Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Evidence Indicates that Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ Best Shot at the White House

Of those who know who he is, most voters like Bernie Sanders.  He is the only major presidential candidate with a positive net favorability rating among the general public.  Yet despite these facts and his wildly popular ideas, he remains the underdog in the race for the Democratic nomination.  Why?

The answer appears to be perceived electability.  When I’ve phone banked for Sanders, I’ve talked to a lot of voters who say they’re a big fan of his, and they’re glad he’s in the race, but they just aren’t sure he can win a general election.  They’re scared of the Republicans, they tell me, and their foremost concern is making sure the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is, wins in November.

I think this attitude is misguided, both because there are large and important differences between the Democratic candidates and because electability arguments can be circular, self-fulfilling prophecies.  In no small part because electability considerations are speculative, we’re much better served by casting our vote for the candidate whose record and platform is most aligned with our values.

That said, given that a lot of people think about electability, it’s worth looking at some evidence.  The numbers indicate that the Democrats’ electoral prospects would be better under Bernie Sanders than under Hillary Clinton for two important reasons:

1. Young people, who arguably won both the 2008 and 2012 elections for Barack Obama, love Sanders. Many do not like Clinton.

In Iowa’s Democratic primary, Sanders beat Clinton among Democrats aged 18-29 by 70 percentage points.  In New Hampshire, he won that age group by 65 percentage points.  And in the most recent national poll from Quinnipiac University, Sanders held a net favorability rating among 18-34 year-old voters of all political affiliations that was 57 percentage points better than Clinton’s (see graph below).  Sanders is more popular among millennials right now than Obama was among young voters in 2008 and 2012.

Millennials for Bernie

On voting results alone, my generation won Indiana and North Carolina for Barack Obama in 2008 and Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in 2012.  In addition, the youth contribution to electoral success extends beyond the vote; as Pew reported in 2008:

…young people provided not only their votes but also many enthusiastic campaign volunteers. Some may have helped persuade parents and older relatives to consider Obama’s candidacy. And far more young people than older voters reported attending a campaign event while nearly one-in-ten donated money to a presidential candidate.

It is extremely hard to believe that millennials would turn out and vote for Clinton in such large numbers if she becomes the Democratic nominee; over 41,000 people, for example, have already pledged to write Bernie in if he loses to Clinton in the primary.  There is also an undeniable “enthusiasm gap” between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns; even if most Sanders supporters would suck it up and turn out for Clinton if she ends up as the nominee, which is hardly guaranteed, we won’t see anything close to the volunteerism millennials are already engaged in on Bernie’s behalf.  If your main concern is electability, do you really want to gamble with the key demographic group from the last two presidential elections?

2. Independents and Republicans are more likely to vote for Bernie Sanders than for Hillary Clinton.

Sanders also has much higher favorability ratings than Clinton among non-Democrats; his net favorability among them was 39 percentage points better than Clinton’s in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, and in New Hampshire, he won Independents by 47 percentage points.  His class-based, anti-Establishment message resonates.  If you heard Sanders speak at Liberty University (a conservative hotbed; see video below) last September, you know what I’m talking about; his direct, honest pitch for people who disagree about social issues to band together in pursuit of economic justice was very well-received.  He didn’t win an army of converts overnight, but he did get people thinking; one Liberty alum estimates that half of the Liberty community could potentially Feel the Bern.

Read this take from teenage-conservative-icon-turned-Sanders-supporter CJ Pearson.  Listen to the growing contingent of “Lifelong Republicans Who Love Bernie Sanders.”  Or consider my (admittedly anecdotal) experience talking to several voters and reading numerous Internet comments of folks who are deciding between Donald Trump and Sanders.  As Daniel Denvir notes, that doesn’t mean that Sanders will win over the most prejudiced Trump supporters, but his brand of economic populism may make him “the Democrats’ only chance to wrest white working class voters from a billionaire’s hate-filled dystopian rage.”

The coalition we’re seeing for Sanders in the primaries already indicates the appeal he holds for voters who less consistently vote Democratic.  Polling data shows that “Sanders has forged connections to lower-income New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats that eluded Obama and every other progressive primary challenger in recent history.”  Unlike Clinton, Sanders may be able to turn out people who don’t often vote, bring in some folks who usually vote against their economic interests, and unite both groups with traditional Democratic voting blocs.

Polls that explore head-to-head matchups also suggest that Sanders would do better than Clinton against each of the top five Republican candidates.  Clinton-backer Paul Krugman calls such polls meaningless (he did, however, cite them himself to raise concerns about Barack Obama’s electability in March of 2008), and I personally wouldn’t read too much into them – we’re still very far out from the general election and opinions can surely change – but arguments that these numbers will flip remain completely evidence-free.  Here’s why:

– Republican attacks would work at least as well against Hillary Clinton as they would against Bernie Sanders.

Yes, Bernie Sanders defines himself as a Democratic Socialist.  If he is the nominee, GOP attack ads would surely use that label to cast him as insane, dangerous, and/or un-American…which is exactly the same thing they did to Barack Obama for eight years and would surely do to Hillary Clinton as well.

Anyone who would run screaming from a 30-second ad decrying socialism without doing any research isn’t going to vote for Sanders or Clinton in a general election.  But since most of Sanders’ platform, as mentioned earlier, is extremely popular, many voters who actually do their homework will quickly learn that his brand of democratic socialism isn’t scary at all (it’s not even particularly radical).

While the Republican party would undoubtedly dream up additional smears to use against Sanders, the GOP doesn’t exactly have a crisis of imagination – or a lack of material to work with – when it comes to attacking Clinton.  The idea that Sanders, a candidate whose popularity continues to grow with his name recognition, would be hurt more by such attacks than Clinton, whose favorability has steadily tanked over the last few years, is pure folly.

Candidate Favorability.png

– Candidates labeled “unelectable” by party elites and the punditry have won before.

While Clinton supporters love comparing Sanders’ candidacy to the unsuccessful campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, these comparisons don’t hold water.  Electoral dynamics today are drastically different than they were in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At least two presidential candidates in more recent history have been labeled “unelectable” and gone on to win.  One was Ronald Reagan.  The other, as alluded to earlier, was Barack Obama.  That history isn’t proof that Sanders will follow suit, but it indicates that “expert” opinions about electability should be taken with a gigantic grain of salt.

For all their talk about the importance of evidence-based electability arguments, Krugman and his fellow naysayers haven’t actually provided any.  They rely instead on a dubious application of the psychological principle of loss aversion and a simplistic political categorization model, among other speculative arguments, each of which is unconvincing.

None of that’s to say that Sanders doesn’t still have a lot of work to do if he wants to win the Democratic nomination.  Clinton, despite having a very bad record on racial justice, currently holds a big lead among non-White voters.  Sanders will need to cut into that.  Clinton’s lead is likely due more to voters’ unfamiliarity with Sanders than anything else, however, and as more non-White voters learn about him, Sanders’ popularity among those voters should continue to rise.

When it does, we’ll have a real primary election on our hands.  And while I’d advise against putting too much stock in electability arguments, the candidate in that primary with the best record and policy platform – Bernie Sanders – also happens to be the Democrats’ best shot in November.

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Filed under 2016 Election, US Political System

Obama, Hillary, and Imperialism: Drones, Coups, Arms Deals, and Human Rights

In this post, Part 3 in a series on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Emilio da Costa describes actions taken by President Barack Obama and Clinton (in her roles as Secretary of State and Senator) in the realms of civil liberties and foreign policy. Emilio, who holds a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Stanford, argues that the two of them embraced many of the very same policies Democrats decried under George W. Bush.  In fact, the State Department under Obama and Clinton has in some cases been more hawkish than its Republican predecessor.

Part 2 of the series, which focused on the likelihood that Clinton would meaningfully regulate Wall Street, can be found here.

Emilio da Costa

Emilio da Costa

Obama, Guantánamo, and Indefinite Preventive Detention

Obama’s most egregious hypocrisy has to be his 2007 campaign promise and subsequent 2009 executive order to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp within a year. While expecting a politician in our country to deliver on a campaign promise may in some ways be the paragon of naivete, the disconnect between Obama’s statements and his actions relating to Guantánamo and related human rights issues is absurd. Obama and his defenders claim that Congress blocked the portion of Obama’s budget proposal intended to close Guantánamo, and this is accurate. Similarly, it is true that Obama verbally renewed his commitment to closing Guantánamo in both the 2014 and the 2015 State of the Union addresses. Yet, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of allowing these events to absolve him. Obama’s proposal to close Guantánamo that was blocked by Congress was predicated upon his plan not to, for example, finally give the prisoners fair trials, but instead to just transfer them to a different prison in Thomson, Illinois. Essentially, as Conor Friedersdorf wrote for The Atlantic, “Yes, he wants to close Guantánamo Bay, in the sense that he wants to shutter the island facility in Cuba. But he wants to continue indefinitely detaining people without charges or trial.” Writing for Salon, Glenn Greenwald reminded us that it was not the location of Guantánamo that made it controversial:

What made Guantánamo such a travesty — and what still makes it such — is that it is a system of indefinite detention whereby human beings are put in cages for years and years without ever being charged with a crime. President Obama’s so-called “plan to close Guantánamo” — even if it had been approved in full by Congress — did not seek to end that core injustice. It sought to do the opposite: Obama’s plan would have continued the system of indefinite detention, but simply re-located it from Guantánamo Bay onto American soil.

Considering the details of Obama’s proposal along with the 2013 closure of the State Department office tasked with closing Guantánamo, Obama’s vows to close Guantánamo, like most of his populist presidential rhetoric, were empty political gestures.

But, even though Obama has not been able to close Guantánamo, the notoriously obstructionist Congress cannot take credit for blocking all of his venerable policy goals. For example, Obama has successfully managed to codify legislation permitting indefinite detention without trial. Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 directly violates the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, according to the ACLU. It nullifies the right to be informed of criminal charges, the right to a speedy and public trial, and the right to trial by an impartial jury. Obama’s assurances that “[his] administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” are not particularly comforting.

Whether or not Obama sticks to his word, the provisions remain for future administrations to take full advantage of, and each of the three NDAAs passed since 2012 have continued to authorize indefinite detention. Highlighting the absurdity of the sweeping authority granted by 2014’s NDAA in a piece for Salon, Natasha Lennard wrote: “we can all be concerned when it is Tea Party blowhard Sen. Ted Cruz who best expresses civil liberties concerns on an issue.” As one of fifteen senators who voted against the Fiscal Year 2014 version of the NDAA, Cruz stated:

I am deeply concerned that Congress still has not prohibited President Obama’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without trial or due process… Although this legislation does contain several positive provisions that I support, it does not ensure our most basic rights as American citizens are protected…I hope that next year the Senate and the House can come together in a bipartisan way to recognize the importance of our constitutional rights even in the face of ongoing terrorist threats and national security challenges.

Among his peers in the Senate, presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders also voted against the NDAA in 2014, but Sanders was one of only three members of the Democratic caucus that did so. The other two were Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden whereas, conspicuously, progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken voted to pass the legislation.

To fully appreciate just how ludicrous this legislation is, it helps to look at the way preventive detention is applied in other places. In a 2009 article entitled “Facts and Myths about Obama’s Preventive Detention Proposal,” Glenn Greenwald touched on the political climate surrounding prevention detention and the limits that are applied to this authority in some of our peer countries:

In the era of IRA bombings, the British Parliament passed a law allowing the Government to preventively detain terrorist suspects for 14 days — and then either have to charge them or release them.  In 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair — citing the London subway attacks and the need to “intervene early before a terrorist cell has the opportunity to achieve its goals” — wanted to increase the prevention detention period to 90 days, but MPs from his own party and across the political spectrum overwhelmingly opposed this, and ultimately increased it only to 28 days.

In June of last year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought an expansion of this preventive detention authority to 42 days — a mere two weeks more.  Reacting to that extremely modest increase, a major political rebellion erupted, with large numbers of Brown’s own Labour Party joining with Tories to vehemently oppose it as a major threat to liberty.  Ultimately, Brown’s 42-day scheme barely passed the House of Commons. As former Prime Minister John Major put it in opposing the expansion to 42 days:

It is hard to justify: pre-charge detention in Canada is 24 hours; South Africa, Germany, New Zealand and America 48 hours; Russia 5 days; and Turkey 7½ days.

By rather stark and extreme contrast, Obama is seeking preventive detention powers that are indefinite — meaning without any end, potentially permanent.

I won’t delve into a critical history of Tony Blair, but it should come as no surprise that he was a proponent for preventive detention. On the other hand, it should be eye-opening that Russia, a country that the American media is constantly criticizing for its human rights record, limits its preventive detention power to a period of 5 days.

That Obama initiated indefinite preventive detention while acting as though he wanted to close Guantánamo so as to give its detainees fair trials is one of many reasons why Glen Ford, executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, refers to Obama as “not the lesser of evils, but the more effective evil.” In a 2012 interview with Amy Goodman for Democracy Now, Ford said:

He’s, first of all, created a model for austerity, a veritable model, with his deficit reduction commission. He’s introduced preventive detention, a law for preventive detention. He’s expanded the theaters of war in drone wars, and he’s made an unremitting assault on international law. And I think that possibly the biggest impact, his presidency—and I’m not talking about his—all this light and airy stuff from the convention, but actual deeds—I think probably what will go down as his biggest contribution to history is a kind of merging of the banks and the state, with $16 trillion being infused into these banks, into Wall Street, under his watch, and the line between Wall Street and the federal government virtually disappearing.

Clinton and Military Intervention in the Middle East

Having supported military intervention every time she’s had an opportunity, we can only expect Hillary Clinton to continue with increased American aggression and erosion of civil liberties in the name of imperialism under the guise of the bogeyman national security threat posed by “terrorism.” In a piece for TIME, Michael Crowley discussed Clinton’s “unapologetically hawkish record” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Iran and includes analysis that brings former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War into the conversation:

In one of the book’s most quoted passages, Gates writes that he witnessed Clinton make a startling confession to Barack Obama: she had opposed George W. Bush‘s last-ditch effort to salvage the Iraq war, the 2007 troop “surge,” because the politics of the 2008 Democratic primaries demanded it…

As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues—Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid—Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.

Returning to Iraq, nowadays, Clinton is dedicated to clarifying that she considers her vote for the war a mistake. In her 2014 book Hard Choices, she wrote, “As much as I might have wanted to, I could never change my vote on Iraq. But I could try to help us learn the right lessons from that war and apply them to Afghanistan and other challenges where we had fundamental security interests.” However, writing for The Nation, Anatol Lieven argued that Clinton’s ongoing record puts that assertion into question:

Neither in her book nor in her policy is there even the slightest evidence that she has, in fact, tried to learn from Iraq beyond the most obvious lesson—the undesirability of US ground invasions and occupations, which even the Republicans have managed to learn. For Clinton herself helped to launch US airpower to topple another regime, this one in Libya—and, as in Iraq, the results have been anarchy, sectarian conflict and opportunities for Islamist extremists that have destabilized the entire region. She then helped lead the United States quite far down the road of doing the same thing in Syria.

As opposed to just verbally expressing regret or saying that she made a mistake, there was a rare instance regarding the PATRIOT Act in which Clinton actually changed her vote. Whereas in 2001 Clinton voted to pass the legislation, in 2005 she supported a general filibuster against the PATRIOT Act’s renewal. It’s hard to give her credit for this change, however.  Describing her stance on supporting the filibuster, Jeff Bliss and James Rowley wrote for Bloomberg that “Democratic New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said she opposes the legislation because it doesn’t guarantee her state a large enough share of money for anti-terrorism.” Quelling any uncertainty that her vote may have also had to do with some sort of moral conviction for the protection of civil liberties and privacy rights, Clinton voted to extend the PATRIOT Act in 2006.

Like a true war hawk, there is one issue Clinton has never flip-flopped on; no matter the circumstances, her support for Israel has never wavered. In a 2007 review of Clinton’s record on human rights and international law for Foreign Policy In Focus, Stephen Zunes documented how, as a senator, she went as far as to fly in the face of the UN to fight for special treatment for Israel. When, in 2004, the UN’s judicial body, the International Court of Justice, ruled against the Israeli West Bank Barrier, Clinton responded by, as the Bush administration did with Iraq, seeking to unilaterally oppose the international community:

The ICJ ruled that Israel, like any country, had the right to build the barrier along its internationally recognized border for self-defense, but did not have the right to build it inside another country as a means of effectively annexing Palestinian land. In an unprecedented congressional action, Senator Clinton immediately introduced a resolution to put the U.S. Senate on record “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence” and “condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence.” In an effort to render the UN impotent in its enforcement of international law, her resolution (which even the then-Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass) attempted to put the Senate on record “urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.”

Eventually, even the Israeli Supreme Court was reasonable enough to admit that, along one route, the wall was disproportionately harmful to the Palestinians relative to its intended purpose, but not Clinton:

The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the government to re-route a section of the wall bisecting some Palestinian towns, because the “relationship between the injury to the local inhabitants and the security benefit from the contraction of the Separation Fence along the route, as determined by the military officer, is not proportionate.” And yet, Clinton’s resolution also claims that Israel’s barrier is a “proportional response to the campaign of terrorism by Palestinian militants.”

If the Israeli Supreme Court is capable of reconsidering the impact of the wall, and even mandating that a section of it be re-routed, why can’t Clinton begin to temper her ardent support of Israel’s continued subjugation of the Palestinian people? Instead, she takes pride in the wall as a symbol of the unchecked and ever-growing authority of the US and its allies to ignore human rights and international law in the name of terrorism:

A longtime supporter of Israel’s colonization and annexation efforts in the West Bank, Senator Clinton took part in a photo opportunity at the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo last year, in which she claimed – while gazing over the massive wall bisecting what used to be a Palestinian vineyard – “This is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists.”

While I drew a similarity earlier between Clinton and Bush’s shared disdain for the deliberations of the UN, it bears mentioning that, regarding Israel, even Bush’s actions were too cooperative for Clinton: “She opposed UN efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli occupation forces and criticized President Bush for calling on Israel to pull back from its violent re-conquest of Palestinian cities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”

More recently, Clinton vehemently defended Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge during which Palestinians suffered the highest number of civilian casualties since the 1967 Six-Day War. Writing for The Huffington Post, Shadee Ashtari offered an insightful comparison of Clinton’s conclusions, made less than three weeks apart, on assigning responsibility for two catastrophic events:

Here’s Hillary Clinton, on the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane in Ukraine: “I think if there were any doubt it should be gone by now, that Vladimir Putin, certainly indirectly…bears responsibility for what happened.”

And here’s Clinton, on the bombing of a United Nations facility in Gaza: “I’m not sure it’s possible to parcel out blame because it’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.”

As Ashtari, rather aptly, puts it in the article’s opening line, “the fog of war may be more of a Rorschach test.” Never mind that Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UNRWA, the main UN agency in Gaza, stated that UN representatives had informed Israeli forces of the school’s exact location 17 times. To a tirelessly devoted career politician like Hillary Clinton, overwhelming evidence is an afterthought. It is in the interest of the US federal government and corporate oligarchy for Russia to look bad and for Israel to look good, and how Clinton decides what to state publicly is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, though her dedication does go above and beyond the norm, Clinton stands with the majority of American legislators when it comes to backing Israel.  Yet with respect to her history of supporting armed conflict on a broader scale, in the same article referenced earlier by Zunes, he noted that (fortunately?) this is not the case:

Indeed, she has supported unconditional U.S. arms transfers and police training to such repressive and autocratic governments as Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, and Chad, just to name a few. She has also refused to join many of her Democratic colleagues in signing a letter endorsing a treaty that would limit arms transfers to countries that engage in a consistent pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations.

Further emphasizing Clinton’s blatant disregard for human suffering, Zunes wrote:

Not only is she willing to support military assistance to repressive regimes, she has little concern about controlling weapons that primarily target innocent civilians. Senator Clinton has refused to support the international treaty to ban land mines, which are responsible for killing and maiming thousands of civilians worldwide, a disproportionate percentage of whom have been children.

She was also among a minority of Democratic Senators to side with the Republican majority last year in voting down a Democratic-sponsored resolution restricting U.S. exports of cluster bombs to countries that use them against civilian-populated areas. Each of these cluster bomb[s] contains hundreds of bomblets that are scattered over an area the size of up to four football fields and, with a failure rate of up to 30%, become de facto land mines. As many as 98% of the casualties caused by these weapons are civilians.

The Role of the Clinton Foundation in the Global Arms Trade

There is a distinct paper trail connecting donations to the Clinton Foundation to weapons deals from Clinton’s State Department. In the International Business Times, David Sirota and Andrew Perez described how “17 out of 20 countries that have donated to the Clinton Foundation saw increases in arms exports authorized by Hillary Clinton’s State Department” and, on the other side of the deals, “the Clinton Foundation accepted donations from six companies benefiting from U.S. State Department arms export approvals.” Leading the list for defense contractors was Boeing with a donation of $5 million. Perhaps that has something to do with why Boeing was the lead contractor in a deal that resulted in $29 billion worth of advanced fighter jets being delivered to Saudi Arabia, a country that has beheaded 100 people just this year. While it seems obvious that widely publicizing their beheadings gives ISIS more reason to continue carrying them out, the mainstream media of the US is constantly releasing footage of them to help fuel civilian support for the destruction of those brutal savages. So why is there no uproar over the fact that Saudi Arabia beheads its citizens for nonlethal crimes such as adultery, “sorcery,” and “drug receiving?” In a Newsweek article by Janine Di Giovanni, Lina Khatib of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut has an answer that Hillary would never repeat but that is likely in alignment with her values: “Violence by the state is permissible, while violence by non-state actors is not.”

Returning to the numbers, in total, the dollar amount of arms exports to Saudia Arabia authorized grew 97% during Clinton’s tenure at the State Department. Some other countries not known for a sterling human rights record that were part of Clinton’s de facto donations for death machines program included Algeria, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. Algeria saw its total exports authorized grow 274%, Bahrain 187%, Oman 221%, Qatar 1,482%, and the UAE 1,005%. Not only do Sirota and Perez compile an array of appalling figures, but they also shed light on how fickle the State Department can be with just a little bit of coaxing:

In its 2010 Human Rights Report, Clinton’s State Department inveighed against Algeria’s government for imposing “restrictions on freedom of assembly and association” tolerating “arbitrary killing,” “widespread corruption,” and a “lack of judicial independence.” The report said the Algerian government “used security grounds to constrain freedom of expression and movement.”

That year, the Algerian government donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation and its lobbyists met with the State Department officials who oversee enforcement of human rights policies. Clinton’s State Department the next year approved a one-year 70 percent increase in military export authorizations to the country. The increase included authorizations of almost 50,000 items classified as “toxicological agents, including chemical agents, biological agents and associated equipment” after the State Department did not authorize the export of any of such items to Algeria in the prior year.

Obama, Clinton, and the US-Funded 2009 Coup of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya

In the name of the war on drugs, President Obama and Secretary Clinton funded a military coup of the Honduran government. Compared to past US-orchestrated coups in Latin America, we apparently felt no reason to cover this one up: “The US ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, said, ‘We have an opportunity now, because the military is no longer at war in Iraq. Using the military funding that won’t be spent, we should be able to have resources to be able to work here.’” While Honduras has had some of the highest murder rates in the world since the 1990s, shortly after the 2009 coup, Honduras surpassed El Salvador to claim the number one spot, which they have held onto since then. 2012 figures from the UN showed that, apart from Venezuela, which had a rate of 53.7 murders per 100,000 people, Honduras’s rate of 90.4 was more than double the rate of any other country for which the UN had data. While the coup itself did not cause the high murder rate, writing for The Nation, Dana Frank explained the accompanying conditions that did:

The coup, in turn, unleashed a wave of violence by state security forces that continues unabated. On October 22, an enormous scandal broke when the Tegucigalpa police killed the son of Julieta Castellanos, rector of the country’s largest university and a member of the government’s Truth Commission, along with a friend of his. Top law enforcement officials admitted that the police were responsible for the killings but allowed the suspects to disappear, precipitating an enormous crisis of legitimacy, as prominent figures such as Alfredo Landaverde, a former congressman and police commissioner in charge of drug investigations, stepped forward throughout the autumn to denounce the massive police corruption. The police department, they charged, is riddled with death squads and drug traffickers up to the very highest levels…

A vicious drug culture already existed before the coup, along with gangs and corrupt officials. But the thoroughgoing criminality of the coup regime opened the door for it to flourish on an unprecedented scale. Drug trafficking is now embedded in the state itself—from the cop in the neighborhood all the way up to the very top of the government, according to high-level sources. Prominent critics and even government officials, including Marlon Pascua, the defense minister, talk of “narco-judges” who block prosecutions and “narco-congressmen” who run cartels. Landaverde declared that one out of every ten members of Congress is a drug trafficker and that he had evidence proving “major national and political figures” were involved in drug trafficking. He was assassinated on December 7.

“It’s scarier to meet up with five police officers on the streets than five gang members,”   former Police Commissioner María Luisa Borjas declared in November. According to the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (Cofadeh), more than 10,000 official complaints have been filed about abuses by the police and military since the coup, none of which have been addressed…

…Cofadeh and prominent voices in Honduran civil society are calling loudly for a suspension of US and other countries’ aid to the Honduran military and police. “Stop feeding the beast,” as Rector Castellanos famously demanded in November…

As Tirza Flores Lanza—a former appeals court magistrate in San Pedro Sula, who was fired with four other judges and magistrates for opposing the coup—put it: “The coup d’état in Honduras destroyed the incipient democracy that, with great effort, we were constructing, and revived the specter of military dictatorships that are now once again ready to pounce throughout Latin America.”

Despite unprecedented levels of corruption and impunity and heads of state throughout the region having refused to recognize Porfirio Lobo’s presidency, Secretary Clinton and President Obama both turned a blind eye to the nightmarish conditions on the ground and had nothing but praise for the leader of the regime they inserted into power: “The United States hailed him for ‘restoring democracy’ and promoting ‘national reconciliation.’ The State Department and Clinton continue to repeat both fictions, as did President Obama when he welcomed Lobo to the White House in October.” For a more thorough understanding of the events leading up to the coup and the interactions between the Honduran and American government through 2013, Eric Zuesse offers an exhaustive review of coverage on Honduras along with what he considers to be Clinton’s other major foreign policy achievement, her disastrous record in Afghanistan.

Continuing to cover Honduras in 2015, this time for Foreign Policy, Dana Frank argued that, sadly, Lobo’s successor, Juan Orlando Hernández “is a far more brutal and Machiavellian figure than his predecessor” and “is perpetuating an ongoing human rights crisis while countenancing a cesspool of corruption and organized crime in which the topmost levels of government are enmeshed.” Nevertheless:

…despite overwhelming evidence of Hernández’s dangerous record on human rights and security, the Obama administration has decided to lock down support for his regime, and even celebrate him. U.S. development, security, and economic funds are pouring into Honduras, and the White House is going full-court press to push for hundreds of millions more…

Why? Frank offers three reasons: 1) to send a message to the democratically elected center-left and left governments that had come to power in Latin America in the previous 15 years that they could be next, 2) to solidify and expand the U.S. military presence in Central America, and 3) to serve transnational corporate interests in the region. For more detail on the third objective Frank offered, Lauren Carasik wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs describing the details of the “Model Cities” project that would create zones where Honduran law would not apply and, instead, at the expense of workers and the environment, local elites and foreign investors would set conditions to maximize profits. Essentially export processing zones, these sorts of arrangements have been a common facet of international trade since the 1990s, and for good reason, Naomi Klein criticized them extensively in her incredibly informative 1999 book, No Logo. That the project was called “Model Cities” is particularly ironic considering that was also the name of an incredibly ambitious, though widely maligned, federal urban aid program administered as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Click here to read Part 4 of the series.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Foreign Policy

Candidates Routinely Threaten Wall Street, Follow Through with Little More than a Stern Scolding

In this post, Part 2 in a series on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Emilio da Costa documents some of the actions that President Barack Obama has taken in the interests of the very wealthy. Emilio, who holds a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Stanford, argues that Clinton is likely to follow suit – she has much deeper ties to Wall Street than to those whose votes she will be seeking on the campaign trail.

 Part 1 of the series, which focused on Obama’s political appointments, can be found here.

Emilio da Costa

Emilio da Costa

As was required at the time, Obama made promises during his campaign to rein in Wall Street and introduce regulatory reforms to the financial industry. All of the grumbling about Obama’s tax policy being socialist makes it hard to believe the extent to which he supported legislation that so disproportionately benefited the very wealthy. Obama not only extended the Bush tax cuts that he said he would repeal, but in the case of the estate tax, supported the even more regressive policy of lowering the rate and raising the exemption limit in 2010’s $858 billion tax-cut legislation. Although Democrats claim they were forced to compromise on a 35% rate with a $5 million per-person exemption to prevent a worse outcome in the future, if no law were to have passed that year, a 55% rate with a $1 million exemption would have taken effect. When introduced, the exemption limit of $5 million meant that only 0.2 percent of all estates would be eligible to owe any tax, the smallest percentage since 1934 – except for 2010, which Bush’s 2001 tax-cut legislation mandated would be totally estate-tax-free. Days after Obama signed the 2010 legislation, while interviewing Chris Hedges for Democracy Now, Amy Goodman summarized the impacts more generally: “At least a quarter of the tax savings under the deal will go to the wealthiest one percent of the population. The only group that will see its taxes increase are the nation’s lowest-paid workers.” During this interview Hedges argues that “one of the most pernicious things that Obama did in this tax bill was reduce contributions to Social Security, because of course that’s next on the target.” With Obama’s 2013 budget plan having cut Social Security and Medicare by much more than the GOP alternative, it appears Hedges’s predictions were well-founded.

Similarly, Clinton has been diligently working to pander to the masses as a candidate with a tough stance on white-collar crime while at the same time assuring her most devoted backers that they have nothing to worry about. In response to this delicate balancing act she has embarked upon, within days of Clinton announcing her entry into the presidential race, Matt Taibbi wrote a piece for Rolling Stone entitled “Campaign 2016: Hillary Clinton’s Fake Populism Is a Hit.” Few journalists are better suited to the task of exposing a fraud than Matt Taibbi. In typically hilarious fashion (the subtitle of the piece reads: “Pundits say her idealist porridge is not too hot, not too cold, but just fake enough”), Taibbi focuses primarily on Clinton’s position on the carried interest tax break to reveal the way that she, like so many high-ranking politicians, twists her words to manipulate the lower-income and middle-class masses while remaining faithful to the wealthy, high-powered constituency that she actually represents:

“There’s something wrong,” she told a crowd of Iowans, “when hedge fund man­agers pay lower taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80 when I was driving here over the last two days.”

Oh, right, that. The infamous carried interest tax break, the one that allows private equity vampires like Mitt Romney and Stephen Schwartzman to pay a top tax rate of 15 percent while all of the rest of us (including the truckers Hillary “saw” – note she didn’t say “hung out with Bill and me over chilled shrimp at the Water Club”) pay income taxes.

The carried interest loophole is an absurd, completely unjustifiable handout to the not merely well-off but filthy rich, and it’s been law in this country for about three decades.

Raise your hand if you really think that Hillary Clinton is going to repeal the carried interest tax break.

Whether or not the crowd of Iowans was convinced that Clinton legitimately planned to repeal the carried interest tax break, major media outlets published headlines that took the language from her campaign announcement as evidence that Hillary is a concerned populist dedicated to helping out struggling middle-class American families, until, as Taibbi documents, editorials with a conflicting message began popping up:

“Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street Backers: We Get It,” announced Politico, which polled Democrat-leaning Wall Streeters about the anti-wealthy rhetoric and reassured us that none of them took her seriously.

It’s “just politics,” said one major Democratic donor on Wall Street, explaining that some of her Wall Street supporters doubt she would push hard for closing the carried interest loophole as president, a policy she promoted when she last ran in 2008. [emphasis his]

Failing to follow through on campaign promises is no deviation from convention, and considering her convivial relationship with Wall Street, it’s no shocker that no one is worried that she would actually take any actions to her donors’ detriment. In particular, when it comes to the carried interest tax break, Taibbi demonstrates that there has been a distinctly noticeable pattern forming among Democratic candidates:

Yes, back to that, the carried interest issue. Promising, and then failing, to repeal the carried interest tax break is fast becoming a Democratic tradition, so much so that I’m beginning to wonder if not fixing this problem is an intentional move, designed to ensure that Democrats always have something to run on in election seasons.

In both the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, Barack Obama either decried the tax “trick” or overtly promised to close the loophole.

Obama’s remarks about carried interest pretty much always sound exactly like Hillary’s remarks this week. He gave a Rose Garden speech in 2011, in advance of his race against Romney, in which he rejected ‘the notion that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or teacher is class warfare.’”

Taibbi then remarks on how, instead of holding politicians to their campaign vows or referring to them flat-out as disingenuous manipulation, media outlets tend to give such promises the designation of idealism. That makes the media complicit in politicians’ immunity from accountability:

Editorialists like to talk about the two things, ideals and reality, as totally separate and distinct. Idealism, the stuff of campaign promises, is usually pooh-poohed as “purity politics,” while the cold transactional politics of Beltway dealmaking and incremental change are usually applauded as “pragmatism.”

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Hillary’s first official week as a presidential candidate went exactly as her handlers must have hoped.

At launch she talked a streak of anti-elitist rhetoric that was taken seriously for a few days, until the punditry took the temperature of her populism and declared to it be the right kind: the fake kind, the purely strategic kind.

In the same Politico article that Taibbi referenced above, Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s White House who now advises billionaire environmentalist hedge-fund manager and donor Tom Steyer, was quoted reiterating the notion that Hillary’s populist claims are totally hollow: “The fact is that any Democrat running for president would talk about this. It’s as surprising as the sun rising in the east.”

Considering Americans’ widespread disdain toward Wall Street banksters, Clinton is keenly aware of the importance of polishing over her strong ties to the financial industry. However, Matt Taibbi isn’t the only journalist that sees through her newfound appreciation for economic populism. Writing for the International Business Times, Andrew Perez and David Sirota looked through the publicly available data to follow the money beyond the baloney. They summarize how Clinton, in a recent speech, “call[ed] for Wall Street executives who engage in financial wrongdoing to be held accountable more than they have been under President Barack Obama.” But a quick look at the financial disclosure data for the Clinton Foundation suggests she would be unlikely to follow through:

Clinton’s outrage, though, did not stop her family’s foundation from raking in donations from many of the same banks that secured government fines rather than face full-scale prosecution. The Clinton Foundation has accepted $5 million worth of donations from at least nine financial institutions that avoided such prosecution — even as they admitted wrongdoing.

In that same speech, Clinton said, “HSBC allowing drug cartels to launder money, five major banks pleading guilty to felony charges for conspiring to manipulate currency exchange and interest rates. There can be no justification or tolerance for this kind of criminal behavior.” If Clinton believes that there can be “no tolerance for this kind of criminal behavior,” then it is a bit strange that, “in 2014, two years after HSBC admitted to major violations of U.S. laws, the firm was the top sponsor at a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) event, paying at least $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation.” In fact, in addition to the CGI and the Clinton Foundation both having an illustrious record for accepting sponsorships and donations from criminal banks, both Clintons have accepted outrageous speaking fees from them, too.

The HSBC relationship — taking money from a bank after the firm admitted wrongdoing — was not unique. In 2009, UBS avoided prosecution by the Justice Department when it agreed to pay a $780 million fine and admitted to defrauding the United States by allowing American citizens to hide income from the IRS. The Swiss bank has since entered into two more agreements with the Justice Department — one for rigging the municipal bond market and the other for manipulating global interest rates. UBS has paid former President Bill Clinton more than $1.5 million for speeches since 2009, and the firm has given more than $550,000 to the family’s foundation.

In 2010, the British banking firm Barclays entered into a settlement agreement with the Justice Department, and admitted to violating U.S. sanctions by making transactions for customers in countries such as Libya, Sudan and Myanmar. Weeks later, Barclays was  sponsor at the annual CGI event. Barclays has remained a CGI sponsor in the years since, even after the bank paid more fines under a new agreement with the Justice Department for manipulating worldwide interest rates. Barclays has paid the Clinton family $650,000 for speeches since 2009. The firm has given at least $1.5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

Covering a speech Clinton gave on July 13thBen White for Politico reported on, among other things, her continued promise to repeal the carried interest tax break. She also “pledged to both defend existing financial reform and go even further, almost hinting at a need to break up the largest banks, something sure to go down poorly with some of Clinton’s biggest supporters on Wall Street.” However, financial reformers like Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets expect more: “The American people deserve a concrete, specific, comprehensive plan that really protects them from Wall Street recklessness and that she as president can be held accountable for once in office.” Others wonder whether she will “put in place a team of advisers who have a demonstrated history of supporting meaningful reform and tough enforcement, or chooses instead to surround herself with the same crowd of revolving door insiders.” Given the actions of the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s personal ties to Wall Street, it is no wonder that financial reformers are skeptical she will follow through with policies that are as progressive as her vague pledges.

Click here to read Part 3 of the series.

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Filed under 2016 Election, US Political System

Like Obama, Clinton Likely to Promise Big, Give Hope, and Disappoint

The discrepancy between Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric and actions as President have disappointed many of his former supporters.  In this post, the first in a series focused primarily on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Emilio da Costa explains why Obama’s political appointments bode poorly for what a Clinton presidency might bring. Emilio, who holds a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Stanford, will in future posts explore specific policy areas in which Clinton’s record raises questions about the sincerity of her stated intentions.

Emilio da Costa

Emilio da Costa

On April 12th, Hillary Rodham Clinton officially announced that she will be running for the presidency in the 2016 election. If victorious, she will be the first female president in American history, and so, understandably, there has been considerable attention given to what that achievement would mean for gender equality. That having a woman become president would ‘shatter the glass ceiling’ is a widespread sentiment among her supporters and the hope attached to this sentiment gives her a tremendous amount of populist appeal. Unfortunately, while hope is a strong currency in the market for votes, it doesn’t always exchange so well in the realm of actual policy decisions.

We saw this same situation with Obama. Who better than a black man who eloquently spoke of hope, change, and progress to embody the ideals of civil rights, accountability, and equality that so many Americans were yearning for? And yet, even though the rhetoric was always there, the reality was a stark contrast. The Obama Administration deported more immigrants than any other in American history. While arming and funding the ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria and, at one point, drone-bombing Yemen, Somalia,  Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan simultaneously, Obama contradicted his supposed dedication to cooperative multilateral decision-making by unilaterally expanding war powers well beyond George W. Bush. Even the “landmark reform” in health care that the Obama Administration managed to pass, the Affordable Care Act, is a lot less impressive when you compare it to a strikingly similar GOP-sponsored health care reform plan from 1993.

By making Tim Geithner his first Cabinet appointment and maintaining “Goldman Sachs’s seeming lock on high-level U.S. Treasury jobs,” Obama made it quite clear early in his presidency that he was not the progressive he purported to be. Another appointment with a glaring conflict of interest was Monsanto’s former Vice President for Public Policy, Michael Taylor, selected to be deputy commissioner at the FDA. Even Obama’s appointments most widely praised by the mainstream liberal media have seriously tainted records. A key example of this was his appointment of Eric Holder as attorney general.

Holder’s less-than-inspiring past as a litigator did not receive the publicity it deserved. In a case representing Chiquita Brands International, Holder defended the company’s funneling money and weapons to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, a right-wing paramilitary organization on the US State Department’s own list of terrorist organizations. Writing for CounterPunch, Mario A. Murillo explained:

In 2003, an Organization of American States report showed that Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, had helped divert weapons and ammunition, including thousands of AK-47s, from Nicaraguan government stocks to the AUC. The AUC – very often in collaboration with units of the U.S.-trained Armed Forces – is responsible for hundreds of massacres of primarily peasants throughout the Colombian countryside, including in the banana-growing region of Urabá, where it is believed that at least 4,000 people were killed. Their systematic use of violence resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of poor Colombians, a disproportionate amount of those people being black or indigenous.

In 2004, Holder helped negotiate an agreement with the Justice Department for Chiquita that involved the fruit company’s payment of “protection money” to the AUC, in direct violation of U.S. laws prohibiting this kind of transaction.

Another appointment that hinted toward Obama’s true colors occurred before he was elected. Like Holder, mainstream media outlets have reported very little on the unsavory aspects of Vice President Joe Biden’s history, which include having been responsible for drafting and introducing the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995, the precursor to the PATRIOT Act so infamous for its nullification of constitutional civil liberties. More recently, the appointment of Loretta Lynch as the new attorney general has been lauded because of the opportunity it presents for the first black woman to hold the position.

Lynch’s record, like that of other appointments, isn’t exactly praiseworthy. While Lynch has been quick to attempt to develop a reputation as an international corruption watchdog by beginning her tenure with a 47-count indictment of FIFA officials, C. Robert Gibson lists the ways in which this investigation directly contradicts the treatment she afforded white collar criminals during her time as US attorney for the Eastern District of New York:

…HSBC was caught laundering $800 million for the notoriously violent and wealthy Sinaloa drug cartel in 2012 yet skated with a $1.9 billion fine — less than 2.8 percent of HSBC’s $68.3 billion in revenue for that year. To put that in perspective, if a person making $40,000 a year was fined the same percentage of income, it would only be $1,113, or about a month’s rent. And after Citibank was caught purposefully misleading investors to buy mortgage-backed securities that the bank knew were junk, Lynch’s office fined the bank $7 billion ($3.8 billion of which was billed to U.S. Taxpayers).

Gibson makes a strong case that “Lynch’s legal career is emblematic of the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.” It included stints at Cahill Gordon & Reindel which he refers to as “the go-to law firm for New York’s financial crooks,” Hogan & Hartson, where her first case was to defend an Arthur Andersen partner who got caught cooking the books for Enron, and the board for the New York Federal Reserve, where she worked directly under the aforementioned Geithner, who became a household name after “turning a blind eye to Wall Street’s high-risk gambling schemes that led to the 2008 financial crisis.” And so, “No wonder Lynch hasn’t ever put a banker in jail during her legal career: They’re her former clients.” Not only did Lynch exhibit a characteristic lack of moral fortitude when it came to financial criminals, but managing editor for the Black Agenda Report Bruce A. Dixon paints a similar picture with respect to her prosecution of war criminals:

In 2005 Lynch was recruited by US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen Rapp to administer “victor’s justice” upon the losers in Rwanda’s civil war. The US had backed Paul Kagame, trained at Ft. Leavenworth Kansas, who shot his way to power with an army that included child soldiers. In the process Kagame’s forces committed a sizeable share of the 800,000 murders in what the world knows as the Rwandan genocide. So in Rwanda Loretta Lynch interviewed only persons brought to her by Kagame’s cronies. Like the rest of the International Tribunal, she never questioned Kagame’s role [in] assassinations of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents, the tens of thousands of murders that occurred in areas controlled by Kagame’s forces, or the role of Kagame and his partners in the ongoing pillage of neighboring Congo which had taken some 5 million lives and counting by 2008.

We shouldn’t expect anything better in the way of appointments if Hillary is to become president. From donations to the Clinton Foundation to generous speaking fees and campaign contributions, there is substantial reason to believe that the relationship between Washington and Wall Street would only grow stronger with her at the helm. Despite Clinton’s effort to appeal to economic populism and appear tough on the financial industry, the next part of this series, with much credit to Matt Taibbi, will show that Clinton’s ties to the banksters run much, much deeper than do her ties to those she will be pandering to on the campaign trail.

Click here to read Part 2 of the series.

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Filed under 2016 Election, US Political System