Clinton and Obama on Cuba

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Monday’s announcement that Fidel Castro was stepping down as Cuba’s president drew a quick response from both President Bush, who declined to life the US embargo against Cuba, as well as the Democratic Party candidates for president. Senator Clinton said “The United States must pursue an active policy that does everything possible to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and opportunity in Cuba,” while Senator Obama said Castro’s decision “…should mark the end of a dark era in Cuba’s history … Fidel Castro’s stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba.”

Both statements were vague and fairly typical of the kind of rhetoric that one sees in political campaigns in the United States. However, journalist John Nichols of The Nation wrote an article comparing the candidates’ records on Cuba. The candidates differ on to key areas:

  • Clinton has voted to fund TV Marti. TV Marti is a propaganda initiative that beams US-produced television programming into Cuba, who in turn jams the signal. Obama has voted twice to cut off funding for the program.
  • Obama has said that he wishes to ease U.S.-Cuba travel restrictions. In an August 2007 editorial in the Miami Herald, he argued “Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy on the island.” He said that he will “…grant Cuban-Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.” In contrast, Clinton has not expressed a similar willingness to examine US-Cuba relations.
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Democrats, Iraq, and Withdrawal

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In this video clip from The Real News, former Senator and antiwar activist Tom Hayden looks at the differences between the positions of the “antiwar” Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Hayden points out that aside from the differences in Clinton and Obama’s plans–both of which would only withdraw “combat troops” from Iraq–the media has failed to question the candidates on what they would do with the thousands of private security contractors in Iraq. Hayden says that the two Democratic Party candidates have no real intention of withdrawing all troops from Iraq, instead they are very purposefully leaving behind troops in Iraq. He argues that the plan is basically to reduce the number of troops in Iraq in order take the issue out of the public spotlight:

Democratic Party Superdelegates Receive Money from Clinton and Obama

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The Center for Responsive Politics has investigated how much money the so-called “superdelegates“–Democratic National Convention delegates who are seated automatically without regard to the choice of primary and caucus voters–have received from both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. This certainly raises questions about whether or not the two Democratic Party candidates are trying to buy these delegates support before the Convention this summer. Here is a portion of the Center for Responsive Politics’ “Seeking Superdelegates” article:

“At this summer’s Democratic National Convention, nearly 800 members of Congress, state governors and Democratic Party leaders could be the tiebreakers in the intense contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. If neither candidate can earn the support of at least 2,025 delegates in the primary voting process, the decision of who will represent the Democrats in November’s presidential election will fall not to the will of the people but to these “superdelegates”–the candidates’ friends, colleagues and even financial beneficiaries. Both contenders will be calling in favors.

And while it would be unseemly for the candidates to hand out thousands of dollars to primary voters, or to the delegates pledged to represent the will of those voters, elected officials who are superdelegates have received at least $904,200 from Obama and Clinton in the form of campaign contributions over the last three years, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Obama, who narrowly leads in the count of pledged, “non-super” delegates, has doled out more than $698,200 to superdelegates from his political action committee, Hope Fund, or campaign committee since 2005. Of the 82 elected officials who had announced as of Feb. 12 that their superdelegate votes would go to the Illinois senator, 35, or 43 percent of this group, have received campaign contributions from him in the 2006 or 2008 election cycles, totaling $232,200. In addition, Obama has been endorsed by 52 superdelegates who haven’t held elected office recently and, therefore, didn’t receive campaign contributions from him.

Clinton does not appear to have been as openhanded. Her PAC, HILLPAC, and campaign committee appear to have distributed $205,500 to superdelegates. Only 12 percent of her elected superdelegates, or 13 of 109 who have said they will back her, have received campaign contributions, totaling about $95,000 since 2005. An additional 128 unelected superdelegates support Clinton, according to a blog tracking superdelegates and their endorsements, 2008 Democratic Convention Watch.

Because superdelegates will make up around 20 percent of 4,000 delegates to the Democratic convention in August–Republicans don’t have superdelegates–Clinton and Obama are aggressively wooing the more than 400 superdelegates who haven’t yet made up their minds. Since 2005 Obama has given 52 of the undecided superdelegates a total of at least $363,900, while Clinton has given a total of $88,000 to 15 of them. Anticipating that their intense competition for votes in state primaries and caucuses will result in a near-tie going into the nominating convention, the two candidates are making personal calls to superdelegates now, or are recruiting other big names to do so on their behalf. With no specific rules about what can and can’t be done to court these delegates, just about anything goes.”

Clinton and Obama on the Mortgage Crisis, Healthcare, and Social Security

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On Friday, Democracy Now hosted a roundtable discussion on the key domestic policies of Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The discussion, featuring Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect, Max Fraser of The Nation, and Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear, evaluated the candidates on the mortgage crisis, healthcare, and social security. Democracy Now framed the discussion in terms of recent articles that have scrutinized Clinton and Obama for some of their stances:

The New York Times revealed last week that Barack Obama backed down on a bill that would have required nuclear plants to disclose radioactive releases. Critics say Obama watered down the measure after heavy lobbying by the nuclear industry, including an Illinois company named Exelon that was among his largest donors.

Days earlier, ABC News reported Hillary Clinton did not once speak out against Wal-Mart’s intensive campaign against unionization during her six years on the company’s board of directors. Clinton’s campaign biography makes no mention of her time at Wal-Mart.”

The discussion provides a number of important insights on the candidates positions and includes a wealth of background information that is frequently left out of mainstream discourse.

Obama Ranked as “Most Liberal” Senator

The National Journal–a political magazine–ranked Democratic Party presidential candidate Barrack Obama as the most “liberal” member of the United States Senate. Hillary Clinton, the other Democratic Party candidate for president, ranked 16th.

The magazine calculated the ranking by looking at 99 votes by the Senators in 2007. The votes were tallied across a variety of issues including the economy (36), social issues (34), and foreign policy (29). The survey tracks votes on everything from Iraq War spending to stem cell research. The magazine used a methodology designed to rank the Senators in relation to the other Senators while also taking into account their individual votes. Unfortunately, the magazine made little effort to explain the term “liberal.”

Aside from the utility in providing the summary of votes by Clinton and Obama on a number of important issues, it also provides a record of the similarities between the two candidates. Despite all of the campaign rhetoric, when one considers their actual voting records, the candidates differed on just ten of the 267 measures they both voted on.

The Clinton/Obama Debate?

With John Edwards dropping out of the presidential race Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the only candidates left in the process to see who wins the Democratic Party nomination. Did this make much of a difference in the final Democratic debate before the February 5 Primary? The Grand Rapids Press headline on February 1st read, “Obama, Clinton mix civility and a few barbs in last debate before Super Tuesday contests.” The Associated Press story did not mention a single issue raised during the debate. Instead, the reporter chose to focus on how nice the two candidates were to each other and whether or not they would make a good president/vice president team.

Factcheck.org also noted that the debate seemed more like “an agree-athon than a debate.” However, the analysts at Political Fact Check did mention that there were issues raised during the debate and several instances where candidates made inaccurate claims. The claims they investigate are voter turnout, corporate tax loopholes and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Consumer advocate and possible presidential candidate Ralph Nader also weighed in on the Clinton/Obama debate. In his article titled “No Debate,” Nader states, “As in all debates involving presidential candidates, the reporters were unwilling or incapable of asking the unconventional questions reflecting situations and conditions widely reported or investigated by their own colleagues.” Besides commenting on what was not asked at the debate, Nader decides to ask several colleagues he respects what questions they would have asked the two Democratic candidates. Chris Hedges, author and former New York Times Middle East bureau chief says he would have asked:

“The Israeli government is imposing severe and continual collective punishment on the 1.5 million people of tiny Gaza, which includes restricting or cutting off food, fuel, electricity, medicines and other necessities. Malnutrition rates among many children resemble the worst of sub-Saharan Africa. Israel’s leading newspaper, Ha’aretz, has reporters and columnists describing these horrific conditions and concluding that the ferocity of the blockade is detrimental to Israel as well as the Palestinians.

Collective punishment is clearly a violation of established international law. Prominent, former military, security and political leaders in Israel are speaking out against this punishment and calling for negotiations with Hamas. Do you, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, agree with these Israelis or do you continue to support the policy of collective punishment against innocent men, women and children in Gaza?”

Nader himself provides several questions he would have asked, questions that range from the issue of impeachment of Bush, challenging the health care industry, corporate fraud and corporate welfare.

Lastly, Minnesota-based journalist Lydia Howell raises important points about the CNN-moderated debate between Obama and Clinton. Responding to the blame both candidates assign to Bush for state of the US economy, Howell writes:

“While blaming the Bush Administration for the declining economy, greedy corporate globalization wasn’t questioned even as it has wrecked much of Mexico’s economy and communities across the U.S. Factories closing, three million jobs have disappeared in the last decade — which obviously includes the Clinton Administration era. So-called “free trade” agreements, such as NAFTA — passed while Hillary Clinton got some of her experience as First Lady, and pending trade deals with South Korea and Peru — weren’t worthy of discussion.”

With Edwards out of the race, several commentators have expressed concern that neither Clinton or Obama will seriously address the issue of poverty. Howell states:

“Both candidates started the night lauding John Edwards, but neither took up his banner of fighting poverty. Housing foreclosures got a nod; the housing crisis for the working poor and rising homelessness were ignored. Katrina became just a tool of Bush-bashing, but, neither pledged to really DO anything. Neither Obama or Clinton issued the strong challenges to corporate power at the heart of Edwards’ campaign. Perhaps, Obama got the warning loud and clear from Edwards’ fate. Clinton’s 15 years as a corporate lawyer makes where she stand clear — no matter how many times she cites her connection to the Children’s Defense Fund.”

Taking a Closer Look at Obama

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Now that the mainstream media is taking Barack Obama even more seriously as a presidential candidate since his win in Iowa, it is important to take a critical look at the Senator from Illinois.

Author and radical historian Paul Street has been providing some of the best analysis of the Obama campaign from the beginning. His most recent piece “Heart of Stone: Post Caucus Reflections” provides readers with some interesting insights on the Obama campaign and the presidential race so far. There has been some mention of the $80 million plus that the Obama campaign has raised so far, but not much on how it is being spent. Street points out “Obama spent more than $9 million on television ads in Iowa – the most of any candidate in the state. The second-place finisher, labor-“populist” Edwards, spent just $3.2 million. Obama got 38 percent of the state’s Democratic Party delegates, meaning that he spent $236,842 per delegate percentage point.” Buying more airtime most often will get you more votes.

Another aspect of the Obama campaign that hasn’t received much attention is where he stands on major policy issues. We have already looked at the so-called anti-war candidate Obama, his position on the Iraq war and his voting record, but what about where Obama stands on the recent violence in Pakistan? Tom Hayden states in a January 8 article, “Barack Obama’s advocacy of unilateral military intervention in Pakistan if there is “actionable intelligence” against al-Qaeda is giving legitimacy to the Bush administration’s gathering plan for an escalation.” “Actionable intelligence” seems rather vague and there is no clear evidence that the assassination of Bhutto was done by al-Qaeda. In a short piece that ran over the weekend on CounterPunch, Missy Beatie reminds voters of where Obama’s foreign policy allegiance lies. During a speech to the main US-based Israel lobby group AIPAC, Obama addressed the continuing US role in the Middle East by saying, “That effort begins with a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel: Our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy. “That will always be my starting point.”

None of this should surprise us when we consider who Obama has as foreign policy advisors. According to Michael Donnelly, many of the advisors that Obama has recruited were former Clinton administration staff, but his foreign advisors also include “Zbigniew Brzezinski, Susan Rice and Tony Lake.” Brzezinski, who was in the Carter administration, states:

“According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise:

Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”

Susan Rice, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under and is a member of the neo-liberal think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the campaign season continues it is important that we look beyond polls and personalities and start to ask serious questions about candidate platforms, policies and voting records.

Obama and Edwards Only Candidates to Answer Questionnaire on Government Reform

Yesterday, the Midwest Democracy Network–a nonpartisan alliance of 20 civic and public interest groups in the Midwest–released former U.S. Senator John Edwards’ and U.S. Senator Barrack Obama’s responses to a questionnaire on federal political and government reform issues. The questionnaire was sent to all Democratic and Republican Party presidential candidates, but the two Democrats were the only ones that responded. Regarding the limited participation in their questionnaire, the Midwest Democracy Network issued a statement saying that:

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of the presidential candidates chose not to address voters’ concerns about the health and direction of American democracy. Their silence is disappointing, and, of course, the American people have every reason to feel let down and badly treated.”

In their responses, Edwards and Obama took a number of positions calling for a variety of electoral reforms. Both candidates said that they would strengthen the public financing system for presidential elections and both said that they would be willing to accept public funds for their campaign if their Republican challenger did. They also both support voluntary financing of Congressional races and electronic filing for campaign finance data in Senate races. In addition, the candidates support stronger limits to prevent the so-called “Revolving Door” where administration officials move into lobbying jobs after leaving government. They also both support a variety of reforms designed to make voting easier, more effective, and less corruptible.

Michigan members of the Midwest Democracy Network include Common Cause Michigan, the League of Women Voters, and the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.