Reflections on the Democratic debate


As usual, the Democratic debate was far more substantive and featured a lot less childish back-and-forth than the Republican one. (You can read the transcript here.) They quickly got past the whole data breach snafu that had exploded just the previous day, with Bernie Sanders giving his explanation for what happened and apologizing for what his campaign had done.

The debate spent large amount of time on the question of what to do about ISIS and the Middle East, what should be the role of the US when it comes to leaders there whom it does not like (like Syria’s Assad), and how to prevent ‘lone wolf’ attacks by ISIS sympathizers in the US.

While the first two issues are worthy of debate, I can tell you that I am pretty sick of the third. None of the candidates in either party seem to be able to speak the truth on this and that is that once you have created a society that has over 300 million guns in the hands of individuals who can get hold of them with little or no trouble, with tens of millions of those guns being high-powered assault weapons, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can do to prevent one individual (or two or three) from going on a rampage and killing multiple people. That is going to happen with some regularity. The motives will differ. Some will due to anti-abortion fanaticism, some due to anger with society in general because their personal lives are a mess or they’ve lost their jobs and homes and family, some due to political ideology, and some simply because they have become deranged. There are a whole host of other possible reasons that we cannot predict will trigger such actions. The only predictable thing is that such incidents will happen over and over again. We should come to terms with it like we do with auto accidents, which kill a lot more people.

The numbers killed by ISIS sympathizers is small compared to the entire death toll. But people have become convinced that being killed by an ISIS sympathizer is a whole lot worse than being killed for any other reason, though once you are dead, you are equally dead whatever the motives of the killer. Instead this whole issue has become an excuse to increase the government’s surveillance and other powers over the population.

Some of the candidates and reporters and members of the public say things like “The main duty of the president is to keep people safe” so often that it has become a truism. But it is not true. The president takes an oath to protect and uphold the constitution, not to keep us safe. That oath is something that is within his or her power and can and should be done. But when the shift is made to keep people safe as being the main duty of the president, then this tacitly enables them to shred the constitution purportedly in pursuit of that unattainable goal. This is why I reject that statement entirely.

You cannot stop ‘lone wolf gunmen’ while allowing powerful guns to proliferate like wildflowers and we just have to get used to that fact and stop pretending otherwise.

While denying that she was calling for the government to be given a backdoor key to break encryption, Hillary Clinton went full Carly Fiorina in calling for the government and tech companies to collude in spying on people, saying:

I would hope that, given the extraordinary capacities that the tech community has and the legitimate needs and questions from law enforcement, that there could be a Manhattan-like project, something that would bring the government and the tech communities together to see they’re not adversaries, they’ve got to be partners.

I just think there’s got to be a way, and I would hope that our tech companies would work with government to figure that out. Otherwise, law enforcement is blind — blind before, blind during, and, unfortunately, in many instances, blind after.

So we always have to balance liberty and security, privacy and safety, but I know that law enforcement needs the tools to keep us safe.

Once again, we see her using the ‘giving law enforcement the tools to keep us safe’ formulation as an excuse to violate our civil liberties. Martin O’Malley strongly rejected that premise and said that we should never give up our privacy and that the government should get warrants for any searches, as the constitution requires.

On the other issues, Clinton, like Chris Christie, wants to create a no-fly zone in Syria but when questioned, blandly asserts that it would not lead to a situation where the US is faced with shooting down a Syrian or Russian planes, risking a major escalation in the war. Bernie Sanders rightly says that she is too aggressive and that toppling dictators (something that Clinton is inordinately fond of doing) is easy but leads to unintended consequences. Clinton says that we must fight ISIS and topple Assad at the same time and indulges in some Iran bashing. She also wants to send in special forces to that region.

Sanders says that we should focus on fighting ISIS first. He rightly says that it is not Assad that is attacking the US. O’Malley says that it is not the role of the US to say that Assad must go, saying

Where did it ever say in the Constitution, where is it written that it’s the job of the United States of America or its secretary of State to determine when dictators have to go?

We have a role to play in this world. But it is not the world — the role of traveling the world looking for new monsters to destroy.

Clinton clearly sees the role of the US as some kind of global dictator that gets to decide which leaders of nations can stay in power and which must go. She refuses to acknowledge that her support of regime change in Libya was a mistake, though the growth of ISIS can be directly linked to the chaos that was created in that country by the toppling of Gaddafi.

Sanders was as usual strongest on the issues of the economy and the need to break the stranglehold of the financial sector on the economy, especially the big banks and the large multinationals. He said flatly that he does not expect them to support his campaign and that they will not like him and he does not care. He said, “the greed of the billionaire class, the greed of Wall Street is destroying this economy and is destroying the lives of millions of Americans.” O’Malley also hit Clinton for shielding the big banks for the role in the financial crash, pointing out that “in the last debate, very shamefully, she tried to hide her cozy relationship with Wall Street big banks by invoking the attacks of 9/11.”

Clinton, on the other hand, says that she does want their support and does not call for the breakup of the big banks. She avoids taking a stand and makes banal statements like that she wants to be “president for the struggling, the striving and the successful”. In addition to being solicitous of the big banks, she also avoided committing to a single-payer system, no doubt to avoid alienating the big health insurance conglomerates.

So the debate cemented the positions of the three candidates, with Clinton reinforcing her image as a warmongering friend of the financial and multinational interests, Sanders as the progressive on the side of the 99%, and O’Malley somewhere in the middle but much closer to Sanders than to Clinton.

Comments

  1. Nick Gotts says

    Interesting that in both nomination races, opposition to the interventionist foreign policy orthodoxy is prominent – coming almost entirely from “anti-establishment” candidates (Sanders, Trump, Cruz, Paul). I would have put O’Malley down as another establishment clone, but based on your report, perhaps he’s not – or at least, he sees the benefit in pretending otherwise. But Clinton has maintained a large and steady poll lead for months – it would surely take a PR disaster or health problem to prevent her getting the nomination.

  2. brucegee1962 says

    There’s one question I’d love to see the moderators ask all the warmongering candidates — especially the Repubs.

    “So let’s assume you get your way. You set up an impressive international coalition, and you go in with all our troops, and yes, you absolutely squash ISIS like a bug, and as an added perk take out Assad along the way.

    You have now entered a time warp back to 2003, except with considerably more territory to administer, Syria as well as Iraq, and the local populace a lot less willing to give us the benefit of the doubt this time around. What would you do differently to ensure a better outcome?”

  3. brucegee1962 says

    Oh, and a bonus question: “Given that terrorists can do a huge amount of damage with just a few thousand dollars, and don’t actually need a state to sponsor them, what makes you think that destroying ISIS will actually put a dent in terrorism?”

  4. laurentweppe says

    While the first two issues are worthy of debate, I can tell you that I am pretty sick of the third. None of the candidates in either party seem to be able to speak the truth on this and that is that once you have created a society that has over 300 million guns in the hands of individuals who can get hold of them with little or no trouble, with tens of millions of those guns being high-powered assault weapons, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can do to prevent one individual (or two or three) from going on a rampage and killing multiple people.

    The US’ problem is not that there’s two or three individuals going on rampage and killing multiple people.
    The US’ problem is that there’s two or three hundred individuals going on rampage and killing multiple people yearly, with most of the slaughter becoming blips in the background as far as the media are concerned unless the murders happen in a school or clinic or when the killer(s) have arabic sounding names or cosplay as comic-book villains.

    ***

    when the shift is made to keep people safe as being the main duty of the president, then this tacitly enables them to shred the constitution purportedly in pursuit of that unattainable goal.

    And when the constitution -and therefore the rule of law- is shredded, then nobody is safe anymore: the people become preys of the police state, while the elites and their issues face the fate of being eventually slaughtered during the uprising caused by the police state’s abuses.

    ***

    On the other issues, Clinton, like Chris Christie, wants to create a no-fly zone in Syria but when questioned, blandly asserts that it would not lead to a situation where the US is faced with shooting down a Syrian or Russian planes, risking a major escalation in the war.

    To be fair, a no-fly zone should have been established at the onset of the civil war: the Assad dynasty’s air force committed a lot of atrocities because its planes could fly safely, and was instrumental in turning Syria into the ruined landscape where Daesh planted its flag.

    ***

    Bernie Sanders rightly says that she is too aggressive and that toppling dictators (something that Clinton is inordinately fond of doing) is easy but leads to unintended consequences

    Toppling dictators out of the blue like Junior did does leads to unintended deleterious consequences… but so does allowing autocrats to survive popular uprisings.

    If the Assad dynasty survives the civil war, it will try to cement its rule by being relentless in its repression of reconquered provinces (including the kurdish ones, because sooner or later the regime will want to retaliate against its most successful rebels), then will double down on its police state in the vain hope to forever bully the syrian population into craven submission by cranking up the state-sanctioned violence.

    Eventually, 20-30 years down the line a new uprising will happen (in case people forget, today’s civil war is the second uprising against the Assad dynasty), and some aspects of the situation can already be predicted:
    1. The Assad regime will be even more inept than it already is (that’s what autocracies’ elites do: the become increasingly parasitic and incompetent as time goes by)
    2. The next uprising, fueled by a revanchist desire will be even more ruthless than Daesh is nowadays, and will probably make the extermination of the “pro-Assad” communities (not the forced conversion, not the subjugation, not the exile: the genocide) one of if not its top priorities.

    And by then, it’s not certain that the Russian and Iranian patrons of the dynasty will be willing, or even able to spend even more resources to save their clients’ heads. If Daesh falls (and it will fall: it’s a Jacquerie not an emergent superpower) but Assad survives, the next Daesh will not only be even more murderous, but it may very well succeed.
    By then, when millions of Alawite are slaughtered in a massive country-wide vendetta, those who thought that keeping Assad in place was a smart idea won’t look that farseeing.

    The same can be said about Libya: except that here it was We Westerners who played the role of Russia and Iran toward Tripoli: the Gaddafi regime was a parasitic nepotistic family mob which maintained its control over the country through heavily armed mercenaries payed by the oil rent, oil that was sold to European countries: WE artificially kept alive that illegitimate tyranny for years by financing its army of uniformed bullies: The West did not cause a regime change: it subsidized a corrupt regime allowing to survive much longer than it could have on its own. When the Libyan population revolted, Gaddafi proclaimed that he would use his Euros-funded private militia to raze Benghazi and slaughter the East into submission. Had the West, and most notably Europe played along, the slaughter of tens of thousands would have happened throughout all of Cyrenaica, and for what? A decade or two during which the Gaddafi regime would have trudged along, forcing its subjects to live in misery until a new, this time successful, uprising happened and slaughtered the country’s western half in retaliation for the slaughter of the East.

  5. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    with tens of millions of those guns being high-powered assault weapons

    Apparently you’re not willing to listen, but let me say it again. If you don’t want to look like a fool, stop using the phrase “assalt weapon”. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a fictional categorization of guns invented by people who don’t know anything about guns, and it’s used by those who should know better and use the term to pander and fear-monger.

    The truth of the matter is that there is little to no practical difference between common hunting rifles and (semiauto) so-called assault weapons. The entire idea is based on a fiction that (semiauto) military rifles are somehow better than common hunting rifles – and that’s all it is: a fiction. An assault weapon is any common semiauto hunting rifle, with a detachable box magazine, with a couple minor cosmetic features and sometimes better concealability, and a scary paint job. Absolutely nothing to do with rate of fire, bullet firepower, etc.

    Further, a vast majority of handgun deaths and injuries are handguns. Even handguns account for about half of the mass-shootings. Again, focusing on so-called “assault weapons” while ignoring handguns is extremely foolish.

    Please stop making the gun control side look stupid. Please stop using the term “assault weapon”. Please stop focusing on assault weapons as though it’s anything but a curiousity in the big picture of gun deaths and injuries. Please Mano, you’re better than this.

  6. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    > Further, a vast majority of gun deaths and injuries are handguns. Even handguns account for about half of the mass-shootings. Again, focusing on so-called “assault weapons” while ignoring handguns is extremely foolish.

    Fixed.

  7. John Morales says

    EnlightenmentLiberal, you’re getting exercised over simple terminology?

    As you yourself noted, “An assault weapon is any common semiauto hunting rifle, with a detachable box magazine…”

    But then, what’s the difference between a “semiauto hunting rifle” and a “semiauto rifle”? 🙂

    Might as well call it a slug-projector… makes no difference. And sure, handguns are basically people-killers, whereas long-guns are anything-killers.

    Guns are primarily killing tools.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    A “semiauto hunting rifle” is something sold on the basis that its intended target is an animal and its intended user acknowledges that they’re a poor shooter. (Surely a proper hunting rifle would be bolt-action and would have a much slower rate of effective fire, on the basis that if you’re any good you only need one shot, and if you’re not, you shouldn’t be firing at live targets.)

    A “semiauto rifle” is any rifle capable of semi-automatic fire.

    An “assault rifle” is, I would contend, a rifle sold on the basis that its intended target is a human. Any time in the last twenty to thirty years I’d expect such a thing to be capable, out of the factory, of fully-automatic fire, although depending on laws and so on such a facility may be removed before sale – the point being it’s there in the design from the beginning. Anything that is or could reasonably be issued to the infantry of a nation’s armed services could reasonably be referred to as an assault rifle. I can’t see the reason for the objection to it as a term.

  9. doublereed says

    I thought Hillary did a good job evading the question of encryption, honestly. She basically said we can do it, but she doesn’t know how. It appeals to her own ignorance and the ignorance of her audience. O’Malley didn’t let her get away with such a non-answer, which was quite good.

    I thought it was a really good debate, honestly. Their answers were incredibly specific on nearly every topic.

  10. lorn says

    I was impressed by the difference in GOP and Democratic debates. The former reminded me of kids in grade school blustering and shoving to be the king of the hill so they could have a shot at appearing both tough and commanding. That this was done while speaking of war, wars which would sacrifice other people’s kids, and , due to the shape of the tax code, other peoples money should give every sane person pause. It scares me to contemplate Trump or Cruz with nuclear weapons. No that any of the others are much more reassuring.

    Carson’s deeply submerged anger control issues are only offset by the impossibility of the token black man for the GOP becoming their nomination. The GOP base simply isn’t going to go for replacing one black man with another. Unblackening indeed.

    The Democrats all seemed presidential, and they all seemed to hold to Democratic core beliefs and assumptions about fairness, justice, and the need to draw lines controlling guns, corporate power and the role of money in politics. Everyone agreed that things are out of whack and limits are needed. This is a stark contrast to the GOP where limits are widely assumed to be the problem. The differences for the Democrats were mainly, as I see it, where the lines get drawn.

    A few notes on firearms:
    The term assault rifle has history, some precision rooted in this history, and a whole lot of interpretation.

    The term assault rifle is Anglicization of the term sturmgewehr. The word means, quite literally, “storm-rifle”. It is assumed that “storm” is being used as a synonym of assault. As in ‘we storm the bastion’. Given that the German military doctrine was one of aggression and attack as decisive, defense was considerer to be secondary tactic employed just long enough to organize an attack to settle the issue, it seems likely that “sturm” is being used in this way.

    There were other weapons which included many of the features we think of as comprising an assault rifle. Automatic firearms, machine guns, were introduced near the end of the US Civil War. More portable models were seen in WWI but most solved the problems of size, weight, and control by using a much lighter pistol cartridge. These were classified as machine-pistols or sub-machine guns.

    As early as 1900 weapons designers were seeking to combine the accuracy, range and power of a rifle; the reliable volume of fire of a machine gun; and the portability of a pistol. The sturmgewehr-44 was the first production weapon to effectively bring it all together.

    On a personal note:
    Firearms are tools. It is important to match the tool to the job.

    Assault rifles are designed for the battlefield and they are entirely appropriate in that context. If you find the place where you live to be where an assault rifle is appropriate your priority should be to quickly leave. War is many times worse for civilians than professionals. Leave the war to professionals. If you really want to participate … become a professional. I recommend the USMC.

    If you are a smaller frame individual. old, or infirm and your intention is to physically confront a crack addict who has broken into your house to steal your X-box might be better off with a baseball bat than any firearm. Even a small boy or girl can inflict enough suffering with a bat to dissuade any return. While it is possible to kill with a bat you can fairly easily avoid it with a little restraint. Hint – avoid hitting them hard in the head. You can swing for the fences on the legs.

    There is a lot to be said about a nice piece of hickory: It will not go off accidentally. It will not accidentally kill someone on the other side of the wall or a mile away. You are unlikely to use it to kill yourself in a fit of despair. Convicted felon can own one. It is great for open carry. If you slip a baseball glove on the end you can carry it around the neighborhood without anyone batting an eye. Bring a ball and you can have a game.

    Engaging the local community in a spirited game of baseball will do more to protect your property than any weapon.

  11. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    A “semiauto hunting rifle” is something sold on the basis that its intended target is an animal and its intended user acknowledges that they’re a poor shooter. (Surely a proper hunting rifle would be bolt-action and would have a much slower rate of effective fire, on the basis that if you’re any good you only need one shot, and if you’re not, you shouldn’t be firing at live targets.)

    Many common hunting rifles are semiauto.

    An “assault rifle” is, I would contend, a rifle sold on the basis that its intended target is a human. Any time in the last twenty to thirty years I’d expect such a thing to be capable, out of the factory, of fully-automatic fire, although depending on laws and so on such a facility may be removed before sale – the point being it’s there in the design from the beginning. Anything that is or could reasonably be issued to the infantry of a nation’s armed services could reasonably be referred to as an assault rifle. I can’t see the reason for the objection to it as a term.

    Don’t get confused between “assault rifle”, which more often than not denotes autofire capability, and “assault weapon”, which is a bullshit term pulled out of someone’s ass.

    Intent is not magic. We shouldn’t be designing laws around the intent of the designer of the gun. We should be designing laws around the actual effects of the gun. If some weapon is extraordinarily dangerous, but it wasn’t “intended” to be dangerous, we should go off the actual capabilities and not the intent.

    My fucker senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, submitted this assault weapons ban for California.
    https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s150

    The law explicitly calls out certain guns by make and model that are to be allowed. Generally these are popular hunting rifles. Case in point: The Ruger Mini-14 is a popular hunting rifle. It’s a semiauto rifle, with a detachable box magazine, and a nice normal-looking wood finish. It’s on the allowed weapons list in this bill.

    The law also explicitly calls out weapons by make and model that are to be banned. Generally these have a scary military finish. Case in point: “Sturm, Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Rife M–14/20CF”.

    Here’s the wikipedia page for the weapon:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruger_Mini-14

    Notice how it’s the same wikipedia page. That’s because it’s the same weapon. Literally the only differences are: paint job, slightly different grips, collapsible stock slightly increases concealability (but that’s why we should be talking about handguns which are far superior). The underlying weapon has the same mechanical action, same rate of fire, same bullet size, same power in fired bullets, etc.

    tl;dr
    If what you want to ban is all semiauto rifles, then just say that. “Assault weapon” is not synonymous with “semiauto rifle”. There are many semiauto rifles that are commonly known as and commonly used as hunting rifles, that are just as effective / deadly as so-called “assault weapons”, but which are also very much not considered to be “assault weapons”. Again, “assault weapon” is an entirely fictitious term that has no bearing on reality.

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