John Kerry plays Eisenhower: A farewell address dispenses hard truths, a little too late

SALON

Kerry delivers tough love on the death of the two-state solution — too bad this didn’t happen years ago

Now he tells us – just as he’s leaving power.

In his gloves-off warning about Israeli settlements, Secretary of State John Kerry evoked his inner Dwight D. Eisenhower, speaking hard truths about a monumental global crisis, just before stepping down from office.

In January 1961, President Eisenhower warned of the “unwarranted influence” and “potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power” by the “military-industrial complex.” It was a powerful and prophetic warning, one which, if issued years earlier, might have empowered Ike to confront the issue directly. But three days after giving that speech, he was no longer president.

Now comes Kerry, on the heels of a rare U.S. abstention from the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s West Bank settlements. Without the usual U.S. veto, the resolution passed, further isolating Israel internationally and evoking the fury of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the U.S. abstention “shameful” and “underhanded.”

In his speech five days after the U.N. vote, Kerry repeatedly decried Israel’s occupation, its “web” of military checkpoints that severely restrict the movements of ordinary Palestinians, and most of all Israel’s incessant building of settlements. “Settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation,” Kerry said, “are combining to destroy hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality.”

But Kerry, like Ike, is coming late to the truth-telling.

Without a doubt, the secretary spoke bluntly. He declared that “the settler agenda is defining the future of Israel,” making “a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.” He even evoked the Palestinian “Nakba,” or catastrophe, when some 750,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and forced into exile during the creation of Israel in 1948.

But words only go so far. Kerry had four years, and the Obama administration eight, to go beyond eloquent speeches and diplomatic cajoling to apply direct economic and political pressure on Israel to stop settlement construction. The last time that happened was in 1992, during the first Bush administration, when Secretary of State James Baker threatened to withhold funds unless Israel stopped building settlements on Palestinian land. “The choice is Israel’s,” Baker asserted, making clear the difference between the superpower and the client state.

Since September 1993, when Bill Clinton rang in the Oslo Accords with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn, no U.S. administration has brought such pressure to bear. Facing no genuine consequences, Israel has continued to entice Israelis, with major state subsidies, to settle on Palestinian land in the West Bank — from  109,000 settlers in 1993 to more than 400,000 today. That doesn’t include East Jerusalem, where some 17 Jewish settlements now surround Palestinian neighborhoods, all but cutting them off from the West Bank and putting a dagger into hopes that East Jerusalem can be the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Thus the Oslo “peace process,” ostensibly created to birth a two-state solution, has instead facilitated its destruction. The U.S. has been directly complicit in that deed. Its enabling of an out-of-control ally — underscored by the recent 10-year, $38 billion military aid package to Israel — created the “one-state reality” that Secretary Kerry so eloquently decries.

That reality is clear to anyone who has traveled to the Holy Land in recent years. I’ve been there some 15 times since 1994, and I’ve watched as lines of settlements connect to confine the Palestinian population into an archipelago of ever-shrinking enclaves, isolated from each other and controlled by nearly 500 checkpoints, roadblocks and other “closure obstacles” — this in a West Bank the size of Delaware, our second-smallest state. The occupation, which will mark its 50th anniversary next June, has deeply scarred generations of Palestinians, humiliating adults and children alike with body searches and endless delays as people attempt to reach work, school and family in nearby yet increasingly unreachable towns.

While some of this is reversible — checkpoints can be taken down — the settlement and accompanying military infrastructure, which divides Palestine from itself, is massive and entrenched.

How unhelpful it was, then, that in his speech this week, Kerry continued to prop up the zombie known as the two-state solution. Yet in 2013 he warned that “the window for a two-state solution is shutting,” adding that the window would be open for two years at the most, “or it’s over.” In other words, by Kerry’s own estimation, the two-state solution died in 2015. In its parting shot at the extremist Netanyahu government, the Obama administration is thus pleading for a “solution” it must know is no longer possible.

When Kerry this week warned of “segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank with no real political rights; separate legal, education and transportation systems; vast income disparities, under a permanent military occupation that deprives [Palestinians] of the most basic freedoms,” he was in fact speaking of the present, not some future reality. “Separate and unequal” is not “what you would have,” as Kerry said, but what we do have.

The potential irony of American extremists overseeing Middle East policy in a Donald Trump administration is that finally the single-state, Jim Crow reality will be clear. Trump’s selection for U.S. ambassador to Israel, bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, is deeply entrenched in Israel’s settler movement. Trump also suggested that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could have a major role in future “peacemaking” efforts. Kushner, a real estate broker with zero diplomatic experience, has arranged meetings between Trump and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a champion of the settler movement. All favor moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a direct attack on Palestinian aspirations to make East Jerusalem the capital of its sovereign state.

These moves, along with Israel’s promised settlement expansion, are direct attacks on the longstanding U.S. policy of two states standing side by side in peace. Destructive as they are, they help clarify that the reality on the ground is a single, apartheid-like state with perpetual Israeli occupation and dominance over Palestinian lives.

“If no Palestinian state, & no equal rights,” tweeted Matt Duss, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, “then it’s apartheid. Let’s have that discussion.”

With the two-state myth shattered, a new solution based on justice and equal rights — fueled by nonviolent actions such as boycotts, Palestinian petitions to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and continued international isolation of Israel — can finally emerge as widely accepted next steps. A just resolution will likely never involve a Trump or Netanyahu government, but perhaps, in the not too distant future, history will pass them by.

Trump Issues Weak Statement After Obama Reminds Russia That He’s Still President

Trump Issues Weak Statement After Obama Reminds Russia That He’s Still President

Trump’s response suggests that holding Russia accountable for its unprecedented election meddling isn’t that high on his list of priorities.

POLITICUS USA

President-Elect Donald Trump issued an official statement on Thursday after the Obama administration announced harsh retaliatory measures against Russia for its hacking of the 2016 election.

Despite both parties joining hands to strongly condemn Russia’s interference and support President Obama’s tough actions, Trump’s response was short and weak – and it didn’t even explicitly mention the Russian cyberattack.

The full statement:

It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.

It’s clear that Trump cares very little about Russia’s attack on the U.S. – probably because it helped put him in the White House – but he also isn’t even bothering to get “updated on the facts” until next week.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and members of both political parties are treating the matter with the seriousness that it deserves.

As the New York Times noted Thursday, Obama’s counter-punch represents the strongest ever U.S. response to a state-sponsored cyber attack. The administration ordered 35 Russian intelligence diplomats to leave the country and imposed harsh sanctions on two Russian intelligence services and four top officers.

Trump’s statement on Thursday suggests that holding Russia accountable for its unprecedented election meddling isn’t that high on his list of priorities. His response echoes his earlier statement on Wednesday from his Mar-a-Lago hideout, when he said it’s “time for our country to move on.”

Starting Jan. 20, we will have an American president that will be a dream come true for Vladimir Putin – a man who will simply “move on” when our country comes under attack from a foreign government.

Until then, President Obama is reminding the Russian government that, at least until next month, he’s still president and they will face harsh consequences.

A pollster on the racial panic Obama’s presidency triggered — and what Democrats must do now

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Paul Morigi/Getty Images

VOX

His research details the crisis of racial antagonism that helped Trump win. 

A CNN special that aired December 8 included rare, candid moments in which Barack Obama and his former adviser David Axelrod each acknowledged that racism contributed to negative attitudes toward the first black president.

“I think there’s a reason why attitudes about my presidency among whites in Northern states are very different from whites in Southern states,” Obama told Fareed Zakaria in an interview for “The Legacy of Barack Obama.” “Are there folks whose primary concern about me has been that I seem foreign, the other? Are those who champion the ‘birther’ movement feeding off of bias? Absolutely.”

This public admission was a first from the president, and Axelrod was even more direct, saying, “It’s indisputable that there was a ferocity to the opposition and a lack of respect to him that was a function of race.”

“Wow, I’m gonna pick myself up off the floor now,” Cornell Belcher, who served on the polling team for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, said when he heard this. Why? He said the statements represented a long-awaited “massive breakthrough.”

What Obama and Axelrod said relates directly to an idea that Belcher lays out in detail in his new book, A Black Man in the White House. In it, he makes the case that Obama’s election triggered what he’s dubbed “America’s racial aversion crisis”: a panicked emotional response on the part of white Americans to an African-American president, which transformed into a powerful force in politics.

Belcher uses numbers to support that claim. The book was inspired by a survey of voters between the 2008 general election and Obama’s reelection in 2012, tracking levels of “racial antagonism” — a term that basically means racism — along with political opinions.

His conclusion, as he wrote in his book: “The changing cultural and racial demographics of the country had, indeed, finally allowed the nation to overcome a monumental electoral political barrier, but they did not ‘exorcize the racial ghost.’” That “racial ghost,” he writes, worked to “delegitimize the black man in the White House and stop him from effectively governing.”

Belcher completed the book before the 2016 presidential election, but even then, he wrote that Donald Trump’s rise was another predictable result of white Americans’ preoccupation with racial group identity taking on a new, Obama-inspired, outsize role in voting choices — one that the president-elect was been happy to encourage.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Tell the story of racial aversion and party during the Obama presidency.

Cornell Belcher

We started from a baseline going into the ’08 election and coming out of the campaign. I kept doing polling around racial aversion in battleground states throughout Obama’s presidency. I initially started thinking, as the narrative early on said, that we had hit a racial milestone, and there was a lot of talk about “post-racial America.” But we certainly didn’t see that in voting patterns going into the election. I thought we would see a softening of racial aversion during the Obama presidency. But I was wrong.

The narrative about how America has progressed a great deal and we’ve broken racial barriers turned out not to be true at all.

During the course of his presidency, not only did racial aversion not lessen but it increased greatly. In particular, it found a fertile and comfortable place to land on the Republican side, and it spiked tremendously. And going into the midterm election and particularly during the primary season, it created almost a perfect storm for a racial antagonist to reboot the “Southern strategy” — and for Donald Trump to really ride and expand that niche and take the Republican nomination.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

You use the terms “racial aversion” and “racial antagonism” in the book. Do they mean the same thing, and how were they measured in the polling that you tracked?

Cornell Belcher

It’s tomato/tomahto, really. I used [both] because we try to pull back from the term “racism” and talk about attitudes that are negative toward black people, and I don’t want to charge that with the term “racism.” So we’re really sort of looking for a different way to talk about the rise of negative racial attitudes in a more clinically clean way.

As far as how they were measured, I didn’t really recreate the wheel here. What I did was build on what has been built over 30 years of academic measurements around racial attitudes. What I did was update that to focus on political attitudes in particular, and then control for ideology, because ideology does correlate with racial attitudes, and look at it from the perspective of voters.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

In the book, you use another term, “racial anxiety,” which you say is “the inevitability of no longer being in the majority that has some among the former majority so stressed out.” How does that tie into racial antagonism and to political attitudes?

Cornell Belcher

One of the things that I actually talk about in the book is how this really shouldn’t be a surprise when you have the dramatic [demographic] changes that are happening in this country, and for a segment of the electorate, Obama completely encapsulates those changes. He is not only the first person of color to hold the highest office in the land — he also did it while garnering only 38 percent of the white vote.

So you have this vast majority not choosing a Barack Obama. In the history of country, political power has rested almost completely in the white majority, and we’re at point where that’s almost completely not true.

What my research has shown and other research has shown is that people become more conservative or nationalistic with the increases in diversity — I think that’s exactly what my research has picked up on in the electorate, going back to the beginning of Obama’s presidency.

In battleground states, particularly more diverse states, the percentage of white people voting Democrat decreases significantly as that population gets more diverse. So diversity is having an opposite impact that is harmful to Democrats.

That’s why I argue to Democrats that you are going to lose more and more white votes, and unless there is a major party realignment, this is going to continue to be a phenomenon. As the Republican Party is seen more and more as the racial identification party for white people, you’re not gonna see us all of a sudden winning blue-collar white voters.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Given what your research indicates, is there a world in which diversity can continue to increase and people of color can continue to make demands for inclusion and equality — in politics and elsewhere — without triggering racial aversion or animosity that in turn shapes political outcomes to favor Republicans? Is there a scenario where that could happen? Or is it that you simply wait for demographics to change and for people of color to make up a higher percentage of voters for this phenomenon to stop playing such a big role in politics?

Cornell Belcher

The point I try to make is that America is a unique democracy in that no other democracy in the world has our level of diversity and our history of racism, so we are challenged in a way that other democracies simply are not. So you have in this country, in a way you don’t have in other countries — at least in the industrialized West — a real transfer of power from one group to another.

The truth of the matter is if in fact we are a democracy, minorities here in the next 20 years are going to be the dominant political voice in our country. So there is a transfer of power that’s going to happen, and the question is, is it going to be peaceful or is it going to be one that destroys us? And look at what’s happening in our country: the [reported hate attacks] in the news every day, and how, quite frankly, we’re beginning to defy our democratic values when in North Carolina you have — this is not my opinion, the court said it — the state legislature put in laws to in keep black people from voting. Specific laws! That’s not democratic. We’re even violating our own values.

And our Congress, which has historically been a magnificent body, which has found a way to push forward and act through natural disasters, war, corruption, has been able to move and be functioning — up until the point where they elected a black man president. All of a sudden, that body is completely dysfunctional.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

So is there a way any of this — the strong influence of racial aversion and racial antagonism in politics — can be brought under control or stopped, or do we just have to wait for demographic changes that will make people who are motivated by racial antagonism less influential?

Cornell Belcher

I think the point I would argue it has to happen before demographic change — you already have people taking to the streets yelling they want to take our country back. What does that look like 10 years from now? What happens when that angry 45, 46 percent think they’re losing power, because they are losing power? We have to solve for this.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

But nobody has figured out how to solve for that, right?

Cornell Belcher

But we have to stop pretending that it doesn’t exist. That’s a start.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

I can see how pretending it doesn’t exist would be an important first step. It’s always strange to me to hear people say that Obama “triggered political polarization,” without explaining the race part. As if it’s a total mystery why that happened.

Cornell Belcher

One of the great tragedies is that the election of the first black president, as opposed to being a racial breakthrough, has in fact given rise to the opposite. It really has triggered an antagonism, or uncertainty, or fear that was dormant, at least up until now.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

A question a lot of people ask around the question of the role race and racism played in Trump’s election is, “How can you say Americans are concerned with race when they elected Obama?” I know the long answer is in the data presented in your book, but what’s the simple response to that?

Cornell Belcher

They didn’t. That’s the thing here. The majority of whites did not elect Obama, and that’s the wolf at the door. The vast majority of whites did not support President Obama and President Obama won back-to-back majorities, and that caused the realization of their power waning. Mitt Romney ran up a higher score among white voters than Ronald Reagan, when Reagan had a landslide in 1984.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

You recently tweeted that “economic power is often perceived through group lenses.” What was that a response to, and how does it tie into the message of the book?

Cornell Belcher

That was a tweet really to the progressive establishment — which means too often white Northeastern liberals — the idea that if we just had a better economic message, these people would all of a sudden go, “Oh, my god, what was I thinking, I should be voting Democrat!” That if we just find the right words to connect with downscale whites, they’ll say, “Oh, you know what, I am voting against my economic interests.”

It’s a disconnect that’s frustrating to me. They’re not voting against their economic interests; they are voting for their higher interests — there’s an idea that your group positioning doesn’t matter economically. The idea that you can disconnect white people from their group position and make pocketbook arguments to them void of the history of their group is folly.

That is not to say don’t target or don’t go after them. That’s absolutely not what I’m saying. What I am saying is just that the answer isn’t simply a pocketbook argument — we do have to inoculate against the increased tribalism and racialism in order to have that conversation. As long as there is a group sense of decline, we do have to calculate for that in our conversation and try to inoculate that as opposed to simply coming up with another argument about why raising the minimum wage is beneficial to you.

By the way, look at the last midterm [election] in Arkansas, which is full of the kind of blue-collar voters you’re talking about. [They] voted against [Democratic Sen.] Mark Pryor [who supported a minimum wage increase]. There is a disconnect here that progressives need to understand if we’re going to make a more effective economic argument for blue-collar whites, and stop telling them that they’re voting against their economic interest. That is a complete lack of understanding by progressives of the connections between economics and identity.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

But they are actually voting against their economic interests, right? Are you saying that it doesn’t feel that way to them, or that it’s simply not important to them, because voting with their group identity in mind feels more urgent?

Cornell Belcher

I would even push back on that. Who are we to say that they’re voting against their economic interests? If in fact you think you’re losing your country, that’s your higher interest, and how in the hell am I gonna prosper if [I believe] other people are taking my country?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

In a recent interview with CNN, Obama seemed to admit for the first time that race shaped people’s attitudes toward him, saying, “I think there’s a reason attitudes about my presidency among whites in Northern states are very different from whites in Southern states. … Are there folks whose primary concern about me has been that I seem foreign — the other? Are those who champion the birther movement feeding off of bias? Absolutely.” And David Axelrod said, “It’s indisputable that there was a ferocity to the opposition and a lack of respect to him that was a function of race.”

Given your research, it strikes me that it kind of understates what happened. It’s not just that people were harder on Obama because he was black, but rather that the existence of a black president had a powerful effect on their feelings about race overall and shaped future voting decisions. What do you think about the comments, and would you add anything based on your research?

Cornell Belcher

Wow, I’m gonna pick myself up off the floor now. I’m really gonna need to pick myself up off the floor. Because Axelrod is actually admitting something that he’s known for quite some time — and during the Obama election and during the Obama presidency, we didn’t really talk about race. There’s a reason I didn’t write this book two years ago. We never really talked about race.

I actually think this was a breakthrough, and I don’t want to criticize that at all. That if you have the president and his former closest political adviser now admitting that what this president has witnessed is different from what others have witnessed and been a part of, and that it’s racial — I think that’s a remarkable breakthrough, and I want to praise that.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

There’s been a lot of predictable pushback against Obama and Axelrod’s comments — the kind you can expect whenever you suggest that racism exists or has an effect. On that note, how has the message of your book been received so far, as it’s come out in the middle of this debate about “What just happened?” and a climate where there’s a lot of sensitivity about suggesting that some Americans’ political choices are shaped by racism.

Cornell Belcher

It has landed in some progressive circles as the thing we don’t want to talk about — the thing that makes us uncomfortable. I have to take that responsibility. Cornell’s job is not to make you comfortable. We’ve been too comfortable for too damn long. And I will take on the responsibility of making people uncomfortable with the truth.

These are the conversations we’re going to have to have, because it only makes things worse if we don’t — we can’t kick the racial, tribalist can down the road anymore, because America is at a tipping point. What always happens is I’m now called a racist because I talk about race. You know how it is: We are now the racists, and we are causing the problem. Cornell is talking about tribalism, and somehow my talking about tribalism makes us more tribal. That’s the frustrating part.

I’m not trying to put a value judgment on it. I try not to point a finger and attack the people on the other side as bad people, because we need people on both sides to win the future. So I think it’s counterproductive for us to attack that woman in Ohio who, when asked why she wasn’t voting for Hillary said, “Because I want my country back.” I think, for America, we haveto act to try to overcome that anxiety and then we can have a broader conversation. But at the same time, it has to go both ways, so when that 24-year-old kid in Charlotte, North Carolina, screams, “Black Lives Matter,” in front of the police department, those white people in the suburbs have to understand where he’s coming from too.

The point I make at the end of the book, which I think is important, is this idea that America has never had to really repent for the horrors and terrors of our racial past, and from a spiritual standpoint there can be no forgiveness or no atonement in moving on without repentance. But unlike Germany, where they’ve been repentant about their Nazi past and it’s illegal to even have a Nazi flag, here in this country, not only are they not repentant, they celebrate the Confederate flag. … That’s part of what we have to move past if we’re in fact going to be one country united as one people all on the same team.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

What we’re hearing a lot of lately is the argument that whether or not you think you’re being mean or pointing a finger, anything that makes white Americans think about race at all might harden their views about race or make them more “racially conservative.” And your book echoes this in a way, arguing that the very existence of a black president triggered a racial backlash. Does that make you worry that confronting people with your book’s message — “We need to think about the effects of racism and tribalism” — could actually contribute to people being more racist and more tribalist?

Cornell Belcher

That’s the breakthrough we need — I also think there’s a spiritual value answer to it that transcends a lot of the bifurcation, and we have to find that. I don’t know exactly what that is, but I think we have to start asking the questions.

Where are there examples where we were able to tamp down tribalism and/or inoculate group identity so that it didn’t cause conflicts? We have to look at examples there. I was talking to someone yesterday who was in the Army in the late ’60s and early ’70s and he was stationed somewhere in the South, but the general who was [in charge] over an entire region of the South literally lost his job because he couldn’t get ahold of racial conflicts that were happening in the Army with integration. So the Army set up these training schools where the officers literally trained about diversity and racial reconciliation and had these conversations. The Army really put in a strategy and put in a plan on how to lessen racial strife. Now, today the Army is not perfect, but it is a better example than what we have outside of it. We’ve gotta look at some examples at where people have made a real effort at solving this and take some of the best practices of that.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Convincing people to feel and react differently about race and their place in the country and to cease to be motivated by racism seems like a really, really hard job — and probably way above the pay grade and outside the skill set of a lot of elected officials. When you say “we” have to figure this out, do you mean people in Democratic politics or a more general “we”?

Cornell Belcher

We as Americans, period.

Obama in Nevada: ‘Heck no’ to Trump, Joe Heck

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THE HILL

President Barack Obama campaigned on behalf of Hillary Clinton in Nevada on Sunday, also pushing those gathered to vote for Democrats running down ballot.

After thanking the state for helping to elect him, praising retiring Sen. Harry Reid and touting the process made during his eight years in office, Obama launched into an attack on GOP nominee Donald Trump.

“You’ve got a guy who proves himself unfit for this office every single day in every single way,” he said.

He also criticized Trump for claiming the election process is rigged, saying: “If this was rigged, boy it would be a really big conspiracy.

“The Republican governor is not going to rig an election for Hillary Clinton or rig an election for Catherine [Cortez Masto],” he added, referring to the Democrat running for Reid’s seat.

“We’ve got to have a Congress that is willing to make progress on the issues Americans care about,” he said, before launching an extended attack on Rep. Joe Heck, the Republican facing off against Masto.

He said Heck supported Trump when it was “politically convenient” and asked “What the heck took you so long?” to denounce the nominee. Heck dropped his support for Trump earlier this month, after the now infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump bragging about assaulting women.

“Too late!” Obama said. “You don’t get credit for that!”

As he criticized Heck, he asked “Nevada, what the heck?” and then led the crowd in chants of “Heck no!”

Polls show a tight race between Heck and Cortez Masto, the former Nevada attorney general in a race that Heck had been narrowly leading for months.

Clinton is ahead of Trump by nearly 5 points in the RealClearPolitics average, and the latestaverage for the Senate race shows Cortez Masto up by 2 points.

Heck revoking his support of Trump has set off a backlash against from Trump supporters and he’s privately acknowledged he’s in a “very difficult situation” for no longer supporting his party’s standard-bearer.

By The Hill staff

 

Right-Wing Alternate Reality Collapses As Obama Approval Rating Hits 56% In Fox Poll

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Cage Skidmore

POLITICUS USA

Sorry, Republicans, but Americans think President Obama has done a pretty good job.

In a blow to Republicans living in an alternate reality, President Obama’s approval rating continues to soar even higher in a brand new Fox News poll released on Thursday.

According to the poll, 56 percent of Americans approve of the job the current president has done – the eighth Fox poll in a row to show Obama’s approval rating at 50 percent or higher.

The new numbers directly contradict constant Republican assertions that Obama has destroyed the country and turned the U.S. into a hellscape. Americans actually think the current president has done a pretty good job.

Other recent polling consistently shows the same thing as the Fox Poll: A majority of Americans approve of the job President Obama is doing. According to RealClearPolitics, the current president’s job approval stands at a strong 52 percent when averaging recent polling.

This isn’t just good for the outgoing president, though. It’s also good for the current Democratic nominee.

Obama’s increasing popularity is proof that tying Hillary Clinton’s candidacy to him and calling her a third Obama term won’t hurt the Democratic nominee – if anything, it will only help her chances next month when voters go to the polls.

As we reach the mid-point of October and approach the final few weeks of this campaign, these numbers should have Republicans – particularly Donald Trump – shaking in their boots.

By

Trump’s Claim That Putin Is A Better Leader Than Obama Is Utterly Insane

Trump’s Claim That Putin Is A Better Leader Than Obama Is Utterly Insane

Photo via Kremlin.ru

POLITICUS USA

Since last night’s Commander-in-Chief forum on NBC, Republicans have been on the defensive about Donald Trump’s reiterated praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Here’s what Trump said:

“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him,” Trump said of the Russian president. “The man has very strong control over a country.”

The GOP nominee added that Putin has been a leader “far more than our president’s been a leader.”

Essentially, Trump’s case for why Putin is a good leader is this: 1. The Russian president has high approval ratings; 2. He has complimented Trump.

We know that there are few things Trump values more than polls and praise.

With that said, the Republican nominee’s decision to wrap his arms around Putin isn’t just insane, but it also shows that Trump’s definition of leadership is pretty frightening.

First of all, Putin is presiding over a terrible economy, which was made even worse by U.S.-led sanctions imposed following his illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s overall meddling in Ukraine.

In a Reuters report from yesterday, one Russian employer said, “The Russian economy has hit bottom, but who would have thought the Russians would start digging?”

VOA News also reported earlier this week that Putin’s economy “has plunged millions of people into poverty…”

It’s not just economic conditions that are dire in Russia; life also isn’t so good for those who support a free press.

Since Putin came to power, 25 journalists have been killed. The majority of those killings were carried out by military or government officials, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

If this is the type of strength and leadership that Donald Trump wants to emulate as the President of the United States, then we’re all in trouble.

Meanwhile, in President Obama’s America, the economy has rebounded from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. More than 15 million jobs have been created over the last 78 months – the longest streak of private sector job growth in history. The uninsured rate is at record lows, the stock market is soaring, and the unauthorized immigrant population has actually fallen.

In a recent analysis conducted by Gallup, the American people report that their lives have gotten better during Obama’s two terms as president. Obama’s rising approval ratings only confirm that reality.

All of this despite Trump’s repeated attempts to paint the country under Obama as a hellscape overrun by “illegals.”

For score-keeping purposes: Putin isolated his country from the rest of the world, drove his economy into the ground, and ordered the killing of journalists. Obama halted a second Great Depression, laid the groundwork for sustained economic growth, provided health insurance to millions, and improved – yes, improved – America’s reputation abroad.

The contest of which of these two men is a better leader isn’t even close. In fact, Putin would likely trade his record for Obama’s in a heartbeat.

Ultimately, all of this says more about the Republican nominee than it does about either Putin or Obama. If Putin’s is the leadership that Donald Trump admires then he should be nowhere near the White House.

Republicans’ Congress Lull Could Impede A Clinton Presidency

Republicans’ Congress Lull Could Impede A Clinton Presidency

REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

The National Memo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in Congress are planning a light legislative agenda as they return from their long summer break on Tuesday, a strategy some say is designed in part to bog down Hillary Clinton if she becomes president.

It is not uncommon for the Congress to take it slow in an election year and legislative delays could work in Republicans’ favor if their nominee Donald Trump takes the White House in November.

But the strategy will also pay dividends if it is Clinton who takes office on Jan. 20. She will be forced to deal with old baggage rather than focus on her agenda of infrastructure investments and immigration and Wall Street reforms.

“If Hillary wins, we force her to waste time, resources, momentum, early good will and political capital – all on cleanup duty,” said a senior aide to one Republican senator.

If all goes as expected this autumn, a U.S. Supreme Court seat, vacant since Feb. 13, will remain unfilled until sometime next year. A sweeping Pacific free-trade deal negotiated by President Barack Obama will be on hold, if not doomed.

And if many conservative Republicans get their way, government agencies will run on stop-gap funding from Oct. 1 until sometime in February or March. That means that the next president would have to negotiate a longer-term deal or face the prospect of government shutdowns in the early days of a new administration.

Senior congressional aides have told Reuters their agenda for the coming months include bills to keep the government funded, combat the spreading Zika virus and renewing laws guarding the nation’s water resources.

Other items would help the majority Republicans score political points with key constituencies before the November elections, even though they have no chance of becoming law.

These include scolding the Obama administration for a $400 million payment to Iran in January after Tehran released American prisoners, anti-abortion measures and, once again, proposals to repeal Obama’s landmark healthcare law.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former aide to Republican leaders in Congress, acknowledged that public opinion polling is trending in Clinton’s direction.

If Clinton wins, Bonjean added, “The whole mindset (among Republican leaders in Congress) would shift to taking care of the most important business to help Republicans and unloading the more difficult, tense issues for a Clinton administration to deal with.”

Clinton has maintained a lead in most polls since Republican and Democratic conventions, but some surveys showed that lead narrowing. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sept. 2 showed Trump effectively pulling even with the Democratic nominee.

Yet one veteran Republican congressional aide said more and more Republicans in Congress brace for the White House to stay in Democratic hands for the next four years, even if their party manages to maintain control of Congress.

Trump’s trouble in appealing to important groups of voters, such as Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians, and self-inflicted wounds “have made it pretty clear he’s highly unlikely to get there,” he said.

Leaving the Supreme Court nomination and other high-profile disagreements for 2017 “does bog down” a new administration, “no question about it,” the aide said.

Some election years mean a slow autumn in Congress, but this is not always the case. In 2012 for example, lawmakers dramatically labored all the way through New Year’s Eve addressing a “fiscal cliff” of expiring tax and spending laws.

Not all of the delays in passing legislation are purely on Republican shoulders though.

While Trump has blasted free-trade deals, leading Democrats, including Clinton, also have criticized Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership pact that would create a free-trade zone ranging from Japan to Chile.

Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, downplayed the challenges Clinton might face early on. “She knows how to deal with Congress. She’s been there,” he said referring to Clinton’s years as a senator representing New York.

Besides, he added, if Trump loses, Republicans will be busy dealing with their own problems.

“They’ll have to think seriously about how they got themselves in the trouble that they’re in.”

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Julia Edwards and Tomasz Janowski)

5 Ways Donald Trump Is Still ‘Birthering’ Barack Obama

5 Ways Donald Trump Is Still ‘Birthering’ Barack Obama

THE NATIONAL MEMO

You’ve probably never heard it mentioned on TV, but President Obama is outdoing President Reagan in what used to be one of conservatives’ favorite ways to judge the economy — private sector jobs.

At the current pace more than 10 million private sector jobs will be created in Obama’s second term, well over a half million more than were created in Reagan’s second term, which Republicans glorified as “Morning in America.” It’s true that the workforce was much smaller in the 80s, but job creation under Obama doubled that under the last two president Bushes combined years ago — with the best years coming as key Obama policies like the Affordable Care Act and tax increases on the rich took effect.

Reagan’s second term saw more jobs created overall because public sector hiring was five times stronger in the eighties than it is now. Was Reagan a better socialist than Obama? Nope, starving public investment was all about one thing — denying this president any measure of effectiveness.

The defining fact of Obama’s presidency is its success despiteincessant Republican attempts to sabotage it.

“The recovery since 2009 has been historically slow, and the disappointing pace can be explained entirely by the fiscal austerity imposed by Republicans in Congress,” The Economic Policy Institute reported early this month.

As elected Republicans undermined the president’s economic plans, shut down the government rather than allow him to implement the health care plan he’d been reelected on, turned epidemics like Ebola and Zika into partisan issues, and refused to even consider his final Supreme Court appointment, the right and its powerful media machine did everything they could to delegitimize Obama.

From the first fake story about Obama being schooled in a madrassa that Fox and Friends debuted in early 2007 to today, the right looked for ways to “otherize” the president and cast suspicion on his origins and motives.

No one has nurtured or exploited these suspicions more than the current Republican nominee for president.

Before birtherism, Donald Trump was a sad guy’s idea of a rich guy who ran for president when he had a book to sell. But by being the most famous person willing to attack Obama’s citizenship by exploiting racist paranoia, he become an extremist macher, an important endorser in 2012, and the party’s standard-bearer in 2016.

Trump’s entire campaign is built on defining Obama as “un-American” and here’s how he’s still doing it as he seeks to win the president’s job.

  1. Completely negating the president’s accomplishments.
    Trump speaks about America as if it were embroiled in a mix of the financial crisis of 2008 and the racial unrest of 1968, combined with the massive influx of undocumented immigrants that mostly happened around the turn of this century. In reality, job creation is at an eight-year high, banks are better regulated and far more stable, crime is at or near historic lows (as is net immigration), while the percentage of insured Americans has never been higher. While not perfect, Obama’s administration is a sterling success — especially compared with the recessions left us by our most recent Republican presidents. Trump denies Obama any credit for his accomplishments and smears him as a disaster — but he isn’t convincing many people who don’t despise Obama already. When Trump’s 33 percent approval rating and disapproval in the 60s is contrasted with Obama’s approval over 50 percent, America seems to get who is the real failure.
  2. Pulling privilege when it comes to releasing his own documents. 
    Trump claimed he was just interest in the getting the truth when he sought Obama’s birth certificate and then college records — documents that other candidates had all produced. It was a whiff of nonsense, meant to cover the stench of racism rising from the birther campaign. But now the hypocrisy is just sickening, as Trump seeks to become the first major party nominee since Watergate to withhold his federal tax returns. We have proof that Trump at the very least overstates his wealth and charitable donations. His returns are the best hope of documenting those claims and more. Trump’s new birtherism — attacking Hillary Clinton’s health with no evidence — is as ridiculous as his own joke of a medical record, produced in five minutes while a limo was waiting.
  3. Basing his entire campaign on hyped dangers he accuses Obama of ignoring.
    Trump acts if his ideas to bomb ISIS, vet refugees, and deport criminals are novel, rather than policies that Obama has so fully engaged as to arouse outrage in many of his liberal allies. Trump’s premise isn’t that he’ll do better than Obama. Like much of the the conservative base he believes that Obama isn’t on “our” side — an argument infused with demented racial undertones that would be difficult to pin on a Republican nominee for president if Trump didn’t explicitly suggest it over and over.
  4. Conflating the president of the United States with terrorists.
    When Trump spent half a week saying that Obama was literally the “founder” of ISIS, he was reheating an argument he’s made for years. The most recent iteration had been to say “there’s something going on,” over and over as Trump did after the horrific shooting in Orlando. It’s a sick accusation of treason against the president of the United States and Trump has trafficked in such associations for years.
  5. He’s literally still a birther.
    Trump doesn’t talk about being a birther anymore, and the supine press seems fine with that, but he never disavowed the theory that made him a conservative superstar. The Republican nominee won’t say whether he thinks the current president is a citizen. And with all these questions about his fake revisions to his immigration policies, no one dares to ask him the inevitable question: “Do you plan to deport Barack Obama?”

Obama Shifts Cash To Fight Zika; Vacationing Republicans Take Credit

Brendan Smialowski via Getty Images

THE HUFFINGTON POST

WASHINGTON ― President Barack Obama’s administration announced Thursday the transfer of some $80 million in additional funds to combat the growing Zika threat after Congress refused to pass a $1.9 billion package before going on a seven-week break.

Nevertheless, congressional Republicans took credit for convincing the White House to act when Congress would not.

“For over six months we have been calling on the administration to use every existing resource at their disposal to address this crisis,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “Our calls have been met with little action, while the White House continues to cast aspersions and blame at others for lack of funding.”

The White House asked for $1.9 billion in February, and Rogers and other Republicans responded by questioning the administration’s plans to use the money. The administration then transferred $589 million from other programs ― primarily the effort to combat Ebola ― to begin dealing with Zika.

The Senate passed a compromise Zika package worth $1.1 billion on a bipartisan vote. But when that broadly supported bill came back from negotiations with the House, Republicans added riders to it restricting contraception services, protecting the Confederate flag, cutting Obamacare and weakening the Clean Water Act.

Democrats promptly labeled the riders poison pills and refused to pass the altered bill. Republicans then blamed Democrats for the impasse, as Rogers did again Thursday.

“The House has twice passed responsible, immediate funding legislation for vaccine development, mosquito control, and public health efforts,” Rogers said, referring to the rider-laden measure and an earlier bill that would have provided just one-third of the requested money. “These much-needed funds have been blocked at every turn by Democrats in the Senate, with the backing of the Obama White House.”

Even one of the few Republicans who supported Obama’s initial request, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), blamed Democrats and crowed over the funding transfer.

“Last month I urged President Obama to use all the funds that were already available to fight Zika,” Rubio said in a statement. “Today’s action is long overdue, and the Obama administration should do even more to find unspent funds that can be redirected toward fighting Zika in Florida.”

In a letter to lawmakers Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell explained that the transfer comes at a cost. It means that $34 million being shifted at the National Institutes of Health will be used to continue development of one promising vaccine, but that three other vaccine candidates will have to be shelved. It also means that NIH’s work on Zika diagnostics will stall, Burwell said.

Similarly, $47 million being transferred to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will allow the agency to sign contracts with private companies that work on vaccines, but it does not provide enough money to come close to finishing that work.

“With the actions described above, we have exhausted our ability to even provide short-term financing to help fight Zika,” Burwell wrote. She said that if Congress fails to act by the end of the fiscal year next month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NIH will have to start cutting back Zika efforts.

Burwell opened her letter by noting that, as of Thursday, there were more than 7,300 cases of Zika infection in the United States, including 972 pregnant women with evidence of infection and 15 babies born with Zika-linked birth defects.

And in Florida, where the first local outbreak of Zika has been recorded, there are at least 22 related cases.

Democrats blamed their GOP colleagues for the current state of affairs, and said Congress should come back to work before its scheduled Sept. 6 return to pass the bipartisan Zika bill.

“Without having successfully enacted any funding to fight Zika, Republicans shut down Congress for the longest summer recess in at least 60 years,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “What better use of time do Republicans have right now than to come back here and get the job done for the American people?”

“In its continued failure to enact emergency Zika appropriations, the Republican majority is playing Russian roulette with the health of the American people,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Rogers’ counterpart on the Appropriations Committee. “This failure has forced the administration to divert funding from other critical priorities, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, mental health, viral hepatitis, and home energy assistance for low-income Americans. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is damaging and immoral, and it must stop.”

Michael McAuliff

Obama Explains Why A Changing America Terrifies Donald Trump

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK J. TERRILL

THINK PROGRESS

President Barack Obama closed out Wednesday night of the Democratic National Convention with a rousing speech that hearkened back to his breakout moment at the 2004 convention. Obama detailed a very different vision of a changing America than the xenophobia that characterizes Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign.

Obama noted that Trump and other Republicans have argued the U.S. has lost a vital quality, which they suggest has been stolen by Mexican “criminal” immigrants, liberal elitists, and Muslim terrorists.

“They tell voters there’s a real America out there that must be restored,” he said. “This isn’t an idea that started with Donald Trump. It’s been peddled by politicians for a long time – probably from the start of our Republic.”

The first black president rejected that idea, instead painting a picture of a tolerant nation that recognizes it’s richer for its growing diversity. He illustrated this with his now familiar “origin story,” debuted in his 2004 speech, about being raised by his white grandparents from the heartland.

“I don’t know if they had their birth certificates,” Obama joked, a dig at Trump’s dogged promotion of a conspiracy theory that the president was born in Kenya.

“My grandparents explained that they didn’t like show-offs. They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies. They didn’t respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, they valued traits like honesty and hard work,” he said. “Kindness and courtesy. Humility; responsibility; helping each other out.”

“And what my grandparents understood was that these values weren’t limited to Kansas. They weren’t limited to small towns,” he continued. “They knew these values weren’t reserved for one race; they could be passed down to a half-Kenyan grandson, or a half-Asian granddaughter.

“In fact, they were the same values Michelle’s parents, the descendants of slaves, taught their own kids living in a bungalow on the South Side of Chicago. They knew these values were exactly what drew immigrants here, and they believed that the children of those immigrants were just as American as their own, whether they wore a cowboy hat or a yarmulke; a baseball cap or a hijab.

“America has changed over the years. But these values my grandparents taught me – they haven’t gone anywhere. They’re as strong as ever; still cherished by people of every party, every race, and every faith. They live on in each of us. What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what’s in here. That’s what matters.”

This lofty depiction of a changing U.S. isn’t just meant to give Americans a feel-good antidote to the racism and fearmongering spread by the Trump campaign. It’s also smart politics.

The face of America has changed dramatically, even over the eight years of Obama’s tenure. This year’s election is on track to be the most diverse in U.S. history. Since 2012, more than two-thirds of the new eligible voters in the U.S. identify as racial and ethnic minorities. At the same time, the white share of the electorate is dropping.

Trump’s rhetoric may be accelerating the rate of demographic change. His racist comments about Latinos and immigrants are reportedly spurring naturalization drives for Americans who are more determined than ever to gain their citizenship in order to vote against Trump.

If the current rate of citizenship applications is sustained, nearly a million new voters could hit the polls for the first time in November.

Obama’s candidacy turned out record numbers of African Americans in 2008, an election where one in four voters was non-white. Many wondered if Democrats could sustain that political energy from voters of color, or if they were simply buoyed by enthusiasm for the first black president.

Black voters backed Hillary Clinton in this year’s primary in even wider margins than they supported Obama against Clinton in 2008. But it remains to be seen if minority turnout will rise to the same levels Obama enjoyed in his last two elections.

Obama knows this turnout will be crucial in a tightening contest. On Wednesday night, Obama exhorted listeners, again, “don’t boo, vote!”

BY AVIVA SHEN