton rationalizes her mistake by saying she was deceived by the Republicans, but there was ample evidence at the time that they were lying. There was never any connection between Saddam and the 9/11 attack. The weapons inspectors found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction which posed a threat. It was obvious that it might not be difficult to overthrow Saddam, but creating a stable alternative would be far harder getting us into a real quagmire. A president has to make the right decision from the start.

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Unclipping Hillary Clinton’s Hawkish Wings

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Barack Obama recently described his views on the use of military force at West Point. E.J. Dionne pointed out that military “restraint makes us stronger” and praised “the more measured approach to military intervention practiced during the presidencies of both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.” Obama said, “a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.” This was described by Andy Borowitz as meaning”Obama Defends Controversial Policy of Not Invading Countries for No Reason.”

Conservative critics were taken aback by Obama’s speech, which was riddled with incendiary remarks about only using military force for a clearly identified and rational purpose.

Obama did not shy away from employing polarizing rhetoric, often using words such as “responsible” and “sensible” to underscore his message.

Harland Dorrinson, a fellow at the conservative think tank the Center for Global Intervention, said that he was “stunned” to see Obama “defend his failure to engage the United States in impulsive and random military adventures.”

“History tells us that the best way to earn respect around the world is by using your military in a totally unpredictable and reckless manner,” he said. “Today, President Obama showed once again that he doesn’t get it.”

Even beyond Borowitz’s satirical take on the speech, this is a clear change from past years. The apparently inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination has some on the left concerned. An article on Clinton in The Wall Street Journal will not help to reassure anyone worried about Clinton’s more hawkish views. We must keep in mind the Republican bias of the source, which leads me to question some of the assessments in the article that Clinton was ineffective. I doubt that they would have reason to exaggerate Clinton’s hawkishness, and their assessment on this is consistent with the views of many others.

The article describes her as a “hawk with clipped wings.”  It argues that, “She was often more hawkish than the White House she served, and at some key moments was ineffectual at swinging policy her way.” Despite the article’s description of Clinton as someone who did not push her views, I often had the opinion that Clinton was one of the forces pulling Obama more to the right. Syria was given as an example where the two did disagree:

“… she was more comfortable than Mr. Obama with the use of military force and saw it as an important complement to diplomacy, present and former administration aides say.
“In the debates that we had, she generally was someone who came down in favor of military action,” says Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “She had a comfort with U.S. military action.”

Syria was a test case. The civil war exposed a divide in the administration, with Mr. Obama hesitant to commit military force and Mrs. Clinton pushing to arm secular rebels who might help oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.”

It would certainly be ironic if Rand Paul manages to win the Republican nomination, leaving the Democrats with the far more hawkish candidate who would take over without Barack Obama in the White House to counter her more hawkish tendencies.

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NSA Increases Credibility Gap With Latest Claims About Edward Snowden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rand Paul Could Shake Up An Election Against Hillary Clinton

Senators Gather To Caucus Over Hagel Nomination

While Ron Paul had a small devoted group of supporters, everyone knew he had no real chance of seriously competing for the Republican nomination. There’s something about being a new face, and being from the Senate instead of the House. People are looking far more seriously at the possibility of Rand Paul becoming the Republican nominee.

Not that long ago, most Republican leaders saw Rand Paul as the head of an important faction who, like his father, ultimately had no shot at becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

Now the question is no longer whether Paul can win the nomination, but whether he can win a general election.

The shift follows a year in which the Kentucky senator has barnstormed the country, trying to expand the party’s base beyond older, white voters and attract a following beyond than the libertarian devotees of his father, Ron Paul. Although the job is far from complete, Paul has made undeniable progress, judging from interviews with more than 30 Republican National Committee members meeting here this week.

That he has struck a chord with this crowd is all the more telling because it is heavy with GOP establishment-types who tend to prefer mainstream candidates.

“I don’t see how anyone could say it’s not possible he’d win the nomination,” Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri said. “His mission is to convince people of what his coalition would be in November” 2016…

At the moment it doesn’t really look likely that Rand Paul could win, but they said the same about Ronald Reagan.

Many of Paul’s views remain at odds with the Republican mainstream, but he now seems less of a pariah among Republicans than Mitt Romney was in many circles. It is possible Paul could win a primary battle with the vote divided between more conventional Republican candidates. He would also benefit from the first contests being a caucus in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire. He could conceivable wind up in first place in both and quickly turn into the front runner.

If Paul does win the nomination, Democrats might need to rethink handing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. What happens when the Republican candidate starts attacking Hillary Clinton over her support for the Iraq war, drone strikes, NSA surveillance, the Patriot Act, and the drug war? Paul might also turn Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street into a serious liability. Many potential Democratic voters might find that they agree with Paul and disagree with Clinton on several issues.

Of course Rand Paul is also on the wrong side of many issues, but can we count on Clinton to take advantage of this? Republicans already have managed to put Democrats on the defensive on issues such as Medicare and health care–two issues where they have facts and principle firmly on their side.

Paul would face many obstacles. His opposition to abortion rights could limit his ability to win over female voters from the Democrats, perpetuating the gender gap between the parties. His anti-war views would be a negative in many red states, possibly even leading to upsets in some red states by a hawkish Democrat such as Clinton.

Looking at the electoral college, I don’t think Paul could win, a race between Clinton and Paul would shake up many of the current party-line divisions. I could see Paul taking some states such as New Hampshire from the Democrats, but not many with large amounts of electoral votes, with the possible exception of California. Still, with their current disadvantages in the electoral college this might be the best chance for Republicans, and a potential threat for Democrats, especially if looking at shaking up the current Democratic advantage among younger voters. I could see many young males being far more interested in Paul on the issues where he is more libertarian, while not being as concerned about issues such as preserving Medicare. This could destroy what now appears to be a long-term Democratic advantage, considering that people tend to stick with the party they chose when young. Democrats might still win the 2016 battle by running Clinton against Paul, but could suffer long term from such a match up.

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Health Care Reform Saves Lives–Blocking Health Care Reform Kills People

When promoting health care reform there was an implicit assumption that having health care insurance is beneficial. While few rational people would deny this, we now have more data to back up this assumption. The Annals of Internal Medicine published a study comparing counties in Massachusetts to comparable counties in other states to show a reduced mortality among those who received health care coverage. They estimated that giving 830 adults insurance coverage would prevent one death per year.

In this case, supporting health care reform is definitely the pro-life position.

There are a number of variables affecting a reduction in mortality so I would be cautious about extrapolating this number exactly to other areas. The New York Times estimates that the three percent drop in mortality seen would lead to a reduction in 17,000 deaths per year nationally.  Harold Pollack extrapolated the reduction of 830 deaths per year to the entire uninsured population, providing an estimate that extending health care to all could lead to a reduction in 24,000 deaths per year. To put this in perspective, “That’s almost the number of Americans who die in auto crashes. It’s more than the number who die of AIDS or the number who are murdered every year.”

Some conservatives have questioned the value of this by arguing that there could be less costly ways to save the same number of lives. This misses the point that there are multiple other benefits of having insurance beyond the reduction in mortality. Providing health care coverage could lead to a reduction in the number of diabetic patients who go blind or lose limbs. Insurance coverage for people with hypertension could reduce the number who have to live with the effects of a stroke. Health care reform also spares people from going bankrupt to pay medical bills.

Some conservatives have also twisted the results of a previous study on those who received Medicaid coverage in Oregon to claim that receiving the coverage is not of benefit. The study actually did show benefits, but was not conducted for a long enough period to show significant differences in those with chronic medical problems. The Massachusetts study published this week helps to clarify this issue.  Of course if conservatives want to argue that providing Medicaid is not of value, I would be very happy to see a system in which instead of receiving Medicaid the poor are provided the public option initially proposed, or even regular insurance through the exchange, in place of Medicaid. (Due to their lower incomes, it would also be necessary to provide coverage for the co-pays and deductibles, comparable to how Medicaid covers these costs for those duel eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.)

If providing access to health care saves lives, the converse would also be true. Denying people access to health care coverage would lead to more deaths. The Health Affairs Blog looked at the consequences of denying expanded Medicaid coverage in many of the Republican controlled states:

We estimate the number of deaths attributable to the lack of Medicaid expansion in opt-out states at between 7,115 and 17,104.  Medicaid expansion in opt-out states would have resulted in 712,037 fewer persons screening positive for depression and 240,700 fewer individuals suffering catastrophic medical expenditures. Medicaid expansion in these states would have resulted in 422,553 more diabetics receiving medication for their illness, 195,492 more mammograms among women age 50-64 years and 443,677 more pap smears among women age 21-64. Expansion would have resulted in an additional 658,888 women in need of mammograms gaining insurance, as well as 3.1 million women who should receive regular pap smears.

Those denied access to the expanded Medicaid program is probably the largest group who could be covered under the Affordable Care Act as originally passed but are not able to receive coverage. Considering the amount of misinformation being spread by the right wing, and outright campaigns to encourage people not to enroll, there are undoubtedly some people who are not obtaining coverage due to falling for right wing propaganda. The old cry during the Bush years and Iraq war was that “Bush Lied, People Died.” Down the road the sad truth about conservative misinformation on health care might be “Fox Lied, People Died.”

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