Monday, January 25, 2016

Selena Gomez - Same Old Love

Noam Chomsky Says GOP Is 'Literally A Serious Danger To Human Survival’

By Matt Ferner

Noam Chomsky, the noted radical and MIT professor emeritus, said the Republican Party has become so extreme in its rhetoric and policies that it poses a “serious danger to human survival.”
“Today, the Republican Party has drifted off the rails,” Chomsky, a frequent critic of both parties, said in a interview Monday with The Huffington Post. “It’s become what the respected conservative political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein call ‘a radical insurgency’ that has pretty much abandoned parliamentary politics.”
Chomsky cited a 2013 article by Mann and Ornstein published in Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, analyzing the polarization of the parties. The authors write that the GOP has become “ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
Chomsky said the GOP and its presidential candidates are “literally a serious danger to decent human survival” and cited Republicans' rejection of measures to deal with climate change, which he called a “looming environmental catastrophe.” All of the top Republican presidential candidates are either outright deniers, doubt its seriousness or insist no action should be taken -- “dooming our grandchildren,” Chomsky said.
"I am not a believer," Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, said recently. "Unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather."
Trump isn’t alone. Although 97 percent of climate scientists insist climate change is real and caused by human actions, more than half of Republicans in Congress deny mankind anything to do with global warming.
"What they are saying is, let's destroy the world. Is that worth voting against? Yeah," Chomsky said in a recent interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera English's "UpFront."
The policies that the GOP presidential candidates and its representatives in Congress support, Chomsky argued, are in “abject service to private wealth and power,” despite “rhetorical posturing” of some, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). GOP proposals would effectively raise taxes on lower-income Americans and reduce them for the wealthy. 
Chomsky advised 2016 voters to cast their ballots strategically. He said the U.S. is essentially “one-party” system -- a business party with factions called Republicans and Democrats. But, he said, there are small differences between the factions that can make a “huge difference in systems of enormous power” -- like that afforded to the president.
“I’ve always counseled strategic voting, Chomsky said. "Meaning, in a swing state, or swing congressional district, or swing school board, if there is a significant enough difference to matter, vote for the better candidate -- or sometimes the least bad.”
Chomsky said if he lived in a swing state, he’d vote for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
By no means should this be viewed as an endorsement of Clinton. Chomsky has been a vocal Clinton critic, saying her presidency would resemble that of President Barack Obama, who Chomsky has condemned for using drone strikes to kill individuals the president deems worthy of execution. 
In an ideal world, Chomsky might vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who Chomsky has called an "honest and committed New Dealer" who has “the best policies,” despite some criticisms. 
Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, Chomsky told Al Jazeera he'd case his general election vote "against the Republican candidate” because there may be dire consequences to a GOP victory. 
“The likely candidates are, in my opinion, extremely dangerous, at least if they mean anything like what they are saying,” Chomsky said. “I think it makes good sense to keep them far away from levers of power.”

After Fierce Fighting Syrian Army Retakes Strategic Town in Deraa Province

In its fight against Daesh, also known as IS/Islamic State, the Syrian Army has liberated Sheikh Maskin, a strategic town in the Deraa province, along a major supply route.

Last month, the Syrian Army launched an offensive on Sheikh Maskin, supported by Russian airstrikes. A strategic hub linking the Suwaida, Quneitra and Damascus provinces to the southern part of Syria, the town also links eastern and western Deraa.
According to monitors on the ground, Sheikh Maskin has been retaken after less than a month of fierce fighting.
"The town is very important for both sides. They have both fought fiercely. Now by taking it, the regime has cut off the rebels links between eastern and western Deraa," said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The town is back in the control of the Syrian government, but sustained heavy damage during the fighting.
Holding Sheikh Maskin will allow the Syrian Army to push onward to al-Harra hill, the highest point in the Deraa province.

With the assistance of Russian airstrikes, the Syrian government has made a number of advances. Earlier on Monday, reports surfaced that insurgents had been stopped at the town of Baqaliyeh. Daesh is said to have suffered heavy losses.

"The Daesh strongholds near the villages were massively bombed by the Syrian warplanes, which claimed the lives of many terrorists and wounded many others," the army sources said.

Syrian forces have also liberated roughly 46 square miles of the Latakia province.

"Syrian Arab army in cooperation with militias gained control over 120 kilometers of Latakia province's territory in the last two days," according to a Syrian Army statement released on Sunday.

Russia launched its air campaign in Syria on September 30, and has since carried out thousands of sorties. Acting at the behest of the legitimate government of the country, President Bashar al Assad, the airstrikes have eliminated thousands of Daesh targets.

Five Years After Arab Spring, Instability Remains

Five years after Arab Spring demonstrations and protests led to the toppling of rulers throughout the Middle East and North Africa, one expert said the uprisings were "an open invitation to destabilization."

Monday marks the fifth anniversary of the start of an uprising that ousted Egypt's longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Young Egyptians spearheading the uprising had been encouraged by a revolution a month earlier in nearby Tunisia, Ghada Talhami, a professor at Lake Forest College, in Illinois, said in an interview with Sputnik Radio's "Loud & Clear."

"Everybody assumed that the Mubarak regime was there to stay forever," she said. "And all of a sudden, young people were really empowered – or they felt they were empowered by numbers and by their availability for action."

But rather than creating freedom and democracy, Talhami said, the Arab Spring has had "disastrous" consequences in Egypt and beyond, saying the Arab world made the mistake of favoring stability over democracy.

The Arab Spring, she said, was an "open invitation to destabilization."

Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute of Gulf Affairs, claimed that many Arab people had for decades been suppressed by despotic governments. The uprisings in Tunisia in 2010 inspired Arabs throughout the region to recapture their dignity, he said.

According to Ahmed, the major obstacle to realizing the goals of the Arab Spring was outside groups that stepped in after the revolutions began, providing financing and other support to ensure that "the results of the Arab Spring served their own end."

The desires of the young activists who led the Arab Spring cannot be realized by governments currently in place throughout the Arab world, he said.

Sukant Chandan, director of the Malcolm X Movement, said the Arab Spring was the biggest "catastrophe" to impact Arab people in half a century or longer – one that has been followed by "disaster upon disaster."
The destruction of Libya, he noted, would not have occurred without the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the latter of which is now fighting Daesh extremists.

Read more:

Video - Discussion: China-Iran ties

China never absent in contribution to peace, development in Middle East

As Chinese president Xi Jinping wrapped up a historic trip to theMiddle East SundayChina once again demonstrated to the international community thatit has never shied away from committing itself to peace and development in the region.
Choosing the Middle East as the destination for his first overseas trip in 2016, and arrivingbefore any other world leader after nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted and thedispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia flared upXi showed his resolve in constructivelyengaging with the struggling yet promising region.
The Middle East is one of the most strategically important regions in the worldgiven itscrucial location and abundant resources.
For decadesWestern countries have invested heavily to become a dominating power inthe Middle EastHoweverthe West-hailed "Arab Springuprisings that erupted in 2011have brought the region nothing more than exacerbated povertyfrustrations andsectarian conflictsas well as rampant extremism.
At such a critical timeChinaaddressing the root causes of the region's chronic crisis,offered an alternative approach emphasizing dialogue in settling disputes anddevelopment to ultimately haul the region out of the quagmire of bloodshed and terrorism.
This solution is just what China has always been offering since the People's Republic ofChina first established diplomatic ties with an Middle East countryEgypt, 60 years ago.
Since thenChina has never ceased to work toward peaceful settlement of regionalconflicts in the Middle East.
In 2013, Xi met with both Palestinian and Israeli leaderscalling on both sides to end theirgeneration-old hostility through negotiations rather than confrontation.
In securing a historic nuclear pact last year between Iran and six world powers that is setto reduce confrontation in the regionChinawith its neutral and fair stancehas played anindispensable and constructive role.
China has also acted sensibly in exploring ways of ending the turmoil grappling Syria since2011, firmly standing against counter-productive military intervention while talking withrival sides to try to peacefully resolve their differencesIn the meantimeChina activelyresponded to the humanitarian crisis in the countrygiving out millions of U.Sdollars inaid.
With his five-day tour in the Middle EastXi reaffirmed that China's willingness toconstructively engage with the region is still strong.
During Xi's tripChina upgraded its relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Iranwhilevowing to add more values to its comprehensive strategic partnership with Egypt.
Economically, 52 cooperation agreements were signed between China and the threecountriescovering a wide spectrum including energysecurity and infrastructure.
The agreementsunder the "Belt and Roadinitiativean ambitious vision Xi put forwardin 2013 to boost inter-connectivity and common development along the ancient land andmaritime Silk Roadssignificantly expanded the depth and breadth of pragmaticcooperation between China and the Middle East.
Under the agreementsmuch-needed capitalconstruction projects and technology know-how will be presented to the Middle Eastdispersing current turmoil with developmentand prosperity.
Facts once again prove China will never be absent in making contribution to peace anddevelopment in the Middle East.

Russian lawmaker proposes international action to bar ISIS from internet

A leftist Russian MP has said the Foreign Ministry should initiate a process to switch off the internet across any territory controlled by terrorist group Islamic State.
I am asking you to consider the possibility to initiate on the international arena the issue of blocking internet access on the territory controlled by Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL],” State Duma deputy Oleg Nilov (Fair Russia) wrote in a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The lawmaker added that in his opinion this would be an effective step in fighting the terrorist threat throughout the world.
Nilov also explained that in order to achieve the proposed ‘blockade,’ members of the international community must address the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is in charge of internet addresses all over the world.
Today there is a possibility to switch off the internet in a particular region or in a whole country,” Nilov wrote.
The MP explained that the terrorist group continued to attract thousands of supporters all over the world, largely due to its effective propaganda campaigns on the internet. “By using internet, the terrorists not only get easier communications and an effective propaganda tool, they also gain the opportunity to conduct financial operations, in particular to make transfers via the SWIFT system,” he added.
Nilov wrote that in his opinion, the United States has already demonstrated that it is possible to “switch off the internet” in one particular country, citing the example of 2014, when US President Barack Obama promised North Korea reciprocal action in connection with hacker attacks on Sony Pictures. On that occasion, North Korea subsequently experienced trouble with its internet connection.
Nilov’s initiative has gained support from deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee for Information Policy, MP Vadim Dengin (LDPR). “It is a good idea that will draw the international community’s attention to the problem. This problem is important. But will the international community take such actions?” Dengin told RIA Novosti.
Since late 2014, Russia has officially designated Islamic State and the affiliated Al-Nusra Front as terrorist groups, banning all citizens from participating in these organizations and making those supporting them liable to criminal prosecution.
In addition, two major Russian Muslim groups – the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Russia and the Chechen Council for Fatwas – condemned Islamic State as enemies of the religion, and called for the trial and punishment of all its members as criminals. The groups also issued fatwas in which they stated that IS and its followers should not be described as ‘Islamists’ or ‘Muslims,’ because their activities contradict the main principles of Islam.

Russian Air Force strikes ISIS around Deir ez-Zor as jihadists prepare to storm key Syrian city

The Syrian Army has regained control of large territories in Latakia province with support from the Russian Air Force, with terrorists now redeploying forces to eastern parts of the country, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday, citing Syrian opposition sources.
Supported by Russian war planes, Syrian government troops have been successful in defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants in Latakia province. In the past 24 hours, more than 92 square kilometers (35 square miles) of territories were regained from terrorist groups. The Syrian Army has regained control over 28 towns, including the strategically important town of Rabia in Latakia.
Having lost their advantage in western parts of the country, IS command has now decided to concentrate its forces on trying to seize the city of Deir ez-Zor, the largest city in the eastern part of Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Up to 2,000 heavily armed militants have been redeployed by IS to the region, the ministry added, citing data received from Syrian opposition and the information center in Baghdad.
To counter the terrorists' offensive, a number of sorties have been carried out in Deir ez-Zor region, with all jihadist targets - which had been reconfirmed via a number of channels, as well as through drone surveillance and cooperation with the Syrian opposition - being successfully hit.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin once again pointed out that Russia's mission in Syria is only to help the country fight terrorists, and not to interfere with its politics.
"We are in no way going to interfere in [Syria's] state structure, or in solving [domestic] problems that Syria and other countries in the region are facing. Our only task is to help the Syrian people and the country's legitimate government fight terrorism," Putin said, as quoted by RIA Novosti.

Nearly 500 terrorist targets in Syria have been hit by Russian airstrikes in Syria over the course of three days, starting from Friday, the Defense Ministry reported.
Russian military aviation conducted 169 sorties between January 22-24, supporting the ground offensive of the Syrian Army and patriotic opposition forces from the air, Lieutenant General Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the main operations department of the Russian General Staff announced on Monday.
From 70 to 100 sorties to target terrorists in the country are carried out on a daily basis, the ministry added.

Video - CrossTalk: Ukraine's dead ends

Russia - Putin explains his remarks about Vladimir Lenin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has explained why he believes that Vladimir Lenin was the one who had planted a powerful bomb under the basement of the country’s statehood. Speaking at an inter-regional forum of the All-Russia People’s Front Putin recalled that Lenin had a fundamental discussion with Stalin over the principles a future state should rest upon. Stalin’s ideas were rejected and the country was built on ideas implying the possibility of secession of constituent territories. "That right [to secession] was the delayed action mine planted under our statehood. This is what caused the country’s eventual breakup," Putin said.

Earlier, Putin at a meeting of the presidential council on science and education dropped a rather caustic remark addressed to Lenin. He said Lenin had "planted an atom bomb under the building called Russia and that bomb went off a while later." Putin said that he himself had been a member of the Communist Party and an officer of the Soviet security service, the KGB, which some propagandists used to refer to as an armed outpost of the Communist Party. He said he had joined the Communist party not because it was a must. "I cannot say that I was a hardline advocate of the Communist ideology," he said. "Yet my attitude to all this was very delicate," Putin recalled, adding he had never been a career party functionary, but just a rank-and-file member. "In contrast to many functionaries I did not throw my membership card away or burn it in public. I still keep it at home." Putin acknowledged that he liked Communist and Socialist ideas "very much" and that he still liked them. What senior citizens still remember as the Moral Code of the Builder of Communism (a set of codified moral rules every Communist Party member in the Soviet Union was supposed to follow) looked very much like the Bible in terms of ideological content, but "the practical embodiment of these wonderful ideas in our country was very far from what the Utopian socialists had proclaimed." Putin recalled the murder of the royal family, priests and even servants of the royal family.

"Why did they kill Dr. Botkin, why did they kill the servants, people of proletarian origin by and large? What for? Just for the sake of concealing a crime," Putin said. He also recalled the role of the Communist Party in World War I, when Russia as a result of power struggle "lost to the loser country." Putin was critical of the Soviet Union’s economic policies. At the same time he recognized that the planned economy managed to mobilize resources and address problems in the health service, in education and in the defense industry. He called for studying history without painting it white or black. "It should be studied carefully and analyzed objectively so as to avoid mistakes that were made in the past," he said. 


Video Report - Veteran rips Sarah Palin using PTSD to 'divert blame...

17-year-old Iowan can’t vote yet. That hasn’t stopped him from working to elect Hillary Clinton.

 by Elizabeth Chan
At 17, Patrick North has never cast a ballot or participated in a caucus before. But that didn't stop him from becoming one of the most dedicated volunteers for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Oskaloosa, Iowa—long before the Iowa caucus takes place on February 1.
Why work your heart out for a presidential candidate at such a young age?
“Because I strongly support her ideas,” Patrick says. “And it’s the best I can do to make sure she gets in office.”

Political firsts

Patrick didn't followed politics until some older friends invited him to join a local young Democrats organization. That’s where he learned one of the essential skills of campaigning: phone banking.
“The first time I picked up a phone at a phone bank was slightly terrifying,” Patrick says. “I remember that my hands were shaking a little bit. My voice was a little shaky too, but I asked that person how they were doing, and some questions about the caucus. And I made it through that phone call.”
Patrick has now talked to more than 150 Iowa caucus-goers on the phone and knocked on nearly as many doors in his community. At school, he tries to persuade his friends and classmates to get interested in the political process that kicks off right in their backyards. Many of his fellow classmates will be able to caucus this year: As long as you turn 18 before the general election on November 8, you’re eligible to caucus in Iowa.

A candidate who’s listening

“I like to keep my friends interested and informed,” says Patrick. “They know I’m involved in the campaign so they ask me about issues.” They’ve talked about gun violence prevention, equality, and—unsurprisingly for a group of high school students—college affordability.
Patrick wants to study biochemical engineering at Iowa State University after he graduates, and under Hillary’s New College Compact, he’d be able to attend college without taking out loans to pay for his tuition. That’s something he’s very excited about—and thinks his peers should know about, too.
“She’s going to be a good president because she has a plan to make sure that college is going to cost a lot less for younger people like me,” he says. “Hillary isn’t ignoring young people, and she isn’t ignoring Iowa. She’s listening to us.”

President Obama Gives $80 Million to Flint Water Crisis

by Courtney Connley 

Amid the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where residents are exposed to water with toxic levels of lead, President Obama said Thursday that he and his administration are giving $80 million to Michigan to help repair the city’s water infrastructure.
Speaking to a room full of mayors at the White House, Obama called the water contamination in Flint an “inexcusable” situation.
“Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they’re drinking in American cities,” he said. “That’s not something that we should accept.”
A White House official said the $80 million will be made available to Michigan immediately. However, it will be up to the state to decide how much of the money will be used towards Flint.
In addition to $80 million from the federal government, the state of Michigan is giving $28 million for bottled waters and filters, as well as health, educational and nutritional services for children with lead in their bloodstreams.
“I want to thank President Obama for quickly responding to our request for federal assistance,” The Detroit News reports U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing)  saying in a statement.
“This is the type of leadership and action my community deserves,” added Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint.
With $80 million in federal funding, Michigan has to submit a plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 office with details on how it intends to use the money.

President Obama : Oval Office interview for POLITICO's - Obama on Iowa, Clinton, Sanders and 2016


Barack Obama, that prematurely gray elder statesman, is laboring mightily to remain neutral during Hillary Clinton’s battle with Bernie Sanders in Iowa, the state that cemented his political legend and secured his path to the presidency.

But in a candid 40-minute interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast as the first flakes of the blizzard fell outside the Oval Office, he couldn’t hide his obvious affection for Clinton or his implicit feeling that she, not Sanders, best understands the unpalatably pragmatic demands of a presidency he likens to the world’s most challenging walk-and-chew-gum exercise.

“[The] one thing everybody understands is that this job right here, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one thing,” a relaxed and reflective Obama told me in his most expansive discussion of the 2016 race to date.

Iowa isn’t just a state on the map for Obama. It’s the birthplace of his hope-and-change phenomenon, “the most satisfying political period in my career,” he says — “what politics should be” — and a bittersweet reminder of how far from the garden he’s gotten after seven bruising years in the White House.

The caucuses have a fierce-urgency-of-now quality as Obama reckons with the end of his presidency — the kickoff of a process of choosing a Democratic successor he hopes can secure his as-yet unsecured legacy, to keep Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or somebody else from undoing much of what he has done. 

And he was convinced Clinton was that candidate, prior to the emergence of Sanders, friends and associates have told me over the past 18 months.“Bernie came in with the luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose,” he said. “I think Hillary came in with the both privilege — and burden — of being perceived as the front-runner. … You’re always looking at the bright, shiny object that people haven’t seen before — that’s a disadvantage to her.”

Even as he spoke wistfully of his 80-plus cold-pizza and crowded-van days in Iowa eight years ago, Obama seemed to embrace Clinton’s 2008 closing Iowa argument as much as his own, adopting her contention that inspiration without experience won’t cut it. He repeatedly praised Clinton without reservation while offering more tempered praise to the surging Sanders, whom he sees as a principled outsider seeking to change “terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago.”

To some extent, he’s returning Clinton’s favor: The former secretary of state has lavished praise on Obama on the debate stage and in appearances throughout Iowa, where he remains immensely popular among the hardcore progressives who turn out for the labor-intensive caucuses. Her refrain on the trail these days in Waterloo, Ames, Davenport: “I don't think he gets the credit he deserves.”

Obama didn’t utter an unkind word about Sanders, who has been respectfully critical of his administration’s reluctance to prosecute Wall Street executives and his decision to abandon a single-payer health care system as politically impractical. But he was kinder to Clinton. When I asked Obama whether he thought Sanders needed to expand his horizons, if the Vermont senator was too much a one-issue candidate too narrowly focused on income inequality, the president didn’t dispute the assertion.

Gesturing toward the Resolute Desk, with its spread-winged eagle seal, first brought into the Oval Office by John F. Kennedy, Obama said of Sanders: “Well, I don’t want to play political consultant, because obviously what he’s doing is working. I will say that the longer you go in the process, the more you’re going to have to pass a series of hurdles that the voters are going to put in front of you.”

Then he added: “As you’ll recall, I was sitting at my desk there just a little over a week ago … writing my State of the Union speech, and somebody walks in and says, ‘A couple of our sailors wandered into Iranian waters’” — and here he stopped to chuckle in disbelief — “that's maybe a dramatic example, but not an unusual example of the job.”

And he gently suggested that his own ’08 message might be a pretty good mantle for his would-be successors to don. “My bet is that the candidate who can project hope still is the candidate who the American people, over the long term, will gravitate towards,” he said.
The past three weeks have been like a wicked ’08 flashback for a Clinton campaign that was intent on learning from its mistakes in Iowa. Sanders, preaching a simple message of fighting economic inequality and Wall Street, has been gaining steadily on Clinton — whose stump speech sounds like one of her husband’s more discursive and overstuffed State of the Union laundry lists. The high school and college kids are flocking to Sanders, while Clinton is counting — sound familiar? — on women over the age of 50 as the core of her caucus support. As Sanders gains on her, she’s gone negative, and the media has revived the familiar “Hillary attacks” theme, even if the Vermont senator is giving as good as he gets.

When I asked Obama if Clinton is facing “unfair scrutiny” this time around, his answer was a clipped “yes” — and he even admitted a tinge of regret that his own campaign had been so hard on her eight years ago.

But when I asked him if Sanders reminded him of himself in 2008, he quickly shot me down: “I don’t think that's true.”
I spoke to a half-dozen current and former top Obama advisers in preparation for the podcast, and to a person, they described the boss as in a nostalgic, pensive frame of mind as he approaches his final year in office.

He still keeps in touch with many architects of the 2008 Iowa strategy — 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe oversaw a blockbuster state operation that doubled the typical number of caucus-goers from about 120,000 to an unheard-of 240,000. The bonds are deep — he reached out to some of the old crew last month to tell them he was thinking about them on the eighth anniversary of his historic victory — and he need only watch the daily briefing for another Iowa reminder: White House press secretary Josh Earnest played the same role, in Obama’s Des Moines headquarters, during the caucuses.

He was clearly thinking of sweet Iowa when addressing the sour faces in the well of the House for the last time during last month’s State of the Union address. “I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa. I've been there. I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips,” he said to the collective 2016 field, flashing a toothy grin.

“He’s in a really good place,” said David Axelrod, his top message strategist in 2008 and 2012. “He is taking stock.”

For a president facing an ugly, asymmetrical world and not especially prone to sentimentality, Iowa has a field-of-dreams quality, a thought oasis he’s been visiting after seven-plus years of compromise and combat, especially as the caucuses approach.
“That [Iowa] spirit was true. And the fact that we were a part of that I continue to be really proud of,” he told me.

But he also saw it as a proving ground that prepped him for the national stage. During his first big rally in the state, in February 2007, he committed a truly awful gaffe, telling a crowd in Ames that “3,000 lives” of American service members had been “wasted” in Iraq.

“I wasn’t necessarily ready for Broadway,” he conceded. “[M]y answers were too long, I was too wonkish, wasn’t crisp in my presentation. And that was true for a while. … Everything in retrospect always looks great... [But] I remember [the] endless van rides through cornfields, hungry, tired, going to my sixth event, and making phone calls to either raise money or to talk to some caucus-goer who didn’t really want to talk to me but my team said I had to call.”
Like the high school girl who hung up on him after declaring, “I’m in a yearbook meeting,” he recalled.

But the Obama-Clinton race in Iowa wasn’t simply a matter of hard work and spreading his optimistic vision of the future; it was a bitter political fight. Obama hammered away at the notion that the New York senator was on the wrong side of generational change, and his team successfully convinced reporters that every Clinton campaign swipe was an underhanded personal attack — something he’s less than proud of in retrospect.
“The truth is, in 2007 and 2008, sometimes my supporters and my staff, I think, got too huffy about what were legitimate questions she was raising,” he admitted. “And there were times where I think the media probably was a little unfair to her and tilted a little my way in calling her out.”

In fact, he said, Clinton “had a tougher job throughout that primary than I did.”
“She had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels,” he said. “She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her.”
“Had things gone a little bit different in some states or if the sequence of primaries and caucuses been a little different,” Obama added, “she could have easily won.”
But he also offered a surprisingly blunt assessment of Clinton’s weaknesses.

She is better in “small groups” than big ones, he remarked, and he agreed that her first campaign appearances showed her to be “rusty” — comparing them to his God-awful first debate of the 2012 campaign. “[S]he’s extraordinarily experienced — and, you know, wicked smart and knows every policy inside and out — [and] sometimes [that] could make her more cautious, and her campaign more prose than poetry,” he told me.

This, from a president who has been governing in prose, especially during his second term. In fact, Obama’s experiences in office have brought him around to Clinton’s hardheaded view of the presidency, first forged during her eight years as first lady. “I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives,” he said, echoing the very critique Clinton makes of Sanders.

Obama gives less ground when it comes to his own performance as president — repeating the message, from last month’s State of the Union address, that he’s “very proud of what we've gotten done over these last seven years” and that his “singular regret … is the fact that our body politic has become more polarized,” a situation he attributes to the actions of others — hyperpartisanship on the GOP side, gerrymandering, the media, super PACs.
But he will admit to mistakes in projecting his own message — and neglecting many of the communications tools that served him so effectively during the 2008 campaign — particularly using stagecraft and adapting rapidly to changes in social media. “[Y]ou know what, some of the presidency is performance and I’ve been criticized — probably, in some cases, fairly — for not effectively promoting my ideas,” he said.

“I've gained a greater appreciation for the need to tailor a communications strategy to a new era in which people are not just watching three network news shows,” he added. “I wish that I had adapted the White House communications operations and my own ways of presenting things to reach more people more effectively, sooner.”

Obama is of two minds about 2016, people close to him say: He’s intensely interested in ensuring that a Democrat wins and is keeping close tabs on the race — to keep the barbarians from the gates. But like many liberals his age, he’s averting his eyes from a Donald Trump free-for-all he finds depressing and distracting.“You think about it: When I ran against John McCain, John McCain and I had real differences, sharp differences, but John McCain didn’t deny climate science,” he said. “John McCain didn’t call for banning Muslims from the United States. … [The] Republican vision has moved not just to the right, but has moved to a place that is unrecognizable.”

When I ask him if he’s been watching the Republican debates, must-see-TV for most politicians, he shakes his head and tugs restlessly on a cuffed shirtsleeve. “I don't. But, look, I, as you know, didn’t like participating in many of these debates,” he says with a laugh. “And so if I didn’t enjoy watching my own, I certainly am not going to watch the Republican debates.”

It’s an open secret inside the White House that Obama was relieved to see Vice President Joe Biden pass on a 2016 presidential run— though he did nothing to prod his friend in either direction. Obama has remained above the fray in the Clinton-Sanders duel, but people close to him say he believes his onetime opponent is better equipped to defeat the Republicans.

“He’s not panicked by Sanders,” said one former top aide, “but he’s clearly thumbing the scale for Hillary.”

Many of Clinton’s senior staff are Obama White House alums — and some of her top campaign brass, including Obama’s former communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, and ex-counselor John Podesta, have met with the president in recent months; Obama’s longtime pollster, Joel Benenson, is Clinton’s top political strategist, and the campaign’s policy director Jake Sullivan, another administration veteran, remains close to his counterparts in the West Wing, according to multiple sources in both camps.

Obama told me he has spoken to both Clinton and Sanders about 2016, albeit in general terms. “We’ve had a conversation broadly about the importance of a Democrat winning [with Clinton], and I've had conversation with Bernie, about issues that he’s interested in or concerned about,” he said. “I have not been trying to kibitz and stick my nose into every aspect of their strategy.”

And while he’s not exactly waiting for the phone to ring, he said he’s not too busy to offer pro tips on a topic he knows better than just about anybody — Iowa.
“Look, if anybody asks me for my opinion on something, I'm happy to offer it,” he said.

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Praising her experience, Obama boosts Clinton's pitch to Democratic voters


President Barack Obama has praised Hillary Clinton's political experience, a boost to her campaign as she battles an insurgent Bernie Sanders a week before the Democratic presidential nominating process kicks off.
Obama's kind words for his former secretary of state, in a Politico interview published on Monday, will help Clinton as she tries to link her campaign more closely with the president and so draw in more support from his backers.
While never explicitly criticizing Sanders, a senator from Vermont whose campaign is focused on pledges to redress social inequality and contain Wall Street excesses, Obama praised Clinton's experience and suggested several times that Clinton's messages are grounded in realism.
"(S)he’s extraordinarily experienced — and, you know, wicked smart and knows every policy inside and out — (and) sometimes (that) could make her more cautious, and her campaign more prose than poetry," Obama said.
The interview was conducted on Friday and published a week before the Feb. 1 voting in Iowa, which launches the process to pick the parties' nominees for the November presidential election.
Clinton, who lost the Democratic primary to Obama in 2008, was for months the clear front-runner to be the party's nominee this time around, but opinion polls have showed a surge of support for Sanders in recent weeks.
She argues that while Sanders' goals on issues such as social inequality are laudable, some are unobtainable and he lacks the experience to tackle a wide range of issues.
"When you’re in the White House you cannot pick the issues you want to work on, you’ve got to be ready to take on every issue that comes your way, including those you cannot predict," Clinton told the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines on Monday.
In an echo of that point that will be gratifying to the Clinton campaign, Obama said in the Politico interview, "(The) one thing everybody understands is that this job right here, you don’t have the luxury of just focusing on one thing.”
"I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives," he said.
Obama, who remains very popular within the Democratic Party, has said he will not endorse a candidate in the primary but has admitted he is watching closely to see who will succeed him.
All three Democrats in the race - Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley - were set for a prime-time opportunity to make their closing arguments on Monday night in a nationally televised town hall meeting on CNN due to begin at 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT).
The candidates were set to appear individually on stage, fielding questions from the moderators and trying to make their final pitches ahead of the Iowa voting.
In the interview, Obama took issue with comparisons being made by pundits between himself and Sanders. The Vermont senator is often described as an underdog candidate who excites young voters and draws larger crowds - as Obama did in his come-from-behind primary win in 2008.
"I don’t think that's true," Obama said when asked whether Sanders reminded him of himself. However, Obama did note that Sanders had the "luxury of being a complete long shot and just letting loose," while "Hillary came in with the both privilege — and burden — of being perceived as the front-runner."
Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, agreed they are not the same, but still pointed to a similar crowd response and said Sanders enjoys a similar momentum. "They're obviously very different people," Weaver told CNN.
On the Republican side of the nomination fight, the battle for endorsements and voters gathered pace.
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa was set to campaign on Monday alongside presidential hopeful Marco Rubio - a move that the Ernst campaign insisted is not an endorsement of her Senate colleague from Florida.
Iowa's other senator, Chuck Grassley, raised eyebrows on Saturday when he appeared at a Donald Trump event. Grassley stressed he was not providing a formal endorsement.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas picked up the endorsement of former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who dropped out of the presidential campaign last year after failing to gain traction. This was a first endorsement by a former governor for Cruz, who has received no endorsements from sitting senators despite serving in the chamber.
Opinion polls show Trump, a real estate mogul, and Cruz locked in a tight battle to win the Iowa voting.
Trump launched a video on Facebook arguing that the "establishment" is trying to undermine his campaign - a direct response to recent attacks by Cruz that he is part of the establishment.

Being dubbed part of the establishment has taken on a strong negative connotation in the Republican campaign as candidates presenting themselves as outsiders have risen in the polls. The video got more than 370,000 views in the first three hours.