Monday, August 29, 2016

ANS -- "I Didn't Serve, I Was Used": How Veterans Are Losing the War at Home

This article is somewhat slanted, but I thought it would be good to see this side of things.  It's about the big pharmaceutical companies being behind getting veterans hooked on painkillers, and trying to privatize the VA. 
--Kim



Published on
Thursday, August 25, 2016
by

"I Didn't Serve, I Was Used": How Veterans Are Losing the War at Home

Making America pain-free for plutocrats and Big Pharma, but not vets

The epidemic of opioid-related overdoses and death is in the news almost every day now as hard-hit cities and states sue the drug makers, but rarely is it traced to its launching pad: the Big Pharma conspiracy to make big bucks off our country's wounded soldiers. (Credit: Adithya Sambamurthy/The Center for Investigative Reporting)

 

A friend of mine, a Vietnam vet, told me about a veteran of the Iraq War who, when some civilian said, "Thank you for your service," replied: "I didn't serve, I was used." That got me thinking about the many ways today's veterans are used, conned, and exploited by big gamers right here at home.

Near the end of his invaluable book cataloguing the long, slow disaster of America's War for the Greater Middle East, historian Andrew Bacevich writes:

"Some individuals and institutions actually benefit from an armed conflict that drags on and on. Those benefits are immediate and tangible. They come in the form of profits, jobs, and campaign contributions.  For the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries, perpetual war is not necessarily bad news."

Bacevich is certainly right about war profiteers, but I believe we haven't yet fully wrapped our minds around what that truly means. This is what we have yet to take in: today, the U.S. is the most unequal country in the developed world, and the wealth of the plutocrats on top is now so great that, when they invest it in politics, it's likely that no elected government can stop them or the lucrative wars and "free markets" they exploit.

Among the prime movers in our corporatized politics are undoubtedly the two billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, and their cozy network of secret donors.  It's hard to grasp how rich they really are: they rank fifth (David) and sixth (Charles) on Business Insider's list of the 50 richest people in the world, but if you pool their wealth they become by far the single richest "individual" on the planet. And they have pals. For decades now they've hosted top-secret gatherings of their richest collaborators that sometimes alsofeature dignitaries like Clarence Thomas or the late Antonin Scalia, two of the Supreme Court Justices who gave them the Citizens United decision, suffocating American democracy in plutocratic dollars.  That select donor group had reportedly planned to spend at least $889 million on this year's elections and related political projects, but recent reports note a scaling back and redirection of resources.

While the contest between Trump and Clinton fills the media, the big money is evidently going to be aimed at selected states and municipalities to aid right-wing governors, Senate candidates, congressional representatives, and in some cities, ominously enough, school board candidates. The Koch brothers need not openly support the embarrassing Trump, for they've already proved that, by controlling Congress, they can significantly control the president, as they have already done in the Obama era.

Against the odds

Yet for all their influence, the Koch name means nothing, pollsters report, to more than half of the U.S. population. In fact, the brothers Koch largely stayed under the radar until recent years when their roles as polluters, campaigners against the environment, and funders of a new politics came into view. Thanks to Robert Greenwald's film Koch Brothers Exposed and Jane Mayer's book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, we now know a lot more about them, but not enough.

They've always been ready to profit off America's wars. Despite their extreme neo-libertarian goal of demonizing and demolishing government, they reportedly didn't hesitate to pocket about $170 million as contractors for George W. Bush's wars.  They sold fuel (oil istheir principal business) to the Defense Department, and after they bought Georgia Pacific, maker of paper products, they supplied that military essential: toilet paper.

But that was small potatoes compared to what happened when soldiers came home from the wars and fell victim to the profiteering of corporate America. Dig in to the scams exploiting veterans, and once again you'll run into the Koch brothers.

Pain Relief: With Thanks from Big Pharma

It's no secret that the VA wasn't ready for the endless, explosive post-9/11 wars.  Its hospitals were already full of old vets from earlier wars when suddenly there arrived young men and women with wounds, both physical and mental, the doctors had never seen before.  The VA enlarged its hospitals, recruited new staff, and tried to catch up, but it's been running behind ever since.

It's no wonder veterans' organizations keep after it (as well they should), demanding more funding and better service. But they have to be careful what they focus on. If they leave it at that and overlook what's really going on -- often in plain sight, however disguised in patriotic verbiage -- they can wind up being marched down a road they didn't choose that leads to a place they don't want to be.

Even before the post-9/11 vets came home, a phalanx of drug-making corporations led byPurdue Pharma had already gone to work on the VA.  These Big Pharma corporations (many of which buy equipment from Koch Membrane Systems) had developed new pain medications -- opioid narcotics like OxyContin (Purdue), Vicodin, Percocet, Opana (Endo Pharmaceuticals), Duragesic, and Nucynta (Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) -- and they spotted a prospective marketplace.  Early in 2001, Purdue developed a plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars targeting the VA.  By the end of that year, this country was at war, and Big Pharma was looking at a gold mine.

They recruited doctors, set them up in private "Pain Foundations," and paid them handsomely to give lectures and interviews, write studies and textbooks, teach classes in medical schools, and testify before Congress on the importance of providing our veterans with powerful painkillers.  In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration considered restricting the use of opioids, fearing they might be addictive. They were talked out of it by experts likeDr. Rollin Gallagher of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and board member of the American Pain Foundation, both largely fundedby the drug companies. He spoke against restricting OxyContin.

By 2008, congressional legislation had been written -- the Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvement Act -- directing the VA to develop a plan to evaluate all patients for pain. When the VA objected to Congress dictating its medical procedures, Big Pharmalaunched a "Freedom from Pain" media blitz, enlisting veterans' organizations to campaign for the bill and get it passed.

Those painkillers were also dispatched to the war zones where our troops were physically breaking down under the weight of the equipment they carried. By 2010, a third of the Army's soldiers were on prescription medications -- and nearly half of them, 76,500, were on prescription opioids -- which proved to be highly addictive, despite the assurance of experts like Rollin Gallagher. In 2007, for instance, "The American Veterans and Service Members Survival Guide," distributed by the American Pain Foundation and edited by Gallagher, offered this assurance: "[W]hen used for medical purposes and under the guidance of a skilled health-care provider, the risk of addiction from opioid pain medication is very low."

By that time, here at home, soldiers and vets were dying at astonishing rates from accidental or deliberate overdoses. Civilian doctors as well had been persuaded to overprescribe these drugs, so that by 2011 the CDC announced a national epidemic, affecting more than 12 million Americans.  In May 2012, the Senate Finance Committee finally initiated an investigation into the perhaps "improper relation" between Big Pharma and the pain foundations. That investigation is still "ongoing," which means that no information about it can yet be revealed to the public.

Meanwhile, opioid addicts, both veterans and civilians, were discovering that heroin was acheaper and no less effective way to go.  Because heroin is often cut with Fentanyl, a more powerful opioid, however, drug deaths rose dramatically.

This epidemic of death is in the news almost every day now as hard-hit cities and states suethe drug makers, but rarely is it traced to its launching pad: the Big Pharma conspiracy to make big bucks off our country's wounded soldiers.

It took the VA far too long to extricate itself from medical policies marketed by Big Pharma and, in effect, prescribed by Congress. It had made the mistake of turning to the Pharma-funded pain foundations in 2004 to select its Deputy National Program Director of Pain Management: the ubiquitous Dr. Gallagher. But when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency finally laid down new restrictive rules on opioids in 2014, the VA had to comply. That's been hard on the thousands of opioid-dependent vets it had unwittingly hooked, and it's becoming harder as Republicans in Congress move to privatize the VA and send vets out with vouchers to find their own health care.

Cute Cards Courtesy of the Koch Brothers

To force the VA to use its drugs, Big Pharma set up dummy foundations and turned toexisting veterans' organizations for support. These days, however, the Big Money people have found a more efficient way to make their weight felt.  Now, when they need the political clout of a veterans' organization, they help finance one of their own.

Consider Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). The group's stated mission: "to preserve the freedom and prosperity we and our families fought and sacrificed to defend."  What patriotic American wouldn't want to get behind that?

The problem that concerns the group right now is the "divide" between civilians and soldiers, which exists, its leaders claim, because responsibility for veterans has been "pushed to the highest levels of government." That has left veterans isolated from their own communities, which should be taking care of them.

Concerned Veterans for America proposes (though not quite in so many words) to close that gap by sacking the VA and giving vets the "freedom" to find their own health care. The 102-page proposal of CVA's Task Force on "Fixing Veterans' Health Care" would let VA hospitals treat veterans with "service-connected health needs" -- let them, that is, sweat the hard stuff -- while transforming most VA Health Care facilities into an "independent, non-profit corporation" to be "preserved," if possible, in competition "with private providers."

All other vets would have the "option to seek private health coverage," using funds the VA might have spent on their care, had they chosen it. (How that would be calculated remains one of many mysteries.) The venerable VA operates America's largest health care system, with 168 VA Medical Centers and 1,053 outpatient clinics, providing care to more than 8.9 million vets each year. Yet under this plan that lame, undernourished but extraordinary and, in a great many ways, remarkably successful version of single-payer lifelong socialized medicine for vets would be a goner, perhaps surviving only in bifurcated form: as an intensive care unit and an insurance office dispensing funds to free and choosy vets.

Such plans should have marked Concerned Veterans for America as a Koch brothers' creation even before its front man gave the game away and lost his job. Like those pain foundation doctors who became self-anointed opioid experts, veteran Pete Hegseth had made himself an expert on veterans' affairs, running Concerned Veterans for America and doubling as a talking head on Fox News.  The secretive veterans' organization now carries on without him, still working to capture -- or perhaps buy -- the hearts and minds of Congress.

And here's the scary part: they may succeed.  Remember that every U.S. administration, from the Continental Congress on, has regarded the care of veterans as a sacred trust of government. The notion of privatizing veterans' care -- by giving each veteran a voucher, like some underprivileged schoolboy -- was first suggested only eight years ago by Arizona Senator John McCain, America's most famous veteran-cum-politician. Most veterans' organizations opposed the idea, citing McCain's long record of voting against funding the VA.  Four years ago, Mitt Romney touted the same idea and got the same response.

That's about the time that the Koch brothers, and their donor network, changed their strategy. They had invested an estimated $400 million in the 2012 elections and lost the presidency (though not Congress).  So they turned their attention to the states and localities.  Somewhere along the way, they quietly promoted Concerned Veterans for America and who knows what other similar organizations and think tanks to peddle their cutthroat capitalist ideology and enshrine it in the law of the land.

Then, in 2014, President Obama signed into law the Veterans' Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act. That bill singled out certain veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or had to wait 30 days for an appointment and gave them a "choice card," entitling them to see a private doctor of their own choosing.  Though John McCain had originally designed the bill, it was by then a bipartisan effort, officially introduced by the Democratic senator who chaired the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs: Bernie Sanders.

Sanders said that, while it was not the bill he would have written, he thought it was a step toward cutting wait times. With his sponsorship, the bill passed by a 93-3 vote. And so an idea unthinkable only two years earlier -- the partial privatization of veteran's health care -- became law.

How could that have happened?  At the VA, there was certainly need for improvement.  Its health care system had been consistently underfunded and wait times for appointments were notoriously long.  Then, early in 2014, personnel at the Phoenix VA in McCain's home state of Arizona were caught falsifying records to hide the wait-time problem.  When that scandal hit the news, Concerned Veterans for America was quick to exploit the situation and lead a mass protest.  Three weeks later, as heads rolled at the VA, Senator McCaincalled a town hall meeting to announce his new bill, with its "hallmark Choice Card." His website notes that it "received praise... from veterans' advocacy organizations such as Concerned Veterans for America."

That bill also called for a "commission on care" to explore the possibilities of "transforming" veterans' health care.  Most vets still haven't heard of this commission and its charge to change their lives, but many of those who did learn of it were worried by the terminology.  After all, many vets already had a choice through Medicare or private insurance, and most chose the vet-centered treatment of the VA. They complained only that it took too long to get an appointment. They wanted more VA care, not less -- and they wanted it faster.

In any case, those choice cards already handed out have reportedly only slowed down the process of getting treatment, while the freedom to search for a private doctor has turned out to be anything but popular.  Nevertheless, the commission on care -- 15 people chosen by President Obama and the leaders of the House and Senate -- worked for 10 months to produce a laundry list of "fixes" for the VA and one controversial recommendation. They called for the VA "across the United States" to establish "high-performing, integrated community health care networks, to be known as the VHA Care System."

In other words, instead of funding added staff and speeded-up service, the commission recommended the creation of an entirely new, more expensive, and untried system. Then there was the fine print: as in the plan of Concerned Veterans of America, there would be tightened qualifications, out-of-pocket costs, and exclusions.  In other words, the commission was proposing a fragmented, complicated, and iffy system, funded in part on the backs of veterans, and "transformative" in ways ominously different from anything vets had been promised in the past.

Commissioner Michael Blecker, executive director of the San Francisco-based veterans' service organization Swords to Plowshares, refused to sign off on the report.  Although he approved of the VA fixes, he saw in that recommendation for "community networks" the privatizer's big boot in the door.  Yet while Blecker thought the recommendation would serve the private sector and not the vet, another non-signer took the opposite view. Darin Selnick, senior veterans' affairs advisor for Concerned Veterans for America and executive director of CVA's Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce, complained that the commission had focused too much on "fixing the existing VA" rather than "boldly transforming" veterans' health care into a menu of "multiple private-sector choice options."  The lines were clearly drawn.

Then, last April, Senator McCain made an end run around the commission, a dash that could only thrill the leaders of Concerned Veterans for America and their backers. Noting that his choice card legislation was due to expire, McCain, together with seven other Republican senators (including Ted Cruz), introduced new legislation: the Care Veterans Deserve Act of 2016.  It's a bill designed to "enhance choice and flexibility in veterans' health care" by making the problematic choicecard"permanently and universally" available to all disabled and other unspecified veterans.  You can see where the notion came from and where it's going. By May 2016, when Fox News featured a joint statement by Senator McCain and Pete Hegseth, late of Concerned Veterans for America, trumpeting the VA Choice Card Program as "the most significant VA reform in decades," you could also see where this might end.

As real veterans' organizations wise up to what's going on, they will undoubtedly stand against the false "freedom" of a Koch brothers-style "transformation" of the VA system. The rest of us should stand with them. The plutocrats who corrupted veterans' health care and now want to shut it down, and the plutocrats who profit from this country's endless wars are one and the same. And they have bigger plans for us all.

Friday, August 26, 2016

ANS -- Combating Climate Science Denial--ABrief Case Study

Here is an article about climate change deniers.  Interesting.  It might help if you ever need to argue with a denier.  the comments are pretty good too.  

--Kim



Sunday Aug 21, 2016 · 4:40 PM PDT
Denial.png

I recently had a friend tell me that the number of hot days in the United States has declined over the last eighty years, thus proving that if the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is having an effect on climate, it must be cooling the United States. (He verbally added a /sarc tag.) To prove this claim, he showed me the graphic I include below.

A quick Google image search revealed the graphic was taken from climate science denier Tony Heller, aka "Steve Goddard," via his conspiracy website ironically titled "RealClimateScience." (I won't link to it because I don't want to increase his income from views to the ads on his site.)

No, the graphic he showed me wasn't one at the top of this post. I'll have it after the break.

The graphic below purportedly compares the number of weather stations reporting temperatures over 105 degrees F so far this year to the number reporting temperatures over 105 degrees F in 1936. I haven't checked whether his data is accurate. Let's take it as given.

1936-2016-105f1010.gif
Taken from Tony Heller. We should probably give it back.

There's quite a lot wrong with this graphic, and with the claim made by my friend. In the interest of showing how dishonest climate science denial memes work, let's list a few of the problems.

1) Incompleteness. The summer of 2016 isn't over yet, so even on the surface, it's not a good comparison.This is only a minor problem however, compared to the other ways in which this graphic is misleading and dishonest.

2) Oddity. The year 1936 was in the midst of the Dust Bowl era, a time when much of the United States was experiencing an historic drought which was caused (or at least, substantially worsened) by incredibly bad land management in the American southwest. Overfarming, overgrazing and deforestation turned perhaps a hundred thousand square miles of arable land into near-desert, leading to dry and overheated conditions in much of the continent. Comparing the U.S. today to any time in the 1930s is like comparing a vibrant city to a place that has been firebombed. It's not a valid comparison. It's a comparison that is so obviously faulty it had to be made on purpose.

Incidentally, notice also that this rather defeats any argument that human influence can't affect climate. The extreme temperatures in the continental U.S. in 1936 were caused, in some measure, by human activity, and were not entirely a function of natural variation. But let's move on.

download_%286%29.jpg
Not good. Don't do this.

3) Cherry picking. The comparison here is of one (1) year (1936) to one (1) other year (2016). No sensible statement can be made about climate trends by comparing the current year to some cherry-picked previous year.

Imagine a worker (call him Tony) whose wage income increases smoothly by $1000 every year over a period of forty working years. But other things affect his income as well. Maybe in 2005 Tony made an extra $50,000 by selling his dad's old vintage Studebaker. Comparing his 2005 income to his 2016 income will not give you a good feel for how his wages have changed over the last ten years, and certainly won't tell you where his income is likely to go in the future. Nor will it tell you what affect his work performance is having on his income. 2005 was an unusual year, so it makes a poor base for comparisons.

In the same way, 1936 was unusually hot in America, by random natural fluctuation as well as because of human activity. Comparing that year to this one won't say anything about underlying climate trends. As implied by Item 2) above, this unusual year was specifically chosen to give the result Heller wanted. It was a dishonest and intentionally misleading choice.

4) Inappropriate yardsticks. The point that is implicit in Tony Heller's graphic, and made explicit by my denier friend's interpretation of that graphic, is that "the number of hot days" is a good proxy for "what is happening to the climate." That's just wrong. It's an inappropriate measure.

Climate is driven by (among other factors) the total heat energy in the system. This affects rainfall, wind speed and direction, severity of storms, and a host of other factors that impact plant and animal life, growing seasons, the need for heating and air conditioning, and just about every other aspect of our lives. Total heat content can be approximated by looking at average temperatures, but not by looking at the number of days above an arbitrary limit.

As a simple example, say that one year the temperatures over a 5-day summer period in Sample City are 65, 70, 103, 105, and 72. The average for these five days is 83. Say in another year, the temperatures over the same 5-day period are 95, 96, 98, 99, and 97. The average temperature of the second series is 97. The heat energy available in the second year is much greater than in the first year, even though the first year had higher maximum temperatures.

Not only has the average substantially increased (by 14 degrees), but so has the minimum temperature in the series (from 65 to 95, a jump of 30 degrees). Again, this is despite that fact that the maximum temperatures is lower in the second series than in the first (99 as compared to 105). A region that habitually exhibits temperatures in the first range will have wildly different characteristics (vegetation, animals, rainfall, severity of storms and so on) from what you'd see in a region with the second range.

Heller's tactic of counting the number of weather stations that measure temperatures above some arbitrary limit says very little about how the overall climate characteristics of the region have changed. Looking at minimum temperatures (or, even better, the average over reasonable time spans) is far more useful and informative.

jpeg-22.jpeg
the bigger the sample, the more you get.

5) Sample size. My denier friend tried to use Heller's graphic to say something about world climate. (This is, of course, exactly what Heller wants people to do.) World climate is a complex thing, affected by geography, wind patterns, ocean currents, and a host of other factors. Not all places on Earth are affected the same way by this complex system. That's why (for example) the Sahara Desert tends to be hotter and drier than Seattle, Washington. The United States accounts for less than 5% of the total world's surface area. One can't expect this tiny cherry-picked sample to say anything sensible about climate trends that affect the whole world.

Suppose I note that my favorite baseball team won one of its last twenty games. One out of twenty is 5%, just as the continental U.S. is 5% of the globe. This fact by itself doesn't mean my team won all of those twenty games, and it certainly doesn't mean they'll win the World Series. The sample size of 5% is not large enough to tell us anything meaningful about the other games, and says nothing about the challenges my team faces in playing teams other than the one it played against in that one game.

To claim that "what happened to the continental United States" is a good proxy for "what is happening to the climate of the whole world" is senseless. Tony Heller wants people to draw unsupportable conclusions from this senseless sample.

6) Global. So let's look at what happened to the whole world's temperatures in the years before and after 1936, up to the present day. The graph below is the NASA GISS land-ocean average annual temperature index for the period 1880 to 2015 (in black), with a 5-year running mean (in red).

Fig.A2_%282%29.jpg
NASA GISS data, All true. The green lines are uncertainty bars, which sound like places where quantum physicists go for a drink.

As you can see, there was a peak in world temperatures in the early 1940s, so Tony Heller's graphic which includes particularly hot days in the continental U.S. might be expected to show some unusual warmth in 1936. You can also see, global temperatures have risen substantially since then, particularly in a rapid rise since about 1970. Since around 1980 the running mean has exceeded what it was c. 1936, and has never dropped back to that level. It is now far beyond where it was back then.

This reinforces what we said above about sample sizes and cherry-picking specific years and specific regions. If we want to draw conclusions about the world's climate (as my friend tried to do), we have to look at the world's climate. Tony Heller is encouraging his readers to avoid most of the data we have at our fingertips. He is engaging in dishonest misdirection.

Plate_1_Oophaga_sylvatica.jpg
Just some frogs to show how much nature varies things.

7) Natural variation. Although it isn't mentioned in Heller's graphic, my denier friend often draws another conclusion from memes such as Heller's. Note that in the NASA GISS graph, the world's temperature increased markedly from c. 1910 to 1940. Yet human production of greenhouse gasses (other than coal burning for household heating and industrial processes) didn't really take off until after that time. My friend argues (and with some justification) that the temperature variations prior to 1940 were mostly due to natural processes, and didn't require human activity. He then claims we therefore can't really know that the immense increase in global temperature after that time is caused by humans. It could well have been more "natural variation."

This is equivalent to saying that we can't calculate the effects of an airplane hitting a skyscraper until we know the limits of the effects of earthquakes and hurricanes on skyscrapers. Natural variation sometimes causes buildings to collapse. How do we know that the World Trade Center was brought down by being stuck by airliners?

We know because A) there were no earthquakes or hurricanes in New York on September 11, 2001, and B) we have film of the airliners hitting the World Trade Center's Twin Towers on that date. Also C) we can calculate the amount of kinetic energy those airliners imparted to the buildings when they struck, along with the effects of exploding fuel. We can also calculate the effects upon the buildings of the natural variations in weather and seismic activity on that day. It's pretty easy to tell which set of causes had more impact.

In other words, we can look at the actual causes that affected the events. We have data and we have physics. We know the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses has increased markedly in the last century. We know the effect CO2 has on the ability of the atmosphere to retain heat. We know the various natural influences that were in effect in the 1930s, and the influences that are impacting the climate now. This isn't hard.

For this "natural variation" argument to be sensible, we have to examine the actual factors that are in force. To compare the heat waves of the 1930s to the increase in global temperatures today, we need to look at the conditions that occurred in those two time periods. We know what they are. We can calculate the results.

It's not enough to say that since something happened before, it can happen again. We have to look at what caused it to happen before, and see whether the same thing is causing events today. It's not honest to say that we need to know the limits of natural variation before we can calculate the impact of new influences. We already know quite a lot more about both natural variation and human intervention than deniers pretend we know.

The sorts of errors I describe above are common when climate science deniers try to dispute the impact that human activity has on planetary climate. (These are, in fact, only a few of the many errors in this one graphic.) Science disinformers like Tony Heller intentionally mislead unwary victims who don't skeptically examine the dishonest claims and false memes.

It is the responsibility of all of us to help inform the public about the errors and disinformation being spread by science deniers. Rational decisions cannot result from dishonest propaganda.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

ANS -- What's written in the scars of Hillary Clinton

Here is an article about Hillary Clinton and about what it takes to be a woman in politics.  She was the most admired woman in the world for many years -- until she decided to run for president.  There's still a lot of misogyny out there, and most people have no idea how prejudiced they are.  
Hillary Clinton spoke at my college graduation and she was very liberal and very inspiring.  Certainly there are things I disagree with her on, but that would be true of anyone.  I think she is being judged unfairly.  Read this.  There are comments at the website.  
--Kim



What's written in the scars of Hillary Clinton

By Sandy Garossino in Analysis | August 1st 2016
#43 of 46 articles from the Special Report:U.S. Presidential Election 2016
Hillary Clinton: Photo by The Canadian Press

Admit it. Even if you support Hillary Clinton, some part of you secretly wishes some other woman *cough, Michelle Obama or Elizabeth Warren,* could be the first female president. You're worried, because Clinton's favourability numbers (38%) are in the cellar, and pollsters everywhere are saying she's the least popular Democratic presidential candidate since anyone started counting.

The girls and young women we want to be inspired by this moment aren't. They've flocked to Bernie Sanders, who's much more trusted.

Let's face it, we want girls and young women to look into the future and see a clear blue sky, and Hillary—well, Hillary just seems like damaged goods.

If we really want our girls and young women to aim high, we should tell them the truth. They're in for a fight, and there won't be anything fair about it.

Because we're telling them the biggest fattest lie in the world if we let them believe that Hillary Clinton's main problem is Hillary Clinton. Her problem is her gender.

Any other woman stepping up for this role would be attacked just as viciously and effectively as Hillary Clinton has been. And other women won't necessarily stand up for her when she is.

Until she ran for president, Clinton was the most admired woman in the world

This might surprise you now, but according to Gallup, in 2015 Americans admired Hillary Clintonmore than any other woman in the world. More than Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai or Oprah.

A lot more.

And Clinton didn't just top the list in 2015, but she's topped it each of the last 14 years, and 20 years overall. That's the best record for any man or woman since Gallup began polling this question in 1948. And those numbers matched Clinton's extraordinarily high approval rating during her tenure as Secretary of State, when she reached a high of 66%. That's far above anything Barack Obama achieved in his entire presidency, and it's well above even Michelle Obama today.

So what the hell happened? The woman ran for president, that's what. Who does she think she is?

Look no further than Clinton's media coverage.

N​egative media coverage flipped perception

Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center reports that in comparison with all other candidates, coverage of Hillary Clinton went overwhelmingly negative, with 84% of stories taking a negative slant. That compares with 43% negative reporting on Donald Trump and 17% on Bernie Sanders.

To put it another way, the most qualified presidential candidate in history got twice the negative media as a racist four-time bankrupt con artist who is manifestly unfit for public office.

And Trump won HUUGE on earned media, garnering an estimated $2 billion in free coverage for his campaign, just by February alone--more than twice the coverage accorded Hillary.

In media today, traffic drives profits which drive content. Once it became clear she was going to seek the presidency, hateful or negative stories about Hillary went viral. So the media kept it coming and never stopped. Just as birtherism reinforced Obama's "foreignness," the internet became a closed circle of the collective subconscious and misogyny.

And it worked. Her approval ratings dropped like a rock.

Like every other male presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton has baggage, but hers draws a nearly hysterical public and media response.

Look at the ugliness of the Republican convention, where the delegates were blood-thirsty. Bernie's supporters weren't much better at the Democratic Convention. They swooned for Obama and Biden, who share her record, and screamed at Clinton. Even Susan Sarandon famously says that Hillary would be more dangerous than Donald Trump. What are these people smoking?

The frenzy of hatred Hillary Clinton inspires is not unique to her, because it's not about her. It would happen to any woman, and our girls deserve to know this. Because what's happened to Hillary mirrors the swarming harassment and misogyny that young women experience every day online.

Clinton objectively rated the most honest candidate, yet is perceived as dishonest

Objectively speaking, Clinton is not corrupt and dishonest and she didn't rig the nomination.

She's been rated by Politifact, the Pulitzer-prize-winning fact-checkers, as more honest than every other major candidate.

And despite being widely perceived as a puppet of Wall Street, her Senate voting record is ratedmainstream progressive--more progressive than Joe Biden's or Barack Obama's.

Nate Silver ranks her record in liberal terms as comparable to Elizabeth Warren, and not at all distant from Bernie Sanders.

Jill Abramson, the former editor-in-chief of the New York Times who has covered Clinton for decades, should be required reading on the subject of Clinton's fundamental honesty.

Even on the explosive issue of her emails, Clinton was singled out for special condemnation. Both Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice followed a similar approach to Clinton's. Yet after months of virtually non-stop negative coverage, in defiance of all independent assessments, it's almost an accepted fact that she's more dishonest than any of her colleagues or predecessors.

Hmmm, woman as liar. What an awfully familiar stereotype.

So, here we are, 98 days from the election.

The most qualified candidate in history could lose to the least

The most qualified presidential candidate in history is running against the least qualified, and it's a close race!

Older women are sitting back nodding, because they've seen this movie before. For older women, this campaign is like a looping sing-along Sound of Music, and they know all the words.

Luckily, Hillary has been doing this backward and in high heels for decades.

If Hillary Clinton stands on the doorstep of history today, it's because she aimed high and fought for it with fierce intelligence and fearless determination. It took steel and guts to get where she is, and fire too. It took wisdom, clear-eyed realism and the toughness to fail and get back up, over and over again. It took a cast-iron stomach and the skin of a rhino.

It took every quality a president needs.

Our girls can handle the truth, and they deserve to know it.

If there's a roadmap to becoming the first woman president of the United States, it's written in the scars on Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Monday, August 22, 2016

ANS -- The Real Way the 2016 Election Is Rigged

This is about the real rigging of our elections and how the media is ignoring and/or hiding this great disservice to our democracy, brought to you by dishonest Republicans doing what has never been done to this degree before.  
--Kim


DEMOCRACY & GOVERNMENT

The Real Way the 2016 Election Is Rigged

Despite what the media tells you, the Democrats will not take the House in November. Here's why.

BY DAVID DALEY | AUGUST 19, 2016

The U.S. House of Representatives chamber is seen December 8, 2008 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton has put the Electoral College into checkmate. She's closer to Donald Trump in many red states like Kansas and Texas than he is to her in key swing states.

As her lead swells, naturally, fired-up Democrats and a restless media have turned their attention to a more exciting story: Can Democrats retake the House of Representatives? But the outcome there is not really in doubt, either.

It's not going to happen. Democratic House candidates will likely get many more votes than Republican ones – as they did in 2012, when Democrats received 1.4 million more votes nationwide, but Republicans maintained a 234-201 advantage. Indeed, Trump is more likely to rebound in swing states than Democrats are to capture the 30 congressional seats they need to pry the speaker's gavel from Paul Ryan.

Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in a landslide, there are simply not enough competitive districts remaining to give the Democrats any chance at winning the House.

The reason why is simple, structural and too often absent from the conversation: It's the radical GOP gerrymander imposed after the 2010 census on purplish states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina – all of which are likely to go for Clinton, while also electing a bright-red Republican delegation to Congress. Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in a landslide, there are simply not enough competitive districts remaining to give the Democrats any chance at winning the House.

For all of the misleading nonsense about "rigged elections" coming from the Trump camp this summer, we haven't talked enough about the way our electoral map really was rigged by Republicans after the 2010 census. These tilted maps make it possible for the Republicans to govern with a supermajority in Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin – despite getting less votes overall. And they've created a firewall in the House of Representatives that's built to withstand a Clinton landslide upward of 10 percent.

Democrats, however, prefer to raise false hopes — and raise money — by pretending the House is in play. The media, desperate for any suspenseful narrative, pretends that gerrymandering is politics as usual and that both sides do it — stubbornly refusing to understand how the brazen and technologically savvy 2011 remapping was different from any other in modern political history. The New York Times, earlier this month in a story headlined "How House Republicans May Survive Donald Trump," cast this in a bizarrely passive voice – "House Republicans have strong defenses in the congressional district boundaries, which set the terms of competition" – without mentioning how Republicans drew most of these lines themselves.

Then on Friday, the Times continued to fuel the debate with a Page One story with the opposite headline – "Republicans Worry a Falling Donald Trump Tide Will Lower All Boats" – had the same view from nowhere. It observed that "so many districts are drawn to make them uncompetitive in general election," as if they were drawn by magic or drew themselves, never bothering to note who drew them that way, and the multimillion dollar GOP project to ensure some 400 of 435 House elections were uncompetitive. (It also quotes Pennsylvania congressman Charlie Dent, wringing his hands. "We have to be concerned," said the Republican congressman whose new can't-lose district shed Democratic towns after 2011 and took on the shape of a bad toupee in a windstorm. "I don't think you can assume anybody is safe." But that Dent himself is unbeatable goes without saying in the Times piece. His "chopped-up mess" of a district in the words of the Lehigh Valley Express-Times, is so GOP-friendly that no Democrat would oppose him in 2014.)

The New York Times has managed the amazing trick of writing multiple stories across months about the likelihood of a Democratic House takeover without even using the word "gerrymander."

Instead, these stories, and others like them, tell anecdotal stories of districts that just might be in play. Indeed, one or two of them may be! For example, when conservative talk-radio host Jason Lewis captured a four-way fight for the GOP nomination for Congress in the purplish suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul earlier this month, giddy Democrats slid the open 2nd district seat into their column.

The first rule of journalism these days is that whenever a headline poses a question, the answer is no. In this case, it's hell no.

Lewis, a frequent fill-in for Rush Limbaugh, might be a master performance artist on air but figures to be a divisive fit for one of the country's last remaining swing districts. His book on states' rights, after all, manages to suggest that if same-sex marriage is legal, slavery should be too. "People always say, 'Well, if you don't want to marry somebody of the same sex you don't have to, but why tell somebody else they can't,'" he argues. "Uh, you know, if you don't want to own a slave, don't. But don't tell other people they can't."

So that just might be one for the Democrats, especially since they're running a well-funded centrist businesswoman. Trouble is: It's just one, and the Republican advantage in the House is 247-188 — the GOP's biggest margin since Election Day 1928. Democrats still need 29 more.

For those seats, the political writers at The New York Times and McClatchy looked to Kansas's 3rd district after a Survey USA poll earlier this month found Hillary Clinton with a surprising lead there. (In contrast, Barack Obama only received 44 percent that district in in 2012.) "Could super-red Kansas elect a Democrat to Congress?" the breathless McClatchy headline asked. The first rule of journalism these days is that whenever a headline poses a question, the answer is no. In this case, it's hell, no. Despite the good polling numbers for Clinton, Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder leads Democratic challenger Jay Sidie 53 percent to 36 percent, according to an August poll from Public Opinion Strategies.

When you see stories like this, do the math yourself and ask exactly where these 30 Democratic victories will come. The vague and intentionally non-specific "suburban districts where educated Republicans are fleeing Trump" is not a sufficient answer. For some actual facts about actual districts, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Report examines conditions on the ground in all 435 districts. Last week, Sabato did move four races in the Democrats' direction — including Minnesota's 2nd and Kansas's 3rd. Yes, this means that in one of the four House races now considered potentially in play, the Republican holds a 17-point lead. That alone should be a sign of how daunting the math is for the Democrats.

But if that's not enough, try these numbers. Sabato already has called 226 seats as safe, likely or leaning to the Republicans, and just 193 as safe, likely or leaning to the Democrats. It only requires 218 to hold the chamber, so the Republicans need only win the seats they have overwhelming leads in now — at the likely peak of their presidential candidate's meltdown — to take the House. Let's pause for a second: That number alone ought to stop every think piece about whether the Democrats can win the House dead in its tracks.

If that doesn't convince you, here are some more powerful numbers: if the Republicans are heavily favored in 226 districts, and the Democrats look likely in 193, that only leaves a handful of toss-ups. Sabato sees 16 legitimate toss-ups. The problem for Democrats? Fourteen of those 16 seats are currently held by Republicans. In the highly unlikely circumstance that the Democrats manage to take just half of those 16 remaining "toss-up" seats, the Republicans would come out of 2016 with a 234-201 advantage in Congress.

If that sounds familiar, it should: 234-201 is the exact majority the Republicans had after 2012, when Barack Obama won re-election in a landslide but failed to take the House despite those 1.4 million more votes. That was the first time since 1972 – 40 years — that the party with the most votes did not come away with the most seats. It is now likely to happen again in 2016, for the second presidential cycle in a row. This should terrify anyone who cares about representative democracy. This is not politics as usual.

Few of these numbers matter to the pundit class. They'd rather talk about split tickets! We don't do that anymore! No one votes for one party for president and the other party for Congress. This has the benefit of being true, but also missing the point entirely. Because of the way congressional districts were drawn after 2011, a majority of voters can cast a straight-ticket ballot and it still won't change the Republican dominance of the House. In 2012 — when fewer voters split tickets than in any election in almost 100 years — Mitt Romney lost the election by 3.5 million votes and by an Electoral College margin of 332-206. Nevertheless: Romney still carried 226 congressional districts to Obama's 209. In Pennsylvania, for example, Obama carried the state for the second time. But Romney won 13 of the 18 congressional districts — and nine by near double-digits. That's the math Democrats have to defeat — lines that were drawn to push back any blue avalanche.

The credulous pundits who argue that Democrats could carry the House this year because voters no longer split tickets are grasping at straws. It takes no imagination at all to conjure suburban Republican voters in northern Virginia, Denver, Pennsylvania and elsewhere who believe Trump is a line too far — but who also cringe at the idea of giving Clinton a blank check in the House. Republican leaders and financiers are already planning on siphoning money away from Trump and using exactly this line to defend Congress.

Polls suggest that it will work: Real Clear Politics aggregates surveys that ask voters whether they want the Democrats or Republicans to control Congress. On this generic congressional ballot, the Democrats only lead by 5 points. In contrast, in June 2008, the last time the Democrats won the House, the Democrats held a 53-38 advantage on this question in an NBC poll.

Could a miracle happen? Sure. But it's high time that we're honest about what that miracle would look like. Democrats would have to win all 16 of the remaining toss-ups – 87 percent of which are currently held by Republicans. Then they would have to reverse 20-point deficits in several other districts to even get close.

This is not an accident. Chris Jankowski, who directed the audacious REDMAP strategy that delivered the GOP control of the House for this entire decade, if not longer, told me that he raised the necessary money in 2010 by telling Republican donors that they would save them money – and take expensive, competitive seats off the table for 10 years. "There are 25 true swing congressional districts," he said. "We found that $115 million had been spent on those 25 [from 2002-2008]. We had a graphic on the screen: $115 million hard dollars or $20 million in soft and we can fix it. We can take control of these 25 districts. We can take them off the table."

That's exactly what happened – and it's why the Republicans will control the House come January, no matter how big the Democrats win this fall, or how many times the topic gets debated on "Morning Joe" or in The New York Times. The media does our democracy a disservice by treating this like a true contest, and not being honest about the way one side tilted our democracy so that they could govern with fewer votes.