Let’s talk about 2016! (Democratic primary)

I know, I know, the 2014 candidates are still in full swing, and then the 2015 municipal campaign (including a very exciting open Mayor’s race) will follow. But the 2016 election will soon be all-consuming in the world of politics, and I think a little crash-course in the candidates would be worthwhile, so one could simply jump right in the middle of the it all when the campaign inevitably becomes a tad less ambiguous.

The 2016 frontrunners begin and end with Hillary Clinton. Honestly, I am not really quite sure how I should describe her title anymore, given that she has had so many important ones. Clinton served as the First Lady of Arkansas from both 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992, while her husband Bill Clinton served as Governor. She then followed him to the White House, and served as First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001. 17 days before the end of her husband’s Presidency, she began serving as a member of the US Senate, a position she held until 2009. At that point, she became the Secretary of State for four years, all of President Obama’s first term. Oh yeah, and she ran for President in 2008, coming astoundingly close to besting Obama in the Democratic primary that year. In fact, Clinton garnered more than 250,000 more votes than Obama.

Clinton has not officially announced anything pertaining to her Presidential ambitions, though she has said that she will likely make a decision by the end of the year. That being said, most insider-sources have agreed that she will run. A well-organized PAC, “Ready for Hillary,” has already been created, laying the groundwork for the expected run. However, the PAC is not merely run by overzealous supporters. Some of the Clinton family’s biggest political supporters, including James Carville and Harold Ickes, have signed on at the ground-level of this organization. George Soros, arguably the most prolific Democratic benefactor, has also donated heavily to the group. Closer to home, Amber and Steve Mostyn, possibly the biggest Democratic donors in Texas, have also underwritten the group. But the enthusiasm is not merely confined to activists and donors. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has preemptively endorsed Clinton for 2016, as has former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA). Tauscher is also noteworthy because she was one of Clinton’s top deputies in the State Department, serving as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, as well as the Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense.

I am confident that Clinton will run inherently because of the establishment support that has already surrounded her. As many will recall from last autumn, as the “Will Wendy Davis run for Governor?” question rung louder and louder, I was sold on her candidacy the instant that Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa began openly advocating for it. Politicians such as McCaskill would not preemptively endorse if there was actually a chance Clinton would not run. Politics does not work on wishful thinking like that.

Accordingly, it just makes for fatuous conversation at this point to debate whether or not Clinton will run. She’s in, and the polls show her squarely in the lead. For the Democratic primary in particular, polling shows Clinton simply eviscerating the competition. It’s not even a contest, more like the United States vs. Grenada. But, to be fair, none of the other candidates have gotten off the ground yet, or even really announced for that matter.

Chief among the other opponents (pretenders to the throne?) is Joe Biden, the Vice-President since 2009 and previously a six term Senator. Biden, who ran for President but performed disappointingly in 2008, still wants to be President. For his part, though, Biden has been significantly less successful in attracting donors and institutional support. Biden’s ace-in-the-hole, however, is that he has the ear of President Obama, who for his part praised Biden recently, though stopped far short of a full-blown endorsement.

A third likely candidate is Martin O’Malley, the Governor of Maryland. An outspoken liberal, he recently made headlines by criticizing the President for being too heartless on the unaccompanied minors at the border issue. Many will remember that O’Malley was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Johnson-Richards-Rayburn dinner in Houston, which I attended.

A fourth possible candidate is Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York. Cuomo is a social liberal but its quite centrist/pragmatic on fiscal affairs. This has caused him to draw the ire of the left, though Cuomo has unequivocally stated that he would not run against Clinton. Thus, I consider him an unlikely candidate.

So who would run against Clinton? Besides Biden, mostly ideologues on the left (such as O’Malley) or in the center.

Among the liberals would be Howard Dean, the former Governor of Vermont and Chairman of the DNC. The name may strike some as a shock, but Dean has openly flirted with the idea. “Never say never,” he recently said of the idea.

A far more skillful candidate than Dean that would appeal to the same base, however, is Elizabeth Warren, a Senator from Massachusetts. Warren has plainly said that she won’t run, but plenty of liberal figures have rallied to her side nonetheless. The New Republic called her “Clinton’s worst nightmare.” The New York Post even ran a barnbusting story about Obama secretly backing Warren over Clinton; it’s legitimacy is dubious at best. Still, this didn’t stop slightly-more reputable sources such as Fox News from repeating the allegations.

Far more likely, however, is a challenge from a pseudo-socialist such as Bernie Sanders, a Senator from Vermont. Sanders, who isn’t even technically a Democrat but an “Independent Socialist” who merely caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, would be quite the longshot to win (primary or general) but could have the effect of pulling the party to the left. The New Republic and The Nation, respectively, make that point quite well. Sanders, for his part, told Salon that he was truly interested in running for President but stopped short of any particulars.

The moderates’ best messenger, I’ve always thought, is Brian Schweitzer, the former Governor of Montana. Schweitzer is a strange mix of politician. As Ezra Klein noted (back when he was still at the Post) at the start of this year, he is the Democratic anti-Obama, castigating the President at every turn. However, many of his criticism are not really from the right/center. MSNBC fills in some of the details: while he is broadly pro-gas and pro-gun, he has libertarian viewpoints on programs such as the NSA and the Patriot Act. Furthermore, he is not shy about how much he hates Obamacare, but not for the reasons you think. Much like myself, he believes in a single-payer system. However, Time Magazine notes that Schweitzer may have sunk his chances by making some off-color comments recently. I’d say he sunk his chances when he dared to criticize Obama, President of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the 50 States and Protector of the Realm (this is a Game of Thrones joke).

Among more-usual moderates, Joe Manchin‘s –a Senator from West Virginia– name pops up. The National Journal has the full story on that, noting that a spokesperson simply told a hometown paper that “Senator Manchin is leaving all his options open for 2016, and will continue to look for the best way to bring common sense to Washington.” Manchin opposes both Obamcare and single-payer, and he famously put a bullet through a printed copy of Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal in a campaign video.

Last, but certainly not least, is Jim Webb, a former Senator from Virginia. Politico first reported that one. When asked point-blank on if he wished to run in 2016, he retorted with a laconic “I’m not going to say one way or another.” Webb, more than being a garden variety moderate, is a centre-left liberal who is a super-hawk on the deficit and the national debt.

Personally, I will probably support Clinton, but I truly wish for a vivid and competitive primary fight to ensue. This is not a knock on Clinton, merely a point that I do not think anyone should have a free pass. Furthermore, I think it actually strengthens candidates if they go through a primary fight, because it exposes their weaknesses and allows them to improve on their weaknesses. Take State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) as an example. Many will recall that when his primary opponent, Damian LaCroix, first announced his candidacy, I applauded the contested primary. And yet, I (as well as the entire Texpatriate Editorial Board) strongly supported Whitmire in his re-election. Similarly, I think that Clinton could only become a better candidate by facing opposition from both her left and her right.

Among the other candidates, the only one I am truly enamored with is Schweitzer. Yes, he has a bit of an unpredictable mouth on him, but I admire a politician who says what he thinks, even if I disagree or am offended by something that is said once every blue moon. I consider it far superior to a guarded robot who never says anything of consequence.

Assorted Immigration Thoughts

I couple of days ago, I opined on the crisis of unaccompanied minors at the border. Since then, a number of updates have transpired, which I feel are compelling enough to discuss one by one. First and foremost, President Barack Obama recently concluded a two day visit to Texas (Dallas and Austin, respectively). Governor Rick Perry originally tried to snub Obama by refusing to meet him on the tarmac of DFW when Air Force One arrived, prompting a little brouhaha of its own (for what it’s worth, Perry later acquiesced and met him on the tarmc).

Perry theoretically blew off Obama at first because he so desperately wished to discuss the situation along the border. The two held a brief meeting, where they sparred over broad platitudes but avoided specific details. The New York Times has a longer article on that topic, if you want to read a few hundred words on the matter. Perry, for his part, joined forces with Sean Hannity and began patrolling the border in a boat with a built in machine gun. Call me old fashioned, but I had always thought that we spend much of the 20th century tearing down militarized borders. Perhaps we should not spend the 21st propping them back up on our margins.

Obama, for his part, attended a few fundraisers, BBQ joints and gave a speech on the economy in Austin. UDems from UT, of which I was formerly a member, were featured prominently in the audience of the speech, pictured behind the President. I’ve attached a picture of the event, with the people I know circled in red. If you know them too, write on their Facebook walls to congratulate them or whatever the kids do nowadays. Something with the Instagram?

POTUS

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Castro confirmed by the US Senate

The San Antonio Express-News reports that Julian Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, has been confirmed by the US Senate to serve as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The Senate vote was overwhelming, 71-26, and Castro will take office upon his resignation from the Mayorship, which he has held since 2009. I wrote extensively on this topic back in May when President Barack Obama first nominated Castro for the post, and suffice it to say I was not really a fan of the move. But more on this later.

First things first, the obvious question is who will be the next Mayor of San Antonio? The City Charter holds that the Mayor Pro Tem, currently Councilmember Cris Medina, would immediately become Acting Mayor in the case of the Mayor’s death, resignation or removal from office. However, in San Antonio, the Council would then choose a new permanent Mayor from amongst its ranks until the next regularly scheduled election, which is in May 2015. A number of Councilmembers have expressed interest in the appointment, and a couple outside actors –namely State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-Bexar County)– have also announced their tentative candidacies. I am not very well-versed in any of the inside politics of San Antonio, so I cannot offer any truly educated predictions about what will happen. Just expect fireworks.

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Unaccompanied Minors

First things first, there are a few items in need of stipulation. Over 50,000 unaccompanied young people have illegally crossed the US-Mexico border, for a multitude of reasons. While a key rationale surely has been a humanitarian crisis throughout Central America (where the migrants have originated therefrom), and it is worth noting that many of these migrants have sought out asylum in other nations such as Mexico, part of the problem has been exacerbated by lenient deportation rules for those who illegally come to this country as minor children.

Second, and this stipulation is probably the most significant, my own personal philosophy on these matters is to welcome these children into this country with open arms. Asylum seekers should always be welcomed in this country, particularly those who strive out to seek a better life. As I have said many times in the past, I believe in generally reforming the immigration system to provide for open borders. When you look at actual science –and not the right-wing conspiracy theories– one will see that the civilized world is facing an unparalleled demographic disaster. The “Greying of Europe” or the “Greying of Japan” is threatening to tear those regions apart at the seams as the nations face the prospect of a rapidly declining population. The only reason that the United States does not face the same grim fate is because of healthy and vivid immigration. Furthermore, because of an awesome thing called “the Melting Pot,” our immigrants are largely assimilated into the culture after one generation, and their children are full-fledged American citizens. Heck, one of them could even become President.

With all this in mind, I find myself walking a very narrow line on this issue. On one hand, I have been very disappointed by President Barack Obama’s response to this issue. On the other, I hate myself for seemingly agreeing with such reactionaries on this issue as Governor Rick Perry. To be perfectly clear, I’ve come to the same conclusion as Perry –that Obama has screwed up– for a very different reason.

The Austin American-Statesman highlights some background on the spat between Obama and Perry. Later this week, Obama will visit Texas. In a lengthy statement released to the press, Perry noted that he would not give a “quick handshake on the tarmac” to the President, which he stated would “not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.” As an alternative, he gave a suggestion for Obama and him to have a heart-to-heart on serious solutions to the matter.

Perry’s points are very valid, but they are not much use given his insincere alternative. If you actually think that Perry wishes to foster a collaborative and productive conversation with Obama, given Perry’s inane hatred and presidential aspirations, I would like to sublet my ocean-front apartment in Austin to you! A wolf in sheep’s clothing, indeed.

The valid points, however, deserve repeating. As The Dallas Morning News reports, when Obama comes in town, he will attend fundraisers in Austin and Dallas, but will not visit the border. Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX), a denizen of Laredo who represents much of the border, berated Obama for his aloofness and unfavorably compared him to former President George W. Bush.

“I hope that this doesn’t become President Obama’s Katrina moment,” Cuellar said, referring to the infamous incident in 2005, when Bush merely flew over a flooded and desperate New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, rather than coming to help.

In a bipartisan effort by Texans of all stripes, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) joined in on the critiques of Obama. “The problem speaks for itself when the president, who would prefer to hang out with campaign donors and other political supporters, would decide not to have any interaction with those that are directly affected by his failed policies,” Cornyn said.

Make no mistake, Obama has seriously erred in not taking a decisive stand on this issue. Coming to that conclusion is not necessarily a Democratic or a Republican position. It is merely the acceptance of a reality on the ground. Doing nothing earns you no accolades from the left or the right.

In re Bergdahl

Let me run through the facts of the situation, then do some rudimentary analysis. On the last day of June in 2009, a US Army Sergeant named Bowe Bergdahl was abducted off a military base where he was serving in Afghanistan (Editor’s note: This much is corroborated by the US Department of Defense, though there are others who dispute the military’s account). The Taliban had taken him as a Prisoner of War and held him indefinitely. Over the next five years, Bergdahl was held prisoner by the Taliban in deplorable conditions, the details of which have still yet to fully be released to the public. He attempted to escape his captors thrice, but always to no avail; he was dragged back to his prison.

A few days ago, Bergdahl was released by the Taliban in exchange for five of their especially heinous prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The five Taliban prisoners –called the “worst of the worst”– have been transferred into Qatari custody, where they will remain for at least a year. After that time, I presume they will be returned to Afghanistan. Since President Barack Obama’s administration personally negotiated for this prisoner-swap, the deal resulted in all of the vitriolic hatred one would expect from Republicans and conservatives. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican nominee for President in 2008, alleged these prisoners were “responsible for 9/11” and that Obama had come perilously close to treason. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a prominent Republican on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, has asked for a Congressional investigation.

Click here to read more!

Secretary Castro?

The New York Times reports that Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, one of the Democrats’ biggest rising hopes for the future of the State, is President Barack Obama’s pick as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The incumbent Secretary, Shaun Donovan, looks to be the next Budget director (the incumbent budget director, meanwhile, has been tapped as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services). The reshuffling is important because Castro is not term limited out of office, as Mayor of San Antonio for another three years. Additionally, he reportedly declined an offer to become Secretary of Transportation.

Castro received the obsequious adulation one would expect from liberal lemmings upon hearing this news. I, of course, wish the best for Castro and honestly believe that he would make a very good HUD Secretary, but I lament the long term implications of such a change. However, first things first, San Antonio will have to choose a new Mayor. The Rivard Report notes that the San Antonio City Council must choose themselves who Castro’s successor will be. Likely a member of the City Council her or himself, but plausibly someone else as well. This successor will serve out of the remainder of Castro’s term, about a year.

Click here to read my take on this move by Castro!

On Net Neutrality

POLITICO reports that the FCC commissioners have approved a controversial new plan that eviscerates the principle of net neutrality for websites and internet service providers. Net neutrality is the long-honored belief that the internet should not have a “fast lane,” that is to say that service providers should not be able to slow down service for a specific person or website. To premise is actually quite simple, as a completely deregulated internet would surely cause fasting internet for those who could pay more. This would obviously stifle innovation and hamper one of the best things of the internet: its inherent equality.

Like so many other items, when President Obama was first running for office, he was a vociferous supporter of net neutrality. Now that he is in office, of course, this sentiment has been defenestrated, so to speak. The FCC is guided by five commissioners, all of which were nominated by Obama. Of those, three are partisan Democrats and two are Republicans. The final vote in favor of the new rules gutting net neutrality was 3-2, you guessed it, along partisan lines. However, Republican opposition was due far more to a proposal to classifying broadband services as a utility, which has great implications for the overarching regulations.

Click here to see who supports Net Neutrality!

Castro vs. Patrick

This evening, the Texas Tribune streamed a Univision debate between State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the likely Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor, and Mayor Julian Castro (D-San Antonio), seen as a future Democratic candidate for high office. The debate, moderated by the Tribune’s Evan Smith, centered around immigration policy. It was sparked a few weeks ago, after a series of confrontational tweets on the parts of Patrick and Castro.

As some have already commented, the debate quickly focused upon political disputes and not too many issues of substance. Much to Castro’s chagrin, Patrick was also successful in infusing his favorite subject –abortion– into the mix. However, overall, the debate saw Castro figuratively wiping the floor with Patrick. Frankly, it was a beautiful sight, considering how long it has been since I have seen a Democrat do well in a debate. I attribute this success in equal parts to Castro, Patrick and the organizers of this debate. Most notably, the format allowed for the candidates to swiftly respond to each others’ points. All too often, the simple and elegant grace of the Lincoln-Douglas debate has been replaced by an ugly abhorrence consisting of sound bite after sound bite. Fortunately, the format of tonight’s debate allowed for Castro to call out Patrick on his –admittedly copious– taradiddles.

Please click here to read my full analysis!

Civil Affairs: Facts

CIVIL AFFAIRS

When is a lie a lie and when is it a political conviction made in good faith? Recent flare ups in Washington and the Texas gubernatorial election show that sometimes the two are interchangeable. Unfortunately, our political system has grown to accept its participants’ fibs, sometimes with strange results.

For example, about two weeks ago, the popular crafts chain store Hobby Lobby was in the news after its suit against the federal government reached the Supreme Court. The store was arguing against a provision in the Affordable Care Act, known by some as Obamacare, that requires employers to provide free or reduced-cost contraception to their employees. Citing religious liberty, the owners of the privately held corporation refused to do this, which triggered the lawsuit.

At first glance, a suit such as this, about corporate personhood and religious liberty, would appear to be a good-faith dispute made over legitimate political convictions. The problem with this is that Hobby Lobby does not actually cite categorical opposition to contraception as the basis for its lawsuit. Instead, it cites a belief that many forms of contraception, including some pills and intrauterine devices, are tantamount to abortion. Scientifically speaking, this is simply not true, as no evidence exists that indicates these methods end a pregnancy after fertilization. In fact, most evidence decisively shows that IUDs — or the other birth control methods Hobby Lobby cited, such as Plan B — are contraceptives and not abortifacients.

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF THIS COLUMN AT THE DAILY TEXAN!

Fifth Circuit upholds HB2

The Texas Tribune reports that HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill passed last year and famously filibustered by Wendy Davis, has been upheld as constitutional by the Fifth Circuit, a Federal Appeals Court with jurisdiction over Texas. A three-judge panel, consisting of two appointees of George W. Bush and one of Ronald Reagan, unanimously endorsed the constitutionality of the bill. Among the provisions challenged in this case were one requiring the abortion doctors to receive admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and another requiring inducing drugs to be taken in person the day before. Both requirements have been deemed as excessive by pertinent doctoral societies and otherwise repudiated by medical professionals as simply opaque ways of closing abortion clinic. Since the passage of this law, a plethora of clinics west and south of San Antonio  have shut their doors.

Not challenged in this ongoing lawsuit is the 20 week ban on abortion. A fourth provision, arguably the most controversial, that requires clinics to adhere to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers does not go into effect until later this year and thus was not challenged. Back in October, a Federal Judge (another Bush appointee) in Austin ruled components of the law unconstitutional. However, a few days later, the Fifth Circuit stayed this ruling.

Click here to read more, including what to do next!