Saturday, January 16, 2016

#Oregonstandoff - Militia leader Ammon Bundy’s big goals from occupation

Video Report - Implementation Day means a 'safer world' - Kerry on Iran nuclear deal

Brutal Crackdown on Kurds Shows Erdogan’s Desire for ‘Dictatorship’

The ongoing crackdown on Kurds in southeastern Turkey shows that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is working to set up a dictatorship in the country, Hatip Dicle, the co-chair of Pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Congress (DTK), told Sputnik in an interview.

"They [the Erdogan government] call it a "presidential form of government," but in fact it's pure dictatorship. The Turkish government wants to formally introduce the dictatorial form of government in the country," Dicle said.

The Kurdish issue is getting worse every day. People in the country are worried and want to know what steps Erdogan's government would take next after an attack, allegedly carried out by Kurds, last night in the province of Diyarbakir.

Official PKK representatives said they would like to sit at the negotiation table with the government. The PKK also intends to keep pushing for the idea of democratic autonomy for Kurds living in Turkey.

"We never said that by asking for democratic autonomy we refuse to discuss how this process should take place. On the contrary, we want to find a democratic solution that would bring peace," Dicle told Sputnik.

Currently, the government is waging an all-out war against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The Turkish military is criticized for the use of excessive force, which has resulted in the death of over 100 innocent civilians since the start of the anti-Kurdish operation in July 2015.

The situation in the Kurdish-populated regions is dire. For example, in the town Cizre, Sirnak Province, tanks were positioned in the streets, fire fights constantly are taking place and artillery fire has turned buildings into ruins.

"Many quarters of the town turned into continues trenches. A similar tactic of a constant tank shelling was used when destroying Jewish quarters by Hitler forces," Dicle described the situation in Sirnak.

Read more:

Lack of Self-Confidence: Why Saudis Fear the Rise of Iran?

The real reason behind the ongoing beef between Saudi Arabia and Iran is that Riyadh fears that the increasing role of Tehran in the region is happening at the expense of Saudi Arabia, political analyst Milad Jokar, who specialized in Middle Eastern affairs, told Sputnik France in an interview.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have dramatically deteriorated following the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Riyadh at the beginning of January.

Relations between the leading Sunni and Shiite nations had never been warm, but the latest incident, which some believe was provoked by Riyadh, has brought tensions to a new low.

According to Jokar, the ongoing confrontation is the result of Saudi fears, who feel threatened by the rise of Iran.
First, Riyadh fears that sanctions against Iran will soon be removed, bringing a lot of positive international attention and boost to Tehran, the analyst explained.

Current Saudi policies directed against Tehran and Shiites in general show Riyadh's attempts to counter the changing geopolitical shift in the Middle East which favors Iran.

"Iran would restore its role and its natural position in the region, surpassing Saudi Arabia in population, area and natural resources," Jokar told Sputnik France.

The factor of economy is another reason behind Riyadh's anti-Iranian move, Jokar said.

Although in the terms of sheer volume Saudi Arabia exports more oil than Iran does, the presence of an extra 1.1 million barrels of oil from Iran would certainly bring global oil prices further down, hitting the already shattered economy of Saudi Arabia even more.

While the Saudis threaten peace in the entire Middle East by provoking Iran, Tehran has not sought this confrontation, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

"We have no desire or interest in escalation of tensions in our neighborhood," Zarif said in a letter, as cited by AFP.

At the same time, the Iranian top diplomat added that most members of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Daesh (Islamic State), al-Nusra Front are Saudi citizens or people who have been brainwashed into extremist ideology using Saudi oil money.

Riyadh said around 2,500 Saudi citizens joined terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq, constituting one of the largest groups of foreign recruits, according to Reuters.    

Read more:

Billy Joel - We Didn't Start the Fire

China urges Japan not to distort facts about Diaoyu Islands

China's defense ministry on Friday urged Japan not to distort the facts about the Diaoyu Islands issue. 

The remarks came in response to Japanese media reports that Japanese navy ships would be sent to urge Chinese naval ships to leave if they come within about 12 nautical miles of the islands. 

China's position on the Diaoyu Islands is consistent and clear, said a press release on the ministry's website. 

The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times, and China has every right to navigate and patrol its territorial waters near Diaoyu Islands, said the press release. 

The Chinese armed forces will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and security interests, it said.

Obama’s Triumph: Iran Nuclear Deal Comes Gift-wrapped by Prisoner Release

Saturday’s prisoner exchange between Iran and the United States symbolizes the potential for profound change in relations between the two countries. It wraps the announcement of the implementation of the nuclear deal and the removal of sanctions against Tehran in a positive spin. It provides President Barack Obama with a significant PR boost, just as it deprives the GOP of a potent political weapon: the continued detention of the four Iranian-Americans had been a favored tool to hammer both Obama and the deal.

Although Iran remains a dangerous, aggressive, terror-supporting state, the positive conclusion of the secret negotiations on the prisoner release – together with the quick resolution of the captured U.S. sailors in the Persian Gulf last week – enforce the perception that moderates are gaining strength in Tehran; that they are complying with their commitments under the nuclear deal (as the IAEA confirmed Saturday); and that they wish to put Iran on a less belligerent course in the international arena. Obama and his officials view the cup as half full; they believe that the moderates should be strengthened through compromise and dialogue. Their critics and adversaries see the cup as half empty; they prefer a policy of force and intimidation.

Israel, together with some of Iran’s Sunni enemies in the Middle East, adheres to the second school of thought. Jerusalem tends to interpret any perceived softening in Iranian positions as camouflage for its malicious intentions. Sources in Washington have no expectation that the prisoner swap will be viewed any differently. The removal of sanctions, also announced Saturday, will likewise be seen as an almost mortal blow.

Among Israelis who are engaged in national security intelligence and assessments, there are many who discern a much more complex landscape than the black-and-white picture emanating from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Their voices, however, grow steadily fainter, for fear of the harsh criticism repeatedly leveled at them by cabinet ministers and apprehension that their careers would suffer as a result. Thus, Israel exempts itself from examining whether new opportunities exist that might require some adjustments – never mind a complete overhaul – in its single-minded policy toward Iran.

In the eyes of the Obama administration, though, the release and start of the deal provide confirmation, however fleeting, of the triumph of diplomacy and discreet dialogue over confrontation and public polemics. In an impressive display of self-discipline, Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other administration officials refrained from responding to harsh criticism over their supposedly tepid reaction to the capture of the U.S. sailors, as well as their decision last week to put off new sanctions against Iran for its ballistic missile launches. But the surprising release of the prisoners may legitimize their actions retroactively, and could also neutralize the damage caused by the photos of the sailors in captivity at the very least. Some U.S. officials have promised, meanwhile, that new sanctions would be announced a few hours after the implementation of the nuclear deal was launched.

The prisoner release was guaranteed a positive reception by the media – even in some of its more conservative quarters – because of the inclusion of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, whose imprisonment yielded intense media coverage and greater pressure on the administration to get him released. The same may be true of Evangelicals, who had lobbied for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, a convert from Islam. Many others were disappointed, however, that former FBI employee Robert Levinson, a part-time contractor for the CIA arrested on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007, had not been included in the deal, other than an Iranian commitment to help look for him. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before Obama is also accused of abandoning Levinson because he’s Jewish.

Republican presidential candidates quickly adjusted to developments, with Marco Rubio leading the pack by claiming the swap only encouraged Iran “and other terrorists” to seek out more hostages. On the other end of the spectrum stood Rand Paul, who slammed his party’s naysayers by expressing hope that Iran would henceforth behave “in a more civilized manner.” Donald Trump summed up the situation by saying, “They’re getting $150 billion plus seven people, and we get four people. That’s not good.”

Apparently Trump finds no value whatsoever in the fact that in order to reach implementation, Iran had to deactivate 13,000 centrifuges, remove 98 percent of its enriched uranium, neutralize the plutonium-producing capabilities of the reactor at Arak, and agree to much more frequent and forceful international monitoring. Critics claim that all these measure are reversible and their expiration dates are set in advance: apparently a hiatus of 10-15 years in which Iran’s nuclear threat will effectively be removed is but a mere trifle in their eyes.

Israel, along with the American right, has adopted a pessimistic if not fatalistic view of Iran, Islam and the Middle East. In recent years, it’s been very difficult to argue with them. The prisoner release, symbolically, and the nuclear deal, strategically, point to the possibility of a happier ending: Many believe that the next step is enhanced Iranian-U.S. collaboration in the fight against their common enemy, ISIS. After that, who knows, perhaps Tehran might even decide to rejoin the rational world.

read more:

Video Report - 'Kept nuclear promises' - UN watchdog final report paves way for Iran sanctions relief

Video - Seeing Stars: Russian animated film up for Oscar

Russia, China and the US need to work together in 2016

At the Gaidar Forum in Moscow, Russian and foreign experts discussed the role of the great powers in shaping the current system of international relations, as well as the potential ability for Russia and the U.S. to find common ground in 2016.

G20 Summit Leaders Carved Stone Seals By Artist Qian Gaochao In China. Photo: TASS
The role of the great powers in the world order was among one of the most popular topics discussed by Russian and foreign experts and officials during the Gaidar Forum taking place Jan. 13-15 at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) in Moscow.      
“Economic and geopolitical challenges go together and it is not unique for Russia,” Robin Lewis, director of RANEPA’s Master of Global Public Policy Program told Russia Direct. “The challenge is to move ahead economically by relegating the political issues to a different area.”
According to Lewis, Russia is currently in a position where politics dominates the economy, which creates imbalances. He pins his hopes on “a collective effort” between Russia, the United States, Europe and other countries “to get back to the old normal, the one in which trade and development and investment takes precedent” as it was previously, before political upheavals caused by Ukraine and Syria.
“This is really a burning global issue of how to move together with collaboration, trade and investment despite seeing the world differently,” said Lewis.
Fyodor Lukyanov, the head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP) and the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, echoes this view.
“It is impossible to separate what happens inside Russia or inside any other country in our days from how the international environment is being shaped by multiple trends and processes,” he said, implying that great powers such as China, Russia and the U.S. should work together.
In fact, the foreign policy experts who took the floor at the Gaidar Forum agreed with the concept of “immediate exposure to globalization” reiterated by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on the first day of the forum. He meant that the decisions undertaken by a country could affect other states and have a long-term ripple effect.      
To convey the idea of the urgent need to bring great powers together to solve global challenges, one of the participants of the discussion, Andrei Kortunov, the general director of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), compared foreign policy with investment strategy, countries with investors. To follow his logic, both have resources and assets: for countries, these include territory, human capital and the level of education of the population.
“It also might involve the quality of leadership, the quality of diplomacy,” he added. “All of these assets can be invested. The way that you invest your assets defines your efficiency and quality and your natural future.”
To cope with the current challenges, countries should be good investors in the geopolitical arena, according to Kortunov. First, they have to diversify their assets and resources to reduce risks and use their potential efficiently. Second, the great powers should care about the liquidity of their investments and avoid freezing their assets. Third, they should take into account the social impact of their investment.
“If you look at Russia from this point we have to recognize that the level of diversification of Russian foreign policy assets is limited,” Kortunov warned.
First, Russia can definitely rely on military power, specifically, on its nuclear arsenal. Second, it has natural resources and commodities. Third, it has its own position in the hierarchy of international institutions such the UN Security Council.
“But beyond that we don’t really have a diversified portfolio of instruments and assets that we can use in our foreign policy,” said Kortunov, suggesting that Russia should adjust its “investment portfolio” to the current political situation. Particularly, Russia should deploy its soft power more efficiently, with more social implications for other countries, potentially unfreezing its cooperative potential with other great powers such as the United States and China.

 Also read: "How to re-brand Russian soft power"

Another speaker at the event, Zhe Sun, professor at Tsinghua University and China Initiative Senior Research Adjunct Scholar at Columbia University, believes that the unfavorable attitude of Americans toward the Kremlin will hamper attempts to improve Russia’s relations with the U.S. Likewise, Timothy Colton, professor of Harvard University, says that people in the U.S. are anti-Russian by nature, that Russia is considered an enemy state.
However, Moscow and Washington can do a sort of benchmarking in the field of international relations by taking a closer look at the U.S.-China relationship. For example, Russia can learn lessons from the U.S.-China experience of dealing with differences, suggests Professor Sun.
Despite occasional tensions between Beijing and Washington (fueled by China’s overtures in the South China Sea and U.S. concerns over China’s cyber potential), there is “substantial cooperation” between China and the U.S. in different fields, including environment, business and investment, even cybersecurity.
This leads to “limited confrontation” between the countries and creates a big potential for extensive cooperation, Sun argues, implying that confrontation between Russia and the U.S. might be at least limited.
However, Lukyanov warns that the concept of “limited confrontation” is “very tricky,” as indicated by the experience of Soviet-American relations, because some unpredictable incident might happen and go out of control. Meanwhile, Alexander Gabuev, an expert from Moscow Carnegie Center, point outs that one of the problems is the fact that China’s leadership is becoming increasingly suspicious toward Washington, with nationalism and anti-American sentiments growing within the country.
So, the Kremlin can view U.S.-China relations as an example, but taken with a pinch of salt.    
Colton argues that today U.S.-Russia relations seem to have “reached the bottom,” although there is “no guarantee.”
“The deterioration [in Washington-Moscow relations] that was a year ago was very dramatic, our relations reached the worst state since 1983,” he said during a Gaidar Forum discussion, expressing captious optimism that some “stabilization” in relations might happen and the two countries will cooperate.
2016 is important in this regard, because it is “a year of political choice in the United States and, to a limited extent, in Russia,” Colton said, meaning the U.S. presidential elections will shape the context of their bilateral relations, while the Russian parliamentary elections will have “an indirect effect” on the Kremlin’s foreign policy because these elections might lead to “a serious political crisis in Russia.”
Colton expresses hope that the next American president will reassess Washington approaches toward Moscow. Likewise, his colleague from the U.S., Cynthia Roberts, professor at City University of New York and Columbia University, expresses the hope that U.S.-Russia relations reached “the bottom” and Moscow will negotiate with Washington more frequently, in a productive manner.
But, at the same time, she admits that Washington is “hawkish” toward the Kremlin and “there are many unformed candidates,” those one who don’t know about Russia a lot and have no ideas of how to deal with it. The result of this might not be positive.     
In this context, Sergey Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, who attended the Gaidar Forum, admitted that trying to find who is to blame is not the best approach and is “very simplistic.” He both expresses hope for improvement in relations and regrets that foreign policy and diplomacy “are deliberately separated” today, suggesting that this should be alleviated.

Music Video - Nickelback - Far Away

Biden Reveals Obama Offered Financial Support During Son's Illness

In a never before told story, Vice President Joe Biden revealed that President Barack Obama once offered financial help when his son was ill.

Biden sat down for an interview with CNN, in which he recalled a weekly lunch with the president.
Biden sat down for an interview with CNN, in which he recalled a weekly lunch with the president.

Obama seemed deeply concerned on how Biden and his wife were managing to provide for their son Beau's family. Biden replied that it he "worked it out," and he and Jill were preparing to sell their home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden said Obama, who would be "mad" that the story was being told, was extremely opposed to the idea of Biden selling the house. He made him promise not to do so.
"[Obama] said, 'I'll give you the money. Whatever you need, I'll give you the money. Don't, Joe -- promise me. Promise me.' I said, 'I don't think we're going to have to anyway.' He said, 'promise me,'" Biden told CNN.
The offer clearly touched Biden, whose family was suffering financially and emotionally from Beau's brain cancer recurrence.
Beau Biden, attorney general of Delaware, first experienced complications in the summer of 2010. At the time it was reported he had suffered a mild stroke, though tests showed no lingering issues. During Beau's second term in office, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He passed away in May 2015.
Obama provided the eulogy at Beau's funeral. The vice president said he would never forget the gesture.
"Thanksgiving was hard," said Biden during the interview with CNN. "The idea of an empty chair, you know, was something no one looked forward to. But everybody -- you know, they're tough. And you know, we're focusing on the inspiration of Beau, rather than loss of Beau."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the story proves the strength of Obama and Biden's friendship, independent of politics.
"Obviously, the President and the vice president have developed the kind of personal relationship that just transcends their professional responsibilities," Earnest said on CNN's "New Day" Tuesday.

Supreme Court Could Decide Immigration Dispute

The U.S. Supreme court next week could drop a bombshell on the political legacy of U.S. President Barack Obama. The court will decide if they will hear arguments on the president’s executive order to shield 4 million immigrants from deportation. If they don’t take up the case, the president will lose one of his main programs in his final year in office. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.

Video Report - The African-American vote in South Carolina

Video - President Obama: Voters sober up on 'noisy' fro...

Video Report - Fifth American released by Iran

Bernie Sanders can win Iowa and New Hampshire. Then what?

By Nia-Malika Henderson and Tom LoBianco

Bernie Sanders is all the rage again.
After sputtering in most polls, the breakout star of the summer has significantly narrowed the gap in national match-ups against Hillary Clinton, expanded his lead in New Hampshire and overtaken the former secretary of state in Iowa.
    His surge, supporters say, evokes flashbacks of 2008, when Clinton underestimated then-Sen. Barack Obama's strength and lost the nomination in a prolonged and nasty contest. Like Obama, Sanders has sparked a movement powered by young voters who see the septuagenarian not just as a protest candidate, but as the future of the progressive movement. And his $75 million fundraising haul guarantees his viability.
    But for all the good news for Sanders, he still faces the same electability question: can a Democratic socialist from the second-whitest state in the country win voters that actually look like the rest of the Democratic Party? After Iowa and New Hampshire -- two overwhelmingly white states -- Sanders faces an electorate that is much more diverse and not as familiar with Sanders, especially in the South, which at the moment is Clinton Country.
    If he can't expand his base, Sanders can tout all the polls he wants that show him doing better than Clinton in hypothetical head-to-head contests with Republicans, but he won't be the Democratic nominee.
    It's an issue he will have to address beginning at Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina.
    Clinton has been out ahead of Sanders in courting black voters, touting this week an endorsement from Obama's former attorney general, Eric Holder, who said that Clinton is the best candidate to build on Obama's legacy. He will appear with the former secretary of state in an upcoming swing in South Carolina.
    Clinton supporters say that her team understands the bloc of voters that drives the overall black vote. "The key demographic that matters is African-American women and Karen Finney and LaDavia Drane and Maya Harris are very much focused on that group," said Bakari Sellers, a former state legislator in South Carolina and CNN contributor, listing Clinton's top aides. "They are going to message and organize and not just win it, but lock it down overwhelmingly."
    Sanders will be featured in next month's issue of Ebony magazine and on Sunday in a debate in South Carolina sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, he will have a chance to connect with black voters and post up against the former secretary of state on issues like criminal justice reform, education, and the economy. Monday, he will appear at a King Day rally in Birmingham, Alabama, with Cornel West and Nina Turner, a former Ohio legislator who made waves when she jumped from Clinton to Sanders last fall.
    "It's about six months of communication versus 20 years," said Marcus Ferrell, who is Sanders' African-American Outreach Director, comparing Sanders to Clinton. "For us to be where we are is good. It's not like our numbers have gone down, they have crept up."
    The campaign also plans to release a series of ads aimed at introducing Sanders to South Carolina voters.
    "The case we're making is 'Listen, this guy is a stronger candidate than Hillary Clinton in electoral politics,'" said Tad Devine, a senior Sanders strategist. "We have objective measurements of that -- it begins when voters start choosing."
    A national New York Times/CBS News poll shows Clinton with the support of 48% of Democratic voters, and Sanders closing in with 41%. But South Carolina, Nevada and the southern "SEC primary" states all pose electoral challenges for the senator.
    Clinton won Nevada on the strength of Latino voters in 2008, yet faltered among black voters across the South who backed Obama by 80%, after he proved that he could win white voters in Iowa.
    Her path to victory is built on winning the big states she won in 2008, doing well with Latino voters and co-opting Obama's playbook among black voters. Beyond winning states that look like Vermont, Sanders' long-term playbook is much less clear. Aides seemed less confident about an upset in South Carolina, but bullish on Nevada.
    "Our commitment in Nevada is not symbolic, it's real. Bernie's been there many times and will be there again," Devine said. "So we're trying to organize a winning caucus campaign in Nevada. We're doing that by pouring in resources."

    Chasing black voters

    Thursday, the Sanders campaign launched its most robust outreach effort among black voters, kicking off a tour of historically black colleges at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.
    Sanders wasn't in attendance, but frequent surrogate West was. West told students that Sanders marched with Martin Luther King in 1964, "when it was not popular, it didn't win any moral prizes," adding, "He did it because it was right and moral and just. That is why he was with Brother (Jesse) Jackson." Rapper Killer Mike, who hosted Sanders in his Atlanta barbershop for an interview, will also be on hand for parts of the tour. The campaign is expected to name other high profile surrogates in the coming days.
    "No other candidate has made such a concerted effort to reach out to HBCUs," said Symone Sanders, a press aide for the Sanders campaign. "We are taking the message right to the people."
    A Fox News poll in early December showed Clinton with 82% of the black vote in South Carolina and Sanders drawing 11%. Aides have floated a goal of winning a third of the black vote there.
    Last month, the Vermont senator traveled to West Baltimore, the site of the Freddie Gray arrest and subsequent unrest last year and toured one of the city's poorest neighborhoods with black pastors. After his hour-long tour of Baltimore's Sandtown neighborhood, dotted with vacant and boarded-up rowhomes, Sanders sat for a roundtable with the clergy members.
    They praised him in a news conference afterwards, but also made a point of saying they were not endorsing Sanders.
    After Sanders left the Baltimore meeting, Turner rallied the assembled clergy, saying the Democratic Party had treated the African-American community like its "mistress" for too long. She then invited them onto a conference call with Sanders the next day.
    "He has a righteous indignation, the same fire in the belly that I have," Turner said in an interview with CNN. "When he came to Cleveland State University he said to a majority white crowd that as the next President he would work to eradicate institutional racism. He has a boldness that the party needs."

    Electability questions dog Sanders

    Turner acknowledged that Sanders has a hurdle in appealing to black voters throughout the South, a more socially and politically conservative region where protest votes are less likely. In 2004, black voters in South Carolina largely rejected Al Sharpton's candidacy, voting for John Kerry and John Edwards in larger numbers. The electability argument, is especially important to make to black voters, Turner said.
    Sanders himself delivered a version of his electability pitch to reporters on Thursday.
    "Republicans win when voter turnout is low, Democrats and progressives win when voter turnout is high. One of the reasons I believe I am the strongest candidate for the Democratic nomination, in the general election, is that I believe in the energy and the enthusiasm that we are seeing in this campaign will result in a large voter turnout in November and in victory," Sanders said.
    But Rick Wade, Obama's 2008 black vote director, said the Vermont senator may simply be too late.
    "It's now an issue of timing for Sanders," Wade said. "This should have started two years ago -- building infrastructure and relationships across South Carolina and beyond. "He is resonating in terms of the issues, but people have to know you and feel you. It is different when you have a black man named Barack Obama."

    Clinton Campaign Underestimated Sanders Strengths, Allies Say


    Advisers to Hillary Clinton, including the former president Bill Clinton, believe that her campaign made serious miscalculations by forgoing early attacks on Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and failing to undercut his archliberal message before it grew into a political movement that has now put him within striking distance of beating Mrs. Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire.
    According to Democrats close to the Clintons and involved with her campaign, Mrs. Clinton and the former president are also unnerved by the possibility that Mr. Sanders will foment a large wave of first-time voters and liberals that will derail her in Iowa, not unlike Barack Obama’s success in 2008, which consigned Mrs. Clinton to a third-place finish. They have asked her advisers about the strength of the campaign’s data modeling and turnout assumptions in Iowa, given that her 2008 campaign’s predictions were so inaccurate.
    As the Democratic rivals prepare for what is likely to be a contentious televised debate on Sunday night, the Clintons are particularly concerned that her “rational message,” in the words of an aide, is not a fit with a restless Democratic primary electorate. Allies and advisers of the Clintons say Mr. Sanders is clearly connecting with voters through his emotional, inspiring rallying cry that the American economic and political systems are rigged for the wealthy and powerful. By contrast, Mrs. Clinton has been stressing her electability and questioning the costs of Mr. Sanders’s ideas.
    Most Clinton advisers and allies would speak only on the condition of anonymity to candidly assess her vulnerabilities and the Clintons’ outlook on the race. This article is based on interviews with 11 people — campaign advisers, outside allies, friends and donors — who have spoken to the Clintons about the race.
    “Hillary is a pragmatic progressive — she’s not an advocate,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, who last week campaigned in Iowa for Mrs. Clinton over his home-state senator Mr. Sanders. “She quietly pulls people together and gets things done. Even though that’s not in vogue right now, I think that’s what voters will want in the end.”
    But Mrs. Clinton’s problems are broader than just her message: Opinion polls show that some Democrats and other voters continue to question her trustworthiness and whether she cares about their problems. Recent polls show that her once-formidable lead over Mr. Sanders in Iowa has all but vanished, while he is holding on to a slight lead over her in New Hampshire.
    Mrs. Clinton and her team say they always anticipated the race would tighten, yet they were not prepared for Mr. Sanders to become so popular with young people and independents, especially women, whom Mrs. Clinton views as a key part of her base. Given her many political advantages, like rich donors and widespread support from Democratic Party elites, she is also surprised that Mr. Sanders’s fund-raising has rivaled hers and that her experience — along with her potential to make history as the first woman elected president — has not galvanized more voters.
    “It was probably never going be a straight line — we hoped it would be but feared it wouldn’t be,” said James Carville, the Democratic strategist on Mr. Clinton’s 1992 campaign and a longtime friend of the Clintons. “She’s performed solidly enough, but it’s been a hard race.”
    Several Clinton advisers are also regretting that they did not push for more debates, where Mrs. Clinton excels, to more skillfully marginalize Mr. Sanders over his Senate votes in support of the gun industry and the enormous costs and likely tax increases tied to his big-government agenda.
    Instead Mrs. Clinton, who entered the race as the prohibitive favorite, played it safe, opting for as few debates as possible, scheduled at times when viewership was likely to be low — like this Sunday at 9 p.m. on a long holiday weekend.
    “In the debates, she has shined, and while conventional wisdom says they offer no upside to a front-runner, she would benefit from more,” said Carter Eskew, a Democratic strategist who was a senior adviser to Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000. (He is not a Clinton adviser.) “Her basic strength remains: She is strongest in comparison to others. Her seasoning and knowledge show best in contrast.”
    Several Democratic leaders agreed, saying the Clinton campaign underestimated Mr. Sanders from the start. They argued that Mrs. Clinton and her advisers should have competed against him more aggressively, in debates and on the campaign trail, rather than appear so sharply negative with their recent attacks, which have given the campaign a jumbled feeling heading into the first voting states. Even Chelsea Clinton jabbed at Mr. Sanders, an unusual move given that relatives are traditionally used in campaigns to soften a politician’s image.
    “I always say, ‘If I’ve got an opponent that’s breathing, I’m going to take that opponent very seriously,’ ” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, who was expecting to host Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders on Saturday night at his famed fish fry. Mr. Clyburn, who is not endorsing a candidate before his state’s primary, said Clinton aides in South Carolina had expressed misgivings to him about the state of her campaign.
    “It has to do with what things ought to be done and when they ought to be done,” Mr. Clyburn said, declining to provide more details. “The reality is, if Mrs. Clinton loses Iowa and New Hampshire, that could create new and real problems for her here.”
    Some Democrats also believe Mrs. Clinton may have benefited from a more competitive primary season with big-name rivals, like Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., who might have brought out the fighter in her. Only this month has she started to engage Mr. Sanders, and some of her jabs have looked sudden and anxious.
    “If the vice president had run, I still think Secretary Clinton would be on course for the nomination, but I also think he would have put her through paces that would have made her even stronger for the general election,” said Bill Burton, a former adviser to President Obama. “It also would have given her the kind of fight in which she thrives.”Both Mrs. Clinton and her husband believe she can still win the Feb. 1 caucuses in Iowa and the Feb. 9 primary in New Hampshire despite Mr. Sanders’s gaining ground recently and now being virtually tied with her in many polls in those states. But the Clintons also believe she can survive losses in both places because of the strength of her political organization and support in the Feb. 27 primary in South Carolina and in many March 1 Super Tuesday states and other big states to follow.
    The Clintons have long thought that the state-by-state demographics of the primary electorate would matter far more than the political momentum that Iowa and New Hampshire victories can provide, and that the large numbers of blacks, Hispanics and moderate Democrats would benefit Mrs. Clinton more than Mr. Sanders in the South and in other March and April primaries.
    Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director, expressed confidence that Mrs. Clinton would prevail in the long run. “We have always known that this race would be hard fought,” Ms. Palmieri said in an email. “Democratic primaries always are.” “That’s why Hillary Clinton has worked so hard to both build a strong grass-roots organization, and make her case to voters as to why she is best choice to lead the party as the Democratic nominee and serve as president,” she added. Yet some Democratic Party officials who remain uncommitted said that after nine months of running, Mrs. Clinton still had not found her voice when it came to inspiring people and making herself broadly likable. While Mrs. Clinton is known for connecting well with people in small settings, she has not shown the same winning touch as consistently at rallies or in television interviews, they said. “Hillary struggles to convey sincere passion with issues that matter to the general public, unlike Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren,” the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, said Lawrence Taylor, a superdelegate from Oregon. She does so best in the televised debates, said Mr. Taylor, who believes those forums have made her “stronger” and helped her come across as more trustworthy.
    Another uncommitted superdelegate, David McDonald of Washington, said that compared with eight years ago, Mrs. Clinton was less prone to stumbling and had a better political operation in his state. But just like in 2008, when she faced an opponent, Mr. Obama, who could mesmerize crowds, Mrs. Clinton risks being overtaken. “Her voter base does not seem as gung-ho energetic as Sanders’s base,” Mr. McDonald said. “It may be that they feel like they are waiting for the real race to begin. But an enthusiastic base can make a big difference in the early stages of a presidential nomination campaign, and if Hillary can’t pull away from Sanders fairly early in the season, I suspect he will gain strength rapidly.”

    President Obama Talks Unemployment Insurance Changes in Weekly Address

    After delivering his final State of the Union, President Obama talked about modernizing the country’s unemployment insurance system in his weekly address.
    President Obama said despite over 14 million new jobs created in the past seven years and the unemployment rate being cut in half, families are still struggling to pull themselves out of poverty. He said it was one of the reasons why he’s pushing to modernize unemployment insurance.
    “Under my plan, experienced workers who now make less than $50,000 could replace half of their lost wages – up to $10,000 over two years,” the president said. “It’s a way to give families some stability and encourage folks to rejoin the workforce – because we shouldn’t just be talking about unemployment; we should be talking about re-employment.”
    He also said he would be fighting for hardworking families to get ahead as he approaches his final days in office. He made the point that the country works best when “everyone has opportunity; when everyone has some security; and when everyone can contribute to this country we love.”
    Read the full president’s address:
    Hi, everybody.  On Tuesday, I gave my final State of the Union Address.  And a focus was this: how do we make the new economy work better for everyone, not just those at the top? 
    After the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, we’re in the midst of the longest streak of private-sector job growth in our history.  More than 14 million new jobs.  An unemployment rate cut in half.  At the same time, our economy continues to go through profound changes that began long before the Great Recession hit.  It’s changed to the point where even when folks have jobs; even when the economy is growing; it’s harder for hardworking families to pull themselves out of poverty, harder for young people to start out on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to. 
    That’s a big part of the reason a lot of working families are feeling anxious.  And it offends our fundamentally American belief that everybody who works hard should be able to get ahead.
    That’s why we’ve been fighting so hard to give families more opportunity and more security – by working to create more good jobs, invest in our middle class, and help working people get a raise.  It’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about – filling in the gaps in employer-based care so that when somebody loses a job, or goes back to school, or starts that new business, they still have health care.  And it’s why I believe we’ve got to take steps to modernize our unemployment insurance system. 
    If a hardworking American loses her job, regardless of what state she lives in, we should make sure she can get unemployment insurance and some help to retrain for her next job.  If she’s been unemployed for a while, we should reach out to her and connect her with career counseling.  And if she finds a new job that doesn’t pay as much as her old one, we should offer some wage insurance that helps her pay her bills.  Under my plan, experienced workers who now make less than $50,000 could replace half of their lost wages – up to $10,000 over two years.  It’s a way to give families some stability and encourage folks to rejoin the workforce – because we shouldn’t just be talking about unemployment; we should be talking about re-employment. 
    That’s when America works best – when everyone has opportunity; when everyone has some security; and when everyone can contribute to this country we love.  That’s how we make sure that hardworking families can get ahead.  And that’s what I’ll be fighting for with every last day of my presidency. 
    Thanks everybody.  Have a great weekend.   

    President Obama's Weekly Address - Improving Economic Security by Strengthening and Modernizing the Unemployment Insurance System

    The U.S. Spent a Half Billion on Mining in Afghanistan With ‘Limited Progress’

    by Megan McCloskey
    The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has labelled yet another project in danger of failing. This time its U.S. plans to develop the country’s oil, gas and minerals industries. The United States has spent nearly half a billion dollars and five years developing Afghanistan’s oil, gas and minerals industries — and has little to show for it, a government watchdog reported today.
    The project’s failings are the result of poorly planned programs, inadequate infrastructure and a challenging partnership with the Afghan government, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction wrote in its newest damning assessment of U.S. efforts in the war-torn country. The finding comes after some 200 SIGAR reports have detailed inefficient, unsuccessful or downright wasteful reconstruction projects. A recent ProPublica analysis of the reports found that there has been at least $17 billion in questionable spending.

    The United States Agency for International Development and a Pentagon task force were in charge of developing a so-called “extractive” industry in Afghanistan — basically a system for getting precious resources out of the ground and to the commercial market. SIGAR called out both USAID and the Defense Department last year for their failures to coordinate and to ascertain the ability of Afghans to sustain the project, which unsurprisingly is not promising. In fact, when international aid stopped supporting the Afghan office responsible for oversight of the petroleum and natural gas industries, two-thirds of the staff were fired.
    Exploiting these resources, which are estimated to be worth as much as $1 trillion, is pivotal to Afghanistan’s economic future. SIGAR noted that the Afghan government has shown progress under USAID’s tutelage in regulating and developing the commercial export of the resources. But the report said the project was still hampered by corruption, structural problems and a lack of infrastructure for the mining industry, such as reliable roads. Many of the mines operate illegally, with some profit going to the insurgency, SIGAR said.
    When it came to individual extractive projects, there was little progress made, the IG found.
    The controversial Pentagon task force in charge of much of the effort, the Task Force for Business Stability Operations, spent $215 million on 11 extractive programs, but “after operating in Afghanistan for 5 years, TFBSO left with nearly all of its extractive projects incomplete,” SIGAR found. Three of the programs technically met objectives, but one of those is of questionable value at best. The task force built a gas station for an outrageously inflated cost and in the end it didn’t have any customers. So while the objective to create the station was achieved, SIGAR doubted it was a worthwhile venture.
    The task force, made up of mostly civilian business experts and designed to develop the Afghan economy, has come under fire from SIGAR and Congress for demanding unusual and expensive accommodationsin the country, allegedly punishing a whistleblower, and lacking overall accountability. The Senate is holding a hearing on the task force next week.
    In today’s report, SIGAR highlighted that the task force spent $46.5 million to try to convince companies to agree to develop the resources, but not one ended up signing a contract. About $122 million worth of task force programs had mixed results, SIGAR said.

    The Defense Department declined SIGAR’s request to comment on its findings. In its response, USAID said it has helped Afghanistan “enact investor-friendly extractive legislation, improve the ability to market, negotiate and regulate contracts, and generate geological data to identify areas of interest to attract investors.” Any conclusions and criticisms, USAID told SIGAR, “need to be substantially tempered by the reality that mining is a long-term endeavor.”