Sunday, September 10, 2017
BY HARRIET SINCLAIR
Former first lady Michelle Obama is the right candidate to run for Democrats in 2020, according to a former Bill Clinton pollster.
Douglas Schoen said in an op ed for The Hill that Obama would fare better against incumbent Donald Trump than any of the other candidates who are being touted as potential future leaders.
“As I’ve said before, the Democrats need an alternative plan to rebuild and unite the party if they have any hope in winning back seats in Congress in the 2018 midterms, nonetheless the White House in 2020,” Schoen wrote for The Hill. “This alternative plan requires a new, united opposition, led by a political leader with widespread popularity. The only person I can see accomplishing this would be none other than the party’s most popular political figure: Michelle Obama,” he added.
Given her popularity as first lady, with an average 65% approval rating, and almost universal popularity within the Democratic Party, it is not the first time Obama’s name has been banded about as a possible future presidential candidate.
But the former first lady said in December 2016 during an interview with Oprah Winfrey that it wasn’t something she was keen to put her family through a second time.
“I don’t make stuff up, I’m not coy—I’m pretty direct. If I were interested in it, I'd say it,” Obama told Oprah during their interview.
She added that despite the hopes of some Democrats that she would run for office, “people don’t really understand how hard this is. It’s not something that you cavalierly just sort of ask a family to do again.”
Despite suggesting Obama would be the best candidate to unite the party, Schoen said his view was not an endorsement of her candidacy.
“Let me be clear: This is not an endorsement. I have been, and still am, critical of Barack Obama’s presidency,” Schoen wrote for The Hill.
“Michelle Obama would not be my candidate, and I do not agree with many of the positions I believe she would advance. But as an analyst, Michelle Obama is clearly the Democrats’ best chance to reunite the party and win back the White House in 2020,” he added.
By Steven Zeitchik
Then the unexpected happened. “There was going to be this friendly handoff of power, and then we’d see more of the accomplishments solidified,” Barker said of his initial intentions for the movie, titled “The Final Year.” “And of course there was an X-factor they didn’t see coming.”
That Trumpian curveball changed the last few months of filming, which continued until the inauguration. And it makes the final product a fundamentally different beast. What had been a straightforward D.C. document, color-drenched but benign, becomes an urgent ideological rebuttal when viewed through the lens of 2017.
Barker’s film — which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday as it seeks distribution — is the result of a painstaking process courting President Obama’s foreign policy staff, particularly U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and senior advisor Ben Rhodes. Drawing on his reputation and relationships from earlier movies (they include “Manhunt,” about the quest to find Osama bin Laden), Barker eventually persuaded the White House to let his cameras in. The result is a fly-on-the-wall look at the team — President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry included — huddling in the West Wing and taking their diplomatic show on the road in places from Africa to southern Europe during its last year in power. There also is (some) critique of Obama’s decision not to intervene in Syria.
“The material is classified, but the emotions aren’t,” Barker said in the interview, and indeed, viewers watch as each of the movie’s principals goes through a crucible of some kind. Power is seen grappling with the aftereffects of her convoy accidentally killing a boy in Cameroon. Rhodes faces an unflattering New York Times magazine story about him.
Obama, meanwhile, is kept at arm’s length but is revealing when he talks post-election about his hope that his influence can extend to young people who start movements or organizations because of his leadership. Immediate policy-overturns in the Trump era, he suggests, are less important in this light.
The most pointed moment (told as a day-after recap of a voluble meeting) is when Power stakes out ground in favor of military intervention in the escalating human rights crisis in Syria. (Power’s devotion to human rights above all else, including realpolitik, is one of the film’s numerous character nuggets.) Rhodes and the president disagree and it is of course their view that prevails.
Rhodes said in an interview with The Times that he does reflect on the Obama administration’s Syria approach, which became one of the most criticized of the 44th president’s foreign policy positions. But that reflection only goes so far.
“I certainly look back and wonder if there are things we could have done differently. But candidly, I don’t know if we’d done something differently how it would have turned out,” he said. “When you’re dealing with a multiplicity of factors, it’s hard to say if you did X, it would have led to Y. There’s a broader picture we still don’t know.”
One doesn’t need to be an Obama critic to raise questions about “The Final Year.” Painting the administration’s policy vis-a-vis other presidents’ as simply a matter of diplomatic engagement vs. military solutions, as the film often does, ignores plenty of the shades in between.
And very few of its scenes feel juicily behind the curtain. The high-level meetings can seem pro forma, when they are shown at all. (Barker said the administration was not given, nor did it seek to use, veto power over anything in the film besides the camera inadvertently capturing a screen or document of classified information.) But if the film’s observational sections are light on substance, they make up for that with intimacy. One rarely gets to glimpse the White House from the inside, and Barker spends plenty of time behind the guarded walls.
There also is a fair amount of foreign policy insight. Rhodes admits, for instance, that the administration “didn’t figure out Russia quickly enough, and that Putin’s interests and Russia’s interests are not the same.”
With comments like “he carries around the human consequences of his decision-making,” said by Power, the film won’t be confused for a hard-hitting expose. That is OK, Barker said in the interview.
“We weren’t trying to make the ‘Frontline’ version of this movie, with talking heads criticizing Obama’s policy,” he noted. “That’s a worthy film too. But we wanted to show something different — that there are rational processes at the heart of the security machine,” and that the Obama administration “embodied the idea of cooperation and dialogue over military force.” (Obama has yet to see the film.) Which brings it all back to the Donald Trump resonance. When the current president is seen later in the film, briefly, in news footage opposite Obama, it is a jarring moment, breaking the almost time machine-like spell the film had been casting.
That is Barker’s point too. This is, for all the reassurance some might find in an administration of such deliberativeness, the final year of Obama’s presidency and inevitably now part of the past.
Yet the events of the film also form, to use a favored Obama metaphor, a link in the chain. It’s one that perhaps doesn’t end before Trump, but certainly will continue after him.
By Sophie Tatum
Hillary Clinton said being at President Donald Trump's inauguration was "like an out-of-body experience" and that his speech was a "cry from the white nationalist gut."
"But I'm a former first lady, and former presidents and first ladies show up," Clinton said on "CBS News Sunday Morning." "It's part of the demonstration of the continuity of our government. And so there I was, on the platform, you know, feeling like an out-of-body experience. And then his speech, which was a cry from the white nationalist gut." Clinton also told CBS's Jane Pauley that Trump tapped into a "nostalgia" with his supporters. "He was quite successful in referencing a nostalgia that would give hope, comfort, settle grievances for millions of people who were upset about gains that were made by others," Clinton said.
Pauley then pressed on: "What you're saying is millions of white people?"
"Millions of white people, yeah. Millions of white people," Clinton replied.
She added, "I understood that there were many Americans who, because of the financial crash, there was anger. And there was resentment. I knew that. But I believed that it was my responsibility to try to offer answers to it, not to fan it. I think, Jane, that it was a mistake because a lot of people didn't want to hear my plans. They wanted me to share their anger. And I should've done a better job of demonstrating 'I get it.'"
Asked about her infamous "basket of deplorables" comment during the campaign, in which she said half of Trump's supporters are "irredeemable," Clinton reiterated that thought. "Trump was behaving in a deplorable manner," she said, citing the "Access Hollywood" tape as an example. "There were a large number of people who didn't care," Clinton said.
Clinton said she had no idea what the outcome would be heading into Election Day. But around midnight, when results were showing Trump as the likely winner, she said she decided, "Well, you know, looks like it's not going to work." "I just felt this enormous letdown, just kind of loss of feeling and direction and sadness," Clinton said. Clinton said she called the President-elect and the White House after having the realization. The next day, she went home to her residence in New York.
"It was a very hard transition. I really struggled. I couldn't feel, I couldn't think. I was just gob-smacked, wiped out," Clinton recalled. The former secretary of state also recalled the moment then-candidate Trump stood close behind her while the two faced off during the presidential debate in St. Louis.
"It was so, just, discombobulating," Clinton said. "While I'm answering questions, my mind is going, 'OK, do I keep my composure, do I act like a president, am I the person people can trust in the end to make hard decisions?' Or do I wheel around and say, 'Get out of my space, back up you creep.' Well, you know, I didn't do the latter." Clinton said she isn't ready to fade out of the public eye, even if her days of being a candidate are over. "I am not done with politics because I literally believe that our country's future is at stake," Clinton said.
Memoir to be released this week
Clinton is speaking out about the 2016 campaign, much of which is detailed in her new memoir, "What Happened," published by Simon & Schuster. CNN purchased a copy of Clinton's book from a Jacksonville, Florida, bookstore a week before its widespread release. "I go back over my own shortcomings and the mistakes we made," Clinton writes. "I take responsibility for all of them. You can blame the data, blame the message, blame anything you want -- but I was the candidate. It was my campaign. Those were my decisions." In the "CBS News Sunday Morning" interview, Clinton echoed that line. "I think this time we're in, particularly in this campaign, you know, maybe I missed a few chances," Clinton told Pauley. Earlier this week, Clinton spoke at an event at New York's Riverside Church, where she discussed conceding to Trump and how she worked to get over the election loss.
"I relied on several tools, one of which was prayer, and I was lifted up and blessed by a lot of people who sent me prayers, sent me spiritual readings," Clinton said Thursday. "I also had the support of my family. ... My friends rallied around and were so supportive. I did some yoga. Tried alternative nostril breathing." And, she added, "Yes, I had my fair share of Chardonnay."
Despite taking much of the blame for the defeat, Clinton also named names in the book, including her former rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Clinton writes that Sanders' rhetoric about her during the primaries created "lasting damage," adding that Sanders "had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character" because the two candidates "agreed on so much." At the faith event Thursday, Clinton said it was "excruciating" to try to write the book. "Sometimes I would write a couple of pages and would literally have to lie down because it was so difficult," she said. "But eventually it became cathartic."
By Marina Fang
“I am done with being a candidate. But I am not done with politics because I literally believe that our country’s future is at stake.”Hillary Clinton on Sunday declared the end of her career as “an active politician,” but she she will remain involved in the political fray through other means.
“I am done with being a candidate,” she told CBS’ Jane Pauley, in her first major TV interview since her defeat in the 2016 presidential election. “But I am not done with politics because I literally believe that our country’s future is at stake.”
The interview, which aired on “CBS Sunday Morning,” comes ahead of the Tuesday release of What Happened, her book reflecting on last year’s election.
Clinton said she quelled what she termed her “painful” loss to Donald Trump with “long walks in the woods” and “my share of Chardonnay.”
“I just felt this enormous letdown, just kind of loss of feeling and direction and sadness,” she said. “Off I went, into a frenzy of closet cleaning, and long walks in the woods, playing with my dogs, and ... yoga, alternate nostril breathing, which I highly recommend, trying to calm myself down. And, you know, my share of Chardonnay. It was a very hard transition. I really struggled. I couldn’t feel, I couldn’t think. I was just gobsmacked, wiped out.”
The book takes aim at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Clinton’s primary opponent, and former FBI director James Comey for significantly hindering her presidential bid. Sanders repeatedly attacked her as a representative of the political establishment, a message Trump echoed. And Comey’s late October announcement that the FBI, which he still headed at the time, had re-opened its inquiry into her treatment of classified information as secretary of state is blamed by many Clinton supporters for her defeat. But Clinton also acknowledged her own shortcomings, including what she said was a failure to articulate her understanding of voters’ frustrations. “They wanted me to share their anger. And I should’ve done a better job of demonstrating, ‘I get it,’” she told Pauley.
Part of the book also addresses the pervasive sexism and misogyny she faced during the election season.
“I started the campaign knowing that I would have to work extra hard to make women and men feel comfortable with the idea of a woman president,” she said in the Sunday interview. “It doesn’t fit into the stereotypes we all carry around in our head. And a lot of the sexism and the misogyny was in service of these attitudes. Like, you know, ‘We really don’t want a woman commander-in-chief.’”
In interviews and forums since the election, Clinton has spoken out more candidly and forcefully about discrimination against women in society. She has also launched Onward Together, an initiative supporting groups that aim to strengthen the Democratic Party. These include several organizations started since the election that are focused on helping more women run for public office.
By Simon Lewis
A group of Rohingya Muslims that attacked Myanmar border guards in October is headed by people with links to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Thursday, citing members of the group. The coordinated attacks on Oct. 9 killed nine policemen and sparked a crackdown by security forces in the Muslim-majority northern sector of Rakhine State in the country’s northwest. At least 86 people have been killed, according to state media, and the United Nations has estimated 27,000 members of the largely stateless Rohingya minority have fled across the border to Bangladesh.
Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar’s government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, blamed Rohingyas supported by foreign militants for the Oct. 9 attacks, but has issued scant additional information about the assailants it called “terrorists.”
A group calling itself Harakah al-Yakin claimed responsibility for the attacks in video statements and the Brussels-based ICG said it had interviewed four members of the group in Rakhine State and two outside Myanmar, as well as individuals in contact with members via messaging apps.
The Harakah al-Yakin, or Faith Movement, was formed after communal violence in 2012 in which more than 100 people were killed and about 140,000 displaced in Rakhine State, most of them Rohingya, the group said. Rohingya who have fought in other conflicts, as well as Pakistanis or Afghans, gave clandestine training to villagers in northern Rakhine over two years ahead of the attacks, it said.
“It included weapons use, guerrilla tactics and, HaY members and trainees report, a particular focus on explosives and IEDs,” the group said, referring to improvised explosive devices.
It identified Harakah al-Yakin’s leader, who has appeared prominently in a series of nine videos posted online, as Ata Ullah, born in Karachi, Pakistan, to a Rohingya migrant father before moving as a child to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
“Though not confirmed, there are indications he went to Pakistan and possibly elsewhere, and that he received practical training in modern guerrilla warfare,” the group said. It noted that Ata Ullah was one of 20 Rohingya from Saudi Arabia leading the group’s operations in Rakhine State.
Separately, a committee of 20 senior Rohingya emigres oversees the group, which has headquarters in Mecca, the ICG said. U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a news briefing on Thursday that the United States was aware of the report and reviewing it, but declined to comment further.
Groups like Islamic State and al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent have referred to the plight of the Rohingya in their material, and the battlefield experience of at least some of the Rohingya fighters implied links to international militants, the ICG said.
However, ICG said the group has notably not engaged in attacks on the civilian Buddhist population in Rakhine. Harakah al-Yakin’s statements to date indicate its main goals are to end the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar and secure the minority’s citizenship status. “It is possible, however, that its objectives could evolve, given its appeals to religious legitimacy and links to international jihadist groups, so it is essential that government efforts do not focus only or primarily on military approaches, but also address underlying community grievances and suffering,” the ICG said.
By Pamela Constable
Chief causes of continuing surge include religious taboos, political timidity and public ignorance, population experts say.
For years, Pakistan’s soaring population growth has been evident in increasingly crowded schools, clinics and poor communities across this vast, Muslim-majority nation. But until two weeks ago, no one knew just how serious the problem was. Now they do.
Preliminary results from a new national census — the first conducted since 1998 — show that the population has grown by 57 per cent since then, reaching 207.7 million and making Pakistan the world’s fifth-most-populous country, surpassing Brazil and ranking behind China, India, the United States and Indonesia. The annual birth-rate, while gradually declining, is still alarmingly high. At 22 births per 1,000 people, it is on a par with Bolivia and Haiti, and among the highest outside Africa.
“The exploding population bomb has put the entire country’s future in jeopardy,” columnist Zahid Hussain wrote in the Dawn newspaper recently. With 60 per cent of the population younger than 30, nearly a third of Pakistanis living in poverty and only 58 per cent literate, he added, “this is a disaster in the making.”
The chief causes of the continuing surge, according to population experts, include religious taboos, political timidity and public ignorance, especially in rural areas. Only a third of married Pakistani women use any form of birth control, and the only family-planning method sanctioned by most Islamic clerics is spacing births by breast-feeding newborns for two years.
Even if the birth-rate slows, some experts estimate that Pakistan’s population could double again by the middle of the century, putting catastrophic pressures on water and sanitation systems, swamping health and education services, and leaving tens of millions of people jobless — prime recruits for criminal networks and violent Islamist groups.
But instead of encouraging fresh ideas to address the population crisis, the census has triggered a rash of arguments over whether certain areas have been over or undercounted, or reclassified as urban instead of rural. These squabbles amount to fights over political and financial spoils, including the number of provincial assembly seats and the amount of funding from the central government.
A few people, however, are paying close attention to the larger picture. One is Shireen Sukhun, a district officer for the Population Welfare Department in Punjab province. Her mission is to persuade Pakistani families to have fewer children and offer the families access to contraceptive methods — but she is keenly aware of the obstacles.
“The fatal combination we face is poverty and illiteracy,” Sukhun said. “It takes a long time to change people’s mind-sets, and we don’t have the luxury of leaving it to time.”
One outpost in her campaign is a tiny, bench-lined room in Dhoke Hassu, a congested working-class area of Rawalpindi. Inside, Rubina Rehman, a family welfare worker, listens all day to women’s problems with feverish babies, painful deliveries and other woes. Once they feel comfortable with her, she broaches the topic of contraception.
It has not been an easy sell. All the clients are Muslims, and most have little education. Some have been taught that God wants them to have many children. Some have husbands who earn too little to feed a large family but keep wanting another child. Some would like help but are too shy to discuss a taboo topic.
“When we first opened this post, women were frightened to come, and some people asked why we were against increasing the ummah [Muslim masses],” Rehman said. “But we explained how the prophet taught that you should have a gap of 24 months between each child, and that you should consider the family’s resources when making decisions. Now we do not face such opposition.” On Thursday, a dozen women crowded into Rehman’s office, some carrying infants or toddlers. Several leaned close and whispered to her, then slipped packets of birth-control pills into their purses. One woman named Yasina, 35, explained proudly that she had gotten an “implant” — a hormone dose injected under the skin that prevents conception for several years.
“I already have five children, and that is more than enough,” she said. At first she had agreed to a tubal ligation, which the government arranges at no cost, but her husband, a labourer, would not allow it. “So I got the implant instead, and I didn’t tell him,” she said, bursting into laughter as the other women smiled. Outside, the markets and alleys of Dhoke Hassu were teeming with a mix of Afghan refugees, migrants from rural Punjab and government workers. Some expressed confidence that God would provide for any children that came. But many said that it was important to balance family size with income and that their Muslim beliefs did not conflict with such practical needs.
“If half of our population is young, what will happen to their lives, their jobs, their needs?” mused Rizvi Salim, 29, a government railways employee carrying his only child, a two-year-old girl, in his arms. Salim said that he was raised with seven siblings but that today, “things have changed. We do believe that God will take care of us all, but we also need to plan for our futures.”
But upwardly mobile urban communities are more open to such perspectives than rural areas, where two-thirds of all Pakistanis live. In village life, the influences of traditional culture and Islamic teachings are stronger, and the reach of public media campaigns about baby spacing is much more limited.
Attempts to open rural family welfare offices are often met with community suspicion and political opposition, but health officials say more mothers are asking about birth control. The remaining major taboo, they said, is permanent contraceptive practices such as vasectomies or tubal ligations.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the population nearly doubled, from 17.7 million in 1998 to 30.5 million this year. The province is home to several million Afghan refugees, numerous Islamist militant groups and conservative religious leaders suspicious of supposed foreign plots to sterilise Muslims. But their views, too, are evolving.
“Islam does not contradict the idea of family planning, but it challenges the Western concept of birth control,” said Mufti Muhammad Israr, a religious scholar in Peshawar, the provincial capital. He said Islam allows “natural family planning” via breast-feeding but not “stopping the reproductive system permanently. The prophet Muhammad asked believers to marry and produce children.” Hospital officials in Mardan, a large district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said this month that they frequently deal with cases of child malnutrition and often see mothers with several very young children. They said that although more married couples are seeking family-planning services, women still have difficulty getting their husbands to cooperate.
One pregnant housewife waiting to see a gynaecologist in Mardan had a small child on her lap and a five-year-old girl by her side. All looked weak and malnourished.
“My husband doesn’t care about my health or the health of our children. He can barely support us, but he wants more,” said Zarina Bibi, 34. She said that a doctor had advised her to take a break from childbirth for several years but that she had no choice. “My husband doesn’t want birth control.”