Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

Sony capitulates to blackmail

December 19th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

Hollywood has publicly condemned Sony Pictures’ decision to cancel release of the film at the heart of the hacking crisis, calling it an ignominious blow to freedom of speech, but some are quietly relieved at the removal of a threat to the Christmas box office.

Actors, directors and writers erupted in anger and scorn on Wednesday night after the studio announced it no longer planned to release The Interview, a comedy which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, because of terrorist threats to cinemagoers.

The wave of indignation called the decision un-American, spineless, disgraceful and a dangerous precedent, with some comparing it to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler.

“Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. A complete and utter victory for them. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today,” tweeted the actor Rob Lowe, citing the British prime minister who abandoned Czechoslovakia to the Nazis.

It is a very sad day for freedom of expression. It tells the bad guys that threats and blackmail do work.

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A video from the next US Ambassador to NZ

December 19th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

A nice effort. Ambassador Gilbert was confirmed by the US Senate on the 12th of December in a voice vote. he is fortunate to have had the nomination confirmed before the control of the Senate changed. He would have still been confirmed, but a vote may not have occurred for many more months.

Personally I think it is silly the US Senate still confirms Ambassadors. In the 1700s and 1800s Ambassadors were very powerful positions as they could not communicate with their home Governments quickly, and would often negotiate major issues of behalf of their countries. Now their positions are much less important. They are still important positions, but they do not set policy in any way.

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Fact checking US politicians and Vladimir Putin

December 19th, 2014 at 9:22 am by Lindsay Addie

One of my favourite political blogs is Glenn Kessler’s at the Washington Post who awards Pinnochios (from one to four) for porkies and lies told by politicians’. Here is a sample of Kessler’s biggest whoopers from 2014.

They aren’t in any particular order.

Barack Obama: “I didn’t call the Islamic State a ‘JV’ team”

President Obama repeated a claim, crafted by the White House communications team, that he was not “specifically” referring to the Islamic State terror group when he dismissed the militants who had taken over Fallujah as a “JV squad.” But The Fact Checker had obtained the previously unreleased transcript of the president’s interview with The New Yorker, and it’s clear that’s who the president was referencing.

JV means junior varsity. He didn’t seem to be aware that ISIS (ISIL) were a major threat in the Middle East then told a porky about his previous comments.

Rand Paul: “John McCain met with Islamic State terrorists”

Intraparty slap downs are pretty rare, but Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have radically different foreign policy views. With no evidence but Internet rumors, some promoted by liberal groups, Paul declared that McCain unknowingly met with members of the Islamic State — and even had photographs taken — when he had slipped across the border with Syria to meet with rebel forces. But the claim was proven to be absolutely false. As we said as the time, “there are days when we regret we are limited to just Four Pinocchios.”

Paul clearly had a severe bout of foot and mouth disease on this one.

Barack Obama: “Republicans have filibustered 500 pieces of legislation”

President Obama former senator, got quite a few things wrong here. He spoke of legislation that would help the middle class, but he was counting cloture votes that mostly involved judicial and executive branch nominations. Moreover, he counted all the way back to 2007, meaning he even included votes in which he, as senator, voted against ending debate — the very thing he decried in his remarks. At best, he could claim the Republicans had blocked about 50 bills, meaning he was off by a factor of ten.

I’ll give the President the benefit of the doubt and opine that he was merely repeating what his researchers/speech writers told him to say. It is still a clumsy attempt though to a score political point.

John Boehner: “There’s been a net loss of people with health insurance”

Nope. Boehner added apples and then subtracted oranges. At the point he made the statement, it was clear that the net gain was in the millions.

Boehner was talking about Obamacare. As in the case of the previous lie, Boehner was using shoddy research to try and score a political point.

Vladimir Putin: “A referendum was held in Crimea in full compliance with democratic procedures and international norms”

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech announcing the annexation of Crimea that was full of whoppers, but none more so than his claim about the referendum. The referendum was rushed, political opposition was squelched, and the choices did not allow for a “no.” (The options were either joining Russia — what the ballot called “reunification” — or remaining part of Ukraine with greater autonomy, effectively making the region independent in all but name.) Moreover, the Crimea vote met none of the conditions for a referendum in the Ukrainian constitution. Clearly it’s time for a fact-checking organization in Russia.

This for me is the biggest lie on Kessler’s list. Putin would have real trouble convincing most people he’s a true believer in democracy and freedom of speech.

Note that Kessler provides web links to all the original stories. It is a pity that no one in New Zealand fact checks politicians on a regular basis.

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Wasteful US Government spending

December 18th, 2014 at 3:31 pm by Lindsay Addie

Following on from DPF’s post about the Cromnibus Bill passing through the US Congress and all its pork. Here are some examples of the crazy spending by the US Government.

The source is the retiring Senator Tom Coburn a Republican from Oklahoma who annually has been releasing a Wastebook of spending.

Here’s a shortlist of some actual examples Coburn has highlighted

Coast guard party patrols – $100,000
Watching grass grow – $10,000
State department tweets @ terrorists – $3 million
Swedish massages for rabbits – $387,000
Paid vacations for bureaucrats gone wild – $20 million
Mountain lions on a treadmill – $856,000
Synchronized swimming for sea monkeys – $50,000
Pentagon to destroy $16 billion in unused ammunition — $1 billion
Scientists hope monkey gambling unlocks secrets of free will –$171,000
Rich and famous rent out their luxury pads tax free – $10 million
Studying “hangry” spouses stabbing voodoo dolls – $331,000
Promoting U.S. culture around the globe with nose flutists – $90 million

Talk about big government gone mad!

 

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What was in the Cromnibus

December 18th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

You may have heard about the US Congress passing a cromnibus bill – which is a continuing resolution (to pay the bills) bill and anything else a Representative or Senator can sneak in.

My former flatmate, Kevin Doyle, of Wexford Strategies, has published a list of some of things included in the bill:

  • Prohibits chickens from China in school lunches.
  • Prohibits funds for portrait-painting of elected officials.
  • Requires heating modernization for Kaiserstautern, Germany military base must include US coal.
  • Blocks DC recreational marijuana proposition, which was passed by referendum in Nov. 2014.
  • Clarifies that Interior Secretary may make agreements regarding long-term care of excess wild horses and burros.
  • Mandates that minimum 50% of BSEE fees be used for development of Outer Continental Shelf.
  • Clarifies that breast feeding is allowed anywhere in federal buildings.
  • Bars “federal agency monitoring of individuals’ internet use.”
  • Removes funds for placing the Sage Grouse on the Endangered Species List.
  • Bars federal contracts with inverted domestic corporations.
  • Explicitly bars IRS targeting for ideological beliefs or exercise of First Amendment rights.
  • Authorizes assistance to Syrian opposition to combat ISIL.
  • Extends the Internet Tax Freedom Act until Oct. 1, 2015.
  • Prohibits funding of salaries for the White House Director of Health Reform and Assistant for Energy and Climate Change.
  • Prohibits funds for the NSA to acquire, monitor or store electronic communications of US person under FISA.
  • Requires all US Attorneys in Task Force to combat human trafficking.
  • Prohibits funding for inspecting horse slaughter facilities for horse meat for human consumption.
  • Explicitly prohibits use of funds to support or justify use of torture by any US official.
  • Blocks the Air Force from retiring the A-10 close-air support aircraft and U-2 spy plane.
  • Prohibits funds for abortion under the federal employees health benefits program.
  • Freezes pay for the Vice President and senior political appointees.
  • Prohibits funding to require that entities bidding for federal contracts disclose campaign contributions.
  • Prohibits funding for all agencies in the bill, including the IRS, to be used for activities in contravention of the Federal Records Act, such as inappropriately destroying documents.
  • Requires Executive Orders issued during fiscal year 2015 to include a budgetary impact statement.
  • Establishes additional reporting requirements to increase transparency of the activities of agencies whose funding jurisdiction fall outside annual congressional review, including the Office of Financial Stability and the Office of Financial Research.
  • Requires that the Office of Management and Budget report on the costs to the government of Dodd-Frank financial reform.

Thank God we have a more sane system of Government. Parliament’s Standing Orders wouldn’t allow an omnibus bill like this. Only very minor amendments that have no significant policy effect can be included in an omnibus bill in NZ.

 

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Obama announces normalizing relations between the US and Cuba

December 18th, 2014 at 7:21 am by Lindsay Addie

President Obama has announced that talks are under way to normalize relations between the USA and Cuba. The Washington Post lists a summary of changes to the relationship

Reestablishing diplomatic relations
Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower Cuban people
Facilitating an expansion of travel to Cuba
Authorizing expanded sales and exports of certain goods and services from the United States to Cuba
Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba
Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely

This is a bold move by Barack Obama that if successful could help define his legacy. There is a long way to go with this though. Predictably Republicans are against the idea.

UPDATE: The White House has released a full list of the changes here.

UPDATE 2: The official White House statement in part says.

Decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba. Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, it has had little effect – today, as in 1961, Cuba is governed by the Castros and the Communist party.

We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state. We should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens we seek to help.

Statement from the Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner giving the Republican view.

Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner,” Boehner said. “There is no ‘new course’ here, only another in a long line of mindless concessions to a dictatorship that brutalizes its people and schemes with our enemies. If anything, this emboldens all state sponsors of terrorism, as they now have an even better idea of what the president meant when he once told Russian leaders he would have ‘more flexibility’ after his reelection.

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Majority of Americans think CIA harsh interrogation methods justified

December 17th, 2014 at 2:28 pm by Lindsay Addie

A Washington Post-ABC News poll asking Americans about the Senate report in CIA interrogation methods post 9/11 has some revealing conclusions.

NB: I’ve paraphrased some of the questions for reasons of brevity.

When asked if they thought the report was fair?
Fair: 36% – Unfair 47%

Did the CIA intentionally or not mislead the White House?
Intentionally mislead: 54% – Did not mislead: 33%

Was the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists torture?
Yes: 49% – No: 38%

Did the CIA’s methods produce important information?
Yes: 53% – No: 31%

Which of these statements comes closer to your own opinion: (It was wrong to release this report because it may raise the risk of terrorism by increasing anti-American sentiment) OR (It was right to release this report in order to expose what happened and prevent it in the future)?
Yes: 52% – No: 43%

Do you think there should or should not be criminal charges filed against officials who were responsible for the CIA interrogation activities?
Should: 34% – Should not: 57%

All in all, do you think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists was justified or unjustified?
Justified: 59% – Unjustified 31%

Looking ahead, do you feel that torture of suspected terrorists can often be justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified or never justified?
Often or sometimes justified: 58% – Rarely or never justified: 39%

So a majority of Americans according to the poll are happy to see some kind of rough treatment meted out to terrorist suspects. Even though they think the CIA lied to the White House. Also of particular interest is the reaction of voters across the political spectrum. This is covered here. The chart is too large to reproduce here but it shows that across many demographics except the liberal Democrats there it is accepted that use of torture in some shape or form is justified. That includes moderate/conservative Democrats.

With the events in Australia and Pakistan in recent days there is a greater opposition than ever to terrorist attacks. It is too soon to accurately assess how these events will frame the debate on terrorism and how terrorists should be treated in captivity. Has what is morally acceptable in dealing with terrorism changed especially after the Taliban slaughtered 130+ innocent children? I think it probably has.

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Terrorism is bad but let’s not forget family violence

December 16th, 2014 at 2:50 pm by Lindsay Addie

While the media attention has been focused on the events in Sydney and tragic events at the Lindt Café another tragedy has been playing out in Philadelphia.

A former US marine has allegediy murdered six members of his own family.

Police near Philadelphia were hunting a former Marine reservist who authorities say shot and killed six family members and wounded another in a Monday rampage that left dead bodies in three different homes.

A SWAT team storming of a house in Pennsburg, where Bradley William Stone, 35, was believed to be holed up, turned up nothing, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, and authorities said Monday evening that they did not know his whereabouts.

“As I stand here right now, we do not know where he is,” Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said shortly after 6 p.m.

The events that transpired makes very sad reading. What makes it more tragic is the accused’s ex-wife has been living in fear of hear life and had warned that Bradley Stone was capable of becoming extremely violent.

Speaking at an evening news conference, Ferman said the rampage began around 3:30 a.m., when Stone allegedly shot and killed Patricia Flick, the sister of his ex-wife, Nicole Stone, at her home in Souderton, also killing Flick’s husband, Aaron Flick, and her 14-year-old daughter, Nina Flick. Her 17-year-old son, Anthony Flick, was receiving treatment at a hospital in Philadelphia for a head wound.

Nicole Stone’s mother, Joanne Hill, and grandmother Patricia Hill were killed next at their home in nearby Lansdale. Investigators were alerted by a hang-up call to emergency dispatchers, Ferman said.

Then, around 5 a.m., Stone went to Nicole Stone’s apartment, located in the Harleysville section of Lower Salford Township, around 5 a.m., investigators said. Brad Stone broke in through a glass door, shot and killed Nicole Stone, and fled with their two children, the woman’s neighbors said. Authorities said Stone then delivered the two children, who were unharmed, to a neighbor in Pennsburg.

Currently the accused is still at large.

Yes terrorism offends decent people and should be eradicated but family violence like that in Philadelphia is also totally unacceptable and shouldn’t be forgotten.

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Koch a social liberal

December 16th, 2014 at 8:13 am by David Farrar

ABC News reports:

Reclusive billionaire David Koch, a powerful donor in American conservative politics, says he’s a “social liberal.”

“I’m basically a libertarian, and I’m a conservative on economic matters, and I’m a social liberal,” Koch told ABC News’ Barbara Walters during an interview for her special “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2014″ that airs at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

Koch, who supports abortion rights and gay marriage, said he isn’t concerned with candidates he supports who don’t share some of his views. He said his primary concern when choosing a candidate to support is their fiscal policies.

Koch is demonised by some of the US left as he is a major donor to fiscally conservative candidates and causes. He is also one of the world’s biggest charitable donors having given over $750 million to cancer research, the arts etc. He has also donated $185 million to MIT and $100 million to a New York hospital.

His beliefs include:

  • Repealing victimless crime laws
  • Gay marriage
  • Legal abortion
  • Stem-cell research
  • Opposes war on drugs

I agree with him on a lot of issues!

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US politics cartoons of the week: 15 December 2014

December 15th, 2014 at 9:32 am by Lindsay Addie

As usual two cartoons lampooning both sides of the political divide in USA politics.

The first makes fun of John Boehner and compares him to Moses!

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© Gary Varvel – Found at Real Clear Politics

 

The second refers to the cover of the 23rd October edition of Rolling Stone magazine and also this extremely glowing appraisal of President Obama by Paul Krugman.

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© Michael Ramirez – Found at Real Clear Politics

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US election results almost final

December 14th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

There’s just one race yet to be officially called (Arizona 2nd) but assuming the recount confirms it as a Republican gain, here’s the records broken in the 2014 mid-terms.

  • Republicans net gain in Senate of nine seats to 54 seats. Democrats 44 and Independents two.
  • 1st time Democrats have lost the Senate in a sixth year mid-term since 1918
  • Largest mid-term gain in the Senate since 1958
  • In the House the Republicans had a net gain of 12 seats to 246, with Democrats on 188
  • Largest House majority since 1928
  • Democrats under Obama have lost 75 House seats – the highest in US history
  • Democrats lost three Governor races to two Republicans and an Independent making it 31 Republicans, 18 Democrats and one Independent
  • Republicans gained control of 11 state chambers to control 69 in total, and Democrats just 30
  • Republicans control 29 state legislatures (both chambers) and Democrats just 11 – their lowest since 1860
  • Including whether they hold the Governorship, the Republicans have control of all branches of state government in 24 states, and the Democrats just seven

If the Republicans in 2016 can win the presidency and hold the Senate, they will be more dominant in US politics than at any other time in recent history.

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Will US Drone attacks now come under closer scrutiny?

December 13th, 2014 at 2:27 pm by Lindsay Addie

 

Mural in Sanna, Yemen - (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Mural in Sanna, Yemen – (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

 

With the furore over the CIA interrogation techniques during the George W Bush administration still ongoing attention is starting to shift to using US Drones to attack and kill terrorists.

Lauren Fox from the National Journal discusses the various arguments.

As Republicans prepare to take leadership over the Senate Intelligence Committee, the panel’s oversight work will shift from spending considerable resources to ensure the release of the backwards-looking torture report to a committee that incoming Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said will deliver oversight in “real time.”

“We are not going to be looking back at a decade trying to dredge up things,” Burr said about his future on the committee, just before Feinstein released her report.

Members of Congress are divided over whether the president’s highly secretive drone-strikes program needs more congressional scrutiny. Some criticize the program’s legal rationale, while others have concerns about killing combatants who may have valuable information.

One issue is that a dead terrorist suspect isn’t as good an information source as a live one.

Details about how drones are used to kill terrorists remain unknown, a fact leaders on Capitol Hill harbor concerns about. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is in line to be the next Senate Foreign Relations chairman, said it’s an area ripe for oversight.

“I have always wondered why there isn’t more concerns about how that is carried out, but I don’t think anyone would want to do that as retribution,” for the torture report’s release, Corker said. “I think people genuinely want our country to be secure, but at the same time it is pretty amazing that those kinds of decisions are made amongst such a small group of people.”

The Obama administration strongly defends the drone program. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for more information to made available by the CIA.

“We could be going down the same road all over again, but with killing instead of torturing,” says Chris Anders, senior legal counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The kinds of people that were involved in the horrors of this torture report are still around. It is hard to believe they have become better managers or more careful about remaining within the law in subsequent years.”

Fighting terrorism is always a messy business and there is a fine line between what is morally acceptable and the steps needed to actually defeat the perpetrators of terrorist acts.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released detailed data of US drone strikes between 2004 and May 2014. This article and the spreadsheet can be found here.

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The Newsroom

December 12th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Aaron Sorkin’s much-panned The Newsroom has had a fraught relationship with critics, mostly because of the tendency of the HBO drama’s many insufferable characters to repeatedly, condescendingly explain what journalism really is.

It’s a low-rated show, but the kind that certain devotees (many of them in the media) hate-watch so they can tweet their thoughts.

Season 2 of The Newsroom wasn’t too bad, but Season 1 was almost insufferable. It was ultra-preachy and was so politically skewed it wasn’t funny. Sorkin got it perfect with the West Wing – that may have been about a Democratic President, but they captured arguments on issues well. But The Newsroom was often just a platform to make one side of politics look unprincipled and stupid.

Season 2 did get better, and wasn’t bad. I’ll watch Season 3, but don’t have high hopes.

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US federal goverment spending bill details

December 11th, 2014 at 2:05 pm by Lindsay Addie

The bill will be voted on in the next day or so. If it doesn’t pass there is the risk of another US government shutdown. The Washington Post outlines what is in the bill. Their list is quite long but here are some of the more interesting parts. Unless indicated the spending provisions run until September 2015.

ABORTION: The bill once again bans using federal funding to perform most abortions; blocks the use of local and federal funding for abortions in the District of Columbia; and blocks the use of federal dollars for abortions for federal prisoners.
AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: The law is still funded, but there’s no new money for it. There’s also no new ACA-related funding for the Internal Revenue Service and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the two agencies most responsible for implementing the law. The bill also would cut the budget of the Independent Payment Advisory Board — what Republicans have called “the death panel” — by $10 million.
No extra funding is no surprise whilst the one of the GOP pet hates the IPAB gets its funding cut.
AFGHANISTAN: Congress withholds funding for the Afghan government “until certain conditions are met,” including implementing the bilateral security agreement reached with the United States.
The Afghan government hardly excels in its level of competency. Not sure why the Americans even give the idea of providing financial assistance any serious thought. They are going to continue giving money to Egypt ($US1.3 billion) with provisos.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: The agency gets $8.1 billion, down $60 million from the last fiscal year. The agency’s budget has been slashed by $2.2 billion, or 21 percent, since fiscal 2010, according to GOP aides. The cuts mean that EPA will have to reduce its staffing to the lowest levels since 1989.
This was predictable, the EPA is another of the Republicans pet hates.
DODD-FRANK: Democrats agreed to make some of the biggest changes yet to the 2010 financial regulatory reforms. In a deal sought by Republicans, the bill would reverse Dodd-Frank requirements that banks “push out” some of derivatives trading into separate entities not backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporations. But in exchange, Democrats say they secured more money for the enforcement budgets at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Probably a win-win for both parties in the Congress. The banks have been lobbying heavily for changes to the Act since its inception. The GOP may well attempt to amend Dodd-Frank in the new Congress.
IMMIGRATION: The bill only funds the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees most immigration policy, until February [2015].
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE: One of the GOP’s favorite targets will see its budget slashed by $345.6 million. The nation’s tax agency also would be banned from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.
Again no surprises here either. The Republicans are still fuming about the Obama executive order and having a go at IRS funding was always going to be included.
Both parties have made some gains in terms of their respective agendas though it looks like GOP have possibly done better in getting what they want.
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US Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques

December 10th, 2014 at 11:18 am by Lindsay Addie

As expected the release of the US Senate report on interrogation techniques used by the CIA has caused a political firestorm.

The actual report can be found here.

I’ve decided to cite two sources, one the Washington Post the other the Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post article gives a long overview of the report and provides comments from various sources. This is their initial description of the report:

An exhaustive, five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.

The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers new allegations of cruelty in a program whose severe tactics have been abundantly documented, revealing that agency medical personnel voiced alarm that waterboarding methods had deteriorated to “a series of near drownings” and that agency employees subjected detainees to “rectal rehydration” and other painful procedures that were never approved.

So what was the White House response to the report (from the Washington Post)?

In a statement from the White House, Obama said the Senate report “documents a troubling program” and “reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests.” Obama praised the CIA’s work to degrade al-Qaeda over the past 13 years, but said its interrogation program “did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners.”

Part of the CIA response (from the Washington Post):

“The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qaeda and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day,” CIA Director John Brennan, who was a senior officer at the agency when it set up the secret prisons, said in a written statement. The program “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”

The Wall Street Journal op-ed agrees with the CIA and also the minority report released by Republicans who are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

First, its claim that the CIA’s interrogation program was ineffective in producing intelligence that helped us disrupt, capture, or kill terrorists is just not accurate. The program was invaluable in three critical ways:

It led to the capture of senior al Qaeda operatives, thereby removing them from the battlefield.

It led to the disruption of terrorist plots and prevented mass casualty attacks, saving American and Allied lives.

It added enormously to what we knew about al Qaeda as an organization and therefore informed our approaches on how best to attack, thwart and degrade it.

This is a highly emotive issue that will continue to divide opinions sharply. On one hand some will claim that Feinstein is just being open about the truth, whilst others will say its all just playing politics.

 

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Endgames for the lame duck US Congress

December 9th, 2014 at 11:37 am by Lindsay Addie

The lame duck session for the US Congress is reaching its conclusion with emphasis on keeping the Federal Government funded and averting another shutdown. Ed O’Keefe from the Washington Post reports.

Negotiators were racing the clock Monday to release a more than $1 trillion spending package to keep the federal government open through the end of the fiscal year, capping the least productive congressional session in modern American history.

House and Senate leaders were reviewing the final details of the massive bill on Monday afternoon with the goal of posting the text by midnight so that the Republican-controlled House can vote as early as Wednesday morning. Failure to do so might delay plans to approve the legislation by Thursday night when current funds expire.

The bill will include funding levels for everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to the fight against Ebola to securing U.S. embassies around the world. The omnibus legislation would fund most of the government through the end of the fiscal year in September.

So what are the chances of the spending package surviving the bickering and partisan politics?

Republicans and Democrats are waiting to see what, if any, policy “riders” might be tucked into the spending bill. Pro-abortion rights lawmakers warned that some conservatives were trying to add language allowing individuals and corporations to use a “conscience clause” to deny abortion coverage as required by the Affordable Care Act. Others Democrats raised concerns that GOP lawmakers might try to block the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana possession as District residents voted to do last month. Another group is concerned about big spending cuts at the EPA or for government-funded medical research.

House Speaker John Boehner is confident that the bill will pass but the bill supporters will have to keep enough of the ideologues onside for the bill to become law. But Nancy Pelosi the House Minority Leader is apparently taking a hands off approach and isn’t encouraging her colleagues to take action one way or the other. In short she’s playing politics, this is disappointing. Does she want a shutdown so the GOP looks bad in the eyes of the voters?

Filibuster rules in the Senate are also a hot topic with Republicans after the Democrats eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations. Well after all their tub thumping and chest beating some in the GOP are having a change of heart.

 Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the rules change a “power grab” and vowed to restore the old rules, but has since backed off that statement.

Other Republican senators who once railed against changing the rules said they might now support keeping them.

“I’ve kind of gradually come to the conclusion, keep the rule the way it is. Frankly, even with the old rule, the vast majority of presidential nominees went through,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the longest serving GOP senator, said last week.

This all sounds hypocritical. As soon as the boots on the other foot the Republicans sell out on their principals.

The entertainment of the week will probably be Dr Jonathan Gruber’s appearance before  a House panel answering questions on his comments about the implementation of Obamacare. So the end is nigh for what O’Keefe considers to be the most unproductive congressional session in modern US history. No wonder the voters are cynical about goings on in Washington DC.

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US politics cartoons of the week: 8 December 2014

December 8th, 2014 at 4:12 pm by Lindsay Addie

Two this week, one making fun of each side of the political spectrum.

The first one questions the sanity of those in the GOP who want to shutdown the US federal government again.

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© Andy Marlette, found at Real Clear Politics

 

The second is about the huge increase in public debt since 2008 featuring an oblivious Barack Obama.

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© Gary Varvel, found at Real Clear Politics

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Congress Declares War on Obama. The end of his Presidency?

December 7th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

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The gum-chewing celebrity stand-in for President is under serious threat as, in breaking news 5/12 NZ time (Associated Press and Fox), the US Congress – the real power behind the ‘throne’ – has just voted down Obama’s Executive Order immigration initiative to vote amnesty to five million illegal immigrants. (Incidentally, Obama won his second term by about five million votes; so this might be viewed by some as a cynical Democrat ‘buy-up’ of an electoral buffer [ten million people] against the other side, a bit like the electoral implications of Sir Robert Muldoon’s universal superannuation initiative, that it could be argued significantly expanded the National party voter base).

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Capitol Hill (or “The Hill”) that houses the US Senate (right) and the House of Representatives (“the House”) (left) sometimes also referred to (confusingly) as “the Congress.”

The bicameral US Congress (House of Representatives & Senate) is the real power in America, among several checks and balances.  They vote the money and a president must have their support to go to war (remember all that pressure from Churchill to Roosevelt to enter WWII, and Roosevelt needing to navigate Congressional sentiment and feeling and using them as his effective UK filibuster?).

Presidents Reagan and Bush both used Executive Orders, but to enact already passed laws; Lincoln used the rare power under emergency in time of civil war.  Obama has used it simply to circumvent the democratic process in America to get what he wants, a policy he cannot get sufficient votes for in the House. Obama has ‘made law’ on the hoof without reference to, indeed in the face of direct opposition from, the democratically elected political representatives.  He has done this by appealing to some ‘higher morality’ for the ‘righteousness’ of his party political and factional ideology, the pathological arrogance of a lot of Left political thinking. That is an anti-democratic outrage.

Back in Democracy-land (Govt of the People by the People) the elected House voted 219-197 to declare Obama’s immigration actions “null and void and without legal effect.”   Obama himself described his own potential action as “unlawful” before doing it. 22 times he said that but he’s weasel-worded a 180 degree ‘switch-a-rooney’ to now say it’s ok; brought in his lawyers. So, government by selective lawyers. At first the ‘constitutional professor’ (Obama) said it would be illegal and unconstitutional to take the action he now has, but has since ‘learned’ how wider the powers of the President actually are.  Gee, how convenient. Government by research and autocracy. No wonder he’s attracting the epithets “Emperor” and “King.”

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So, this is no longer about Immigration, but the Constitution and Democracy.  Like gun laws, you don’t fight Americans on C and D.  Obama will lose and his ‘presidency’ may unravel. But it gets more serious than that, because this stand-off is potentially tied to the Budget.  The Constitutional debt ceiling (already historically lifted by Obama amidst acrimonious factional debate and stonewalling) expires on 11 Dec. 2014. Current government funding will expire. The House will be disinclined to give the President his way.  It could potentially be a bleak Christmas for government workers.

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Moreover, 17 States led by Texas have voted independently to sue the President over the Constitutional legalities of what he is doing (see the States list at the bottom of this post).  That is serious disunity in the Union.  Remember, the breakup of the Union and civil war occurred previously over political policy disagreements (slavery, property rights, State autonomy vs Federal authority, transference, among other complex issues).

A severe issue is the political mismanagement of this.  Obama seems oblivious to the budgetary and political consequences of his immigration autocracy, and that implications would inevitably flow like falling dominoes for contravening the Constitution and slapping Congress in the face. Did he not understand that of course the majority Republican House would want to leverage the Budget issues against his unprecedented contempt over immigration policy?  Wakeup Mr President; do you not understand how politics works?

The 113th Senate must also pass this House “null and void” bill (and may not); the White House has already said it will veto the House bill (to block the immigration initiative).  So, this is war.

The difficulty for many Republicans, is the backwash against them if they stonewall the government flow of money, as it hits many Americans in the pocket (government workers).  So, short-term pain for long-term Constitutional and Democracy principal and politics? It’s a risk. Some Repub.s want to delay the Immigration fight until 2015 (when there will be both a Republican House and Republican Senate majority).  Makes sense.

[Note: Despite the recent 2014 mid-term elections during the 113th Congress which gave the Republicans a majority in both wings of Congress, the 114th Congress does not ‘meet’ in Washington DC until 3 January 2015. Until then, the 113th Congress continues, a bit like our Parliaments, until they are sworn in. (Recall the constitutional crisis over currency devaluation between the outgoing Muldoon administration and the incoming Lange 4th Labour government? [the 40th-41st NZ parliaments]).

My pick is the House bill will not get Senate support, but it will sound a warning to the Obama presidency that will galvanise the 17 States pursuing legal suits against him over the Constitution.  Then in early 2015, the Republicans will rally and engage their President in an almighty Constitutional scrap (Senate & House) over their system of government. It will be a challenge for the 2016 presidential runners, and surely, will play trump cards to the Republican nominees, presenting hustings themes of the highest order to American minds (Constitution, Democracy, Federal Power, Monarchy vs Presidents,  etc. You can hear the booming stump speeches already). Hillary Clinton, if selected, will be drowned out in the greater debate.

The federal lawsuit against President Obama, includes: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

~ John Stringer.

 

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Rollling Stone and the University of Virginia rape case

December 6th, 2014 at 3:01 pm by Lindsay Addie

Allegations published in Rolling Stone magazine that a pack rape occurred on campus have started to fall apart. This has left the magazine having to backtrack.

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence. 

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

It is very hard not to reach the conclusion that the original story was poorly researched bearing in mind the very serious nature of the allegations. It also appears that fair and balanced reporting didn’t occur. Rolling Stone should have made an effort to cover the alleged perpetrators side of the story.

If they haven’t done so already Rolling Stone may need to lawyer up very soon.

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Is President Obama the worst President since WW 2 – part 1?

December 6th, 2014 at 4:00 am by kiwi in america

The inestimable Professor Larry Sabato of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia has produced a most fascinating graph comparing the combined electoral fortunes in Senate, House, Gubernatorial and State Legislature elections for the party of each President since World War Two. After two disastrous mid term elections (2010 and 2014), President Obama is on track to post the worst results of any President since WW 2.

http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/what-a-drag/

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“Some presidents did fairly well by their parties, relatively speaking. Truman’s nearly eight years in office came at the end of an extraordinarily long period of Democratic control (1932-1952), yet his losses — while serious — were modest compared to many of his successors.

Eisenhower left the GOP in much worse shape when he left office in 1961, with a net loss of 14 governors, 12 senators, 48 House members, and a whopping 843 state legislators. Republicans wouldn’t recover much of this ground until Reagan.

Kennedy’s Democrats were in solid shape in all categories during his brief tenure, but despite a landslide with lengthy coattails for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Democrats had suffered major erosion in federal and state positions by 1968, notably losing 15 net governorships and 437 state legislative seats.

The Nixon-Ford years, capped by the Watergate scandal and Ford’s pardon of Nixon, left an overall record that mimicked Eisenhower’s in some ways, though the GOP was left at an even lower ebb once Ford exited the White House in 1977. The shell-shocked Republicans were at rock bottom in the number of governorships, House seats, state legislative seats, and state legislative chambers.

Of all modern presidents, Reagan could boast the best record. In fact, he is the only president to achieve a gain in any category — a slight net addition of six Republican state legislators from 1980 to 1988. (There are almost 7,400 state legislators, so this is a very modest advance, but a unique one all the same.) Still, Reagan left the GOP in a substantially weaker minority status in both the U.S. Senate and House.

Democrats were delirious when Bill Clinton restored them to power in 1992, a euphoria that lasted until his unpopularity pushed both houses of Congress to Republican control two years later. Despite a marginal improvement in Democratic fortunes during the rest of Clinton’s administration, the party registered a net loss of 11 governorships, seven Senate seats, 45 House seats, 524 state legislative berths, and 18 state legislative chambers.

George W. Bush’s long-term losses were more modest. Nonetheless, with Bush’s sharp drop in job approval because of his handling of the Iraq War and Katrina (plus GOP congressional scandals), Democrats regained full control of Congress in 2006, and in 2008 secured outright majorities in 60 of the states’ 98 legislative chambers (excluding Nebraska’s nonpartisan unicameral body).

However, it is Barack Obama who holds the modern record for overall losses, at least through 2014. President Obama has presided over two devastating midterms for his party. From 2008 to the present, Democrats in the Obama era have racked up net forfeitures of 11 governorships, 13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, 913 state legislative seats, and 30 state legislative chambers. In the latter three categories, Obama has doubled (or more) the average two-term presidential loss from Truman through Bush.”

 

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Chris Christie’s presidential credentials

December 5th, 2014 at 11:17 am by Lindsay Addie

Chris Christie has been touted as a potential strong contender for the presidency in the 2016 US elections for quite a while now. He has significant gubernatorial experience in New Jersey which could be important as having such high level executive experience in the US can be seen as a critical factor by the voters. Now New Jersey isn’t normally a GOP leaning state so Christie has had to work with Democrats, potentially a good marketing pitch with the voters in a currently bitterly partisan Washington DC.

Jennifer Rubin in her Right Turn blog at the Washington Post has assessed his chances.

Christie says of the Keystone XL pipeline, “Our leaders’ comments on this topic should not be marked by parochialism, but by principles.  And the principles should be enhancing the economic competitiveness of North America, treating allies with respect and fair consideration, and creating jobs, growth and opportunity for all.  Approving Keystone would actually drive down the price of oil and help consumers in all North American countries. It should be done today.  It is supported by majorities in both the House and the Senate.” Nothing flashy or new there. And that is telling.

If Christie is interested in running he will need to be prepared to talk about much more difficult and controversial matters. There is a danger here for him that he falls into the Hillary Clinton trap — relying on who he is rather than on what he wants to do for the country.

Rubin’s point is very valid, Christie has got to be more definite on his positions on key issues. So what are these issues?

Would he break the sequester limits to fund defense?
What sort of entitlement reform would he support? Would he raise the cap on earnings?
What is his game plan for defeating the Islamic State?
Does he have an Obamacare alternative?
On taxes, is he of the pro-growth only (i.e. lowering rates) school of reform or is he interested in pursuing middle-class tax relief with an expanded tax credit?
How strenuously does Christie want to fight Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and the rest of the Obama domestic policy residue?

Now of course these are policy issues that apply to all the GOP candidates but Christie will have to eventually start talking in specifics on these key issues. Rubin goes on to comment on why Christie wants to be the President and points out it is probably going to be a crowded field on the GOP side. So there are concerns that still remain.

So far most MSM coverage about Christie have focused on him personally — his demeanor and the bridge scandal. Conservative activists meanwhile worry he is too liberal. The bigger concern for his supporters should be that he does not as yet have a rationale for his presidency. When he is “on” he is one of the most compelling and amusing politicians on the national stage. His refusal to spout points and his delight in taking on liberal power brokers (teachers’ unions) are endearing. He needs to tell voters it is not all about him, but about what he can do for them.

He has to show he has the depth of knowledge and experience to be the next President of the United States.

And about that temperament issue: Even if voters are confident he did not mislead the public on the bridge scandal and do not think he is a “bully,” Christie needs to be aware that the public is not so much angry as exhausted and despondent. They don’t think government works and they are tired of everyone yelling at each other. Voters want calm, competence and conviviality from elected leaders.

Personally I’m not currently convinced he’s the right candidate for the presidency. Also many in the GOP won’t forget easily how he praised Obama during the 2012 election campaign. It is also yet to be seen if he can pull the conservative Republicans along with him were he to be the nominee. McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012 had the same problem.

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Dotcom will help Hillary get elected!

December 3rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom says he will be “Hillary’s worst nightmare” as he revealed plans for a US version of the Internet Party.

Dotcom, who is fighting extradition to the US where he is wanted on piracy charges took to Twitter today to announce the new political movement.

“The Internet Party is coming to the United States in 2015. Stay tuned for our celebrity founders from the music, film and Internet industry,” Dotcom posted.

Well the major impact of the Internet Party and Dotcom on the NZ election was to get the man he hates, John Key, re-elected Prime Minister with an increased number of MPs. So on that basis, Dotcom campaigning against Hillary Clinton, should secure her the presidency.

Minutes later he clarified that his role in the party would be limited.

“The Internet Party US will be well funded and run by American citizens. I will help with Public Relations ;-)”.

I think he should do a speaking tour in the US, to help them.

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US politics cartoon of the week: 1.12.14

December 1st, 2014 at 8:51 pm by Lindsay Addie

This one features John Kerry the US Secretary of State and the endless talks with Iran over their nuclear program.

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Cartoon by Lisa Benson. Found at Real Clear Politics.

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US Supreme Court to hear internet freedom of speech case

December 1st, 2014 at 11:45 am by Lindsay Addie

SCOTUS is going to be hearing Elonis v U.S. This case will require the justices to define what the limits of freedom of speech are when using the internet in the USA.

The Wall Street Journal explains the details of the case in question.

The court said it would consider an appeal from a Pennsylvania man convicted of making threats on Facebook against his estranged wife, law enforcement and local elementary schools.

After his wife obtained a protection-from-abuse order, defendant Anthony Elonis took to Facebook and wrote on his page, “Fold up your PFA and put it in your pocket Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?”

In another post, Mr. Elonis wrote, “Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.” And after an FBI agent visited his residence, Mr. Elonis said that law-enforcement officers should bring an explosives expert on their next visit, “Cause little did y’all know, I was strapped wit’ a bomb.”

Note that under US Federal law companies such as Facebook aren’t liable for comments posted by users. Facebook according to the Wall Street Journal though is naturally following the case closely.

However, in its published “community standards,” Facebook says that “we remove content and may escalate to law enforcement when we perceive a genuine risk of physical harm or a direct threat to public safety. You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence.”

At the very least the statements posted on Facebook by Elonis were extremely foolish. SCOTUS is expected to rule on the case in June 2015.

[UPDATE 12.59pm] There is additional reporting on the background of the case here that gives also gives background about the issue of what is known as a ‘true threat’.

The last time the high court scrutinized the “true threat” doctrine was in 2003, when it found that a Virginia law banning cross burning was unconstitutional because a “true threat” requires the speaker to communicate an intent to commit violence. (Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter.) In that case, the court defined true threats as “statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”

So the key question may well be for SCOTUS is what is the relationship between a ‘true threat’ and modern technology (ie. the internet)?

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US mid-term elections poll data and 2016 presidential election

November 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am by Lindsay Addie

Exit poll data

Chris Cillizza over at the Washington Post has been crunching the nationwide exit poll data post the 2014 midterm elections. He’s come up with nine numbers that were important in the mid-terms. The underlying issues may also influence what happens in the 2016 presidential race.

Four. That’s the margin by which Democrats beat Republicans among women nationwide in the vote for the House. That’s a significant decline from President Obama’s winning margins among women (11 in 2012, 13 in 2008), though it’s an improvement from the 2010 midterms, when Democrats lost the women’s vote by a point. Still, the massive focus of Democratic candidates across the country on the Republican Party’s supposed “war on women” clearly didn’t persuade large numbers of female voters to abandon the GOP.

The GOP picked candidates such as Joni Ernst in the Iowa Senate race to appeal more to women voters. But if Hillary Clinton is the nominee this is a tough demographic for the Republicans. The ‘war on women’ is go nowhere issue now though, its been done to death.

Sixty-two. That’s the percentage of the vote for Democrats among those who said they “never” attend any sort of religious services; Republicans won just 36 percent among that group. Compare that with the 18-point edge Republicans enjoyed over Democrats among those who go to some sort of religious service weekly and you see that one’s religiosity continues to be among the most reliable predictors of how they will vote.

No surprises here with a clear divide on how Democrats and Republicans vote.

Fifty-four.  A majority of Americans who went to the polls Nov. 4 believe that the “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals,” while just 41 percent think “the government should do more to solve problems.”

This is a big change from early in the Obama presidency. Republicans will be licking their lips looking ahead of the 2016 election. But can they find a presidential nominee savvy enough to sell this to the voters?

Seventy-eight. How people feel about their government is this number, which represents the percentage of people who say you can only “sometimes” (60 percent) or “never” (18 percent) trust Washington “to do what is right.” That’s stunning. The number is partly attributable to a Republican-flavored electorate and the natural suspicion among many within the GOP of the federal government — particularly when it’s run by a Democratic president.  

This is consistent with the previous statistic.

Forty-eight. That’s the percentage of people who said same-sex marriage should be legal in their state, the same number that said it should be illegal.

Same-sex marriage may well be an influence on some races state-by-state in 2016.

Seventy-five. Three-quarters of the 2014 electorate was white (and they voted for Republicans by 22 points) on Nov. 4. That might seem like great news for Republicans. It’s not. Whites made up 77 percent of the 2010 electorate — and the decline in whites as a percentage of the overall electorate is happening in presidential cycles, too.

The Democrats and Republicans will want to do better with this demographic in 2016.

Thirty-eight. The percentage of the white vote that Democratic candidates won nationwide. That’s the same percentage Democrats got among white voters in the 2010 midterms and virtually equal to the 39 percent Obama won in the 2012 election. That’s a trend — and a downward one for Democrats.

Thirty-six. That’s the percentage of the Hispanic vote that Republicans won Nov. 4, an improvement on the 34 percent they won in 2010 and a major step up from the 27 percent that Mitt Romney took in 2012. It was the strongest showing for Republicans among Hispanic voters since Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in the 2004 election.

The Democrats will be a bit concerned how well they relating to the white vote. The Hispanic vote is an interesting one with the immigration debate currently going on. If the GOP want to continue to make ground with this important demographic they will need to frame their policy options carefully and not alienate the Hispanic voters.

Fifty-three. A majority of voters who identified as “moderates” (four in every 10 voters) cast ballots for Democrats. Republicans got 45 percent of the moderate vote. That’s a good reminder that a) “moderate” does not equal “independent” (Republicans won “independents” by 12 points) and b) this election was not decided by “the middle.” It was decided by the Republican base or, put another way, the no-show of the Democratic base.

It is a no-brainer getting moderates and independents motivated to vote. Republicans got the vote out better than Democrats in 2014. The other key demographic not mentioned here are the millennials, this was covered in a previous post.

Quinnipiac presidential election poll

Quinnipiac conducted a poll that assumes Hillary Clinton is the nominee for the Democrats and matched her up against possible GOP contenders.

Romney 45 (%) – Clinton 44.

Clinton 43 – Christie 42

Clinton 46 – Paul 41

Clinton 46 – Huckabee 41

Clinton 46 – Jeb Bush 41

Clinton 46 – Ryan 42

Clinton 48 – Cruz 37.

It is very early days so these numbers will change.

 

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