George W. Bush

George W. Bush: Freedom To Worship Or Not ‘Is Not Your Government’s Choice’

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Former President George W. Bush during his commencement address at Southern Methodist University Saturday

Nor is the freedom to love whomever you choose or the freedom to marry whomever you choose.  Just sayin’. (ks)

THE HUFFINGTON POST

Former President George W. Bush defended religious freedom during his commencement address at Southern Methodist University Saturday– his first commencement address since leaving office in 2009.

“You can be hopeful because there is a loving God. Whether you agree with that statement or not is your choice. It is not your government’s choice,” Bush said to applause. “It is essential to this nation’s future that we remember that the freedom to worship who we want and how we want, or not worship at all, is a core belief of our founding.”

Bush’s speech at the school that houses his presidential library and where his wife, Laura Bush, is a trustee, comes as his brother Jeb is on the verge of a likely White House run. Jeb, the former Florida governor, faced difficult questions over his brother’s invasion of Iraq this week, including one from a college student who claimed that George W. Bush was responsible for the rise of the Islamic State.

In his speech Saturday, the 43rd president said he was optimistic about the future.

“Some say America’s best days are behind us,” he said. “I say, given our strengths — one of which is a bright new generation like you — these are not dark days, these are great days.”

Bush, who graduated from Yale with a C+ average, also made fun of his mediocre academic record, telling graduates that they shouldn’t let grades limit them.

“Those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done,” he said. “And as I like to tell the C students: you too can be president.”

~Sam Levine

GOP Hero: Where Bibi Leads, the GOP Will Follow

Nir Elias/Reuters

The Daily Beast

A day before his apparent victory in Israel, the prime minister rejected a two-state solution. Now expect Republicans to follow him—destroying a rare point of unity with Democrats.

Yes, it looks like Bibi Netanyahu has a better shot than Bougie Herzog does of forming the next government. There are many moving parts here, so it’s not completely set in stone. But the clear consensus by 5 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, an hour after the polls closed, was that Netanyahu and Likud have a clearer path to 61 seats than Herzog and the Zionist Union party do.

I’ll leave it to others who know the intricacies of Israeli politics better than I to parse all that. But let’s talk about the impact of a possible Netanyahu victory on our politics here in the United States. The answer is appallingly simple, I think: Though we won’t see this happen immediately or sensationally, it seems clear that, month by month and inch by gruesome inch, a Netanyahu win will move the Republican Party further to the right, to an unofficial (and who knows, maybe official) embrace of Netanyahu’s pivotal and tragic new position of opposition to a two-state solution.

Netanyahu declared said opposition, as you know, the day before the voting, when he stated, in a videotaped interview: “Whoever today moves to establish a Palestinian state and withdraw from territory is giving attack territory for Islamic extremists against the state of Israel. Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand.” When his questioner asked if this meant a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch, the prime minister said: “Indeed.”

Now, it’s been known in Israel and America that this was Netanyahu’s true view of things for some time. He partially gave the game away last summer during a press conference. But he never quite said it as directly as he did Monday, in the culminating event of his final, frenzied, fear-mongering campaign. Israeli leaders of the major parties have at least officially supported a two-state solution for many years. But as of Monday, opposition to a two-state solution is official Israel policy, and as long as Bibi’s the boss, it will remain so.

The United States has officially supported a two-state solution at least since George H.W. Bush was president. Presidents of both parties, and even virtually all serious presidential contenders from both parties, have been on record in favor of a two-state solution. Each president has put varying spins on what it means, and has invested more (Bill Clinton) or less (George W. Bush) elbow grease in trying to bring such a solution about. But it has been the bipartisan position in the United States for 25 years or more, and that has meant there at least was a pretense—and sometimes more than that—of a shared goal somewhere down the road between Israel and Fatah (admittedly not Hamas).

Now Netanyahu has ditched that. How will our Republicans react? Well, they love Netanyahu. As they recently demonstrated to us all, he is, in effect, their president, at least on matters relating to the Middle East and Iran. Is it so crazy to think that what Bibi says, the Republicans will soon also be saying?

Now throw Sheldon Adelson into this stewpot. There are many reasons the Republican Party as a whole has become so epileptically pro-Israel in recent years: their ardor for Bibi, the power of the lobby, the influence of the Christian Zionist movement, and more. But another one of those reasons is surely Adelson. When you’re that rich and that willing to throw multiple millions into U.S. and Israeli electoral politics (to the GOP and Likud), you become influential. Adelson is completely opposed to a Palestinian state. “To go and allow a Palestinian state is to play Russian roulette,” he said in October 2013.

There is already a history of GOP candidates making their hajjes, so to speak, out to Adelson’s Las Vegas base of operations and saying what he wants to hear. John Judis wrote about this in The New Republic a year ago. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and John Kasich trotted out to Vegas and filled Adelson’s ear with pretty music. Judis: “The presidential hopefuls made no attempt to distinguish their views on Israel and the Palestinians from Adelson’s.” Christie even apologized for having once used the phrase “occupied territories”!

So here we are today: Bibi, their hero, has said it openly, and “proved” (for the time being) that saying it pays electoral dividends; their base certainly believes it; and Adelson and his checkbook make it potentially quite a profitable thing for them to say. So watch the Republican candidates start announcing that they’re against the two-state solution. Some will be coy about it (Bush, probably). Others—Ted Cruz, and I suspect Walker, who’s already been acting like foreign policy isjust a little make-believe game anyway, an arena that exists merely for the purpose of bashing Barack Obama and pandering to the base—will likely be less coy.

If this happens, do not underestimate the enormity of the change it heralds. As of now, I am told by people who know, no Republican legislator in Washington has explicitly disavowed a two-state solution. The closest Congress has come to doing so was on a 2011 resolution offered by ex-Rep. Joe Walsh that called for congressional support for Israeli annexation of “Judea and Samaria.” Walsh got a number of co-sponsors, 27 of whom are still in office.

But that was then. Four years later, Bibi is the American right’s über-hero, and there’s every reason to think Republicans will follow where he leads. And so a rare point on which our two parties were, however notionally, united, will likely be yet another point of division—and given the intensity of feeling here, bitter division. Republicans will think they can increase their percentage among Jewish voters. The current polls indicate that three-quarters to four-fifths of U.S. Jews (about the percentage that votes Democratic) back a two-state solution. But if Bibi proved anything these last few days, he proved that demagoguery and lies can alter percentages. Brace yourselves.

If It Wasn’t For 9/11, Republicans Would Be Obsolete

Mike Meehan, a St. Cloud, Florida, businessman who paid to post the billboards in the Orlando area, said former President Clinton should have put a stop to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda before 9/11. He said a Republican president would have done so. | CNN

Addicting Info

Consider George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, and Ann Coulter. What do they all have in common, besides the fact they are rabid conservatives who have contributed nothing positive to our country? They all became more prominent, and held higher power and prestige after the September 11, 2001 attacks. While America picked up the pieces of that terrible day, they rose above it all to become the mitochondria of the right.

Because of those horrific attacks (which were the result of Republican-led negligence):

1. George W. Bush’s popularity soared to 90%, setting the stage for two wars and a re-election, which was centered around combating global terrorism to prevent “another 9/11.”

2. Dick Cheney launched a war on morality and international law with the use of torture, all in the name of preventing another 9/11. Now our national standing is forever stained.

3. Rudy Giuliani “united” New York City after 9/11, catapulting him into the national spotlight as a conservative hero against terrorism. Now, Giuliani has rendered himself irrelevant with his race-baiting and paranoia. Because of his fame from 9/11, we will be stuck with him until the day he dies.

4. Ann Coulter became internationally “relevant” with her “invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity” comments regarding Muslims. She also took it upon herself to make fun of the 9/11 widows who she thinks are “enjoying their husband’s deaths so much.” Like Giuliani, she has rendered herself irrelevant.

All of these Republicans rose in the ranks of national prominence because of 9/11. Their careers benefited because they kept a tight grip on America with constant fear-mongering and rising nationalism. In their mantra, if you dissented against them, you were a traitor and a terrorist sympathizer. They kept getting elected and they kept getting their spots on TV because people were frightened. The American people wanted to be reassured that 9/11 would never happen again, and the ones who were the best at post-9/11 propaganda were the Republicans.

Because of 9/11, Republicans were back in business, and for a long time. As the United States naturally becomes more progressive with a younger population and an influx of forward-thinking immigrants, the GOP would virtually be obsolete if it wasn’t for that terrible September day.

Speaking of immigrants, you can thank post-9/11 Republicans for our flawed and stagnated immigration system. Because of their propaganda surrounding foreigners, we needed to put more money in the border, send everyone back, and close our borders because of “terrorism.” Yes, the two middle aged parents with their three small children fleeing Mexico are in the same boat as ISIS and the cartels, according to the GOP. If they were brown, they weren’t welcome. If you’re not white, you might as well be a terrorist. This rise in latent racist nationalism continues today, even as President Obama uses his executive authority to fix our broken immigration system. It’s no wonder why so many conservative Americans are hostile to anyone foreign.

The events also beautifully lined the pockets of the GOP (and almost bankrupted the country) with their two wars to “fight” terrorism, which greatly benefited their political machine. And why wouldn’t you be for the war? If you weren’t for “getting the terrorists,” you supported 9/11. The Republicans actually had us convinced there for awhile. According to Gallup Polling, between March 2003 to July 2005, the majority of Americans supported sending our troops to Iraq. After that, America quickly grew war weary.

But now here we are, 14 years after those terrible attacks and the GOP thinks they’re making a comeback. Cheney and Giuliani are appearing on almost every Sunday show, spewing their “we gotta’ get the terrorists” talking points. People are still listening to them, even though they have been conclusively proven wrong.

September 11, 2001 was the worst day for our nation. But it was the best day for the Republican Party. It wasn’t the attack itself that ruined us. It was the response, and the fear, in the long run, that ruined us.

Jeb Bush Resigns as George W. Bush’s Brother

The New Yorker

Photography by Jason Reed/Reuters

Andy Borowitz ~ The New Yorker

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In the strongest sign to date that he intends to seek the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has officially resigned his position as George W. Bush’s brother.

“No longer being related to his brother is a key step to clearing Jeb’s path to the nomination,” an aide said on New Year’s Day. “We expect his poll numbers to soar on this.”

According to the aide, the former Florida governor resigned his post as brother in a ten-minute phone call with George W. Bush, after which he blocked the former President’s phone number and e-mail address.

In an official statement, George W. Bush said that he “understands and supports” his former brother’s decision.

“If I were him, I would no longer be related to me either,” he said.

10 things you need to know today: December 17, 2014

Another President Bush in waiting?

Another President Bush in waiting? (Andy Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The Week

The 113th Congress ends, Jeb Bush announces he is exploring a bid for the White House, and more

1. Widely criticized Congress wraps up its work
The 113th Congress, which was panned as the least productive in modern history, came to a close late Tuesday. Democrats in the Senate, on their last day in control of the upper house, wrapped up by approving at least six dozen of President Obama’s judicial nominees and extended several tax breaks that had been scheduled to expire in 2015, but failed to renew a terrorism insurance program supported by corporations and major sports leagues. “Thank God it’s over!” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) said. [The Washington Post]

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2. Jeb Bush announces he is exploring a presidential run
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush announced Tuesday via social media that he would “actively explore the possibility of running for president” in 2016. Bush, the son of former president George H.W. Bush and brother of former president George W. Bush, served as Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007. He is a favorite of the Republican establishment, but has angered conservatives with his support for Common Core education guidelines and comprehensive immigration reform that might include a pathway to legal residency for some undocumented immigrants. [Orlando Sentinel, ABC News]

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3. Court calls Obama’s immigration orders unconstitutional
A federal court in Pennsylvania on Tuesday declared some of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration unconstitutional, saying they amounted to “arbitrary immigration enforcement.” Judge Arthur Schwab’s ruling was the first in the nation to address Obama’s executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. A Justice Department spokesman called the ruling, which came in the case of a Honduran charged with illegal entry after a drunken driving arrest, “unfounded” and said the judge had “no basis” to address the executive actions. [The Washington Post, Politico]

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4. Pakistan lifts death penalty a day after Taliban school attack kills 145
Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, lifted a moratorium on the death penalty on Wednesday, a day after nine gunmen armed with grenades and suicide vests killed 145 people at an army-run school. The government declared three days of mourning for the victims, with the national flag flown at half-staff at all official buildings. Security forces set up checkpoints and barricades in Peshawar, the northwestern city where the attack occurred, and all businesses and schools there were closed. [The New York Times]

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5. Jury rejects antitrust lawsuit against Apple
A federal jury on Tuesday rejected an antitrust lawsuit accusing Apple of using a 2006 update to iTunes software to give itself a monopoly over digital music sales. The eight-member jury unanimously found that Apple had tweaked the software to make legitimate improvements to iPods sold from 2006 to 2009. Competitors who filed the class-action suit complained that the changes let users play songs purchased in the iTunes stores or downloaded from CDs, but not those sold by rival stores and services. [The New York Times]

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6. Vet suspected in Pennsylvania killing spree found dead
An Iraq War veteran suspected of killing his ex-wife and five members of her family, including a 14-year-old niece, was found dead of apparently self-inflicted stab wounds on Tuesday. The body of the 35-year-old suspect, Bradley William Stone, was found a half-mile from his home in suburban Philadelphia, where a 36-hour manhunt had forced local officials to close schools. The former Marine reservist and his wife were involved in a bitter custody dispute. [The Associated Press]

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7. Sierra Leone begins searching for Ebola victims door-to-door
Sierra Leone stepped up its battle against Ebola on Wednesday with a plan to search house-to-house for infected people and anyone who has come into contact with them. Those infected will be transported to new treatment centers built by the U.K. The West African nation’s government also said it would impose new travel restrictions. Sierra Leone has more than half of the 18,000 confirmed Ebola cases, and the rate of infection there has been rising. [Reuters]

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8. Prosecutor rejects filing abuse charge against Cosby
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday declined to file a child sexual abuse charge against Bill Cosby in connection with a woman’s claim that the comedian molested her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974. The decision came a day after Cosby’s wife, Camille, issued a statement supporting him against a string of rape and other accusations by numerous women. Camille Cosby said the long-beloved entertainer really was “the man you thought you knew.” [CBS Local]

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9. Clifford-creator Norman Bridwell dies at 86
Norman Bridwell, who wrote and illustrated the Clifford the Big Red Dog children’s books, has died at a Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, his publisher, Scholastic, announced Tuesday. He was 86. The first book in Bridwell’s series was published in 1963, and grew into a franchise that included 150 titles and an animated PBS series that aired from 2000 to 2003. A film adaptation of the stories is set for an April 2016 release. [TIME]

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10. Curiosity’s methane discovery fuels talk of life on Mars
NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected traces of methane on Mars, a potential sign of life, researchers announced Tuesday at an American Geophysical Union meeting. Curiosity first picked up background levels of methane — just under one part per billion — within Gale Crater, where it is creeping up the sedimentary rock of Mount Sharp. But it unexpectedly picked up sporadic levels 10 times higher. Most of Earth’s methane is produced biologically, so the discovery increased speculation of life on the Red Planet, now or in the past. [Scientific American]

Cheney Throws Bush Under The Bus On Torture Program

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Former VP Dick Cheney (R -Utah) | AP Photo – Manuel Balce Ceneta

TPM LiveWire

Fox News anchor Bret Baier asked the former vice president whether the agency deliberately kept Bush in the dark about its so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

“Not true. Didn’t happen,” Cheney responded. “Read his book, he talks about it extensively in his memoirs. He was in fact an integral part of the program, he had to approve it before we went forward with it.”

Asked if there was ever a point where he knew more about the CIA’s activity than the President, Cheney said “I think he knew everything he needed to know and wanted to know about the program.”

Baier then asked if the former President knew about the “details” of the program. The report — which Cheney called “full of crap” — described brutal interrogation methods including waterboarding, extensive sleep deprivation, threats to harm detainees’ families and “rectal feeding.”

“I think he knew certainly the techniques, we did discuss the techniques,” Cheney said. “There was no effort on our part to keep him from that.”

“The notion that the committee’s trying to peddle, that somehow the agency was operating on a rogue basis, and we weren’t being told or the President wasn’t being told, is just a flat out lie,” he later added.

10 things you need to know today: November 10, 2014

Smoke rises after an airstrike hits an ISIS position in Kobani, Syria. 

Smoke rises after an airstrike hits an ISIS position in Kobani, Syria. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The Week

An airstrike wounds ISIS’ leader, an Alaskan storm sends record cold south, and more

1. ISIS leader reportedly wounded in airstrike
An airstrike on a meeting of Islamic State militants in western Iraq wounded the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Iraq’s Defense and Interior ministries reported Sunday. Iraqi officials said they did not know the extent of Baghdadi’s injuries. President Obama said in an interview broadcast by CBS on Sunday that the battle against ISIS was entering a “new phase” with the addition of 1,500 U.S. troops to help train Iraqi security forces battling the Islamist group. [The Associated Press, CNN]

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2. Alaskan storm sends first winter blast to lower 48
A massive storm that hit parts of Alaska with hurricane-force winds drove arctic air eastward on Sunday, sending the first harsh winter blast toward two-thirds of the U.S. Montana and the Dakotas were the first Western states hit with heavy snow on Sunday. Forecasters said the storm would gain strength and dump as much as 18 inches of snow in the Great Lakes region on Monday, with parts of the nation due for record low temperatures. [NBC News]

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3. Obama says failure to sell Democrats’ policies led to midterm loss
President Obama took the blame for Democrats’ loss in last week’s midterm elections, saying in an interview broadcast by CBS on Sunday that his administration failed to sell voters on the benefits of his policies. “It’s not enough just to build a better mousetrap,” Obama said in the interview, aired as he was leaving for a high-stakes three-country Asia tour. “We’ve got to sell it.” Sizing up Tuesday’s results, which returned the House to GOP control, Obama said, “we got beat.” [The New York Times]

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4. George W. Bush says brother Jeb is torn on whether to run for president
Former president George W. Bush told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that his brother, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, was “still wrestling with the decision” on whether to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. “I think it’s 50-50,” the former president said. “He knows exactly, you know, the ramifications on family, for example. He’s seen his dad and his brother go through the presidency. I’d give it a tossup.” [The Associated Press]

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5. American Airlines flight attendants narrowly turn down contract
American Airlines and US Airways flight attendant crews rejected a joint labor contract on Sunday by just 16 votes out of 16,376 cast. American Airlines said it was “disappointed” in the result, which would have marked the first joint contract for the two companies’ workers since the merger in December 2013. The stewards will work under their old contracts while the two sides enter binding arbitration. [Reuters]

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6. Suspected Boko Haram suicide bomber kills 47 in Nigerian school
A suicide bomber attacked a school assembly in northern Nigeria on Monday, killing at least 47 people and wounding 79. No group immediately claimed responsibility, but police suspect Boko Haram, an Islamist group that has declared Western-style education a sin. The attack took place at 7:50 a.m., local time, outside the principal’s office, where students were awaiting a daily speech. [CNN]

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7. Germans celebrate 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Berlin on Sunday to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A nine-mile string of 8,000 illuminated helium balloons traced the footprint of the former barrier, which divided Germany and served as a symbol of the Cold War. The balloons were released into the night sky one at a time, symbolizing the moments when crowds first breached the Wall in 1989. [BBC News]

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8. Pastor and motivational speaker Myles Munroe killed in Bahamas plane crash
Bahamian evangelical minister Myles Munroe, an internationally known motivational speaker, and his wife, Ruth, were among nine passengers killed Sunday when their Lear jet crashed while trying to land at Grand Bahamas International airport. The group was traveling to Monday’s Global Leadership Forum, hosted by an organization Munroe, 60, founded, Bahamas Faith Ministries. Munroe wrote more than 100 best-selling inspirational books. [The Washington Post]

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9. Catalan voters back independence in symbolic referendum
Voters in the Spanish region of Catalonia overwhelmingly backed breaking away from Spain in a non-binding — and, according to the government, illegal — referendum held Sunday. Eighty percent of the two million casting ballots were in favor of secession, although turnout was low. Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala called the vote “useless,” while Catalan leader Artur Mas said it was a great success. [BBC News]

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10. Britons applaud Queen Elizabeth after foiled terror plot
British crowds greeted Queen Elizabeth II with applause on Sunday as she left her residence in central London to lead Remembrance Day ceremonies honoring the nation’s war dead. The spontaneous demonstration of appreciation on a day traditionally marked with silence came days after London police, in overnight raids on Thursday, foiled an alleged plot by Islamist terrorists to attack the queen on Remembrance Sunday. [Daily Mail, CTV News]

Obama vs. Bush: Who Took More Presidential Vacations?

Just an FYI for holiday family gathering discussions…

The Huffington Post via FactCheck.org

Q: Is it true that George W. Bush took more vacation days than Barack Obama?

A: Yes. Before his two-week trip to Martha’s Vineyard in August, Obama’s count was 125 full or partial days and Bush’s total at the same point in his presidency was 407.

FULL ANSWER

Our inbox is chock full of questions about who took more vacation days, Obama or Bush. (The short answer: Bush. The long answer: There’s no such thing as a true non-working vacation for the president.)

The recent barrage from our readers coincides with Obama’s 15-day family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard — he returned to the White House on Aug. 24 – which occurred during major news events including the beheading of a U.S. journalist by Islamic militants and protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after a police officer shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man. The vacation also occurred during the funeral of Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the only general officer killed in Afghanistan.

Obama faced criticism for being on vacation during these times, but those types of complaints are nothing new — either to Obama or presidents in general.

Readers may recall the criticism directed at Bush for the August weeks spent at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Others may remember Democrats chastising President Dwight Eisenhower for spending time on the golf course.

We last dealt with the who-took-more-vacation question in January 2010, at which point Obama had spent 26 days on “vacation” during his first year in office, fewer than the first year totals for Presidents Bush, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. Our numbers are all courtesy of CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, who has covered every president since Gerald Ford and tracks the commander in chief’s travel.

But, as we noted then, presidents never fully escape from the job. Knoller told us he doesn’t consider these days away from the White House real “vacation” days. He said then in an email: “I have long held the view that a US president is never really on vacation. The job — and its awesome powers and responsibilities — is his wherever he is and whatever he’s doing.”

Bush officials called the Crawford ranch the “Western White House” to emphasize the days there involved plenty of official business, and Obama’s recent Martha’s Vineyard break included several presidential statements and two days spent back at the White House in the middle of the “vacation.” Presidents may clear brush or hit the links, but they are never actually off the clock.

Still, much is made of these presidential vacation days — and how to count them. Knoller doesn’t include visits to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland often used to host foreign leaders. On Aug. 8, the day before Obama left for Martha’s Vineyard, Knoller tweeted that Obama had spent 125 full or partial days on vacation, and at the same point in Bush’s president, he had spent 381 days at his Texas ranch plus 26 days at his parents’ home in Kennebunkport, Maine, for a total of 407.

When we emailed Knoller on Aug. 26, Obama was up to 140 days by his count. Bush’s total for his two terms in office is 533 days, which includes 490 at the ranch and the rest at Kennebunkport. For comparison’s sake, President Bill Clinton’s total is 174 days, and Reagan hit 390 (349 at his ranch and 41 in Palm Springs), according to Knoller.

Adding in Camp David visits would bring Obama’s total to date to 223 (that’s 83 days at Camp David) and Bush’s total for his entire time in office to 1,024 (491 days at the presidential retreat). Note that Obama still has more than two years in office to narrow the gap.

Deciding how to count these “vacation” days can create some confusion. CNN recently listed a count of 879 days for Bush and 150 for Obama, numbers that came from a Washington Post “Outlook” piece on “Five myths on presidential vacations.”(Myth No. 1: “Presidents get vacations.”) The 879 figure, it turns out, is from March 3, 2008, at which point Bush had spent that many days at the ranch and Camp David (but it doesn’t include days in Kennebunkport). The numbers are in a 2008Washington Post piece and attributed to Knoller.

If readers want to make an apples-to-apples comparison, the best solution is to use Knoller’s figures as of August 8, cited above: Bush, 407; Obama, 125. But the numbers say more about how many days the presidents spent away from the White House than they do about how much time the presidents spent not working.

The White House Is Exhausted

The National Journal

The past week has not been kind to Obama. But could it be a turning point for his presidency?

Day 1,956 of his presidency was not too kind to President Obama. Having to announce within a four-hour span that he had lost both an embattled Cabinet secretary and his chief spokesman, Obama looked Friday like a man gamely trying to get a stalled administration back on track. He entered the week still stuck with low approval ratings and facing fierce criticism of his policies both at home and abroad. On Wednesday, he tried to chart a new course internationally with a West Point speech setting out a new foreign policy. On Thursday, he dealt with widespread criticism of the speech. On Friday, he tried to dig himself out of a troubling Veterans Administration scandal by jettisoning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a man he thought was being unfairly blamed for the problems. Then he accepted the resignation of press secretary Jay Carney, the longtime public face of his White House. It is a cliché to note the aging of our presidents, to count the gray hairs sprouting with each passing day in the Oval Office. But Obama does look weary. And he is at a point in his administration when his agenda seems tired and many of his appointees are exhausted. In that regard, he is no different than every second-term president since World War II. For all of them, the sixth year was troubled and filled with administration scandals, political challenges and executive turnover. A second-term president has to figure out how to govern effectively without his original band of hardy loyalists. Most of them have fled government at this point. When Obama looks around his White House these days, he sees Valerie Jarrett and Dan Pfeiffer and only a handful of other aides who were with him on that frigid day in 2007 in Springfield when he announced his long-shot candidacy. Only three of Obama’s original 16 Cabinet officers remain—Eric Holder at Justice, Tom Vilsack at Agriculture, and Arne Duncan at Education. He is on his fourth budget director, his fifth chief of staff, and, soon, his third press secretary.
The turnover at press secretary is the least surprising. Few appreciate what a tough job that is. Marlin Fitzwater, who served Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that the biggest shock to him when he became press secretary was how hard he had to dig to get the facts and to make sure what he said publicly was accurate. As Carney was later to learn, most of that work is done off-camera, fighting to be included in the inner circle. The two-term presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have all worn out their press secretaries. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each had four, and Ronald Reagan had three. Lyndon Johnson, who served less than two full terms, had four. Each had to struggle with the reality that the public starts to tune out a president in his second term. This is a highly personal office. A president is the only politician whom voters, in effect, invite into their homes and watch on television every night. But in a sixth year, people tend to believe they have pretty much heard it all from the president and about all they hear seems to be bad news. In making his announcements on Shinseki and Carney, the president did all the things expected of him in the circumstances, projecting determination and even smiling bravely. But what he didn’t do was signal convincingly that he knows how to provide a way forward for the 966 days he has left in the White House. How he responds now will determine whether this week is regarded as a low point or a critical turning point for his presidency.

These 7 GOP Governors Are Refusing to Crack Down on Prison Rape. Now the Obama Administration Is Calling Them Out

Андрей Бортников/Shutterstock

 

Mother Jones

Seven states, all led by Republican governors, are defying a federal law aimed at cracking down on the nationwide epidemic of prison rape—and on Wednesday, the Obama administration started calling them out.

The law in question, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President George W. Bush in 2003. In 2012, after years of study by a bipartisan federal commission, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department finalized the law’s requirements, and gave states about two years to start trying to comply. Forty-three states did. But today, nearly two weeks after the May 15 deadline, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, and Florida are still not complying with the law—and several GOP governors say they’re ignoring the law on purpose.

So far, at least five Republican governors have notified the Justice Department that they aren’t going to try to meet the new prison-rape reduction rules. The mandatory standards, “work only to bind the states, and hinder the evolution of even better and safer practices,” Indiana Governor Mike Pence wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on May 15. Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter​ missed the deadline, then wrote a letter to the administration complaining the law had “too much red tape.” And in a letter dated March 28, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, called the law “counterproductive” and “unnecessarily cumbersome.” The prison rape rules “appear to have been created in a vacuum with little regard for input from those who daily operate state prisons and local jails,​” Perry wrote.

Otter, Pence, Perry, and the other GOP governors opposing the prison-rape reduction are a minority in their own party: More than 20 other Republican governors have embraced the new rules. And Perry is wrong: The rules, which have been under development for years, weren’t created without input from prison operators. The commission that studied the prison rape issue included Gus Puryear​ , who, at the time, was executive vice president for the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest owner and operator of private detention facilities; James Aiken, who had more than 33 years in managing and assessing correctional facilities; and a federal judge first appointed by George W. Bush.

Under the law, prisons are required to maintain a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding sexual abuse, perform background checks on prospective staff, prevent juveniles from being housed with adult inmates, provide external and anonymous channels for prisoners to report sexual abuse, and provide physical and mental health care to victims. Facilities must be audited every three years, and states that don’t comply are subject to a 5 percent reduction in federal funds.

An estimated 4 percent of state and federal prison inmates and over 3 percent of jail inmates reported experiencing at least one sexual assault in the previous year, according to the Justice Department. “No one should be subjected to sexual abuse while in the custody of our justice system,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole ​said at a press conference on Wednesday. “It serves as a violation of fundamental rights, an attack on human dignity and runs contrary to everything we stand for as a nation…. Jurisdictions that do not comply with the standards… will be held accountable.”