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Vice Presidential Debate

Two overshadowed vice presidential candidates briefly emerged into the media spotlight on Tuesday night. Their areas of agreement turned out to be more telling than their disagreements.

Last updated a year ago

Mike Pence and Donald Trump have both supported privatizing Social Security

Tim Kaine said tonight that Mike Pence “was the chief cheerleader for the privatization of Social Security. Even after President Bush stopped pushing for it, Congressman Pence kept pushing for it.”

Pence responded that “All Donald Trump and I have said is we will meet our obligations to our seniors.”

And, during the 2016 campaign, it’s true that Trump has claimed that “We will not cut Medicare or Social Security benefits.”

But there’s plenty of reason to believe he’s lying.

The 2016 Republican platform states that “all options should be considered to preserve Social Security. As Republicans, we oppose tax increases and believe in the power of markets to create wealth.” This is code for GOP support for privatization.

Tom Barrack, a private equity executive, Trump adviser and longtime friend of Trump, said a month ago that Trump is not advocating cuts now “because it’s a political suicide to make this case.” But eventually, said Barrack, “I think you’re going to see Donald do” what Ronald Reagan did and reduce entitlements. Trump adviser Sam Clovis said the candidate would consider changes to Social Security and Medicare if he is elected.

Trump also wrote in a 2000 book that “Privatization would be good for all of us.”

Pence himself has a long track record of supporting cuts and privatization. In 2005, when he was chair of the Republican Study Committee, he proclaimed that “Conservatives want to see personal retirement accounts” — i.e., privatization. In 2010 he stated that “with regard to entitlements … we’re going to have to take some deep cuts in domestic spending.”

In a statement released during the debate, Nancy Altman, founding co-director of Social Security Works, said: “Voters cannot be informed if candidates refuse to tell the truth. It is fine to repudiate past positions, but not to deny them. Both Donald Trump and Governor Mike Pence have clear records in support of privatizing Social Security — in fact, Pence criticized George W. Bush’s failed privatization plan for not going far enough! But rather than being honest with the American people, Mike Pence sought to mislead them tonight. He did that because poll after poll shows that the American people support expanding, not cutting, Social Security. In one recent survey, 68% of voters, including 53% of Republicans, opposed Social Security privatization.”

The networks tasked political hacks to evaluate the debate, not Americans impacted by it

As usual, the major cable news networks tasked political operatives to evaluate Mike Pence and Tim Kaine’s debate performances. Their views were predictable and unenlightening.

For example, on CNN, longtime Democratic strategist and former Bill Clinton advisor Paul Begala and Jeffrey Lord, a pro-Trump surrogate and Reagan alumni, anchored a panel arguing over which candidate got in the best zingers and had the coolest demeanor.

But imagine if the networks instead turned to the Americans who are most affected by the policies the next president pursues — students, labor unionists, veterans, retired people, environmentalists, feminists, business leaders and others. Then we might get to evaluate the candidates on the substance of the ideas, not the style of their burns.

People wanted Quijano to talk about women, then the men on stage did

Feminists on social media kept asking for moderator Elaine Quijano to ask the candidates for vice president about women.

Quijano never did, but the candidates brought up women on their own own. When he was asked about his religion, Mike Pence began talking about abortion.

“I know, Senator Kaine, you hold pro-life views personally, but the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me,” Pence said.

Kaine replied: “We support Roe versus Wade. We support the constitutional right — of American women to consult their own conscience, their own support of partner at their own minister, but make their own decision about pregnancy. That is something we trust American women to do.”

Tim Kaine boasts of carrying out executions even though he found them immoral

One of the odder moments in tonight’s debate came when Tim Kaine spoke eloquently about his faith and his personal opposition to the death penalty — then boasted that he was able to separate his faith and his duty as Virginia’s governor by carrying out executions anyway.

He told viewers that “it was very difficult to allow executions to go forward, but in circumstances where I did not feel like there’s a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law and I did.”

Twitter user @BroPair pointed out the discrepancy:

Kaine carried out 11 executions as governor.

 

Mike Pence remakes Trump foreign policy, calls for strikes on Syrian military

Mike Pence broke in a big way with the top of his ticket on foreign policy during the debate, declaring that his administration would be prepared to “strike military targets of the Assad regime.”

The answer came in response to a question about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, which is currently under siege by forces loyal to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. In recent days, Russian military jets have bombed the city, killing scores of civilians, and the surrounding region has featured fierce fighting between Syrian forces and U.S.-backed rebel groups.

Trump has long argued that he would not target Assad, and would instead work with Russia, Assad’s ally, to instead target the Islamic State in Syria. Pence’s comments are much closer to the neoconservative demands that the U.S. enter the conflict on the side of the rebels to overthrow the Assad regime.

Sympathy for the moderator

The frequent interruptions and cross-talk in the debate have generated a wave of sympathy for the moderator, Elaine Quijano, on social networks — mainly focused on her attempts to keep the candidates from cutting each other off and talking over her.

Some observers, including David Axelrod, who ran Barack Obama’s campaigns, were critical of Quijano for cutting short potentially interesting exchanges that veered away from her prepared questions.

Mike Pence is wrong; foreigners absolutely can put money into U.S. elections

In his debate attack on the Clinton Foundation, Mike Pence accurately noted its contributions from foreign governments.

But then he went on to say that “foreign donors and certainly foreign governments cannot participate in the American political process.”

That’s not quite right.

As The Intercept recently reported, foreign nationals — a term that includes foreign individuals, corporations and governments — can now funnel money into U.S. politics thanks to the 2010 Citizens United decision.

This is not hypothetical. The Intercept proved that a California corporation owned by Chinese citizens donated $1.3 million to Right to Rise USA, the main Super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. How much other foreign money is flowing through the Citizens United loophole is unknown.

Bizarre moments: Mike Pence echoes Democrats, advocates confrontation with Russia and Putin

In one of the stranger moments of this strange vice presidential debate, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine puffed up their chests and grappled with one another over who can be more antagonistic to Russia and who can scare Vladimir Putin more. Though it was a close call, Pence won this Tough Guy competition by advocating the use of military force against Putin’s ally, Syria’s Bashar Assad, and even calling for the targeting of Russian military assets in Syria.

There were several layers of irony to this discussion. To begin with, Pence’s running mate, Donald Trump, has repeatedly called for a de-escalation of tension with Russia, resulting in repeated accusations that he is some sort of agent of the Kremlin – all while his vice presidential nominee tonight continually read from a stale Cold War script while ranting against Putin. Second, Democrats have spent the last several months building Putin into the Supreme World Villain while accusing all their domestic critics – by no means confined to Trump – of being covert agents (or stooges) of Moscow, leaving them with no basis to object to Pence’s crazed fear-mongering and militarism. Finally, while Pence’s most extreme statements were indeed alarming — including a path that could lead to military confrontation with Russia in Syria — the no-fly-zone and escalation proposals of Hillary Clinton and her all-but-certain Defense Secretary, Michele Flournoy, could easily lead to the same outcome.

All of this illustrates why the Democratic rhetoric this year on Russia is simultaneously so strange and so dangerous. It’s strange because they sound like some unholy mix of J. Edgar Hoover and Ronald Reagan (and Mike Pence). And it’s dangerous because it’s trained large numbers of Democrats to view Russia as a Grave Threat which must be confronted and never accommodated or treated as a partner (even while Barack Obama, from Syria to Ukraine, has repeatedly attempted to forge compromise with Putin).

Pence is wrong: The U.S. spends way too much on its military

Despite Michael Pence’s claim that we need to begin by “rebuilding our military,” the U.S. is not even close to losing its overwhelming military dominance.

The share of world military expenditure of the 15 states with the highest expenditure in 2015. (Source: SIPRI)

Last year, the United States spent $600 billion on its military – roughly as much as the next eight countries put together. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, U.S. military spending accounts for more than a third of the entire world’s military spending.

Military spending is also 40 percent higher than it was on 9/11, despite President Obama’s withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mike Pence and Tim Kaine’s Syrian “Safe Zone” would require thousands of troops

Tim Kaine and Michael Pence surprisingly agreed on establishing “safe zones” in Syria for beleaguered civilians. But both candidates failed to mention the troop commitment such zones would take to defend.

In his 2013 assessment given to Congress, then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said that “thousands of U.S. ground forces would be needed, even if positioned outside Syria, to support those physically defending the zones. A limited no-fly zone coupled with U.S. ground forces would push the costs over one billion dollars per month.”

In February, Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate panel that the Pentagon has estimated it would take between 15,000 and 30,000 American troops to secure safe zones within Syria.

Mike Pence and America’s favorite Christian crusader

Mike Pence was raised Catholic, but he transformed into an evangelical after being converted at a Christian music festival in Kentucky.  Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater mercenary army, was raised in the Dutch Reformed Church before converting to Catholicism. But this sectarian divide didn’t stop these two from a marriage consummated in war profiteering and Christian crusading.

Pence received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Prince, including money given to Pence’s PAC called “Principles Exalt a Nation.” In December 2007, three months after Blackwater operatives gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, Pence and his Republican Study Committee, which served “the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives,” organized a gathering to welcome Prince to Washington. 

The idea of a Trump presidency is certainly a frightening prospect, but given that he has said that Pence will be in charge of both domestic and foreign policy, while Trump focuses on making America great again, this could presage a triumphant return to the fatherland for Prince and his mercenary cronies.

Donald Trump quotes from exchange with fan worried about “white genocide”

Since his opening salvo aimed at Megyn Kelly, Donald Trump has focused his live tweeting of the debate mainly on quoting the heckling of Tim Kaine by his fans.

As Dan Primack of Forbes notes, one of the Twitter exchanges Trump quoted from started with a person who has previously expressed concern about “white genocide” and referred to Kaine as a “cuckold.”

Whoever the next president is, she or he will love dictators

Tim Kaine attacked Donald Trump and Michael Pence for “loving dictators,” and rolling out a “personal Mount Rushmore,” including “Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Il, Muammar Gaddafi, and Saddam Hussein.” The line mirrors a frequent attack Clinton has rolled out during her campaign:

Trump does indeed have  an alarming amount of sympathy for autocratic regimes. But if voters want a president who will put distance between the U.S. and dictators, they may be out of luck. As I’ve written before, voters will be facing a choice between a president who praises dictators and a president who befriends them.

Clinton has described longtime Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and his wife as “friends of the family.” She once called Bashar al-Assad a “reformer,” and played a central role in legitimizing a 2009 military coup in Honduras. Clinton also approved tens of billions of dollars in weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia — including aircraft and bombs now being used in Yemen — while accepting tens of millions of dollars in donations from gulf state monarchies.

Men are talking over women — again

Donald Trump isn’t the only person in this election who interrupts women. Kaine and Pence aren’t letting moderator Elaine Quijano interject. At one point, she said: “The people can’t hear you when you speak over each other. Please, I ask you to wait until it is that the others finished.”

Last week, I pointed out that Donald Trump kept interrupting Hillary Clinton. Quite a few women said they identified with her.

No, Social Security is not in any danger of going bankrupt

Moderator Elaine Quijano implied that Social Security faces a coming crisis, pointing to the future of the Social Security Trust Fund as if it were synonymous with the Social Security program overall.

The Trust Fund is expected to stay in the black through 2034, according to the most recent Trustees report. This does not mean that the program will go bankrupt or that there is an impending crisis when that day comes. The program will still be taking in enough money to pay most of its payments. And there’s a simple fix that would allow it to make 100 percent of payments for the foreseeable future.

Currently, the payroll tax only taxes income up to $118,500. Whether you earn that income or $10 million a year, only the first $118,500 is taxed. If we simply lifted the tax cap and taxed all income equally, there would be no issue making payments for decades.

Donald Trump would massively cut taxes for richest one percent, add trillions to debt

Both candidates’ tax plans have been brought up during the vice presidential debate.

The Tax Foundation, a conservative D.C. think tank created to argue for lower taxes on the wealthy and corporations, found that Trump’s tax plan would raise the national debt over 10 years by $4.4 trillion and $5.9 trillion on a static basis. The huge $1.5 trillion range in their estimate was required because Trump’s plan provided so few details.

This increase in the federal debt would be between about 2 and 2.5 percent of the entire U.S. gross domestic product over the 10-year period.

Trump’s plan would be an enormous boon to the wealthy, increasing the after-tax income of the richest 1 percent between 10.2 percent and 16.0 percent.

The Tax Foundation estimated that Hillary Clinton’s tax plan would reduce the national debt over the next ten years by $498 billion on a static basic.

Clinton’s plan would reduce the after-tax income of the top 1 percent by 1.7 percent when judged on a static basic, or perhaps more using the Tax Foundation’s own dynamic estimate.

Kaine and Pence agree on community policing because it sounds good, means nothing

During tonight’s debate both vice presidential candidates said they support community policing. Pence, who took a question after Kaine, even had to premise his and Trump’s supposed support for it by telling his opponent, “At the risk of agreeing with you.”

Sounds good? That’s the problem with “community policing.” It sounds great. It means basically nothing.

As The Intercept previously reported, community policing that — as Kaine suggested tonight — aims to “build bonds” between law enforcement and communities of color, won’t fix the policing crisis this country faces. As members of the very communities most victimized by police abuse know all too well, knowing the cops walking their beats won’t stop them from getting killed by them. Having a say over how their police departments are run might.

True community policing is one that puts the community first, and not just in the occasional town hall meeting: giving civilians oversight over their police departments, including a say over legislation regulating law enforcement and access to serious accountability processes.

Until that happens, community policing will remain a catchphrase so empty and meaningless that even opposing candidates won’t have much to disagree about.

NPR does us all a service with live transcript

NPR’s live blog includes a live transcript as well as fact checking. If you want to double-check something that didn’t quite make sense, check it out. We are. It’s done by contractor Verb8tm, Inc, which partners with NPR to write up its radio programs. It’s not completely accurate, but it’s still pretty good.

 

Debate moderator cites billionaire front group to fearmonger about national debt

Moderator Elaine Quijano pushed the vice presidential candidates on why they aren’t doing more to address the national debt. To do so, she cited the “Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,” saying that “According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, neither of your economic plans will reduce the growing $19 trillion gross national debt. In fact, your plans would add even more to it. ”

The CFRB may be nonpartisan, but it is hardly nonideological. It has been supported for years by billionaire Pete Peterson, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars pushing alarmism about the U.S. national debt.

Economist Dean Baker notes that interest payments on the debt are actually quite low, and that reducing the debt should not be a high priority. “Currently, that is less than 1.0 percent of GDP. Back in the 1990s, the interest we paid on the debt was more than 3.0 percent of GDP. And, even that level of interest payments did not prevent us from having a very prosperous decade.”

Donald Trump already attacking Megyn Kelly

Donald Trump, in the guise of @realDonaldTrump, kicked off his debate live-tweeting by ignoring Tim Kaine’s first answer and delivering the commentary America wants and needs – another attack on Megyn Kelly, apparently for something she said on Fox about his whereabouts, and that of his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.

According to Brian Stelter of CNN, Trump’s fit of pique was generated by the suggestion that his use of Twitter during the debate would be managed by his campaign staff.

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