O’Malley Scores Point Against Clinton On Same-Sex Marriage

 Martin O'Malley Marriage-Bill-Signing-440px

“History celebrates profiles in courage, not profiles in convenience.”

Martin O’Malley has demonstrated the benefits of having a liberal in the race to compete with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. He has been jabbing Clinton while campaigning in Iowa over her position that same-sex marriage should be decided by the states. O’Malley has been arguing in Iowa that “the right to marry is not a state right, it is a human right.” Clinton ultimately responded by expressing support for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage nation-wide. Without mentioning her by name, O’Malley responded with a video stating, “History celebrates profiles in courage, not profiles in convenience.” Clinton has often lagged behind liberal thought on this issue.

News coverage has been using terms such as O’Malley jabbing, pinging, taking a shot, and taking a swing at Clinton on the abortion issue. There has been excitement among O’Malley supporters over the favorable publicity. While I do think that O’Malley would make a much better president than Clinton I am not terribly optimistic that this will make any difference in the nomination race–unless it is the start of a succession of O’Malley taking domination on the issues and forcing Clinton to respond. It is a point for O’Malley in terms of both both principle and obtaining favorable media coverage.

Making matters worse for Clinton, her campaign made the announcement through a spokesperson as opposed to directly talking to the press:

The process by which this major story was announced drew little attention elsewhere, but it was that decision to sneak this out via a spokesperson, rather than have it come from the candidate herself, that gave O’Malley an opening to grab all the ink he’s getting over it. If they had, instead, made Hillary available to one or more of these reporters, it would have been much bigger news, and that clip would be all over the news now instead of O’Malley’s.

Making that statement directly to a reporter with a background in reporting on LGBT rights would also have had the added benefit of strengthening Hillary’s relationship with that important constituency, rather than seeming like a down-low slight.

So far Clinton has only received gentle criticism for avoiding the press, but I bet this will intensify if this pattern continues. At this point I cannot recall a major party candidate who has avoided the press to this degree other than Sarah Palin.

O’Malley received additional favorable coverage with a column in The Hill looking at possible challenges to Clinton from Elizabeth Warren, Jim Webb, and Martin O’Malley:

…Team Hillary’s ascent to the Democratic nomination and White House isn’t a certainty and challengers like former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.), former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and (perhaps one day soon) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) could eventually overtake the former secretary of State. While Clinton has done great things for America over the years, she’s unfortunately become a liability to the Democratic Party. The citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire and Democrats everywhere can save all of us from a Clinton campaign that says one thing when it’s politically expedient, but does another (at the expense of cherished progressive values) when poll numbers aren’t behind a certain issue.

After all, Clinton was against same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization until recently. There’s a reason that many feel she has an “authenticity problem,” and it’s the same reason Clinton differs only slightly on issues like war from her GOP counterparts. Democrats in Iowa and around the country should evaluate the Clinton campaign by its actions, not words.

…Martin O’Malley has shown superior leadership skills, compared to Clinton’s, during his tenure as Maryland’s governor. As a mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland, O’Malley’s leadership led to a No. 1 ranking for his state in schools, entrepreneurship and women-owned businesses. In contrast, Clinton and the Democratic Party must now deal with “emailgate.” According to Dan Metcalfe in his piece in Politico, “Hillary’s Email Defense is Laughable”:

So yes, Secretary Clinton’s suggestion that federal officials can unilaterally determine which of their records are “personal” and which are “official,” even in the face of a FOIA request, is laughable. …

One cannot help but wonder how Secretary Clinton’s departure process was handled.

While The Daily Iowan has compared O’Malley to President Kennedy, Clinton will no doubt have her credibility and leadership questioned by future issues related to her email scandal.

In another column at The Hill, A.B. Stoddard discussed Clinton’s need to improve support among millennial voters.

Clinton had another problem when her stories of all four grandparents being immigrants was found to be untrue by BuzzFeed News–unless you consider Scranton and Illinois to be foreign countries. It is hard to see this gaffe by itself causing Clinton any harm, and it is certainly possible she was mistaken with no intent to deceive, but this might exacerbate her problem of being viewed by voters as dishonest.

Lincoln Chafee has also spoken again about running, maybe, primarily criticizing Clinton for her support for the Iraq war.

Please Share

Hillary Clinton Begins Campaign Hiding From Press & Marco Rubio Jumps In

Clinton Announcement Video Screen Grab

Hillary Clinton has started her campaign, and is already hiding from the press. From The Los Angeles Times:

Hillary Rodham Clinton shocked nobody in the media when she announced that she was running for president on Sunday – but her next move took reporters by surprise.

Clinton didn’t get on a campaign plane and head to Iowa. Instead, she and a small group of staff piled into what the candidate calls the Scooby van. They are road-tripping it to Iowa. The press was not invited.

Peter Beinart at The Atlantic was far more impressed with Clinton’s video announcing her campaign than I was, but his article might not be doing her any favors. Beinart reminded readers of all the conservative imagery in previous Clinton announcements and her long history of cultural conservatism:

Here are some of the phrases that appeared in Hillary’s 2000 senate announcement: “voluntary uniform rating system for movies and films,” “welfare,” “more police on the streets,” “teacher testing in the face of boycotts,” “I don’t believe government is the solution to all our problems” and “parents, all parents, must be responsible.” The message was pure Clintonism, as developed when Bill ran the Democratic Leadership Council in the early 1990s: To deserve government help, people must be morally responsible. And it came naturally to a senate candidate who, although caricatured as a sixties radical, was better described, by a former White House aide, as “a very judgmental Methodist from the Midwest.”

In 1993, Hillary had declared herself “not comfortable” with distributing condoms in schools. In 1994, she had endorsed “three strikes and you’re out” laws that expanded prison sentences.

In 1996, she had backed Bill’s decision to sign the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. And in the 2000 senate campaign, she supported parental notification laws for children seeking abortions, a position that placed her to the right of her initial Republican challenger, Rudy Giuliani.

I agree with Beinart that this year’s video displayed more liberal imagery, but it was just imagery. Nothing was said about actual political positions or plans upon taking office. Until she shows evidence otherwise, and there is a long way to go, this video is not enough to believe that she has really changed. In many ways Hillary Clinton has remained the same Goldwater Girl she was in the 1960’s (except that Barry Goldwater was more socially liberal than Clinton, and not much more hawkish).

At Salon, (better known in the blogosphere as just Digby) warned about the Dangers of a Hillary Clinton campaign: The disastrous centrism she desperately needs to avoid.

Barack Obama says that he and Hillary are friends (she is likable enough after all) but he won’t automatically endorse her. After all, “there are other people who are friends of of the president” who still might run. This must make the Draft Biden movement happy. Joe Biden has never been my top choice for president, but I sure wouldn’t mind seeing him get into the race against Clinton. Biden spent the first four years of the Obama administration opposing Clinton’s hawkish views, and I would like to see this explored during the campaign. Plus Biden gets points for the manner in which he pushed Obama to “evolve” on gay marriage, and for coming to the rescue in the vice presidential debate in 2012 after Obama bombed in the first debate.

In addition to the conservatives already in the race from both major parties, another has joined them. The best thing about Marco Rubio entering the race is that he cannot run for reelection in Florida, increasing the chances the Democrats can pick up the seat. He is gambling everything on winning the presidency, and he might be optimistic over only trailing Clinton by three points in the latest Public Policy Polling survey.

Brian Beutler says that Marco Rubio Is the Most Disingenuous Republican Running for President. Considering who he is up against, that is quite an accomplishment. Rubio claims Hillary Clinton’s Ideas ‘Will Not Help Everyday Americans’. That can be debated, once Clinton says what her positions are, but it is a safe bet that at least Clinton’s ideas won’t screw everyday Americans as Rubio’s ideas would.

If the Republicans plan to continue to run against Obamacare, they got more bad news. Gallup has found that the uninsured rate has continued to drop since the Affordable Care Act was passed, now down to 11.9 percent. If you got insurance thanks to Obamacare, don’t forget to turn out to vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination.

Many more candidates will still be entering the race. Bill Kristol asks, If They Get To Nominate Hillary Clinton, Why Don’t We Get To Nominate Dick Cheney? Ok Bill, go ahead and nominate Dick Cheney, and see how the Republicans do with that.

There are many more elections besides the presidential elections in 2016. A group of liberal donors is stepping up to counter all the money the Koch Brothers and other conservatives have been spending to help Republicans win in statehouses.

Please Share

Clinton Announces: One More Quasi-Neocon Enters Presidential Race

Hillary Clinton has officially entered the race, adding one more neocon, and still leaving a large hole for a liberal candidate. There’s no doubt she is better than the Republicans in the race (a very low bar to beat) but I am still hoping a true Democrat gets in oppose her. He announcement is exactly the type of video expected although, unlike former Clinton adviser Bill Curry, I’m not sure that the announcement itself matters. Curry wrote, based upon media reports prior to the actual announcement, Hillary Clinton just doesn’t get it: She’s already running a losing campaign:

For months Clinton has run a front-porch campaign — if by porch you mean Boo Radley’s. Getting her outdoors is hard enough; when she does get out it’s often to give paid speeches to people who look just like her: educated, prosperous and privileged.  Needing desperately to connect with the broader public, she opts for the virtual reality of a pre-taped video delivered via social media. Go figure.

Her leakers say she’ll head out on a listening tour like the one that kicked off her first Senate race. They say listening to real people talk about real stuff will make her seem more real. This too may be a good idea, but it made more sense when she was a rookie candidate seeking a lesser office in a state she barely knew. Running for president is different. So are the times. Voters are more desperate now, and in a far worse mood. If you invite their questions, you’d better have some answers. I’ll return to this point shortly.

Her leakers say she’ll avoid big events, rallies, stadiums, that sort of thing. This is about 2008, when she and her tone-deaf team seemed to be planning a coronation. This time they say she doesn’t want to come off as quite so presumptuous. Yet next week she keynotes a ‘Global Women’s Summit’ cohosted by Tina Brown and the New York Times, at which “world leaders, industry icons, movie stars and CEOs convene with artists, rebels, peacemakers and activists to tell their stories and share their plans of action.” Orchestra seats go for $300.

Clinton personifies the meritocracy that to an angry middle class looks increasingly like just another privileged caste. It’s the anger captured best by the old ‘Die Yuppie Scum’ posters and in case you haven’t noticed, it’s on the rise. Republicans love to paint Democrats as elitists. It’s how the first two Bushes took out Dukakis, Gore and Kerry — and how Jeb plans to take out Hillary. When she says she and Bill were broke when they left the White House; when she sets her own email rules and says it was only for her own convenience; when she hangs out with the Davos, Wall Street or Hollywood crowds, she makes herself a more inviting target…

There are three problems that go far deeper than Hillary’s image or her campaign’s operations. Each is endemic to our current politics; all are so deeply connected as to be inseparable. You already know them. The first is how they raise their money. The second is how they craft their message. The third pertains to policy…

On Friday, Clinton’s campaign began the quick, quiet buildup to her Sunday announcement by placing a new epilogue to her last memoir in the Huffington Post. It’s mostly about how being a grandmother gives her new energy and insight. At the end of the piece she says it also inspires her to work hard so every child has as good a chance in life as her new granddaughter has. Her recent speeches, even those her leakers tout as campaign previews, say little more than that.

Barring a Jeremiah Wright-level crisis, a presidential candidate gets just two or three chances to make her case to a big audience. Her announcement is often her best shot. That Hillary passed on hers is unsettling. If she thinks she doesn’t have to make her case real soon she’s wrong. If she thinks she can get by on the sort of mush Democratic consultants push on clients she’s finished. On Thursday the Q poll released three surveys. In two states, she now trails Rand Paul. In all three a plurality or majority said she is ‘not honest or trustworthy.’ You can bet the leak about her $2.5 billion campaign will push those negatives up a notch.

Clinton seems as disconnected from the public mood now as she did in 2008.  I think it’s a crisis. If she doesn’t right the ship it will be a disaster. In politics it’s always later than you think. Advisors who told her voters would forget the email scandals probably say this too will pass. If so, she should fire them…

Like Bill Clinton’s 1992 race, this election is about the economy. But this one’s about how to reform the economy, not just jumpstart it. Our political system isn’t set up to debate whether or not our economic system needs real reform. It will take a very different kind of politics, and leader, to spark that debate. We’ll soon know whether anyone is ready, willing and able to fight.

I agree with much of his criticism, but not that the announcement is her best shot. That might apply to a lesser known candidate, but people already know Clinton, and most have opinions about her. What matters in her case is not any single statement, even her announcement, but what she says throughout her campaign, and she can never escape her record. Pundits expect her to continue to triangulate, compromise liberal principles, and try to avoid saying anything meaningful. In other words, she is playing not to lose–and we see how that often turns out, from football games to her 2008 campaign. At some point she will need to come out of her comfort zone, and hopefully at some point she will truly answers from the press.

Clinton began the invisible primary portion of the race with a huge lead, and it is now withering away. She still has the edge due to name recognition, but she is already slipping seriously in the polls. The most recent national poll available, from Public Policy Polling, shows her lead over Republican challengers down from 7-10 points in February to a 3-9 point lead at present over various Republican challengers. Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul are all within four points of her, and Rand Paul leads Clinton among independents by 14 points. The latest battleground poll also shows her slipping in key states. Multiple polls show that voters do not find Clinton honest, trustworthy, or that she understands people like them. She probably will get a bounce after the announcement, but after that she cannot afford any further decrease in support.  She still looks most likely to win both the nomination and general election, but there is also a considerable risk that her campaign will be derailed by scandals along the way. Hopefully this will not happen in the fall of 2016, leaving us with a Republican president.

What Clinton can do at this stage of her career is somewhat limited. It is hard to overcome a career most notable for her poor judgment whenever facing the big issues. Stories about influence peddling are bound to continue. With all the connections between the two, it is worth remembering that the family business for the Clinton and Bush family is essentially the same. The email scandal would not by itself derail Clinton, but it will continue to hurt as it reinforces the view that the Clintons do not follow the rules, or tell the truth, along with her long-standing propensity towards secrecy.

There are many reasons why most Democrats want to see Clinton face a primary opponent, with a Bloomberg poll finding that the number of Democrats who say they would definitely vote for Clinton  down from 52 percent in June 2013  to 42 percent at present.  At this point, Martin O’Malley looks most likely to challenge Clinton from the left but there are many months to go before the first contests and other might still get in the race. Clinton should be challenged not only on her economic views, which O’Malley and others are now doing. This should include her foreign policy positions, from pushing for war with Iraq based upon non-existent connections between Saddam and al Qaeda, to advocating a more hawkish viewpoint in the Obama administration. (While Rand Paul initially was seen as a candidate opposing nonconservative foreign policy views, he has been quickly flip flopping to sound like every other Republican.) Environmentalists also question Clinton’s weak and vague record, along with her advocacy for fracking.  Many liberals are also dissatisfied with her record and views on civil liberties and on social issues, ranging from gay rights to feminism and reproductive rights. Clinton has entered the race as the lesser evil, but Democrats should be able to do better.

Please Share

Indiana Pizza Shop Cites RFRA To Refuse Catering Gay Weddings

Pizza

By the time I had time to start working on a post on the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana earlier this week the national outraged had already reached such a level that there was no longer any point in the original post. The negatives have all be adequately spelled out at many sources. The best defense for conservatives on this was the claim that the law was not intended to promote discrimination and would not do so. We quickly have a case proving them wrong:

A small-town pizza shop is saying they agree with Governor Pence and the signing of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The O’Connor family, who owns Memories Pizza, says they have a right to believe in their religion and protect those ideals.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” says Crystal O’Connor of Memories Pizza.

She and her family are standing firm in their beliefs.

The O’Connors have owned Memories Pizza in Walkerton for 9 years.

It’s a small-town business, with small-town ideals.

“We are a Christian establishment,” says O’Connor.

The O’Connor family prides themselves in owning a business that reflects their religious beliefs.

“We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” says O’Connor.

So, when Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, the family was not disappointed.

“We definitely agree with the bill,” says O’Connor.

I certainly have not read everything posted by supporters of the law, but I can’t help but wonder if there are any such examples of people actually being denied religious liberties who would be helped by this law. I mean true religious liberties. Quite often when people on the right speak of freedom of religion they are really advocating the freedom to impose their religious views on others.

And why must a pizza shop be “a Christian establishment?”

At least the backlash against the law in Indiana has also had some positive impact with Governor Asa Hutchinson backing away from signing a similar law. I believe we are at a tipping point where discrimination against gays is no more acceptable than discrimination based upon race. That doesn’t man it will disappear from our society, but even Republican politicians will find it difficult to openly support such legislation.

Update: TMZ reports that the pizza restaurant has been forced to close temporarily following the negative reaction to the owner’s comments.

Please Share

New York Times Helps Outline Path To Defeating Clinton For Democratic Nomination

Clinton Defeating

Among many liberals the question with Clinton preparing to announce her candidacy is not whether it is desirable to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming the Democratic nomination but whether this is even possible. Last week The Boston Globe urged Elizabeth Warren to run, and many liberals are pushing for this despite Warren’s statements that she is not interested. Now a story at The New York Times looks at the general strategy of defeating Clinton.  Maggie Haberman, the presidential campaign correspondent for The New York Times, spoke with people she referred to as “three of the smartest Democratic strategists we know.” Their identities were not divulged “so as not to anger Mrs. Clinton.”

Even before getting to the strategy points, this raises the question as to whether this is an isolated article or if it is a sign that Clinton is losing The New York Times. The need to keep the identities of the strategists secret can be taken as both a sign of the reluctance of those who depend upon Democrats for their likelihood to anger Clinton and as a sign of what people feel about her.

There were three main strategic points in this article. The first was Populism:

Any Democrat who takes on Mrs. Clinton should be a truth-telling populist, challenging the party from within and tapping into the energy and aspirations of the Democratic base.

This is especially crucial given Mrs. Clinton’s popularity with African-Americans, a significant voting bloc in Democratic primaries. One suggestion for reaching those voters? Focus on improving policing, after a national debate and protests set off by the deaths of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York City.

Another area that the right candidate could seize upon: immigration. Pound away at Democratic leaders for not passing a comprehensive overhaul when there was a chance to do so in 2014.

Another strategist said the challenger should focus on a few big-ticket ideas, like a transaction tax on Wall Street that would finance renewable energy, and hammer the utilities for harming energy independence.

“I wouldn’t give Hillary hell, I’d tell the truth and make her think it’s hell,” the strategist said, echoing former President Harry S. Truman. “I’d try to build my own momentum, not blunt hers.”

Eating into Clinton’s support among blacks is important from the standpoint of primary votes, but the legendary Clinton support from blacks has been diminished by her attacks on Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries, which many feel went over the line f or what is acceptable in a primary battle.  Her Wall Street connections have been mentioned frequently in criticism of Clinton, with this issue being raised by open challenger Martin O’Malley and non-challenger Elizabeth Warren. A successful challenge on her economic views could also help cut into Clinton’s blue collar support.

Foreign Policy was listed second:

“She’s to the right of where the party is on a lot of these issues,” one of the strategists said. Mrs. Clinton has traditionally favored a more muscular response in places like Syria, the source of one of her biggest policy disagreements with President Obama while she was secretary of state.

Clinton was on the far Joe Lieberman right win of the Democratic Party on Iraq, pushing for war based upon non-existent ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. She was generally the strongest supporter of military action in the Obama administration (often countered by Joe Biden). The degree to which this matters from a political perspective will depend upon how war weary the country is a year from now.

The third factor was Authenticity:

For more than a decade, Mrs. Clinton has tried to swat away a persistent concern about her ability to connect with voters. “Saturday Night Live” recently captured that problem in a sketch featuring an actress playing Mrs. Clinton, who said of herself at one point, “What a relatable laugh!”

Years of security-infused Bubble Wrap around her travels and a wealthy lifestyle have done little to pull Mrs. Clinton closer to voters.

The best hope for someone running against her, all three strategists said, was to be real. And the best environment to showcase that genuineness may be Iowa. A challenger could camp out there, have a lot of up-close voter interactions, build a relationship with activists in the state and hope to catch fire.

Mrs. Clinton has always had trouble in Iowa, and she never totally connected with voters there. One of the strategists advocated saving as much money as possible to spend in Iowa for a late media push.

Clinton’s authenticity and integrity have been further challenged by her claims of  being dead broke after leaving the White House and with the recent email scandal. While few people will vote based upon her having a private email server, this scandal does demonstrate what critics have often said about Clinton. It verifies the suspicions of her dishonesty. Her two main defenses, convenience due to not wanting to carry two devices (even though she actually did), and claims that she did not break the rules, were both shown to be false.

Clinton’s attacks on Republicans for shredding the Constitution when they used a server from the Republican National Committee, and the citing of use of personal email as one reason for the firing of an ambassador under her, are consistent with the view that the Clintons believe that the rules do not apply to them.  This also ties into Clinton’s long-standing propensity towards secrecy, both in her political life and in policy matters. Her contributions from foreign donors raises further suspicions, but Clinton has made it quite difficult to follow the money.

Much of the criticism raised of Clinton by these Democratic strategists are similar to questions raised in the past about the poor judgment she has shown throughout her career.

While strategies discussed above include means for cutting into Clinton’s support among black and working class voters, some liberal feminists are also coming out to criticize Clinton’s history on feminist issues. While this is beyond the scope of this post, I will briefly note the main points which are generally raised:

  1. Clinton undermines the case for abortion rights with calls for abortion to be safe, legal, and rare, stigmatizing women who do seek abortions
  2. Clinton’s history of undermining women who have been subjects of sexual harassment
  3. Anti-feminist actions as an attorney including her attacks on a rape victim
  4. A relative lackluster record on women’s issues and taking contributions from counties with a pitiful record on women’s rights such as Saudi Arabia

Clinton is similarly weak on other social issues such as gay marriage which might have some impact in primaries among the Democratic base.

Despite these thoughts from the Democratic strategists, defeating Clinton for the Democratic nomination will not be easy. While difficult, the attempt should be made in order to have a liberal choice in the 2016 election.

Please Share

AP Poll Shows Majority Supports Marriage Equality

A poll from the AP-NORC Center shows a majority supporting same-sex marriage for the first time in their poll, with support up 8 percentage points since 2012 and 45 points since 1988. There continues to be a partisan divide, but while support among Republicans lags behind Democrats, there is a significant increase in support for marriage equality among Republicans. The key findings:

  • For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) support same-sex couples’ right to marry, up from 48 percent in 2012.
  • Support for same-sex marriage among Republicans increased from 31 percent in 2012 to 45 percent in 2014. This increase is larger than the increase among Democrats and independents, although Republican support still lags behind those groups.
  • Nearly three-quarters of Americans ages 18-34 support same-sex marriage, an increase of 10 points since 2012.

Update: Then there are faux libertarians who think that the government should be able to intrude in the private lives of individuals:

Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul said on Friday affording the distinction to marriage to same-sex couples “offends myself and a lot of other people.”In an interview with Bret Baier of Fox News, the Kentucky Republican, who described himself as a “libertarian conservative,” made the remarks when asked about his views on gay rights.

“I’m for tradition marriage,” Paul said. “I think marriage is between a man and a woman. Ultimately, we could have fixed this a long time ago if we just allowed contracts between adults. We didn’t have to call it marriage, which offends myself and a lot of people.”

Paul continued, “I think having competing contracts that would give them equivalency before the law would have solved a lot of these problems, and it may be where we’re still headed.”

Separate but equal.

Please Share

Two Democratic Congressmen Propose Bills To Legalize Marijuana At Federal Level

It is probably only a matter of time until marijuana prohibition ends. Like gay marriage, we will reach a tipping point where conservative opposition loses its impact. Also, like marriage equality, the majority of Democratic politicians will probably lag behind the country in openly adopting more liberal views, but two House Democrats have introduced bills to end marijuana prohibition. Sam Stein reports:

Two congressmen filed separate House bills on Friday that together would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana at the federal level, effectively ending the U.S. government’s decades long prohibition of the plant.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act’s schedules, transfer oversight of the substance from the Drug Enforcement Administration over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and regulate marijuana in a way similar to how alcohol is currently regulated in the U.S.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, which would set up a federal excise tax for regulated marijuana.

The bills would not force states to legalize marijuana, but a federal regulatory framework would be in place for those states that do decide to legalize it. To date, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana (however, D.C.’s model continues to ban sales), 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and 11 other states have legalized the limited use of low-THC forms of marijuana for medical use.

During the Bush administration, the federal government would often raid medical marijuana facilities which were legal in the states the states where they were legal, and the Obama administration was slow to turn this around. With Obama going to be out of office in a couple of years, it is becoming more important to change federal law. Hillary Clinton has been to the right of most Democrats on this (as well as most other issues) and we cannot trust either Clinton or her likely Republican opponent to continue the liberalization finally seen under Obama. While unlikely to be accomplished in the current Congress, it would be preferable to take this issue out of the hands of either Clinton or a future Republican president.

Last year The New York Times argued for legalization of marijuana. Jeffrey Miron discussed the case for marijuana legalization in op-ed at CNN:

Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.

Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.

Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana’s legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized…

Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.

As long as marijuana is illegal at the federal level we will continue to have many of the adverse consequences of prohibition, including inhibiting the use of medical marijuana. This includes states where medical marijuana is legal under state law. Besides the previous problems of DEA raids, having medical marijuana illegal under federal law makes many physicians unwilling to treat patients who are legally using medical marijuana under state law.

I have seen many individuals who are taking medical marijuana legally under state law discharged from pain clinics which outright refuse to treat anyone using medical marijuana. This is both due to fears of violating federal law and due to personal biases.  I received a consult letter just last month from a pain specialist who opposed giving pain medications to a patient who was using medical marijuana, making arguments which are contradictory to the medical literature which demonstrates that using marijuana as part of a pain management regimen results in decreased opioid use and a decreased risk of overdoses.

Please Share

Republicans Seek To Block Marijuana Law In Washington D.C.

Republicans, members of the party which claims to support small government, individual freedom, and states’ rights, once again shows that it doesn’t mean a word of this.  The Hill reports on one action planned by Republicans:

House Republicans next year will try to block Washington, D.C.’s, newly enacted law legalizing recreational marijuana.

Rep. Andy Harris said he “absolutely” intends to launch a push to dismantle the new law when Congress returns with an empowered GOP majority in the 114th Congress.

While technically not a states’ rights issue, the same principle should apply to respecting a law to legalize recreational marijuana which a majority in Washington, D.C. voted for.

Presumably other top matters on the Republican agenda will include attempts to restrict access to abortion and contraception, and prevent same-sex marriage.

Of course this is as expected. When Republicans speak of supporting small government, it is of a government “small” enough to intervene in the private lives of the individual. When they speak of freedom, they will defend the freedom of businessmen to evade necessary regulations. Otherwise to Republicans, freedom means the freedom for conservatives to impose their views upon others. Republican support for states’ rights is limited to states which wish to enact laws to discriminate against minorities or restrict marriage equality.

Please Share

A Bad Week Gets Worse: Sixth Circuit Court Upholds Bans On Gay Marriage

As if the news wasn’t bad enough on Tuesday, there was even more bad news this week. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned rulings against bans on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. More on the decision at SCOTUSblog.

This decision runs counter to decisions in  4th, 7th, 9th and 10th circuit courts which struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho and Nevada. This led to neighboring states also eliminating their bans. Having these contradictory decisions means that the Supreme Court, which previously tried to avoid getting involved, will probably be forced to decide the issue.

The news might not be all bad. Doug Mataconis looked at previous decisions of the Supreme Court justices and believes that the court will rule in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. While there is no guarantee of this happening, if it does turn out this way we might actually have legalization of same-sex marriage nation wide during the current court session, speeding up what appears to be an inevitable trend.

If the Democrats had any guts they would speak out on this issue, questioning how the Republicans who claim to be the party of limited government can justify using the power of government to tell people who they may or may not marry. Of course as we were reminded by how they campaigned in the midterm elections, the Democrats do not have such guts. As the saying goes, we have one party with brains but no balls, and one party with no brains but which does have balls.

Please Share

Juan Williams Debunks GOP Attempts To Blame Democrats For Lack Of A Surgeon General

While discussing the Republican hypocrisy in their response to an Ebola Czar earlier this month, I pointed out how the Republicans blocked  Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General due to his concerns about gun violence, which kills far, far more people than Ebola in this country. Republicans who 1) are rarely willing to take responsibility for their action,  and 2) are fond of projecting their faults upon others, have been trying to shift the blame and falsely claim that the Democrats are responsible for blocking the nomination. Juan Williams of Fox News has called them out on this in a column at The Hill (also a Republican-leaning site even as not as overtly Republican as Fox). Williams also debunked the Republican claims that Harry Reid has not been fair due to not allowing them to add their “poison pill” amendments to bills, which would cause even greater gridlock. Williams wrote:

Republicans on the campaign trail tell voters that the Senate gets nothing done because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) blocks votes on GOP legislation.

Away from the Halloween funhouse mirror, the reality is this: Reid is willing to hold votes — but not with an endless open amendment process that merely creates a stage for Republican political theater. “Poison pill” amendments on partial birth abortions and gay marriage would sprout everywhere.

The real problem is that Senate Republicans can’t agree on which amendments to attach to bills because of the Tea Party versus Establishment war raging among them.

Yet I’ve personally seen voters nodding in agreement at Senate debates and campaign events as Republicans put the fright-night mask on Reid as the evil ogre responsible for dysfunction in the Senate.

The GOP is having success by repeating this distorted version of political life on Capitol Hill. Their tactic on that score is consistent with an overall strategy that includes blocking President Obama’s nominees to courts, federal agencies and ambassadorial posts while condemning any mistakes made by the administration.

According to the Senate’s website, there are currently 156 nominations pending on the executive calendar.

With all of the fear-mongering by Republican candidates over the administration’s response to Ebola — part of a broader approach to scare voters by undermining faith in government, the president and all Democrats — there is one screaming nomination still pending that reveals the corruption of the GOP strategy.

The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?

In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.

But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.

When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.

When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.

The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.

“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was also put on the spot recently over the GOP’s refusal to deal with the surgeon general vacancy.  As he railed against the president for perceived errors in handling the situation, NBC’s Chuck Todd interrupted to ask: “The NRA said they were going to score the vote and suddenly everybody froze him… Seems a little petty in hindsight, doesn’t it?”

“Well, the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly then we should confirm them, there’s no question about that,” said the senator, trying to find his footing as he backpedaled.

The fact remains that Senate Republicans, in lockstep with the NRA, have left a worthy nominee dangling while this vital post remains vacant.

This kind of game playing is what led Senate Democrats to consider using the so-called “nuclear option.” In its original form, it would have changed the Senate rules to require a simple majority for all confirmations, instead of the current 60-vote supermajority. But the Democrats decided to go with a more modest change that allowed a simple majority vote to confirm only federal judicial nominees, not presidential picks for the Supreme Court, the cabinet or the position of surgeon general.

Reid, speaking on the Senate floor this summer, said that despite the rules change “Republicans are still continuing to try and slow everything down…It is just that they want to do everything they can to slow down [Obama’s] administration, to make him look bad…even though they’re the cause of the obstruction… Everyone will look at us and say, Democrats control the Senate — why aren’t they doing more?”

As a matter of brazen politics, the Republican strategy of obstruction has worked.

What a shame.

I have seen contradictory interpretations regarding the filibuster rules as to whether the Surgeon General can be confirmed with 51 votes or if the post still requires a super-majority. It is academic in this case. Republican Senators have placed a hold on this nomination and if it goes to a vote are likely to vote unanimously against it. The NRA has indicated that they will include a vote on Murthy in their ratings, which makes it difficult for some Democratic Senators in red states who are up for reelection. Between these Democrats and the uniform Republican opposition there are probably not 51 votes for confirmation, although this could change after the election.

Despite the Republican actions to block the Surgeon General nomination, it is questionable as to how much of a difference it would have made. We don’t know how much Murthy would have said on the topic, and if he could have gotten a discussion of the science through, considering all the fear and misinformation being spread about Ebola by Republicans.

Despite all the panic, we have seen how small a threat Ebola actually is in a developed nation such as the United States. Ebola is a problem of developing nations which lack an adequate Public Health infrastructure. While the outbreak began in West Africa last December, we have had a tiny number of people who are infected enter this country, and the potential harm has been easily contained. Even in Texas, which does share some of the problems of a third world nation due to Republican rule, multiple mistakes were made with minimal harm. A patient was sent home despite meeting criteria for hospitalization, and yet he did not spread the infection to anyone else in the community. This is because Ebola is not contagious early in the disease before someone is symptomatic, and even then it does not spread by casual contact.

Maybe if there was a Surgeon General speaking about Ebola, the Emergency Room staff at Texas Presbyterian Hospital would have been better acquainted with the guidelines and hospitalized Thomas Duncan when he first presented. Maybe the hospital would have done a better job at following protocols to protect the staff. While possible, it is far from certain that having a Surgeon General would have made any difference.

Perhaps if there was a Surgeon General discussing the science there would have been less panic when Dr. Craig Spencer was found to have traveled on the subway and visit a bowling alley, where he did not spread Ebola. (Similarly the nurse from Texas Presbyterian who flew with a low grade fever has not spread the disease despite turning out to be infected). This might have prevented the poor, and unscientific decisions made by the governors in states such as New Jersey and New York. While I can see Chris Christie make such a mistake, I would  hope for better from Andrew Cuomo, even if he is faced with a Republican using fear tactics against him in his reelection campaign. This might have spared Kaci Hickox from being quarantined in an unheated tent in New Jersey despite showing no signs of being infected. Inhibiting health professionals from volunteering can only harm the cause of eradicating Ebola in West Africa–which is the only way of ending this matter.

It is impossible to know if a Surgeon General could have been effective in reducing the hysteria. Republicans are masters at spreading fear, and never have any qualms about ignoring science. It is very possible they could have still won out. We already have many Infectious Disease experts explaining the facts about Ebola, but that hasn’t been enough to maintain reason. While a Surgeon General might have had a little bigger soap box to speak from, I don’t know if that would have really mattered.

Please Share