Fox Republican Debate Dominated By The Donald

Fox Debate August 2015

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

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

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

Thursday’s debate audience more than tripled that one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And do you know what?

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

QUESTION: So what did you get?

TRUMP: And that’s a broken system.

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

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

You know why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanders Defends Planned Parenthood While Clinton Throws Them Under The Bus

Planned Parenthood Supporters

Bernie Sanders, as opposed to Hillary Clinton, has defended the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood as “part of a long-term smear campaign by people who want to deny women in this country the right to control their own bodies.” His full statement follows in response to Republican efforts to stop government spending on Planned Parenthood.

“The attempt by Senate Republicans to cut off support for Planned Parenthood is an attack on women’s health.  Stripping funding for Planned Parenthood would punish the 2.7 million Americans, especially low-income women, who rely on its clinics for affordable, quality health care services including cancer prevention, STI and HIV testing and general primary health care services.

“The current attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood is part of a long-term smear campaign by people who want to deny women in this country the right to control their own bodies.

“Let’s be clear: Federal funding for Planned Parenthood does not pay for abortions. The vast majority of government funding that Planned Parenthood receives is through Medicaid reimbursements.  Cutting that funding will be devastating to the health needs of millions of women who desperately need the quality services Planned Parenthood provides.”

In contrast, Clinton has once again played into the hands of the right wing by calling the videos “disturbing” and calling for a national investigation.

Abortion opponents  are using illegally obtained tapes to falsely claim that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue obtained during abortions, which would be illegal. Their  tapes actually show negotiations over nominal fees for preservation and transportation of the tissue for biomedical research, which is totally different from selling the tissue, and which is both legal and conventional in health care.

White House Threatens To Veto Bills Defunding Planned Parenthood; Huckabee Threatens To Send In Troops To Prevent Abortions

Planned Parenthood

There were two threats related to abortion in the news today. While Hillary Clinton looks willing to throw Planned Parenthood under the bus for political gain, the White House is showing why I backed Obama over Clinton in 2008. From The Hill:

The White House on Friday threatened a veto on any bill that defunds Planned Parenthood.

A budget measure that strips funding from the organization “is certainly something that would draw a presidential veto,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.

“We have routinely opposed the inclusion of ideologically driven riders” in budget bills, Earnest added.

The White House spokesman questioned the authenticity of the recordings and pointed to criticism they have received from media organizations.

“I haven’t seen the videos, but those who have taken a close look at them have raised some significant concerns about their authenticity and whether or not they actually convey the view of those particular officials or even the broader institution,” Earnest said.

On Thursday, Earnest said the “fraudulent way” the videos were released means there is “not a lot of evidence” that Planned Parenthood violated any laws.

Abortion opponents claim that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue obtained during abortions, which is illegal. Their illegally obtained tapes actually show negotiations over nominal fees for preservation and transportation of the tissue for biomedical research, which is totally different from selling the tissue, and which is legal. Fees for transportation of medical specimens is customary, such as when Medicare or private insurance companies pay me to place cervical cells in preservatives and transport the specimen after doing a pap smear on a patient.

An article at Slate describes the importance of using fetal cells in medical research. This is the real pro-life position.

An investigation of Planned Parenthood ordered by Republican Governor Mike Pence in Indiana cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing after the videos were released.

Mike Huckabee has taken opposition to abortion to a new level, threatening to not only disregard the Supreme Court, but possibly send in troops:

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee indicated Thursday that if elected, he wouldn’t rule out employing federal troops or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stop abortion from taking place in the United States.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against bans on abortion, Huckabee said past presidents have defied Supreme Court rulings.

Jesse Choper, professor emeritus of public law at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, said in a phone interview Friday that Huckabee’s statement was “way off-base,” adding, “it does rival Donald Trump.”

“I think he’d better more carefully examine what he’s saying, because it is totally unprecedented,” Choper said Friday.

Hillary Clinton Avoids Taking A Stand On Keystone XL Pipeline & Once Again Undermines Fight For Reproductive Rights

Sanders on Clinton Keystone XL

“If it’s undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.” –Hillary Clinton

One reason why Hillary Clinton is dropping in the polls and Bernie Sanders is climbing is that voters prefer a more open and honest candidate such as Sanders. Hillary Clinton has practiced triangulation to avoid taking a stand on controversial issues throughout her career, and we saw it again this week on the Keystone XL  Pipeline and Planned Parenthood.

While at times Clinton appeared to support the pipeline in the past, since this has become a risky position in Democratic primaries she has avoided answering questions on the subject. We got a classic Hillaryism with her latest response to the question: “If it’s undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.”

Chris Cillizza tore Clinton apart for this line:

When you are running for president — whether or not you served in the current administration — you are going to be asked to take positions on issues that the current president is dealing with. As long as we hold elections that begin two years (or more) before the current president is set to leave office, that’s going to be a thing candidates need to contend with. If Clinton’s position is that she can’t take a public stance on any issue that has some sort of pending business before this White House, then she’s not going to be able to take a position on, well, anything.

And she’s already shown that on some issues, she is willing to take a position. Clinton came out in favor of the Iran deal, for example, despite the fact that its fate remains up in the air in Congress.

Second, the whole point of a campaign is for voters to get to know the candidates and understand what their respective presidencies might look like. People and reporters and the candidates you are running against ask you questions. You answer them — most of the time. It’s what we do. It’s how voters can feel as though they are making an informed decision come Election Day.

Imagine if Jeb Bush, when asked about the immigration problem in the country, said only: “Look, it’s a complex issue. I am not going to say anything about it until I am in the White House.” There would be massive outrage — and rightly so. Bush would be accused of obfuscating for purely political reasons. Which, of course, would be what he was doing.

Beyond the question of the Keystone XL Pipeline, Clinton has received criticism from environmentalists for her support for off-shore drilling and fracking. It is also doubtful that she would take effective action on climate change considering the amount of money she receives from the petroleum industry.

Clinton also tried to triangulate on the Planned Parenthood videos, leading to headlines such as Hillary Clinton Calls Planned Parenthood Videos ‘Disturbing’

Hillary Clinton has staunchly defended Planned Parenthood in the wake of recently released videos that an anti-abortion group claims to show employees with the organization discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue.

But, in a new interview, she calls the graphic videos “disturbing” and says there should be a national investigation into that practice.

“I have seen pictures from them and obviously find them disturbing,” the Democratic presidential candidate told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday in regards to the videos, which were released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. “Planned Parenthood is answering questions and will continue to answer questions.”

She did also defend Planned Parenthood in general, but undermined them in fighting off the right wing attacks with statements such as this. As I discussed previously, right wing organizations with a history of distorting the facts are used the tapes to present a false claim that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue. In reality, the tapes show that they were negotiating over fees for collection, preservation, and transport of fetal tissue which was donated for biomedical research.  This is both legal and conventional. It is no different than when I do a pap smear and Medicare or private insurance companies pay me for collecting and arranging transport of the specimen to a lab. This does not mean that I am “selling” cervical cells and  Planned Parenthood is not “selling” fetal tissue. With Republicans using this false attack to threaten to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, Clinton should be defending them on this point, not calling it “disturbing” and calling for a national investigation into a practice which is fully legal.

Clinton continued to undermine abortion rights in saying, “I have said for more than 22 years that abortion should be legal, safe and rare.” Reproductive rights advocates such as Katha Pollitt in her book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, have criticized this statement for reducing the status of abortion rights and  stigmatizing women who do have abortions. Jessica Valenti has written, “Agreeing with anti-choice activists on even that single word hurts women and the cause of reproductive rights.” Clinton has also upset defenders of womens’ rights in the past with her support for parental notification laws.  This is just a small part of Clinton’s tendency to compromise liberal principles, often siding with the religious right on social/cultural issues.

Update: The Hill reports, Clinton’s habit of dodging key issues draws Democrats’ fire:

Even Democrats who are not Sanders partisans are concerned about Clinton’s sometimes-opaque comments on the campaign trail.

“What people are looking for is to know what’s in her heart,” said strategist Jamal Simmons.

Further fueling concern are a number of recent polls that have shown Clinton performing very poorly when voters are asked about her honesty and trustworthiness. Last week, a Quinnipiac poll showed Coloradans asserting by an almost 2-1 margin that Clinton was not honest or trustworthy: 62 percent said she was not, whereas only 34 percent she was. Respondents in Iowa distrusted Clinton 59 percent to 33 percent, and those in Virginia distrusted her 55 percent to 39 percent.

Keystone is far from the only issue on which Clinton has bobbed and weaved.

On the minimum wage, a key issue for many liberals, she has backed a minimum of $15 an hour for fast food workers in New York but has not stipulated a nationally mandated figure.

She avoided taking an unequivocal position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) even as the related debate over fast-track trade authority roiled Congress last month — and her position remains unclear.

Additional examples of Clinton’s habit of trying to avoid taking positions on the issues were also noted in the article.

Factcheck.org Debunks Conservative Smear Campaign Against Planned Parenthood

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The conservative attack on Planned Parenthood follows the pattern we have seen so many times in the past. Groups such as Breitbart put out edited tapes or videos to attack organizations which they disagree with based upon false claims. Now that fact checkers have had time to evaluate the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood, it is becoming clear that this is just one more example, and hardly comes as a surprise considering that most of the conservative reports on the issue which I’ve read quickly degenerate into a tirade against reproductive rights and legitimate scientific research.

Factcheck.org has evaluated the claims, and points out that, “it remains legal to donate tissue from a legally aborted fetus, and for that tissue to be used for research purposes.” They point ethical guidelines on the issue from the American Medical Association: “Fetal tissue is not provided in exchange for financial remuneration above that which is necessary to cover reasonable expenses.”

Reviewing the tapes, Factcheck.org found numerous examples which demonstrate that Planned Parenthood was operating within the law and established ethical guidelines:

Nucatola’s comment, though, isn’t evidence that Planned Parenthood or its affiliates are selling “body parts” or fetal tissue for profit. The full video shows that after Nucatola mentions the $30 to $100, she describes how those amounts would be reimbursement for expenses related to handling and transportation of the tissues. Nucatola talks about “space issues” and whether shipping would be involved…

Nucatola does make one statement in the unedited video that suggests to critics that some clinics would be comfortable with a payment that was slightly more than their expenses for providing the tissue. “I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a nonprofit, they just don’t want to — they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that,” Nucatola says.

But immediately after this statement, Nucatola goes on to say: “Really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is just pennies they give to another patient. To provide a service the patient wouldn’t get.” Planned Parenthood told us that she may have been referring to more general operations of the clinics.

Nucatola repeatedly talks about affiliates only wanting to provide a service to their patients, who elect to donate the tissue for medical research, and not having that service impact their bottom lines. She says that it’s “not a new revenue stream the affiliates are looking at” and that “nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.” She says some affiliates might donate the tissue for free.

Nucatola also discusses Planned Parenthood clinics’ interactions with a tissue procurement company called StemExpress. The company’s website says that partnering with StemExpress can be “financially profitable” for a clinic — a point that some conservativewebsites have singled out. But this also does not constitute evidence that Planned Parenthood is profiting in such a way…

Richards, the Planned Parenthood president, said in a video response to the controversy: “The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true.”

On July 21, the Center for Medical Progress released a second, similar video, again featuring a discussion with a Planned Parenthood official in a restaurant. The numbers mentioned in the edited video are similar to what Nucatola said. The official, Mary Gatter, quotes a rate of $75 per specimen, and says she was thinking of saying $50. The discussion only reaches $100 because the “buyers” in the video mention higher prices. At one point, Gatter says that “we’re not in this for the money,” and later she reiterates that “money is not the important thing.”

Though few studies of costs associated with fetal tissue acquisition are available, existing evidence does suggest the prices named in the video are in line with general practices. The National Institutes of Health conducts research with fetal tissue, and in the late 1990s, the Government Accountability Office (then known as the General Accounting Office) looked into the acquisition of such tissue, finding that the direct cost to researchers was “low.” GAO said payments primarily went to “central tissue suppliers,” as opposed to health clinics. In most cases, GAO found that clinics did not charge researchers, but when they did, the cost ranged from $2 to $75. The report did not address how much clinics might have received from central tissue suppliers, which is more analogous to the situation presented in the video.

PoltiFact has also reviewed the topic.

The New York Times has run an editorial on the subject. After summarizing the issue, the editorial concludes:

Anti-abortion groups have long pushed to defund Planned Parenthood, even though no federal money is used to provide abortions. But that hasn’t stopped their efforts to shut down the clinics, which provide services like contraception, cancer screening and other tests.

The Center for Medical Progress — which managed to get tax-exempt status in 2013 as a biomedicine charity, according to a report by The Huffington Post — appears to have done little beyond producing the undercover video. According to its registration form with the California attorney general, it has three officers: Mr. Daleiden; Albin Rhomberg, who has participated in anti-abortion protests; and Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.

In a statement last week, Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that “our donation programs — like any other high-quality health care providers — follow all laws and ethical guidelines” and that “Planned Parenthood stands behind our work to help women and families donate tissue for medical research when they wish to.”

Researchers use fetal tissue to study and develop treatments for diseases and conditions like H.I.V., hepatitis, congenital heart defects, retinal degeneration and Parkinson’s. Last year, the National Institutes of Health gave $76 million in grants for fetal tissue research. Planned Parenthood is certainly not the only collector of fetal tissue — clinics associated with universities also supply tissue for research.

The Center for Medical Progress video campaign is a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal. Lawmakers responding by promoting their own anti-choice agenda are rewarding deception and putting women’s health and their constitutionally protected rights at risk.

Considering the potential health benefits, research on fetal tissue is the true “pro-life” position.

Update: The Department of Justice plans to investigate this matter.

Republicans Plan To Use Increased Power After Midterms To Restrict Access To Abortion

Remember how the Republicans talked about down playing social issues going into the midterm elections? Now that they are in office, the party of limited government is returning to its agenda of using big government to impose its views upon others. Politco reports on The coming wave of anti-abortion laws–New GOP state legislatures will make access to abortion harder than ever.

The big Republican gains in the November elections strengthened and enlarged the anti-abortion forces in the House and the Senate. But it’s the GOP victories in the statehouses and governor’s mansions that are priming the ground for another round of legal restrictions on abortion.

Arkansas, for instance, already has strict anti-abortion laws. But with a Republican governor succeeding a Democrat who had vetoed two measures that would have banned most abortions beyond a certain stage of pregnancy, lawmakers plan to seek more restrictions — such as barring doctors from administering abortion drugs through telemedicine. Republican gains in the West Virginia Legislature will redouble pressure on Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to accept a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks, which he has previously deemed unconstitutional. And Tennessee voters approved a ballot initiative that removes a 15-year barrier to legislation limiting abortion legislation in that deeply conservative state.

Abortion rights advocates have had setbacks in the states for several years, with a surge of legislative activity since 2011. Women seeking abortions may face mandatory waiting periods or ultrasound requirements. Clinics may face stricter building codes or hospital admitting privilege rules they can’t satisfy. Dozens of clinics have shut down in multiple states. Texas, for instance, has fewer than 10 abortion clinics now. A year ago, it had 40…

Republican leaders who will control the U.S. Senate come January say they want to take up abortion this year, perhaps on a House-passed bill that would limit the procedure after 20 weeks. But the reality is that Senate Republicans will still fall a few votes shy of the 60 needed for controversial major legislation. It’s the states where Republicans can enact more abortion limits.

“We came out of Nov. 4th with a lot of momentum,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the research and education arm of Susan B. Anthony List, which is dedicated to electing candidates who oppose abortion. He expects the number of anti-abortion measures proposed in the states to reflect that. “I think we’re about to get another uptick.”

Thirteen states have passed bans on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — so-called fetal pain bills — and a couple have enacted earlier limits tied to when a fetal heartbeat is first detected, which can be six or seven weeks into a pregnancy. Several of these state laws are being contested in court, and the arguments may eventually end up in the Supreme Court. But that hasn’t deterred more states from eyeing such legislation; in Ohio, a House panel approved a fetal heartbeat bill just a few days ago.

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards predicts that 2015 will bring more attempts to enact restrictive state laws. She said she expects “state legislative attacks on women’s health, even though the vast majority of the public wants elected officials to protect and expand access to safe and legal abortion, birth control and preventive health care.”

In some states with Republican control of the legislature there remains hope that any anti-abortion legislation will be vetoed. For example, in Nevada  Republican Governor Brian Sandoval supports keeping abortion legal. The Republican capture of control of both chambers of the state legislature in New Hampshire will be countered by Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan who backs abortion rights.

While this article dealt with abortion, based upon recent history it is also likely that Republicans will use their power to restrict access to contraception.

Three Reasons Democrats Might Retain Control Of The Senate

Republicans have an excellent chance to gain control of the Senate this year due to a combination of Republican voters traditionally turning out in higher percentages in midterm elections and the need for Democrats to defend several seats in red states. Current projections from most sources give the Republicans a slight edge but there are a few reasons to believe that the Democrats might hold on to one or two more seats than projected, and retain control of the Senate:

1) The power of incumbency:

Democrats must hold onto seats in red states, but they are states that Democrats have won once before, even if in a presidential election year which was more favorable to Democrats. While they don’t have this advantage in 2014, having candidates running as incumbents might increase the chance of winning. Since 2000 Democratic Senate candidates have usually won reelection in the south, despite their states going heavily to the Republicans in presidential elections. Polls are showing that incumbent southern Democrats remain competitive.

2) Women voters:

Republican hostility towards reproductive rights and attempts to restrict access to contraception as well as abortion has many women voters angry, hopefully enough to turn out to vote. The Hobby Lobby decision might also motivate women.

With their Senate majority at stake in November, Democrats and allied groups are now stepping up an aggressive push to woo single women — young and old, highly educated and working class, never married, and divorced or widowed. This week they seized on the ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, five men, that family-owned corporations do not have to provide birth control in their insurance coverage, to buttress their arguments that Democrats better represent women’s interests.

But the challenge for Democrats is that many single women do not vote, especially in nonpresidential election years like this one. While voting declines across all groups in midterm contests for Congress and lower offices, the drop-off is steepest for minorities and unmarried women. The result is a turnout that is older, whiter and more conservative than in presidential years…

Single women, Democrats say, will determine whether they keep Senate seats in states including Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina — and with them, their Senate majority — and seize governorships in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, among other states.

The party is using advanced data-gathering techniques to identify unmarried women, especially those who have voted in presidential elections but skipped midterms. By mail, online, phone and personal contact, Democrats and their allies are spreading the word about Republicans’ opposition in Washington — and state capitals like Raleigh — to pay equity, minimum wage and college-affordability legislation; abortion and contraception rights; Planned Parenthood; and education spending.

3) Black Southern Voters:

Black southern voters have long voted Democratic, but now might turn out in high enough numbers to influence the results. Republican efforts to prevent them from voting might backfire, motivating more blacks to turn out:

Southern black voters don’t usually play a decisive role in national elections. They were systematically disenfranchised for 100 years after the end of the Civil War. Since the days of Jim Crow, a fairly unified white Southern vote has often determined the outcome of elections.

This November could be different. Nearly five decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voters in the South are poised to play a pivotal role in this year’s midterm elections. If Democrats win the South and hold the Senate, they will do so because of Southern black voters.

The timing — 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and 49 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act — is not entirely coincidental. The trends increasing the clout of black voters reflect a complete cycle of generational replacement in the post-Jim Crow era. White voters who came of age as loyal Democrats have largely died off, while the vast majority of black voters have been able to vote for their entire adult lives — and many have developed the habit of doing so.

This year’s closest contests include North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia. Black voters will most likely represent more than half of all Democratic voters in Louisiana and Georgia, and nearly half in North Carolina. Arkansas, another state with a large black population, is also among the competitive states…

Democrats lamented low black turnout for decades, but Southern black turnout today rivals or occasionally exceeds that of white voters. That’s in part because black voters, for the first time, have largely been eligible to vote since they turned 18. They have therefore had as many opportunities as their white counterparts to be targeted by campaigns, mobilized by interest groups or motivated by political causes.

Mr. Obama is part of the reason for higher black turnout, which surpassed white turnout nationally in the 2012 presidential election, according to the census. But black turnout had been increasing steadily, even before Mr. Obama sought the presidency. In 1998, unexpectedly high black turnout allowed Democrats to win a handful of contests in the Deep South; in 2002, Ms. Landrieu won a Senate runoff with a surge in black turnout.

The Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act unleashed a wave of new laws with a disparate impact on black voters, including cuts in early voting and photo-identification requirements.

Effects Of Another Republican Appointee To The Supreme Court

Barack Obama has certainly not been perfect (even if his faults have been greatly exaggerated) and the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president leaves me quite unexcited about voting. Despite this, it is important to remember the alternative. One of the most significant differences between potential Democratic presidents and Republican presidents is the type of people they will appoint to the Supreme Court. Nothing is definite as Republican appointees have sometimes voted for liberal positions (most recently John Roberts supporting the Affordable Care Act), but with the increased ideological gap it is best to fear the worst.  While I would separate this from any pressure for Ruth Bader Ginsberg to retire before she is ready, Think Progress does have some warnings as to what will occur if she is replaced by a Republican president:

  • No More Marriage Equality: United States v. Windsor — the decision striking down the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act — was a 5-4 decision with Ginsburg in the majority. If Ginsburg is replaced by another conservative, DOMA could roar back to life. At the very least, the nation’s drive towards nationwide marriage equality could come to a screeching halt.
  • Criminalizing Sex: Although Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down Texas’ “sodomy” law, was a 6-3 decision, one of those six justices has since been replaced by the staunchly conservative Justice Samuel Alito. If another member of the Lawrence majority is replaced, it could lead to gay sex being outlawed entirely in several states. Lawrence‘s holding, however extends far beyond gay couples to prohibit laws criminalizing non-commercial sexual activity between consenting adults. Thus, if Lawrence falls, the government could find its way into every American’s bedroom.
  • The End of Abortion Rights: Roe v. Wade is already on life support. Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is the so-called swing vote on abortion, hasn’t voted to strike a law restricting the right to choose in 21 years. Nevertheless, Kennedy provided the key fifth vote to retain “the essential holding of Roe v. Wade” in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If Ginsburg is replaced by a conservative, there will likely be only four votes willing to retain that holding.
  • Watering Down Minority Votes: Five justices voted in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry to strike part of a Texas redistricting map because it tried to protect an incumbent Republican congressman by reducing the impact of Latino voters. If Ginsburg is replaced by a conservative, these kinds of tactics could become common.
  • Executing Children & The Intellectually Disabled: There are almost certainly four votes on the Supreme Court to permit executions of children and the intellectually disabled. Ginsburg’s replacement could be the fifth.
  • Judges for Sale: Four justices joined a dissent arguing that there’s nothing wrong with a wealthy businessman spending $3 million to place a judge on a state supreme court — only to have that judge cast the key vote to overturn a $50 million verdict against the businessman’s company. Ginsburg’s replacement could places judges up for sale.
  • Millions Without Health Care: Finally, the decision that largely preserved the Affordable Care Act was a 5-4 decision, with four justices voting to repeal Obamacare in its entirety. If those four justices gain a fifth vote, it could not only strip millions of Americans of the health insurance that they will soon gain under this law, but it could toss the entire American health care system into chaos. Among other things, if the dissent’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety were to actually happen, Medicare could lose its ability to pay claims until the agency that administers the program completed a lengthy rulemaking process that can take months.

And on top of all this, we could wind up with a president who believes in creationism, or who would choose a Supreme Court justice who would support the teaching of creationism in the schools.

ACLU Files Suit Challenging Legality Of NSA Data Mining

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the legality of the NSA’s telephone data collection. A PDF of the challenge is available here. The New York Times reports:

In a detailed legal attack on the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ phone call data, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in court papers filed Monday that the sweeping data gathering violates the Constitution and should be halted.

The A.C.L.U. cited the writings of George Orwell and the comprehensive East German surveillance portrayed in the film “The Lives of Others” in warning of the dangers of large-scale government intrusion into private lives. The new motion, elaborating on the A.C.L.U.’s arguments against the data collection, came in a federal lawsuit challenging the N.S.A. program that the group filed in June.

Intelligence officials have emphasized that the N.S.A. database does not contain the contents of any Americans’ calls, but only the so-called metadata — the numbers called and the time and duration of each call. They say the database is searched only based on “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of terrorism and is valuable for tracking terror plots.

The Justice Department is expected to ask the judge in the case, William H. Pauley III of the Southern District of New York, to dismiss it. The department declined to comment on the A.C.L.U.’s filing.

In a declaration in support of the A.C.L.U., Edward W. Felten, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton, said that by gathering data on the three billion calls made each day in the United States, the N.S.A. was creating a database that could reveal some of the most intimate secrets of American citizens.

“Calling patterns can reveal when we are awake and asleep; our religion, if a person regularly makes no calls on the Sabbath or makes a large number of calls on Christmas Day; our work habits and our social aptitude; the number of friends we have, and even our civil and political affiliations,” Mr. Felten wrote.

He pointed out that calls to certain numbers — a government fraud hot line, say, or a sexual assault hot line — or a text message that automatically donates to Planned Parenthood can reveal intimate details. He also said sophisticated data analysis, using software that can instantly trace chains of social connections, can make metadata even more revealing than the calls’ contents.

The N.S.A.’s collection of call log data is approved in general terms by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But the information is collected without individualized court warrants, based in part on a Supreme Court ruling from 1979, Smith v. Maryland, that said call logs recorded in a criminal case were not subject to protection under the Fourth Amendment.

The A.C.L.U argues that the Smith ruling involves “narrow surveillance directed at a specific criminal suspect over a very limited time period.” The organization said the facts in the Smith case bore little resemblance to the mass collection of data on every call made in the country over the last seven years, which it said violated the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The lawsuit also charges that the data collection violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause by imposing “a far-reaching chill” on the A.C.L.U.’s interaction with clients and sources.

The Washington Post had this on what is revealed from telephone metadata, from a legal brief filed in support of the ACLU’s position:

Certain telephone numbers are used for a single purpose, such that any contact reveals basic and often sensitive information about the caller. Examples include support hotlines for victims of domestic violence and rape, including a specific hotline for rape victims in the armed services.

Similarly, numerous hotlines exist for people considering suicide, including specific services for first responders, veterans, and gay and lesbian teenagers. Hotlines exist for suffers of various forms of addiction, such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling.

Similarly, inspectors general at practically every federal agency—including the NSA—have hotlines through which misconduct, waste, and fraud can be reported, while numerous state tax agencies have dedicated hotlines for reporting tax fraud. Hotlines have also been established to report hate crimes, arson, illegal firearms and child abuse. In all these cases, the metadata alone conveys a great deal about the content of the call, even without any further information.

Further examples are given regarding information which can be obtained from metadata obtained in bulk, including this example: “If a government employee suddenly begins contacting phone numbers associated with a number of news organizations and then the ACLU and then, perhaps, a criminal defense lawyer, that person’s identity as a prospective whistleblower could be surmised.”

Quote of the Day

“Con men like Rush and Beck are one reason the Republicans are in such dire straits today. Because they don’t care about winning elections. They care about separating rubes from their money. They’ve discovered there’s a fortune to be made by keeping a small portion of America under the illusion that they are always under attack. From Mexicans, or ACORN, or Planned Parenthood, or gays, or takers, global warming hoaxers; it doesn’t matter. They don’t want a majority. They want a mailing list, a list of the kind of gullible Honey Boo Boos out there who think that there’s a War on Christmas, and that the socialist policies of our Kenyan President have been so disastrous that the end of the world is coming.” –Bill Maher