Why Clinton Can’t Pull Away From An Opponent As Awful As Donald Trump

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Donald Trump has said one idiotic thing after another. He has been found to have bribed an attorney general to avoid prosecution for his scam university, among other scams he has been involved in. He clearly has no understanding of the issues. Yet he is now now in a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton, with many Democrats struggling to understand why. Will Democrats ever figure out that the nomination of someone as unfit to be president as Hillary Clinton was one of the biggest political blunders in history (ranking with the Republicans’ blunder in nominating Trump)?

Many Democrats have resorted to responses which do not help matters. They deny that she is corrupt and dishonest, despite overwhelming evidence that she is, and ignore the seriousness of her scandals. This only turns independents more against partisan Democrats who make such claims.

Clinton doesn’t help herself when she repeats the same lies over and over, even when the fact checkers repeatedly call her out on it. She didn’t help matters when she answered Anderson Cooper in a dishonest manner this week, claiming to have been transparent about her health and her email,  when he pressed her on her lack of transparency. pointed out:

…almost everything that Clinton has disclosed in this campaign has come under duress. The reason we have thousands of her emails is because she was forced by the State Department to turn them over. The reason we know about her pneumonia is because of her stumbling incident on Sunday in New York City. Forced transparency isn’t all that honorable

The most common argument from Clinton and her supporters is to argue how terrible Donald Trump is. While they are right, that does not help Clinton when they cannot provide positive arguments to support her. Many agree about Trump, but do not think Clinton is any better.

At least one Clinton supporter,

…her 4256 favorable/unfavorable split in national polling is truly, freakishly bad. Political junkies have probably heard the factoid that Clinton is the least-popular major party nominee of all time — except for Donald Trump. But conventional dialogue still underrates exactly how weird this situation is. John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Bob Dole were all viewed favorably by a majority of Americans on the eve of presidential elections that they lost, and Mitt Romney was extremely close.

It is totally unheard of to win a presidential election while having deeply underwater favorable ratings, and it is actually quite common to lose one despite above water favorable ratings.

Since there are only two major party nominees in the race and they are both far underwater right now, it’s pretty likely that precedent will be shattered. But we are in a bit of an undiscovered country in terms of the underlying opinion dynamics.

RealClearPolitics’ four-way polling average shows Gary Johnson at 9.2 percent and Jill Stein at 2.7 percent.

If those numbers hold up (which of course they might not), they would make Johnson the strongest third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992. That’s a big deal. Stein’s strength is, however, even more unusual. She is polling ahead of where Ralph Nader did in 2000 and is the strongest fourth-party candidate we’ve seen in a 100 years, besting both the Thurmond and Wallace tickets from the infamously four-sided election of 1948.

To find a fourth-place candidate polling higher than Stein’s current results, you need to dial all the way back to the 6 percent of the vote Eugene Debs earned in the bizarre 1912 election that saw the GOP nominee (the incumbent, no less!) finish in third place behind a third-party bid spearheaded by ex-president Teddy Roosevelt.

These two unusual quirks of the 2016 race seem to be linked.

Lambasting Trump while being unpopular herself would be a clear winning strategy in a zero-sum head-to-head race. But in a four-sided race, where the two lesser candidates aren’t receiving much scrutiny from the press or the campaigns, it tends to have the side consequence of pressing a lot of people to Johnson or Stein. The fact that there are two different third-party candidates in the race — one for people who think Clinton’s too left and one for people who think she’s not left enough — makes it really difficult to avoid bleeding voters…

It’s simply going to be very hard for Clinton to open up the kind of stable lead that her supporters think Trump’s awfulness deserves while she herself is so little-liked. September of a general election year is probably not a great time to turn that around.

But the fact remains that her basic problem in this race is almost painfully simple. Over the course of her winning primary campaign she became a deeply unpopular figure. And it’s hard — indeed, unprecedented — for such an unpopular person to win the presidency.

Both major parties have nominated candidates who are unfit to be president. There is little motivation for many voters to choose the lesser evil, as opposed to voting for a minor party candidate, when even the lesser evil is so evil this year. If the major party candidates were not both so awful, Johnson and Stein would be polling as low as minor party candidates usually do.

For Clinton, it is not only her lies. It is also her record, as Common Dreams recently discussed. In past elections, the Democratic Party received the support of many independents, as well as those on the left, due to the serious problems under George Bush. Instead of nominating a reform candidate such as Bernie Sanders (who consistently polled much better against Donald Trump), they went for the candidate most likely to institutionalize the horrors of the Bush administration. We need to end the state of perpetual warfare we have been in since 9/11. While Clinton admits that her vote for the Iraq war was a mistake (like her support for mass incarceration, various trade deals, and anti-gay legislation were mistakes), as described, support for interventionism was actually part of a pattern for her:

For years, Clinton has blamed Bush for misleading her into voting for the resolution. But an examination by The Washington Post found that her decision was based as much on advice from her husband’s advisers as from Bush administration officials. There were also significant gaps in her fact-gathering, most notably her apparent failure to read a classified analysis that other senators cited in voting against the resolution…

She continued that path when she advocated intervention in Libya as secretary of state…

Besides Clinton pushing for interventionism in Libya, Clinton repeated the same mistakes in Syria, advocating war based on logic as flawed as anything we have heard from Donald Trump. Her views on Russia place us at risk of an even more dangerous situation.

Kranish stressed how Clinton failed to read classified intelligence reports which were available, leading others to oppose the war. Unlike some Democrats who did initially vote for the war, Clinton also continued to support the war:

A year after the vote, Clinton defended it on CNN, citing “grave threats to the United States.”

As The Intercept pointed out, Hillary Clinton’s National Security Advisers Are a “Who’s Who” of the Warfare State. The Iraq vote was not a fluke. It is what we can expect if Clinton is elected.

Clinton desires to replicate the horrors of the Bush years in other ways. Besides perpetuating the warfare state, Clinton desires to expand the surveillance state and has a terrible record on civil liberties with views (minus the Islamophobia) which are comparable to Trump’s. As occurred under Bush, Clinton also has a long history of supporting an increased role for religion in public policy. The reality is that, no matter how much the point out Donald Trump’s flaws, Hillary Clinton already has a record of doing much of what Trump is accused of.

The Democratic Party establishment made a horrible mistake in acting to ensure that Hillary Clinton would win the nomination. While Clinton still has the edge, they might have to face the consequences of their actions if it leads to defeat and the election of Donald Trump as president.

Quote of the Day: Conan On Trump

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A former speechwriter for John McCain said Donald Trump has an unstable personality. This is coming from the guy who wrote the words, “Please welcome my running mate, Sarah Palin.” –Conan O’Brien

Trump Is Disgusting, And Other Bad News For Donald

Iowa voters might not like how the Rose Bowl game is going, and Donald Trump probably does not like this message  which was written in the sky over the Rose Parade: “America is great. Trump is disgusting. Anybody but Trump.” This was paid for by a donor for Marco Rubio, who says there’s more to come.

While none of this will necessarily impact the Republican nomination, this isn’t the only bad news for Trump. Buzzfeed reports that the co-writer of Trumps’s 2000 campaign book will not vote for him:

The co-author of Donald Trump’s 2000 campaign book says the Republican front-runner is a “no class” person whose political beliefs are difficult to pin down…

When asked if he would vote for Trump, Shiflett said no.

“I’ll tell you what really bugs me about him, where it really ripped it with me and Trump was the stuff he said about McCain,” he said. “McCain suffered severely and I had a son who did two tours in Middle East during the last war and we had kids from here who went over there and some of them got hurt. They ain’t gonna be the same.”

“That’s gonna come back to haunt him. For a guy who never served, to say something like that is just..,” he continued.

Asked about Trump calling people losers, Shiflett said, “It’s just no class, what it boils down to. What’s the point of doing that? He doesn’t have to do that.”

He also pointed out how progressive Trump’s past political beliefs were.

Trump mistakingly blames Barack Obama for one of his problems:

Donald J. Trump appears to be more concerned about the quality of his hair than the quality of the air.

Mr. Trump has offered little in the way of an environmental policy during his presidential campaign, but on Wednesday he said that President Obama’s concerns about the environment were infringing on his rights as a consumer. More pressing than saving the ozone layer, he suggested, was the freedom to buy aerosol hairspray.

“You can’t use hairspray because hairspray is going to affect the ozone,” Mr. Trump said during a rally in South Carolina. “They don’t want me to use hairspray, they want me to use the pump.”

Trump is as mistaken in this attack on Obama as in many of his other attacks:

Aerosol sprays were actually phased out in the United States in the 1990s, years before Mr. Obama was president, and the ban resulted from the Montreal Protocol in 1987, signed by President George H. W. Bush, which sought to curtail the damage aerosol products did to the disappearing ozone layer. Since then, the hairspray industry has been able to find substitutes that produce the same misty effect of CFCs and aerosol.

Related: Carly Fiorina Takes Pandering To A New Low During Rose Bowl

Past History Of Polls Before Iowa Encouraging For Bernie Sanders & Donald Trump’s GOP Rivals

National Polls Before Iowa

I’ve noted many times that polls prior to primaries are of little predictive value. Polls in December 2007 showed that Clinton had a huge lead over Obama. In December 2003, Howard Dean was pulling away in the polls. Eventual winner John Kerry was in sixth place with only 4 percent, even trailing Al Sharpton. While Clinton is certainly in a strong position this year, her leads in the national polls do not guarantee victory. Similarly, while Donald Trump seems to have a significant lead in the Republican race, it is premature to assume he will win unless he actually performs well in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Alfred J. Tuchfarber has looked at the December polls and has also demonstrated how little predictive value they have. In polls from November 2007, taken two months before voting, Hillary Clinton was leading the Democratic race. Rudy Guiliani was leading the Republican race, with Fred Thompson also ahead of John McCain. In 2011 Herman Cain was leading the Republican race, and had left the race by the time of the Iowa caucuses.

One reason for the poor predictive value of national polls is that whoever wins in Iowa and/or New Hampshire generally gets a huge boost in subsequent states. That doesn’t mean that the polls in Iowa are all that more meaningful as voters there typically don’t make up their minds until the last minute. Hillary Clinton was leading in the polls in Iowa and came in third place in 2008. In late 2007 Mitt Romney was leading the polls in Iowa, and came in second to Mike Huckabee. Herman Cain was leading in Iowa as well as the national polls two months before the Iowa caucus.

Polls also have limited predictive value as the pollsters do not know who will actually turn out to vote. If the Democratic caucus in Iowa is dominated by long time Democratic voters, then the polls are showing the race as very close. If those who haven’t previously voted but are showing enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders turn out to vote, there could be a big victory for Sanders. The much stronger degree of support seen for Sanders in social media is very encouraging, but no guarantee of votes. It might also be helpful for Sanders that the Iowa caucuses are later this year than in the 2008 cycle, when many college students were off on vacation. Even more might turn out for Sanders in this year than had turned out for Obama.

Similarly we will not know whether Donald Trump will easily win the nomination, or if a party regular will challenge him, until we see how the voters act.

Major Gaffes From Clinton and Trump Campaigns; Al Gore To The Rescue?

Members of both parties have good reason to worry about the candidates now leading in the polls. Hillary Clinton, along with other Democratic candidates, appeared in Iowa Friday night. Instead of receiving favorable coverage for what she said, the story out of Iowa is how the Clinton campaign told supporters not to speak to reporters. It is bad enough when Clinton avoids answering questions from the press, but it makes no sense to try to gag supporters. She received criticism for this on MSNBC (video above) with quotes from the coverage in The Weekly Standard:

“Here’s what struck me,” said Susan Page of USA Today, “when I read the coverage in the Des Moines Register this morning. Jennifer Jacobs, who’s been on your show, was covering this last night. Big demonstrations outside of young people for O’Malley and Hillary Clinton. She went up to the Clinton supporters — these are protesters for Clinton — and they were told they were not allowed to [speak to] a reporter.”

Page continued, “Now, why in the world would the campaign tell their own supporters who came out to campaign in favor Hillary Clinton … these are the young people, college kids, for Hillary, and they’ve been told they can’t talk to reporters. Why in the world would you do that?

“This raises some warning flags for Hillary Clinton campaign that is trying to control their supporters.”

Steve Kornacki agreed, saying, “Nothing that those supporters could possibly say to the press than the story of telling them not to talk.”

Clinton’s repeated stumbling on the campaign trail, and concern, over her unethical behavior, have raised concerns among  some Democratic voters that nominating Hillary Clinton will lead to a Republican victory on election day. While Bernie Sanders has been stimulated a remarkable amount of excitement around his campaign, some also have concerns over whether he can beat Clinton for the nomination and win the general election. While Joe Biden’s name comes up the most among those who believe another well-known candidate with gravitas is needed to enter the race, Salon has repeated another name which would be worth considering if he is interested–Al Gore. The story is entitled, It’s time to draft Al Gore: If Democrats want to win, it’s clear neither Hillary nor Sanders is the way. The article gives ten reasons why:

Enter Al Gore: the one person on the left, apart from Clinton and Biden, with the cachet to bridge the establishment and progressive wings of the party. Here are 10 reasons why a Gore candidacy makes sense, both for the Democratic Party and the country.

1. Stature. Gore is a superstar with impeccable qualifications. The GOP will have a hard time marginalizing someone of his caliber and experience. His background speaks for itself: a former Congressman, U.S. Senator, and two-time Vice President. He’s even succeed wildly in the private sector as a businessman — something Republicans can’t help but praise. In short, Gore passes the credibility test by any measure, and that matters in a national election. Hillary Clinton is the only other Democratic candidate who can match Gore on this front.

2. Vulnerability. As the new AP poll shows, Clinton’s unfavorability ratings are rising among Americans overall and among Democratic voters in particular. Indeed, her positive marks have plummeted from 81% to 70% among Democrats since April. Worse, as the AP noted: “Just 39 percent of all Americans have a favorable view of Clinton, compared to nearly half who say they have a negative opinion of her.” Hard to win with numbers like that.

These numbers are consistent with another recent poll, which confirmed that Clinton’s lead over the Democratic field has shrunk considerably over the last several months. Some of this is the result of Clinton fatigue, but it’s also due to the rise of Bernie Sanders. The left wing of the party is flocking to Sanders, in part, because they don’t trust Clinton’s centrist record. Gore, on the other hand, who has become much more outspoken since leaving office, could embrace much of Sanders’ populist platform while also selling himself as a more appealing national candidate. That’s a strong case on his behalf, one many Democrats will find persuasive.

3. Besides Hillary Clinton, no one running as a Democrat is likely to challenge Republicans in a national election. Sanders is a regional candidate at best; he shouldn’t be, but he is, and that’s not changing next year. The other candidates scarcely warrant mentioning: Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee – these guys are political ornaments, running for reasons known only to their friends and families. Gore is a national figure, however. He can rival any GOP candidate in terms of fundraising prowess, party support, organizational acumen, experience, and name recognition. He’s also become something of a rock star post-politics, winning a Nobel, an Oscar, and an Emmy. Gore, in other words, is the perfect package, both politically and professionally.

4. Independents. Gore, justifiably or not, is less polarizing than Clinton, which means he can appeal to independents. Although they’re manufactured scandals, issues like the private emails at the State Department and the Benghazi fiasco will plague Clinton in the general election; Republicans (duplicitously, of course) will use these non-issues to bludgeon her month after month, debate after debate, ad after ad. This is pure nonsense, but it will be a distraction nevertheless. Gore, alternatively, brings less comparable baggage – that makes him a harder target for the GOP.

5. Foreign policy. Hillary Clinton is right about a lot of things, but foreign policy isn’t one of them. After our recent misadventures in the Middle East, this really matters. On all things foreign policy, Clinton has a habit of flopping with the political winds. Her maximalist, borderline neoconservative positions at both the Senate and the State Department are a particularly disturbing example of this. Indeed, she beat the war drums on Iraq, Syria, and Iran at one point. In short, Clinton is a hawk, and most of us have seen enough of that in the last decade or so. Gore’s absence from politics during this period gives him a distinct advantage: he wasn’t complicit in our recent geopolitical blunders. He also opposed the Iraq War, something Hillary and the GOP candidates can’t say.

6. The corruption of the political process by Wall Street is — and should be — a major issue in this election. Everyone knows already how much influence the financial industry has in Washington. Hillary Clinton, to her credit, has talked quite a bit about income inequality and political corruption, but the fact remains: Wall Street loves her. This ought to make Democrats uncomfortable. Gore, admittedly because he hasn’t run for office in years, has not relied on Wall Street for campaign funding — at least not in recent history. If nothing else, this is a mark in Gore’s favor, and another reason for Democrats to get behind his campaign.

7. Climate change. As Ezra Klein argued a few months ago in a column about Gore, “Income inequality is a serious problem…But climate change is an existential threat.” Gore, whatever you think of him, is an unimpeachable authority on climate change. As Klein wrote, “When it comes to climate change, there’s no one in the Democratic Party – or any other political party – with Gore’s combination of credibility and commitment.” Given the president’s unique ability to make a difference on an issue like this, it matters a great deal who wins this election. We can’t say definitively what Hillary Clinton would or would not do about climate change, but we can be fairly certain that Al Gore would do more than any other potential candidate for president.

8. Gore has nothing to lose. Having been out of politics for so long, Gore is liberated in ways no other candidate is. He’s got no recent voting record to scrutinize (read: distort); he’s independently wealthy and well-connected; and his private sector activism has allowed him to take authentic positions on issues that matter to him – and most Democrats. He’s beholden, in other words, to fewer constituencies than anyone else currently running. Perhaps most importantly, because he’s succeeded to such a degree in his post-political life, we’ve every reason to believe he’d feel empowered to take chances and risk failure. Isn’t that the candidate most people want?

9. Vengeance. If we’re stuck with a rerun election (Clinton vs. Bush), most would prefer to see Gore get his vengeance against another Bush. Gore, you may recall, was elected president in 2000 over George W. Bush. For reasons we won’t get into now, that victory was stolen from Gore in Florida, thanks in no small part to Jeb Bush, who was then governor of that state. With Jeb the likely Republican candidate next year, it would be a delightful bit of Karmic justice for him to lose to the man he robbed 16 years prior.

10. Democrats need a spark. Gore may not be new, but his candidacy would feel that way. His political life seems a distant memory at this point, but his activism and business savvy have kept him in the public consciousness. As with most politicians, moreover, the freedom of not having to run for office has done wonders for Gore’s image. His entrance and voice would only enliven the Democratic Party, which is exactly what it needs in an election decided, overwhelmingly, by voter turnout.

While I would like to give Sanders more time to see if he can continue to grow his support, Gore would also make an excellent alternative to Hillary Clinton. I doubt Gore would be interested, but it would also be satisfying to see him beat not only Hillary Clinton, but to beat a Bush should Jeb get the nomination.

The current Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, is far less likely than Clinton to actually win their party’s nomination, and there must be many Republicans who are terrified of the prospect of this front-runner actually winning. The Weekly Standard reports on the latest outrageous statement from Trump (video above):

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump, a Republican running for president, said of McCain. “I like people that weren’t captured. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”

This statement is bad enough under any circumstance, but it comes off as even worse considering how Trump received several deferments to avoid serving in Viet Nam. While I don’t fault Trump for avoiding military service in Viet Nam, but to attack someone such as McCain who did serve is totally uncalled for.

Trump also refused to rule out running as a third party candidate. Hopefully he does so, as this would probably guarantee a Democratic victory.

You might not read about such gaffes from Trump in the future in the political section of The Huffington Post.

After watching and listening to Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president, we have decided we won’t report on Trump’s campaign as part of The Huffington Post’s political coverage. Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.

While they have a point, I cannot agree with this decision. Donald Trump, like it or not, is a major part of this campaign at the moment. If he was polling under five percent, then maybe this could be justified, but he is now leading the Republican field in the polls. As repugnant as his platform is, there unfortunately is a following for Trump’s brand of racism and xenophobia among the Republican base. It is a real part of this campaign.

Update: No apology from Donald Trump, leading to predictions that Trump is toast. That is fine, but why not even earlier? Apparently among many conservative politicians and media outlets, racist and xenophobic statements are not a campaign-killer.

The New York Times Calls For Prosecution Of Those Responsible For Torture

In an editorial, The New York Times pointed out that Barack Obama “has failed to bring to justice anyone responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects.” They recommended prosecution of those responsible in light of the recent Senate report:

Americans have known about many of these acts for years, but the 524-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report erases any lingering doubt about their depravity and illegality: In addition to new revelations of sadistic tactics like “rectal feeding,” scores of detainees were waterboarded, hung by their wrists, confined in coffins, sleep-deprived, threatened with death or brutally beaten. In November 2002, one detainee who was chained to a concrete floor died of “suspected hypothermia.”

These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture.

So it is no wonder that today’s blinkered apologists are desperate to call these acts anything but torture, which they clearly were. As the report reveals, these claims fail for a simple reason: C.I.A. officials admitted at the time that what they intended to do was illegal.

The New York Times joins others in dismissing the excuses of apologists for torture and calls for an independent criminal investigation:

No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report. Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are to give Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. a letter Monday calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate what appears increasingly to be “a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”

The editorial named those who should be held accountable:

But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.

One would expect Republicans who have gone hoarse braying about Mr. Obama’s executive overreach to be the first to demand accountability, but with one notable exception, Senator John McCain, they have either fallen silent or actively defended the indefensible. They cannot even point to any results: Contrary to repeated claims by the C.I.A., the report concluded that “at no time” did any of these techniques yield intelligence that averted a terror attack. And at least 26 detainees were later determined to have been “wrongfully held.”

This should happen, but we know it will not. It is not only a matter of morality. As I discussed recently, not only does torture not work, but its use corrupts governments which rely upon it and undermine legitimate forms of intelligence gathering.

Techies Join Other Liberals Who Are Not Ready For Hillary

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Hillary Clinton continues to look like a strong favorite to win the 2016 Democratic nomination, but there continues to be many Democrats who hope that the party decides upon a liberal nominee. This includes the techies who helped Obama to beat her in 2008. Politico reports:

Scores of the Democratic techies who helped Barack Obama defeat Hillary Clinton for the 2008 presidential nomination are now seeking alternatives to Clinton in 2016. Some are even promising the same kind of digital throw-down to sink her presumptive front-runner campaign as they did in 2008.

Clinton is still expected to be able to field a formidable tech team. But her troubles in grabbing many of the party’s young campaign innovators have a good deal to do with Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who insists she’s not running for president but who has quickly become an appealing pick for Obama alumni who built his two campaigns’ data and digital infrastructure. Earlier this month, more than 300 of Obama’s former campaign staffers, including his chief information officer and senior aides who handled email, online fundraising and field efforts, released a letter begging Warren to jump into the race.

“What we were trying to do is send a signal to the larger country but also to Sen. Warren herself to say a lot of this institutional knowledge and power that’s been built up over the last couple of years actually is with you,” Christopher Hass, an Obama 2008 and 2012 digital campaign aide, said in an interview.

“We’re not robots,” added Catherine Bracy, who led Obama’s San Francisco field office in 2012. “I think people are going to choose the candidate who inspires them the most. And for many of us that’s Elizabeth Warren.”

While Clinton’s other potential 2016 rivals will be widely outmatched on the financial front, they are hardly tech neophytes and each brings his own digital skill sets to compete on the social media battlefield and for critical early votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. After all, Bernie Sanders is arguably Congress’ biggest social media powerhouse; Martin O’Malley has governed both Baltimore and Maryland with an obsessive eye on statistics; and Jim Webb has a proven track record as a candidate willing to use progressive bloggers and viral videos to exploit his opponents’ weaknesses for advantage.

“I’d not be surprised if [Sanders] or one of the others get several bumps over the next six months,” said a senior Democratic source, noting the Vermont senator’s ability to make waves on Facebook and Twitter while Clinton at the same time would be working to define her own new narrative. “I think she’s got an enormous challenge reintroducing a brand that’s been around this long and getting people excited about it. It’s going to be tricky.”

Despite this “enormous challenge,” I doubt that very many Democrats who oppose her nomination doubt that she also has enormous advantages going into the primary race (as she did in 2008).

There have been other expressions of opposition to Clinton winning the nomination. The November issue of Harper’s ran a cover story entitled, Stop Hillary! Vote no to a Clinton dynasty. As I received it just before the 2014 primaries, I decided to hold off on discussion of the 2016 election, but it is worth quoting some portions of this article. Doug Henwood began:

What is the case for Hillary (whose quasi-official website identifies her, in bold blue letters, by her first name only, as do millions upon millions of voters)? It boils down to this: She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn. It’s hard to find any substantive political argument in her favor. She has, in the past, been associated with women’s issues, with children’s issues — but she also encouraged her husband to sign the 1996 bill that put an end to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC), which had been in effect since 1935. Indeed, longtime Clinton adviser Dick Morris, who has now morphed into a right-wing pundit, credits Hillary for backing both of Bill’s most important moves to the center: the balanced budget and welfare reform. And during her subsequent career as New York’s junior senator and as secretary of state, she has scarcely budged from the centrist sweet spot, and has become increasingly hawkish on foreign policy.

The purpose of the article was a response to those who see her as a liberal by looking at her career.  Henwood wrote, “despite the widespread liberal fantasy of her as a progressive paragon, who will follow through exactly as Barack Obama did not. In fact, a close look at her life and career is perhaps the best antidote to all these great expectations.” He has considerable detail on her career. He wrote this on health care:

Hillary was given responsibility for running the health-care reform agenda. It was very much a New Democrat scheme. Rejecting a Canadian-style single-payer system, Hillary and her team came up with an impossibly complex arrangement called “managed competition.” Employers would be encouraged to provide health care to their workers, individuals would be assembled into cooperatives with some bargaining power, and competition among providers would keep costs down. But it was done in total secrecy, with no attempt to cultivate support in Congress or among the public for what would be a massive piece of legislation — and one vehemently opposed by the medical-industrial complex.

At a meeting with Democratic leaders in April 1993, Senator Bill Bradley suggested that she might need to compromise to get a bill passed. Hillary would have none of it: the White House would “demonize” any legislators who stood in her way. Bradley was stunned. Years later, he told Bernstein:

That was it for me in terms of Hillary Clinton. You don’t tell members of the Senate you are going to demonize them. It was obviously so basic to who she is. The arrogance. . . . The disdain.

Health-care reform was a conspicuous failure, and most of the blame has to fall on Hillary.

Hillary got Bill to agree to veto any compromise as opposed to HillaryCare in full. The result was forcing us to wait another generation before we had health care reform.

Henwood discussed the scandals which surrounded Clinton, pointing out how she responded “with lies, half-truths, and secrecy.” He described aspects of her Senate career, including her prayer breakfasts with Republicans and her support for the Iraq war:

She buddied up to John McCain and attended prayer breakfasts with right-wingers like Sam Brownback of Kansas. She befriended Republicans who had served as floor managers of her husband’s impeachment. Even Newt Gingrich has good things to say about her.

Oh, and she voted for the Iraq war, and continued to defend it long after others had thrown in the towel. She cast that vote without having read the full National Intelligence Estimate, which was far more skeptical about Iraq’s armaments than the bowdlerized version that was made public — strange behavior for someone as disciplined and thorough as Hillary. She also accused Saddam Hussein of having ties to Al Qaeda, which was closer to the Bush line than even many pro-war Democrats were willing to go. Alas, of all her senatorial accomplishments, this one arguably had the biggest impact. The rest were the legislative equivalent of being against breast cancer.

Her tenure as Secretary of State was just as hawkish:

For her own part, Hillary was less of a diplomat and more of a hawk, who had made a campaign-trail promise in 2008 to “totally obliterate” Iran in the event of an attack on Israel. Part of this may have been pure temperament, or an impulse to prove that she was tougher than a man. But she may also have been reacting against public perception of the job itself. As the feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe, who specializes in gender and militarism, told me in a 2004 interview, there’s a “long history of trying to feminize the State Department in American inner circles.” Diplomats are caricatured as upper-class pansies instead of manly warriors. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld even attempted to feminize Colin Powell, she argued, “which is pretty hard to do with somebody who has been a general.”

But the problem becomes particularly acute with a female secretary of state — and Hillary countered it with a macho eagerness to call in the U.S. Cavalry. She backed an escalation of the Afghanistan war, lobbied on behalf of a continuing military presence in Iraq, urged Obama to bomb Syria, and supported the intervention in Libya. As Michael Crowley wrote in Time, “On at least three crucial issues — Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid — Clinton took a more aggressive line than [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.”

Fortunately, as one diplomat put it, Obama “brought her into the administration, put her in a bubble, and ignored her.” That would also be good advice for Democrats as we go into the battle for the 2016 nomination.

Reasons Why Torture Does Not Work

One major finding of the recent bipartisan Senate report on torture was that torture used in the United States post 9/11 did not produce any useful intelligence. The same lack of efficacy was seen by every other country which tried to use torture, even in cases such as Nazi Germany and North Vietnam, which are often claimed by supports of the use of torture as examples of torture working. The only examples of torture working come from watching Jack Bauer on 24 or from watching Fox “News”–both of which are fictional sources.

Ryan Cooper has a good summary of the reasons torture does not work, and never has, at The Week. He began:

In the wake of the Senate report cataloging a whole lot of torture committed by the CIA, Dick Cheney has been reduced to arguing that torturing people — even innocent ones — is worth doing if you eventually get good results. The ends justify the means.

I can see why he makes this argument — he’s simply got no other option. It is now obvious that what the CIA did was illegal, brutal torture. Claims that it kept the nation safe are all that Cheney has left.

But Cheney is wrong: torture doesn’t work and never has.

I have referenced the work Torture and Democracy, by Darius Rejali of Reed College, many times in the past. It is widely agreed to be a benchmark work on torture — perhaps the most thorough investigation and analysis of the subject available. Here’s what Rejali says, to put this question to rest for all time.

Over 12 years of research, Rejali examined the use of torture in the U.S., Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, South Vietnam, and Korea. He looked at torture inflicted during the French-Algerian War, as well as at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. His research found that there is no record of any successful use of torture to gather intelligence, not even in totalitarian states.

The full article is worth reading as it contains many of the usual reasons discussed, such as the livelihood of receiving false information, along with reasons based upon the nature of pain:

Causing someone pain is not like turning a dial on a stove. Greater damage to the body often translates as less pain, since the body, in shock, shuts down the pain system (as victims of car accidents or shootings can often attest). Going too far, too fast with torture can simply desensitize people or cause them to black out. Furthermore, different people have different thresholds for pain, and they use certain types of pain to mask other ones. As a result, even with technological assistance, it is simply impossible to torture in any scientific, reproducible way.

Torturers understand this, and so are drawn to two blunt techniques: 1) apply maximum allowable pain, so as to push past all limits and 2) vary the torture methods widely to exploit as many phobias and specific weaknesses as possible. One perverse result of this is that there will be constant pressure to ignore limits set by the law in favor of a maximum diversity of pain.

Cooper also discussed additional problems with torture such as that  “torture badly corrodes organizations that practice it”, ” torture directly undermines traditional intelligence-gathering” and that “what little information is produced under torture is extremely unreliable.”

Detainees with a score to settle may falsely rat out old enemies, hoping they will be tortured instead. Detainees with no information will sometimes try to appease their torturers with lies, making interrogators waste time and effort chasing false leads. The CIA did just this, in fact. The Senate report documents at least one instance in which the CIA tortured a detainee, who gave them bad information, which led to more innocent people being detained.

Even when prisoners say true things, the interrogators very often do not believe them. This happened to John McCain when he was tortured in North Vietnam. Formal studies show that torturers cannot reliably distinguish truth from falsehood.

He also addressed the “ticking time bomb” scenarios often raised by supporters of torture:

That brings us to the ticking time bomb thought experiment, where someone is known to have information about an imminent attack but will not talk. This is the centerpiece of the pro-torture case. Setting aside the fact that this sort of situation is extraordinarily rare, there is no reason to think time-limited, high-pressure torture would be any more successful than in other circumstances. On the contrary, all the problems with torture identified above are made worse by a time constraint: the techniques are limited, as slow ones must be ruled out; pain must be applied more quickly, thus increasing the risk of blackouts, desensitization, or memory damage; and time wasted chasing false leads becomes an even greater loss.

As with so many Republican views, the facts do not support their policies, but this does not affect their views because they choose their positions based upon ideological and philosophical reasons, and then try to twist the facts to support their views. Their support for torture, despite all the evidence that it does not work, certainly does say something about their character.

PolitiFact Lie of The Year: Exaggerations about Ebola

Conservatives used Ebola as one means of spreading fear, helping them in the 2014 midterm elections. PoltiFact has now made exaggerations about Ebola their 2014 Lie of the Year. This includes both conservative hysteria which greatly exaggerated the threat faced in a developed nation such as the United States and many of the right wing conspiracy theories. I have already discussed many of these false claims, often in the context of debunking right wing attempts to restrict civil liberties while ignoring the science. From PoltiFact:

Thomas Eric Duncan left Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 19, for Dallas. Eleven days later, doctors diagnosed Duncan with Ebola.

Eight days after that, he was dead.

Duncan’s case is just one of two Ebola-related fatalities in the United States, and since Duncan traveled to Dallas, more Americans — at least nine, and likely many more — have died from the flu.

Yet fear of the disease stretched to every corner of America this fall, stoked by exaggerated claims from politicians and pundits. They said Ebola was easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy.

The claims — all wrong — distorted the debate about a serious public health issue. Together, they earn our Lie of the Year for 2014…

Fox News analyst George Will claimed Ebola could be spread into the general population through a sneeze or a cough, saying the conventional wisdom that Ebola spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids was wrong.

“The problem is the original assumption, said with great certitude if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids from someone, because it’s not airborne,” Will said. “There are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious.” False.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described Ebola as “incredibly contagious,” “very transmissible” and “easy to catch.” Mostly False.

Internet conspirators claimed President Obama intended to detain people who had signs of illness. Pants on Fire. Bloggers also said the outbreak was started in a bioweapons lab funded by George Soros and Bill Gates. Pants on Fire.

A Georgia congressman claimed there were reports of people carrying diseases including Ebola across the southern border. Pants on Fire. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Americans were told the country would be Ebola-free. False.

When combined, the claims edged the nation toward panic. Governors fought Washington over the federal response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stumbled to explain details about transmission of the virus and its own prevention measures. American universities turned away people from Africa, whether they were near the outbreak or not.

The post went on to discuss the actual medical facts.

Not surprisingly the misinformation came from many of the usual subjects such as Fox and Republicans such as John McCain and Rand Paul. Their conspiracies theories also involved the usual subjects of right wing attacks like Barack Obama and George Soros.

At least one good thing did come about from the Ebola hysteria. Republicans, with the help of the NRA, had blocked the appointment of Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General for months. The Ebola outbreak placed increased attention on this vacancy and he was finally confirmed by the Senate today.

Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On All The Issues

Paul Krugman points out that the Republicans, despite winning the midterm elections on Tuesday, were wrong on everything:

First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 — brought on by runaway financial institutions — shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage. In 2009, when an ailing economy desperately needed aid, John Boehner, soon to become the speaker of the House, declared: “It’s time for government to tighten their belts.”

So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what Mr. Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.

In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

He then went on to look at why they won, expressing views similar to what I had written about the election earlier in the week:

Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Senator Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.

But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.

This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party.

This was their strategy, literally beginning on Day 1, if not earlier. A Frontline documentary described what the Republicans planned:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

Of course we cannot just criticize the Republicans. The Democrats were at fault when six years later they still had no effective response to this Republican strategy, and were afraid to stand up for their accomplishments. Being right doesn’t do any good politically if they were afraid to explain this to the voters. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama and his policies and then were shocked when the Obama voters didn’t come out to vote for them. As Peter Beinhart wrote, the Democrats cannot keep playing not to lose:

This fall, Democrats ran like they were afraid of losing. Consider the issues that most Democrats think really matter: Climate change, which a United Nations report just warned will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” across the globe. The expansion of Medicaid, so millions of poor families have health coverage. Our immoral and incoherent immigration system. Our epidemic of gun violence, which produces a mini-Sandy Hook every few weeks. The rigging of America’s political and economic system by the 1 percent.

For the most part, Democratic candidates shied away from these issues because they were too controversial. Instead they stuck to topics that were safe, familiar, and broadly popular: the minimum wage, outsourcing, and the “war on women.” The result, for the most part, was homogenized, inauthentic, forgettable campaigns. Think about the Democrats who ran in contested seats Tuesday night: Grimes, Nunn, Hagan, Pryor, Hagan, Shaheen, Landrieu, Braley, Udall, Begich, Warner. During the entire campaign, did a single one of them have what Joe Klein once called a “Turnip Day moment”—a bold, spontaneous outbreak of genuine conviction? Did a single one unfetter himself or herself from the consultants and take a political risk to support something he or she passionately believed was right?

…We saw the consequences on Tuesday. According to exit polls, voters under 30 constituted only 13 percent of the electorate, down from 19 percent in 2012. In Florida, the Latino share of the electorate dropped from 17 to 13 percent. In North Carolina, the African-American share dropped from 23 to 21 percent.

By positioning himself as a moderate, he may have missed a chance to gin up more enthusiasm within the state’s expanding Democratic base, earning fewer votes in such deep-blue communities as Arlington County and Alexandria than left-of-Warner Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) did a year ago.

All of it has left some to wonder whether Warner would have won bigger if he had eschewed the middle and embraced the left, and whether the winning path for moderates that Warner forged during his own bid for governor 13 years ago is becoming extinct.

“I think if you look at the returns around the country . . . it raises questions about just how successful the bipartisanship brand really is,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said Tuesday after easily winning a fourth term in Northern Virginia’s 11th Congressional District by talking about women’s rights, immigration reform and climate change — and less about working with Republicans.

Here’s a similar take on what the Democrats did wrong: “They were so focused on independents that they forgot they had a base. They left their base behind. They became Republican-lite.”

That opinion came from Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also said Democrats “sidelined their best messenger” by running away from Obama, and for not talking about the economy. Republicans might be wrong virtually all the time lately when it comes to governing, but quite often they are smarter than Democrats with regards to politics.