Thursday, January 28, 2016

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Most Americans have dim view of current situation in U.S.: Gallup

As the U.S. election season begins, only four in 10 Americans rate the situation in the U.S. as positive, which is well below the historical average, a Gallup poll released Wednesday found.
The current rating is somewhat higher than the all-time lows in Gallup's trends, recorded before former President Richard Nixon's resignation over the Watergate scandal in 1974 (33 percent), and in the midst of a bad economy and soaring gas prices in 1979 (34 percent), Gallup found.
Democrats are sharply more positive than Republicans and independents. While 62 percent of Democrats hold positive views of the current situation in the U.S., only 23 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of independents do so.
The 40 percent of Americans who assess the current state of the nation positively is below the historical average of 49 percent across the 21 times Gallup has asked this question, the poll found.
Americans were most positive about the U.S. in January 2001, corresponding to the still-positive views of the economy as the dot-com boom was ending, and in January 2002, reflecting the rally effect that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Americans were also quite positive on a relative basis in 1959, 1964 and 1985, Gallup said.
The dampened ratings are probably related to Americans' high levels of dissatisfaction with their government and the way it is operating, as well as continuing concerns about the economy and terrorism, according to Gallup.
Still, Americans' rating of where they think the U.S. will be in five years (56 percent positive) is just below the historical average of 59 percent, although well below individual high points, including readings in the 70 percent range in 1959 and 2002, according to Gallup.
Republicans' dour view of the nation may also lead them to believe that even a new Republican president will need to change the way business is done in Washington to improve the situation, Gallup found.
This may help in understanding how Republican front-runner Donald Trump's non-political background has resonated well with segments of the Republican Party, Gallup said.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton's mainstream political resume may appeal to Democrats because a majority of them are positive about the current situation in the U.S., and therefore presumably not averse to a traditional Democratic president who continues those policies, Gallup found.

Trump a distraction from real problems in US: Journalist

An American journalist says the United States has serious social, economic and geopolitical problems but the media are focusing on the trivial issue of whether Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump will participate in Thursday night’s GOP debate, adding, "That's American politics.”
Don DeBar, an anti-war activist and radio host in New York, made the remarks in a phone interview with Press TV on Thursday when asked to comment on Fox News’s request to Trump not to cancel his appearance at the network's GOP debate in Iowa.
Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, announced on Tuesday that he would not participate in the GOP debate because, he claimed, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly treated him unfairly during a previous Republican debate hosted by the network.
Trump and Kelly have had an ongoing feud since the first GOP debate back in August during which Kelly confronted the controversial candidate about his disparaging remarks about women, calling them "fat pigs," "dogs," and "slobs."
“So now the media is giving Trump coverage - basically a debate about the debate - over a debate he is not even going to participate in, and he is the central figure because he is not participating,” DeBar said.
He said “Donald Trump is offered center stage essentially on Fox News – a fairly friendly outlet for his candidacy from the beginning, by the way."
"He has a problem with Megyn Kelly, because she called him on some of the outrageously sexist misogynist statements he’s made, like you would hope any candidate would be called on if they said some of those things, but it upset him, and he says he is not going to participate like a little kid, and that becomes, and the validity of his case becomes, the story,” he added.
“Now people at CNN are looking at this as an opportunity to go after some of Fox’s audience, those who are Trump-heads, and show that this proves that CNN is superior to Fox –  that Fox is biased, etc,” he stated.
“You know, Fox for years has been spewing the most outlandish and outrageous stuff, passing it off as news, and CNN - instead of challenging that when they have the opportunity on a daily basis -  has been basically copying Fox’s style; they have become more like Fox than Fox,” DeBar observed.
“Meanwhile, we are supposed to be having presidential elections. The United States has serious economic problems, serious geopolitical problems, half a dozen wars are going on, and all kinds of financial problems for the government, 40 million people - or 20 million people still without health insurance, and the other 20 million people that were added can’t really afford to use it - the housing crisis and everything else, and none of that is getting debated, what’s getting debated is whether Donald Trump is going to participate in the discussion with a group of other people who likewise will not be actually proposing any solutions to those problems. That’s American politics,” the analyst concluded.

Yemen conflict: UN panel wants inquiry into alleged rights abuses

UN experts are calling for the Security Council to set up an inquiry into reports of violations by all warring parties in Yemen. More than 5,800 people have been killed since Saudi-led airstrikes began in March.

In a report obtained by news agencies but not released publicly, the UN panel described a dire humanitarian crisis compounded by coalition airstrikes on civilian neighborhoods, the "destabilizing accumulation of arms" and a Saudi blockade of ships carrying essential supplies to Yemen.
It said civilians were suffering under tactics that "constitute the prohibited use of starvation as a method of warfare," while the overall chaos was allowing militant groups like the "Islamic State" (IS) to expand.
The report, which was presented to the Security Council last week, called for a new international inquiry into widespread reports that the Saudi-led coalition has targeted civilians "in a widespread and systematic manner."
But their demands led to immediate skepticism after a previous bid by the UN Human Rights Council to set up an inquiry was called off after objections from Saudi Arabia.
The new report stated that the UN team relied on satellite imagery and other sources to corroborate reports, as it is currently too dangerous to visit Yemen.
The panel documented 119 coalition sorties "relating to violations of international humanitarian law," with many involving multiple strikes on civilians.
Among the targets were refugee camps, weddings, buses, residential areas, medical facilities, schools, mosques, markets, factories, food warehouses and airports, the report said.
The UN experts "also documented three alleged cases of civilians fleeing residential bombings and being chased and shot at by helicopters."
Harsh criticism
The report claimed that missiles, originating from Iran and bound for Houthi rebels, had been seized off the coast of Oman.
The conflict in Yemen worsened after the Houthis and their supporters, who are allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, captured large swathes of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. That brought about a regional response led by Yemen's closest neighbor, Saudi Arabia, in support of internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
The paper also accused the regional coalition of supplying weapons to various armed groups without ensuring proper accountability and secure storage.
The report comes amid increasingly harsh criticism of all warring parties in the Yemen conflict by the UN in recent days.
Earlier this month, the UN's human rights representative in Yemen was briefly expelled after the world body claimed that coalition forces had used cluster bombs.
Over 80 percent of Yemen's population is in dire need of food, water and other aid, according to aid agencies, and the report said that warring sides have failed to fully observe a single humanitarian pause to help alleviate the populace's suffering.

Kurdish Exclusion From Peace Talks the Result of Turkey 'Blackmailing' West

Despite being one of the most effective ground forces in the region, the Kurdish PYD has been barred from participating in Syrian peace. Elif Sarican of the Kurdish Student Union, tells Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear why the PYD has been left on the sidelines.

"They have been heroic, and they have been, I would say, the sole reason why, in Kobane, ISIS was defeated," Sarican tells Loud & Clear. "It’s been shocking for all of us that they’re not being included in these Syrian peace talks in Geneva."

Those talks begin Friday, seeking an end to Syria’s bloody conflict. According to Sarican, Western nations have refused to allow the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) to join the talks for fear of upsetting Turkey, especially considering Ankara’s role in slowing the flow of refugees in mainland Europe.

"Turkey has been very smart about blackmailing the EU about this situation. So, 'You either give us what we want, or we send the refugees your way,'" she says."Turkey does not want Kurds to gain any power or strength in the region because this challenges their authority."

Ankara is also a crucial ally of the United States.

"Their geopolitical position in the region is key for the US at the moment, and I think has been for some time now," Sarican says. "[The US] cannot lose Turkey as an ally, so therefore, they cannot upset Turkey."
A stronger Kurdish presence could also help provide stability in the region – something the US has an interest in preventing.

"It wouldn’t benefit the US for the PYD to gain any more strength or power in the region, and to implement their ideologies, which is democratic federalism, which is the inclusion of everyone in the region, which is…the only solution to the Middle East," she says.

"But this will mean stability in the Middle East, which, of course, as we know, will never benefit the US because it feeds off…this instability."Sarican also points out that Washington’s intervention in Syria is more about a desperate attempt to hold onto its status as the sole world superpower.

"Especially after Russia got involved, and they were, of course, as everyone saw, a lot more effective than the US had been over the last few years," she says.

"The solution isn’t for humanitarian reasons or because they [the US] want people to live peacefully…they want to be the people behind some sort of action in the world," Sarican adds. "They want to be seen as the saviors of the world."

While the PYD is one of the most effective fighting forces, it could also be the best hope of diplomacy.

"The real idea of democracy is what the PYD would want to implement and what their direction would be in Syria."

Given the long history of Turkey’s mistreatment of Kurdish communities, the PYD is simply fighting for a chance to live free of repression."They want human rights, to start with, but then they want to be able to govern themselves. They want to be able to say they're Kurdish, they want to be able to be educated in Kurdish, and they want to be able to live the way they want to live."

Read more:

Leading Saudi cleric says IS and Saudi Arabia 'follow the same thought'

A former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca has said that the Islamic State (IS) group follows the same brand of Islam as officially espoused by Saudi Arabia.
Footage translated by British think tank Integrity UK on Wednesday showed leading cleric Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani speaking to the Dubai-based channel MBC about what he believes are the roots of IS.
“We follow the same thought [as IS] but apply it in a refined way,” he said. “They draw their ideas from what is written in our own books, from our own principles.”
The cleric said that “we do not criticise the thought on which it (IS) is based".
Kalbani repeated the oft spread conspiracy that unnamed intelligence agencies had played a role in the rise of IS.
He said intelligence agencies had “exploited” those who followed the ultra-conservative Salafist brand of Sunni Islam.
“Intelligence agencies and other countries might have [helped] Daesh to develop, providing them with weapons and ammunitions, and directing them,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Kalbani was refused a visa to visit the UK in 2013. Although no official reason was given for the refusal, it was reported at the time that it may have been linked to televised comments he made calling Shia Muslims apostates.
Apostasy is a term used to describe Muslims who have left Islam.
In his MBC interview, which was broadcast on 22 January, Kalbani said IS and Salafists in Saudi Arabia shared the same opinion on apostasy, which is that those who leave Islam should be executed.
Kalbani also spoke about the killing of journalists by IS, including Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, which drew global condemnation in September 2014.
He said “their blood was shed according to Salafist fatwas (religious edicts) not outside the Salafist framework.”
Saudi Arabia has regularly been compared with IS, in so much that both appear to stipulate similar punishments for crimes that include apostasy, adultery, and drinking alcohol.

Political posing? International community reacts to Riyadh’s crimes in Yemen

Catherine Shakdam

“Better late than never” said the wise man … In Yemen’s case “late” came 10 months into a punishing Saudi-led military campaign waged in the name of political legitimacy and hegemonic superiority.
Earmarked for destruction in March 2015 by belligerent Saudi Arabia, Yemen has suffered and cracked under the weight of a war which has systematically pursued annihilation, to better rise the house of Saud the imperial master over Southern Arabia. And while Yemen’s war was sold to the media as a grand battle against the despotism of the Houthis - this one tribal group, labeled a dissident faction for it dared imagine it could champion popular will against that of a self-appointed Saudi-sponsored oligarchy; it is evident this struggle, pitting oil mighty Saudi Arabia against impoverished Yemen, was always indeed one of control and feudality.
Yemen today stands the new Spartacus against the Empire.
Ten months into relentless bombing, killing, raiding, and droning, notwithstanding an inhuman blockade against Yemen’s Shiite population, a UN panel of experts eventually acknowledged this January the stench of Saudi Arabia’s war crimes, calling on the UN Security Council to “investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Yemen by all parties and to identify the perpetrators of such violations.”
The report reads: “The panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.
While this report offers little by way of surprise – Western officials can hardly argue they did not know when it is in fact, their weapons, their intelligence, and their experts which enabled the Kingdom against impoverished Yemen, the mover implies a dramatic change of political strategy vis-a-vis Wahhabi Saudi Arabia.
No longer the untouchable darling of Western capitals, Riyadh was told this January that its immunity no longer stands impenetrable.
Let me be clear here – it is extremely unlikely, if not down-right impossible, the UNSC will issue more than a symbolic slap on al-Saud’s hands, regardless of the horrors its military committed in Yemen. Let us remember that a full acknowledgement of guilt would entail throwing the likes of Britain and the United States under the judiciary bus. Both London and Washington have provided military assistance to Riyadh – to such an extent actually that much of the blood which has flowed under the Kingdom’s impetus also reflects on UK PM David Cameron and US President Barack Obama’s hands.
Saudi Arabia remains the biggest UK and US arm buyers after all, and if Riyadh was able to drop cluster bombs on unsuspecting civilians it is only because the US fulfilled its demands.
Moreover, earlier this month the UK confirmed that British forces have been in the Saudi command and control centre for the strikes on Yemen. Such entanglements and the repercussions they inherently carry, entail that Riyadh’s accountability will be ultimately gagged.
Worse still, if not for the United Nations’ quiet submission to al-Saud’ financial blackmail in regards to aid donations to its agencies, Yemen would never have been put under a humanitarian blockade – its people would not have been made to starve the way they have been if not for such criminal complicity.
Vice News reported in June 2015 that Saudi officials leaned on UN officials to sabotage aid deliveries, threatening to close the kingdom’s checkbook should UN agencies deny Riyadh’s requests.
When it comes to Yemen, few powers can claim the moral high ground, as most actively participated in the killing of a people - all in the name of profit, political scoring and geopolitical hegemony.
But again, no surprise there. I doubt anyone still entertains any such political naivety – world leaders’ propensity to commit abominable crimes in the name of an increasingly elusive “democratic ideal” should have long wiped out such childish complacency.
Rather than ask ourselves how Riyadh will be held accountable, let us instead translate what such political shift implies in the long term – in other words: why is the international community suddenly pointing the fingers at al-Saud? Why now, and to serve which agenda, since knowledge was never a hindrance?
Here is one theory: Saudi Arabia is becoming too much of a political liability, notwithstanding the new Royals’ habits of overstepping political boundaries by acting as the rebellious child against their Western guardians. Riyadh’s lobbying in the US for example did not escape officials – prompting much unease. If al-Saud’s billions bought certain political licenses, Western powers are not exactly keen on becoming Riyadh’s handmaiden. 
Another point to carefully weigh in is Iran’s return to the international fold. A superpower in the making, Iran is also an answer to one very American oil conundrum: oil dependency – or rather, Saudi oil dependency.
If the US, and most Western capitals stand trapped by their thirst for Saudi oil, forcing them to put up with Riyadh’s political tantrums, Iran’s vast oil and gas reserves offer the promise of emancipation.
According to the Iran Petroleum Ministry, the proved natural gas reserves of Iran are about 1,046 trillion cubic feet (29.6 trillion cubic meters) or about 15.8 percent of world's total reserves, of which 33 percent are associated gas and 67 percent is in non-associated gas fields. Iran has the world's second largest reserves after Russia, and ranks fourth as far as its oil reserves are concerned.
By any standard Iran is an oil and gas juggernaut, a titan which could soon outshine and outrank Saudi Arabia.
If UN experts’ sudden awakening in Yemen offers little more than political posing, the message their statement carries against Riyadh’s despotic rule cannot be ignored.
I would argue that this shift should be credited to Yemen’s resilience before imperialism. If not for the Resistance stubborn determination in the face of aggravated pressure, the world would never have been forced to acknowledge the brutality of al-Saud theocratic absolutism.
Should Yemen had cowered before the Saudi military coalition, time would not have allowed for another political and economic path to be forged.

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Hillary Clinton speaks out on Oscars' diversity problem

Hillary Clinton speaks on the #Oscars' diversity controversy w...

Hillary Clinton speaks out on the #Oscars' diversity controversy:

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Endorsement: Hillary Clinton, The Candidate Who Actually Inspires

By Pat Rynard

I am a Democrat because of Socks the Cat.

Okay, there’s many other reasons than that, but that’s where it started. When you’re a seven-year-old kid with a black cat and the new President has a black cat too, that’s reason enough to support a political party.

As I grew up, the values I developed of fairness, compassion, equality and economic justice aligned with the Democratic Party, and I’ve stayed there since. I’ve volunteered for Democrats since age 16 and have worked on their campaigns for the last decade.

The reason I bring up this story is this: if Hillary Clinton wins election and re-election to the presidency, she will finish her second term two months shy of my 40th birthday. From the moment I first developed a hint of a political consciousness to the precipice of entering middle age will have been dominated by the Clinton family.

Is that a good thing or bad? For some, the Clintons’ longevity in American politics is enough to take a pass on another nominee named Clinton. There’s legitimate reasons to feel that way. New blood and fresh ideas are useful in any movement or industry.

And yet something feels off about that, and the entire end of this campaign in Iowa seems odd. It’s like we’re back to the same 2008 dichotomy once again. Judgement versus experience. Optimism versus pragmatism. Hope versus realism.

As I’ve spoken with people who are wavering in their candidate choice or leaning toward Bernie Sanders, I hear the same thing over and over again. Sanders makes them feel something. His message and candidacy gives them excitement. Sanders is inspiring and Clinton is not. Most importantly, they believe that a vote for Clinton is one for a cynical acceptance of the way things are.

I do not understand this.

Hillary Clinton is one of the most successful public servants in America. She has helped expand economic opportunity and rights at home, while improving America’s reputation abroad after the Bush administration. And yet people somehow see her record and promise as a president in a cynical manner.

My question to them is this:

What is not inspiring about a little boy getting the health care coverage he needs thanks to Clinton’s leadership on the Children’s Health Insurance Program? What is not moving about an Israeli family who’s alive today because the ceasefire Clinton negotiated stopped rockets from raining down on their house? What is not stirring about the women’s rights movements sparked around the world from Clinton’s 1995 Beijing speech?

If these things do not inspire you, perhaps you should reconsider why you are interested in politics in the first place.

I have spent the last decade working on campaigns. I lived for months away from my wife, went through long bouts of unemployment and debt waiting for the next gig, and drifted apart from old friends I never saw during my 80-hour work weeks. I didn’t do it so I could personally feel a part of something bigger, or to have fun waving signs at a rally. I did it so that my gay friends could still get married and so that kids wouldn’t be crammed 30 to a classroom because Republicans cut school funding.

And at the end of the day, the sacrifice has been more than worth it because I know my work made a little bit better the lives of so many of the people who I met in person on their doorstep.

Which leads me to Bernie Sanders.

I love the guy. I love nearly all of his message and policies, I love his screw-the-system personality and I especially love his campaign’s rejection of the failed consultant- and number-driven political tactics. If he wins the nomination I’ll happily go all-in to see him to victory and will really enjoy watching his operation remake how Democratic campaigns are run.

But I have my doubts. For one, whether it’s that wise to nominate a 74-year-old, self-described “Democratic Socialist” who’s spent the last three decades in D.C. The polls make his chances look good now, but that’s well before the other side spends a billion dollars scaring voters about “socialism” and his far-left policy proposals.

That being said, unlike some other Democrats, I truly believe he can win the general. I do think he’ll turn out a wave of new voters, and I think he’s already shown that he can bat away tough criticism with his blunt, honest speaking style.

What I worry most about, however, is what would happen after he’s elected.

Throughout his campaign Bernie Sanders has promised the moon. Free college tuition. $15/hour minimum wage. Single-payer health insurance. $1 trillion in spending for our cities.

Republicans will retain control of the House no matter what thanks to gerrymandered districts. And they will not pass those proposals. Sanders might get a little bit here and there, but my guess is they stall. And Republicans will try to shift the focus to any foreign policy missteps from a Commander-in-Chief who has shown little interest during this campaign in issues non-domestic.

And then what happens? This massive coalition Sanders has built of young people and those disenchanted in democracy who believed this time was really different will get depressed and discouraged. And they will not show up in the midterms in 2018, and Democrats will once again get obliterated on the state and local level.

It’s already happened. Obama drew from the same wells of youthful enthusiasm in 2008. Then his voters abandoned him in 2010 after his promise to remake politics stalled, and that was even after he signed the Affordable Care Act. Many states around the country experienced a net-rightward shift under Obama thanks to newly-captured Republican governors’ mansions and legislatures.

Why is this time different? Already Sanders has shown little to no interest in building up local Democratic parties to deepen and support his movement once in office. People think the optimism he’s produced will see his supporters through, but what he’s really tapped into is the feelings of cynicism. The type of cynicism that dismisses the real progress we have made because it didn’t happen fast enough or wasn’t 100% pure ideologically. The type of cynicism that thinks Hillary Clinton is evil and untrustworthy because they saw a meme on Facebook with flashy graphics. When Sanders’ promises fail to quickly come to pass in the White House, will these people be convinced that it’s just politics-as-usual again?

Some will dismiss my opinion here because I worked for Clinton as a field organizer in 2008. The smart question no one ever asked is why I didn’t want to work for her this time. The reason is because I wasn’t sold on another Clinton run at the beginning. I thought her campaign might make the same mistakes as last time and that the party needed new leadership to face new challenges and an evolving electorate.

I really like what I’ve seen from Martin O’Malley, and do think he would make an excellent president as well (and I hope his hard work results in a good showing on Monday night). And for a time I wondered if maybe Sanders would provide a new path forward.

But I’ve covered Clinton at countless events the past nine months, and saw up close her improve as a candidate as she took in Iowans’ stories and connected with their problems. It’s undeniable that she knows more in-depth details on every policy there is than pretty much any other politician or public servant. Most importantly, it’s clear she knows how to get things accomplished in these crazy political times. She’s still standing after decades of Republican attacks, and she’ll force them to the table once in office.

That’s what’s really important in this election: how we get progressive priorities accomplished.

To “Feel the Bern” is just that, to feel. Excitement can be fleeting. If you know Sanders can’t get all of his very idealistic policies passed through a Republican House, why contribute to false hope that will let so many down? Especially when the alternative is not a cynical acceptance of the status quo, but a commitment to fight and win and make progress on the issues we all care about.

True inspiration doesn’t come in chanting slogans, waving signs or enjoying a candidate’s soaring speech. Real inspiration happens in the real lives we change through progress born out of grueling, hard-won fights. I, for one, thought that’s why we’re all in this fight in the first place.

Hillary Clinton has been fighting for children, for women, for working families during my entire life. That is a feature of her candidacy, not a flaw. For all the trials and battles she’s been through, she’s still the one who can make a real difference.

I look forward to standing in Clinton’s corner on caucus night. I hope many of you will do the same.

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Presidential Polls 2016: 7 in 10 Americans 'Anxious' About Donald Trump Presidency

By Andre PugIie

Predictions that Donald Trump would not be able to hold on to his front-runner status have failed to materialize days before the Iowa caucuses, but most Americans say they nevertheless are uncomfortable with the idea of the real-estate tycoon moving into the White House.

In a poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, 69 percent of respondents say the prospect of a "President Trump" made them anxious, suggesting that Trump would face an uphill battle in the general election if Republicans were to crown him their nominee, the newspaper reported. Only 3-in-10 Americans have no worries about the former "Apprentice" star running the country.

Historian Rick Perlstein, the author of the 2014 bestseller "The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan," meanwhile, told Slate that voters were right to fear a Trump presidency.

"Donald Trump is perhaps most interesting in his lack of connections to (the traditional political) world," Perlstein noted. "The first sign that something very different was happening was when he basically rejected Fox News, threw them over the side, and had no interest in kowtowing to them."
Trump's surprisingly tense relationship with the news channel, of course, was on display this week as the GOP front-runner refused to participate in Fox's Jan. 28 presidential debate after the station refused to remove Megyn Kelly as one of the event's moderators.

Americans full of doubts about presidential hopefuls

Nevertheless, the billionaire businessman is not the only one causing concerns, the Washington Post noted. Fifty-one percent of Americans say they had similar doubt about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
Pollsters discovered, meanwhile, that 43 percent were unsure if they would trust Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's main challenger, in the Oval Office. And almost 50 percent expressed angst about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, some of Trump's key rivals in the Republican race.

Poll: Clinton 6 points ahead of Sanders in Iowa

By Eric Bradner

Hillary Clinton has a 6 percentage point lead over Bernie Sanders in Iowa, a new poll out just one week before the state's caucuses shows.
The Fox News survey shows Clinton with 48% support to Sanders' 42% and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's 3%.
    The poll is the first since mid-December that meet's CNN's polling standards and shows Clinton with a sizable lead over Sanders. It could signal that momentum is swinging back in Clinton's direction after Sanders surged into the lead in early January.
    However, Sanders remains the front runner in New Hampshire, the first primary state, with a 56% to 34% advantage over Clinton, according to a Fox News poll of the Granite State.
    And Clinton's national lead among likely Democratic primary voters has narrowed -- but is still clear. She's up 49% to Sanders' 37%, a third Fox News poll showed.
    The Democratic nominating contest has tightened in recent weeks, with Sanders' singular message of addressing income inequality breaking through.
    Clinton still holds significant advantages as the contest shifts from Iowa and New Hampshire to Nevada and South Carolina, two states with much larger minority populations -- among whom Clinton leads.
    The candidates are set to participate in a town hall at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday night. It is being hosted by Drake and the Iowa Democratic Party and broadcast on CNN at 9 p.m. ET.

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    By Ishaan Tharoor

    In a column published in Newsweek, Eva Schloss, an 86-year-old Auschwitz survivor, leveled sharp criticism at Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who has surged in the polls on the back of a populist, anti-immigration platform.
    Schloss, who is based in London, was writing on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was marked around the world Wednesday. She likened the struggles and hardships faced by Jewish refugees in the 1930swith the suffering of Syrians and others now, many of whom are desperately seeking sanctuary in the West.
    "I am very upset that today again so many countries are closing their borders," wrote Schloss. "Fewer people would have died in the Holocaust if the world had accepted more Jewish refugees."
    She aims particular opprobrium at Trump, who has called for a total cessation of Muslim arrivals to the United States and the deportation of millions of Hispanics living in the country.
    "If Donald Trump becomes the next president of the U.S. it would be a complete disaster. I think he is acting like another Hitler by inciting racism," Schloss wrote. She is hardly the first person to level the charge of fascism at the presidential candidate, but she carries a uniquely moral voice.
    Born in Vienna, Schloss and her family first fled to Belgium and then the Netherlands following the Nazi annexation of Austria. In Amsterdam, she became childhood friends with Anne Frank, the famed Holocaust diarist.
    "We children all played together outside – skipping, hopscotch and marbles – and one day a girl ran over to me and introduced herself. ‘I’m Anne and my family comes from Germany,’" Schloss recounted in a 2008 interview. She added that, despite her being a month older than Frank, "Anne was much more mature and grown-up than me."
    The families separately went into hiding and eventually were seized by Nazi authorities and deported to concentration camps in the east. Schloss's father and brother perished. Frank's father, Otto, was the only surviving member of their family; he married Schloss's mother Elfriede in 1953, which made Anne, posthumously, Schloss's stepsister.
    Despite her ordeal and the horrors of Nazism, Schloss now believes the current moment is more stark than the past because there's little global consensus about what to do about the Syrian crisis.
    "The situation today is worse than it was under Hitler because at that time all the Allies — the U.S., Russia and Britain — worked together to combat the terrible threat of Nazism," she wrote. Schloss concluded: "I remember how upset the world was when the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 and now everybody is building walls again to keep people out. It’s absurd."

    Barack Obama weighs in on Oscars diversity issue

    Add President Barack Obama to the lengthy list of public figures who have commented on the Oscars’ diversity issue.
    Speaking to a group of reporters on Wednesday, Obama was asked about the Academy Awards, which for the second year in a row included an all-white slate of acting nominees. “I think when everybody’s story is told, then that makes for better art,” Obama said. “That makes for better entertainment. It makes everybody feel part of one American family. So I think, as a whole, the industry should do what every other industry should do, which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody.”

    Obama added that the debate surrounding the Oscars this year is “just an expression of this broader issue of: Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”
    After the nominations were announced on Jan. 14, a number of high-profile men and women spoke out against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Spike Lee, an honorary Oscar winner last year, Jada Pinkett Smith and later her husband, Will Smith, all said they would not attend the ceremony in protest. Oscar winners George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon, and Lupita Nyong’o also made public their feelings on the Academy’s failure to cite a broad range of nominees. In the wake of the uproar, the AMPAS announced rule changes in an effort to diversify its ranks.
    “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said last week after the announcement. “These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”

    Video - President Obama Speaks at the Righteous Among Nations Award Ceremony - Jan 27, 2016

    Video - Obama speaks at Israeli embassy amid thaw in relations

    Afghan Music Video - Madina Saidzada - Ghalchakai

    WASTE ALERT: Pentagon Loses $800 Million in Failed Afghanistan Program

    Krista Chavez 

    The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported last week that the Department of Defense could not explain the failure of its $800 million taxpayer-funded budget implemented by the Pentagon with the goal of producing economic growth and stabilization in Afghanistan.
    “Over the past two years, SIGAR has received more complaints of waste, fraud, and abuse relating to TFBSO activities than for any other organization operating in Afghanistan,” Alexander Bronstein, a SIGAR representative, noted during a brief to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.  
    The report stated that the project did not produce the necessary goals of the project due to several unnecessary problems and repeated mistakes.
    “A lack of strategic direction and inconsistent management resulted in a scattershot approach to economic development,” Bronstein stated, “the program’s director Paul Brinkley told SIGAR that he approved programs without knowing what they would cost.”
    Since 2009, Congress appropriated nearly $823 million to the program until funding ceased in September 2015. All program operations ended on March 30, 2015.
    Another task force displayed further Pentagon corruption. This project examined by SIGAR originally intended to build a $3 million gas station in Afghanistan ended up actually spending $43 million in construction and “overhead” costs from 2011-2014. SIGAR released this information in a 2015 congressional hearing.
    "At a time of growing threats and constrained defense budgets, this kind of mismanagement is simply unacceptable, and I look forward to hearing from the Pentagon on what specific steps it will take to prevent such an egregious waste of tax dollars in the future," Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) stated.
    This is yet again a ridiculous example of unchecked waste in Pentagon spending. Failure to correctly distribute a multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded budget displays the necessity of auditing the such an organization. Without thoroughly examining the allocations of the Department of Defense, there will continue to be massive corruption in spending, and the American taxpayer will remain abused.
    Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist advocated for a Pentagon audit, stating that “All departments of the United States Government are audited--except the Pentagon.  This is not acceptable.  If the management of the Pentagon cannot pass an audit--get new management.” 

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    The lesson of Afghanistan

    President Barack Obama was plainly bowing to the inevitable last October when he shelved plans to bring home all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by end of this year. It was clear that the war there wasn't going well and that the Afghan Army the U.S. had spent more than 10 years and billions of dollars to train and equip still couldn't be counted on to defend the country against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. Mindful of the swift collapse suffered by U.S.-trained forces in Iraq in 2011 after the precipitous withdrawal of American forces there, the Obama administration wasn't about to let the same thing happen again in Afghanistan.
    But the result of that decision has been to force American policymakers to face up to a prospect they had long sought to avoid: a more or less permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan that could stretch out for decades to come. That's exactly the opposite of what Mr. Obama promised on the campaign trail in 2008 when he vowed to end America's longest war, yet it's what the general he nominated to lead the conflict predicts. At a Senate confirmation hearing today , Lt. Gen. John Nicholson said he foresaw the possibility of an indefinite American commitment to Afghanistan like we have in Germany and South Korea. The reality on the ground is that there's no light at the end of this tunnel.
    Granted, there's plenty of blame to go around for the U.S. military's inability to extricate itself from Afghanistan, and not all of it falls on Mr. Obama's watch. Former President George W. Bush bears a share of responsibility for his decision to topple the Taliban in 2001, after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, then take his eye off the ball two years later when the U.S. invaded Iraq. That gave Afghan insurgents time to recover and regroup. Likewise, Mr. Obama reluctantly accepted the 2009 "surge" of 33,000 troops to Afghanistan to counter the resurgent Taliban, but then he withdrew them before the mission was accomplished in order to have them home by Election Day in 2012.
    In hindsight it's easy to see how both decisions ended up deepening the quagmire Afghanistan has become. But the next president is going to inherit a situation in which he or she can either choose to repeat the mistakes of the past or make a clean break with them by recognizing that there's no quick or easy path to victory in Afghanistan and that stabilizing the situation there enough to prevent terrorist groups from using it as a base for attacks on the U.S. and its allies may be the closest thing to success we can achieve. Even that could require a generational struggle in which our conventional military forces are at a long-term disadvantage against the hit-and-run tactics of lightly armed guerrillas hiding among the civilian population.
    Our involvement in Afghanistan should serve as a cautionary tale about the perils of military adventurism, just as the Iraq War did, but it's striking how differently those lessons have been absorbed by the presidential contenders in the two parties. On the Democratic side, we're witnessing a debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton about whether her vote to authorize the Iraq War represents a fatal lack of good judgment. But on the Republican side, with the exception of the isolationist Sen. Rand Paul, we're witnessing a contest to see who can be the most bellicose when it comes to new threats like ISIS and the civil war in Syria. Sen. Ted Cruz's loose talk of "carpet bombing" terrorists and making the sand "glow in the dark" is just political bluster that, if actually carried out, would virtually guarantee a U.S. defeat by turning the whole Muslim world against us.
    The only way to win the war in Afghanistan is to recruit and train local forces committed to defending their country and supporting them over the long-term with U.S. airpower, logistics and intelligence capabilities, and it's the only way forward against ISIS as well. That's what the U.S. is really good at, but it will require strategic patience and a commitment to seeing the conflict through to the end no matter how long the fighting continues. The conflicts ranging from Syria to Afghanistan won't be won under the next president nor perhaps for several more to come, regardless of which party occupies the White House. The next commander-in-chief may not like hearing that, but it's something he or she is going to have to learn to live with because the alternatives are even worse.