Want To Eat And Feel Better? Try A Farmers Market

Want To Eat And Feel Better? Try A Farmers Market

By Lori Nickel, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)

Trainers and nutritionists generally agree on this theory: Our weight and our waistlines are determined 80 percent by what we eat and 20 percent by our amount of exercise and activity.

My summer resolution is to start shopping at farmers markets. I don’t, usually, because I’m too busy and that’s just another stop to make, but it’s time to reconsider. I’m tired of buying pale and flavorless strawberries from the store that were shipped from drought-stricken California when I would rather support local farmers anyway.

I just need to get over some of the higher prices.

So I asked Nicole Fasules, a certified personal trainer and registered dietitian at Milwaukee’s Way of Life Nutrition & Fitness who also works with professional athletes, to come with me to a farmer’s market recently in downtown Milwaukee.

I peppered her with questions as we picked up pea pods.

Q. What do you look for first whenever you’re at a farmers market?

A. The greens, for sure, because I eat those every day.

Q. I used to think I just felt better in the summer because of more sunlight and vitamin D, but even I eat more fruits and vegetables now because they’re in season. Could I be feeling better because I’m eating a little better?

A. Absolutely. Fresh produce like fruits and vegetables are a very high in vitamin C and antioxidants. A lot of our fruits and vegetables help to oxygenate the blood, which is great, because that aids in energy production. It’s cool how you can minimally take in a little more fruits and vegetables and feel such a great difference. That’s how powerful real, fresh food is.

Q. What’s the biggest difference between organic and regular produce _ besides the price?

A. There are some foods that are an absolute must to buy organic. I do not believe everything has to be organic but because of the amount of pesticides that are needed for certain crops, there are certain things that are wiser to choose organic: anything that has an edible skin. All your berries, all your greens. Celery, bell peppers are big ones. Apples are really big.

Things that don’t need to be organic: bananas. Nothing permeates through the peel. Avocado. Just rinse this off as much as possible because you are putting a knife through it. Pesticides actually stay in our body for some time and they collect in our fat tissue. They eventually leave our body through the detoxification process.

Q. So pesticides are a superficial thing? It doesn’t get in to the root system and into the fruit or vegetable, it is just sprayed on the outside?

A. It can be both, depending on how it’s done. Now, not all of the farmers markets produce is pesticide free. I wouldn’t trust that it is. You have to ask. What I like about organic food is that it has to get to people faster. It will go bad quicker.

The conventional bell pepper could have been on a truck for two weeks before you got it and another week before you decided to do something with it. And the nutrients aren’t there. Organic, local food will have less shipping and more nutrients in it. It will also have far more flavor

Q. It won’t be long before we’re talking about the Wisconsin State Fair and the food. The whole point of the state fair beginning in 1851 was to showcase our agricultural bounty. But now the fair is known just as much for the crazy foods. You called it a science experiment two years ago. How do you feel about the food now?

A. It’s pretty crappy. I’ve tried it. I tried a fried cookie dough thing once. I’m not going to finish something like that. I’m going to buy it, I’m literally going to take a bite out of it to see what it tastes like and I’m going to throw it away. Let me see what this tastes like because it is crazy, and I want to experience that. But it’s not giving me anything that’s usable to my body, so I certainly don’t want to keep exposing my body to it.

Q. I can’t do that. At Summerfest, sharing a sampler platter, I had a hard time throwing away the last French fries because I paid $9 for the plate.

A. You’ve got to let go of that. You’ll never get value for eating that. It’s not about value. Do we really get value out of purchasing $8 coffee? No. I don’t need this in my body. I don’t go to these places to eat _ I eat a meal before, or I go out to eat after.

Q. I want to talk about that. The value of food. Every parent knows you can go to a grocery store and buy hot dogs, buns, chips, baked beans and soda and feed a family of four for less than $20. It’s hard for families on a budget to shop at farmers markets or buy organic.

The only way I can justify paying so much more is when I look at the long-term effects of eating unhealthy, I guess, and what that costs us in medical bills, health insurance and even things like treating depression. But it’s hard to always connect those dots between this grocery purchase and that annual physical exam. How do you convince someone that the real value is eating good food and not cheap food?

A. It is hard with a family. You have to think about what you’re getting from your food. And how are you really feeling after you eat it? Most people don’t know what it feels like to feel good. They just accept feeling bad. You really have to consider what you got from the hot dog and chips. It’s not giving us anything that is usable to our bodies. That’s clear how ill people are, how achy people are. We deserve quality. Why aren’t we choosing quality?

Q. I still struggle with it. It’s almost like we have to re-evaluate our living expenses. It’s not: house payment or rent, car payment, cellphone, cable, insurance, clothes, entertainment and then groceries. It’s as if food has to rank higher.

A. Exactly. Are our priorities so whacked out? Food is a priority. You’ve got to fuel your body the way it needs, and deserves, to be fueled. Of course it’s challenging to eat good produce on a budget, but I feel that’s what makes farmers markets so much better.

You’re getting fresher food and more nutrients. I will get philosophical here. We are consuming our choices. You buy cable, for what? Crap TV. It fills your mind with crappy things and it makes you feel crappy about yourself. Why do we do that? Why are we spending money on that? Why aren’t we doing Ironmans or things that make us feel 12 years old again without any aches and pains after it? Doesn’t that bring you joy more than another … Kardashian episode? It’s all about your choices. Do you want to fill yourself up with positivity? That makes you feel amazing? Or do you want to fill yourself up with junk?

Photo by Luke Jones via Flickr

Joni Ernst On Tom Harkin Comparing Her To Taylor Swift: ‘Shake It Off’

Joni Ernst On Tom Harkin Comparing Her To Taylor Swift: ‘Shake It Off’

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

In the heated battle for control of the U.S. Senate, Democrats have drilled many of their Republican opponents on issues affecting women – from abortion to minimum wage – arguing that their party would champion gender equality while the other side is waging a war on women.

So retiring Sen. Tom Harkin didn’t do his party any favors last week when he seemed to belittle the appeal of Joni Ernst, who is running for his seat and would become Iowa’s first female senator if she wins on Tuesday, by suggesting that her success is attributable to the fact that she’s “really attractive” and “sounds nice.”

“In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads,” Harkin said at a Story County Democrats’ barbecue, according to video obtained by BuzzFeed‘s Andrew Kaczynski that was posted on Sunday night. “And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice.'”

“Well I got to thinking about that. I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

In her campaign against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, Ernst has stressed the varied aspects of her biography as a native Iowan who grew up on a farm and served in the Iowa Army National Guard. On Monday, she told Fox News that she was “very offended” by Harkin’s comment, adding that it was “unfortunate that he and many of their party believe you can’t be a real woman if you’re conservative and you’re female.”

But in an interview later in the morning with KCCI in Ankeny, Iowa, Ernst shrugged off Harkin’s comment.

“He compared me to Taylor Swift. And, first, I am offended, but you know what, hey, just as Taylor Swift would say: ‘Shake it off.”

Ernst, who is locked in a too-close-to-call race with Democrat Bruce Braley, added that she loved Mr. Rogers, the late television celebrity. “But you know what,” she added. “Bottom line – if my resume had the name Jon Ernst at the top of it, Sen. Harkin would not be making those statements.”

“So it’s very unfair for someone that is sitting in a United States senatorial seat to say he’s supportive of everyone regardless of gender, but he’s not. I can be a strong conservative woman and still be a good leader.”
Harkin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Photo via Monica de Argentina via Flickr

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In Key Election States, Conservative Groups Build Up A Ground Game

In Key Election States, Conservative Groups Build Up A Ground Game

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

AURORA, Colo. — For much of her 17 years as a financial planner, Molly Vogt never imagined she’d become a political activist. But she was outraged by the financial crisis, launching an economy-focused women’s group called “My Purse Politics” and ultimately taking a full-time job with Americans for Prosperity. She calls it a role she will fill “until I can get government out of my way.”

As a field director in Colorado, Vogt is one of more than 500 paid foot soldiers across the country for the conservative nonprofit group, funded in part by the Koch brothers, that advocates for limited government. For much of this year, she and nearly three dozen other staffers in the state have helped build Americans for Prosperity’s data-driven effort: amassing teams of volunteers who go door to door collecting information on voters and the national and local issues that matter to them — such as the president’s health care law and school choice.

Now, Vogt’s days are centered on turning that data into votes for Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in one of November’s tightest and most important races.

In a year when Democrats have focused on issues such as abortion and birth control, Vogt feels a personal responsibility to get women fired up about the government’s role in health care, and the financial and housing markets. “This year was the first time I knocked on a door, because I just got so fed up with what was going on,” she said.

The art of political persuasion can be complex. Television ads — whether uplifting or testily negative — have long been the key vehicle for defining candidates to voters. But the second necessity — getting them to cast their votes — has increasingly rested on meticulously organized, technologically powered, repetitive contact by people like Vogt who identify prospective voters and help close the deal.

In Colorado and other states, the two national parties and their allies are sweeping through the suburbs with the dedication of advancing armies. Americans for Prosperity alone has knocked on 140,000 doors since June.

Such conservative groups are both ascendant and playing catchup to Democratic field operations in key states. Their efforts this year are meant to deliver results in November and create the template for the presidential race in 2016. Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips says emphatically that the group is in the field to stay in competitive states including Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida — the mightiest of swing states, where the group has 50 full- and part-time staffers.

He notes that for years, the left had the advantage of “a powerful force on the ground that was outside the Democratic Party”: government employee unions, environmental groups and community groups.

“They had an army,” Phillips said. But on the right, “there really was not a permanent infrastructure with professional staff, the ability to mobilize activists on a large scale, with a consistent stream of funding. So at Americans for Prosperity, we’ve spent a decade now working to build just that.”

But they are facing fierce competition, not only from outside Democratic groups. In Colorado, Democrats say their field team is about three times the size it was in 2010 when it helped notch a victory for the state’s other Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, with an average margin of one vote per precinct.

Bennet’s effort that election was so successful in boosting turnout among sporadic Democratic voters that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee invested $60 million to replicate it across the country this year as the so-called Bannock Street Project, which takes its name from the Denver street where Bennet’s campaign office was located.

With Republicans outmatched in 2012 by the Democrats’ wealth of data and precise turnout operation, the national party this cycle has invested $105 million in improving its ability to track voters’ interests and willingness to go to the polls — or in Colorado’s case, the mailbox, since this year every voter will be able to cast a ballot by mail for the first time.

The GOP efforts in states such as Colorado are bolstered by outside groups, but Americans for Prosperity operates independently and has built its own database of voters. “You want to be able to hold the party that is your erstwhile ally accountable,” Phillips said.

Because it was set up as a “social welfare” nonprofit organization, Americans for Prosperity does not have to disclose its donors, and did not have to detail its spending to the Federal Election Commission until 60 days before the election. But the group financed by the Koch brothers, the billionaire backers of conservative political causes, demonstrated its deep pockets in 2012, when it spent $122 million attempting to defeat President Obama and other Democrats, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

In that race, Americans for Prosperity plowed most of its money into advertising. It is still one of the biggest spenders on advertising this year — approaching more than $50 million.

But it has made a far greater investment this year in canvassing and related endeavors than in 2012. Its most recent mailing in Colorado was a report card detailing each voter’s history compared with four neighbors with a perfect voting history — a gentle, data-driven nudge to return their ballots.

Follow-up comes in the form of people like Vogt. IPad in hand, her red curly hair tucked in a ponytail, Vogt and three of her part-time “field associates” — in the group’s corporate lingo — made quick work of the dozens of houses that appeared in that day’s “walk-books,” which are assigned by operatives at the field office and transmitted to the associates’ iPads in real time.

Carefully trained on technology and door etiquette during a several-day seminar in Wisconsin this year, Vogt — in jeans, sneakers, and a blue T-shirt bearing the image of Ronald Reagan and the Americans for Prosperity logo — stands back at a respectful distance from the door.

At one point this year, Vogt was asking voters questions about their beliefs on taxes, health care and education — voter identification scripts that Americans for Prosperity often tried to keep under a minute to maximize the willingness of people to respond. Now, Vogt cheerfully thanks them for voting in 2012 and asks whether they plan to return their ballot. She enters the data on her iPad — lighting up houses where she has gotten a “commitment” in green, and houses where no one was home in red. She will return a few days later with a different script to gauge candidate preference. Once she has determined that a vote has been cast — based on data from the secretary of state — those voters will be cleared from the organization’s list so Vogt and her colleagues can move on to other targets.

She can see which homes her team has hit along the block in real time. There is a brief stop late in the day for chocolate milkshakes — “We get a little punch drunk,” Vogt says with a laugh — but they keep up a brisk pace before heading to the office. Every canvasser gets a progress report at the end of each day, creating friendly competition among the teams across the state.

Less than six miles from where Vogt’s team was canvassing, the Democratic competition — staff and volunteers from Udall’s team and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — were massing at their campaign headquarters in Aurora.

Launching their own intensive ground effort as ballots began arriving at voters’ homes, as many as 100 Democratic volunteers and staffers packed into the field office, decorated with red, white and blue streamers and colorful hand-painted signs with slogans including “Keep Colorado Blue.”

Bennet served as the warm-up act for Udall as the two senators rallied volunteers before an evening of canvassing. He notes that Udall’s team has recruited four times as many active volunteers — those who have completed a shift in the last three weeks — as his team did in 2010 and that the field staff is nearly three times as large. (A Republican National Committee spokeswoman said it had tripled its field team in Colorado since 2012, but she would not offer details.)

After a cheer, volunteers disperse to the neighborhoods, much as their Republican counterparts had. In near darkness, Dave Lightowler and Michael Briefs work off their illuminated iPads — stopping to review the voter data that they have for each house before approaching the door. At one, they catch a Democrat who registered recently — but admits he’s had little time to figure out who is running. They leave a packet of information and mark the house as one to which they will return.

Half a block down, an independent voter is less receptive. As soon as the volunteers mention the names of Democratic candidates, he slams the door with a curt “forget it.”

Lightowler enters him as a “refusal,” but notes that they still don’t know his wife’s voting plans. He vows to return. “We don’t skip anyone,” he said. “As a canvasser, I want to be sure. This is the playoffs.”

That Democratic relentlessness helped Obama win in Colorado and other swing states. The question is whether Republicans and allied groups like Americans for Prosperity now have the muscle to catch up.

Photo: Molly Vogt, center, works full time as a field director for Americans for Prosperity in Colorado. She heads a team of field associates, including Denise Denny, left, and Pauline Olvera, right, who are going door-to-door talking about AFP’s mission of limited government and persuading voters to vote against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall. (Maeve Reston/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Hillary Clinton Touts Family Issues And Hints At 2016 Domestic Agenda

Hillary Clinton Touts Family Issues And Hints At 2016 Domestic Agenda

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton joined some of the most powerful women in Congress on Thursday to push for advances on affordable child care, paid family leave, and raising the minimum wage that could create greater economic progress for women.

Clinton, fresh off her campaign-style weekend visit to Iowa and her summer-long book tour, used Thursday’s panel at the Center for American Progress to focus on issues that could form part of her domestic agenda should she run for president in 2016.

Clinton noted that women hold two-thirds of the minimum wage jobs across the country and three-quarters of the jobs that depend primarily on tips — meaning that many of them are working full time but hovering at or below the poverty line.

“We talk about a glass ceiling,” said Clinton, who ended her 2008 campaign by proclaiming that she and her supporters had put 18 million cracks in it. “The floor is collapsing.
“These women don’t even have a secure floor under them.”

The former New York senator and secretary of state noted that she had just read a Bloomberg story listing eight things in a new poverty report that “will make women mad.” Although there was a slight improvement in America’s poverty rate, she said, “for women there’s a lot less to cheer about.”

“Gender inequality in the workforce remains a reality; we ticked up from 70 cents on the dollar for women, versus men in the work force, to 78 cents; and we know that women are more likely to be impoverished even if they are working,” Clinton said.

She praised her colleagues on the panel — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut –for pursuing policy changes to give women “a fair shot.” (Pelosi and Clinton engaged in some good-natured sparring over whether California or New York was more progressive on women’s issues, with Pelosi touting the recent 10th anniversary of paid family leave in California).

The panel was led by the center’s president, Neera Tanden, who introduced Clinton by noting that Clinton’s “flexibility” as a boss when Tanden worked for her had allowed Tanden to balance a demanding job and raising young children. Clinton’s former congressional colleagues all spoke with frustration throughout the panel about how Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage and expand paid family leave have stalled in Congress.

Joining the panel was Shawnta Jones of Maryland, who emphasized the importance of subsidized health care after she became a teen mother at 17, and Rhiannon Broschat, a 25-year-old Chicago retail worker who said she lost her job at Whole Foods after she had to leave work early to pick up her son on a day when his school closed in a weather emergency.

The most animated speaker was Gillibrand, who condemned opposition to expanding paid family leave across the country.

“We are the only country in the industrialized world that doesn’t have paid leave,” Gillibrand said, her voice rising in indignation. “Pakistan and Afghanistan, which don’t even educate their girls, have more paid leave than America. That is outrageous.”

Clinton noted that the economy has not fully recovered from the 2008 crash, though she praised her onetime rival President Barack Obama for “getting us out of the ditch we were in.”

Clinton, who has said she will announce her own plans next year, issued a call to arms to women in the looming 2014 midterm elections. “Political candidates and officeholders do pay attention when people vote on issues that are of concern to them,” she said. “When we can turn an issue into a political movement that demands people be responsive during the election season, it carries over.

“These issue have to be in the lifeblood of this election and any election,” she said. “The more we can do that — harnessing 6 million, or however many we can … bus tours, storming the gates…. Whatever it’s going to take.”

AFP Photo/Oliver Lang

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‘Live Bravely, And With Passion’: Town Remembers James Foley

‘Live Bravely, And With Passion’: Town Remembers James Foley

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

ROCHESTER, N.H. — For nearly 21 months after James Foley’s capture in Syria in late 2012, his family held out hope for his safe return, keeping faith that they would never see a day like Sunday with a Mass in his memory.

The courageous photojournalist seemed to have nine lives as he reported from the most dangerous conflict zones around the world, his parents recalled last week. Once before, he had made it home safely — from Libya after being held captive there for 44 days.

But Foley’s brutal killing by Islamic State militants in a beheading that was released on video last week brought his family, friends, and neighbors together here in his hometown for a Roman Catholic Mass of healing, hope, and peace.

As the close-knit parish tried to come to terms with what happened, the central theme of Sunday’s service was forgiveness — even for Foley’s captors.

Every seat was filled for the Sunday afternoon service at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester. Foley’s parents, Diane and John Foley, sat side by side in one of the first pews. Many parishioners stood, filling the long side aisles to the candle-lit altar.

On their way in, mourners passed large black-and-white photographs of the journalist, wearing his ever-present sunglasses and training his camera on war-torn streets of Libya and Syria. Some people clutched cards bearing his image above the Prayer of St. Francis.

In his homily, the bishop of Manchester, the Most Rev. Peter A. Libasci, urged mourners to focus on the verses: “Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon.”

Libasci asked the congregation to remember that Foley lived his life in St. Francis’ example.

Some mourners wept as Libasci emphasized the prayer’s final lines: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Libasci noted that many close to Foley may be doubting their faith at this moment. He urged them to remember Foley’s “gifts to the world” as a journalist and spoke of his death as a sacrifice to that mission.

“In a special way today, we are challenged to be mindful of needs of others,” Libasci said. “We are challenged to be true to our faith, especially when most challenged to doubt. We are challenged to see the world through a different lens. To hear the world’s voice as the voices of individuals, people, children, mothers, fathers. We are challenged to hear the cries that are a world away.”

Foley’s desire to shed light on the suffering of war-torn regions should inspire others to “live bravely, and with passion, the life of a true child of God,” he said.

“Jim went back again (to Syria) so that we might open our eyes,” Libasci said. He prayed for peace for Foley and “this fragile world.”

Mourners sang “Amazing Grace” and the communion hymn “How Great Art Thou” — with its lines, “Make me a channel of your peace. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”

Then Diane and John Foley stood briefly at the front of the church and thanked the members of the congregation for their support and prayers.

“Thank you for loving Jim,” Diane Foley said. Everyone in the audience rose and met them with sustained applause.

At the end of the service, the congregation also prayed for the remaining hostages in the region, including Foley’s fellow captive Steven Sotloff — who was threatened on the video of Foley’s slaying — and “those in unjust captivity around the world.” They also prayed for James Foley’s “legacy of love” to continue.

AFP Photo/Aris Messinis

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For Democratic Candidates, Iraq Becomes A Campaign Issue — Again

For Democratic Candidates, Iraq Becomes A Campaign Issue — Again

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

ROCHESTER, N.H. — The Iraq war was once again front and center on the campaign trail in New Hampshire last week, with a Democratic president under fire.

The gruesome beheading of native son James Foley at the hands of Islamic militants thrust the issue to the fore, leading residents to debate how far the United States should go to stop them in Iraq and whether the government had done enough to rescue Foley.

But even before that, Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown was using Iraq to attack the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, for supporting what he called the president’s “incoherent foreign policy.”

“Our allies don’t trust us; our foes don’t fear or respect us. We’re in trouble,” Brown, a former reservist in the Army National Guard, said at a town hall meeting last week, noting the instability in Iraq, Ukraine, and Gaza. “We do not need rubber-stamp policy, rubber-stamping the policies of the president.”

The Iraq war was the target of President George W. Bush’s critics in 2006, and now the bull’s-eye has shifted to Obama, who won election in part on his promise to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. After applauding the president’s efforts to end the long U.S. entanglement in the region, Shaheen and other vulnerable Senate Democrats have found themselves on defense as American involvement escalates.

They know that they must energize Democrats and independents who have opposed U.S. involvement overseas in an election year that will determine who controls the Senate.

At the same time, they are facing an onslaught of attacks from Republicans who argue that a foreign policy approach espoused by Obama — and, by extension, his Democratic colleagues — has caused an eruption of problems around the world, with the expansion of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq and the execution of Foley serving as the latest examples.

With that delicate balance in mind, few campaigning Senate Democrats have rushed to confront the issue. When pressed, they have highlighted that the president insists he will not reintroduce ground troops in Iraq.

Still, Republicans have their own fine line to walk as they attempt to woo voters who are in an isolationist mood and reject a return to Bush administration policies. Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said the current military operation had created “risks for both sides” if they tried to make Iraq a campaign issue.

“For Democrats, it brings up the demands that they made to get out of Iraq. … They risk getting tagged with the blame for that,” Duffy said. Republicans, in turn, want to look supportive of the troops “when they always made the case that we left Iraq too soon,” she said. “But at the same time, they want to see how it goes before they start to play ‘I told you so.’ ”

As Shaheen faces a tightening Senate race and the drag from the president’s unpopularity, her statements on the Iraq airstrikes have been carefully drawn to reflect the wariness of her constituents of a prolonged role in the Iraq conflict. But they grew more hawkish after the death of Foley, a photojournalist who was killed on video by a militant who said the act was in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes.

At first she focused on the humanitarian mission to rescue the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, but said she would draw the line at a limited military engagement to halt the advance of the Islamic State.

“This is a fight that the Iraqis have to engage in,” she said in an interview at a pizza parlor in Milford, N.H., shortly after the first wave of airstrikes. “We should not be thinking about putting boots on the ground in Iraq. I certainly don’t support that, and I can’t imagine that many of my constituents would support that.”

The morning after news broke of Foley’s death, she said the U.S. needed to do “everything possible to stop the threat” from Islamic State. “This is a threat, not just to people on the ground in (Syria and Iraq), but, as we saw with their execution of James Foley, they are obviously a threat to the United States as well.”

The Iraq issue has particular potency in the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa, where Democratic activists have been deeply engaged in the debate for three presidential election cycles.

Foley’s death may make voters more willing to accept sustained airstrikes in Iraq in the near term. But the risk for Shaheen and other Democrats if military operations continue well into the fall is that they could depress Democratic turnout in November, said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

Republicans are motivated to go to the polls because of their anger about Obamacare and the economy, Smith said.

“But for Democrats, what is going to be their motivation to go out and support Democratic candidates?” he asked, “when even on the war, which was the one issue that distinguished them from Republicans very strongly in the last 10 years, they’re kind of going along with what Republicans did, but only less so.”

Senate Democrats like Shaheen may also see a cautionary lesson in the example of the 2008 presidential run of Hillary Rodham Clinton, when her more hawkish stances on foreign policy and the Iraq war cost her Democratic votes.

Obama’s victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses — and his strong support in New Hampshire, where Clinton eked out a primary win — was fueled in part by Democrats’ steady opposition to the Iraq war.
Though Clinton and Obama both supported a phased withdrawal from Iraq during the 2008 campaign, Obama pounded Clinton for supporting Bush’s plan and authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002.

At a time when Clinton is weighing a second run for president in 2016, her differences with Obama on foreign policy are back in the spotlight. During the town hall gathering last week in support of Brown’s campaign, Sen. John McCain of Arizona used the former secretary of State’s recent criticism of administration policy in Syria as a cudgel against Obama — and by extension Shaheen.

“These people are planning to attack the United States of America,” McCain said of Islamic State. “No one wants to send ground troops back in, but we’ve got to stop ISIS, and we’ve got to start, rather than vacillate and equivocate the way this president has done. … Even former Secretary of State Clinton has differed with him.”

AFP Photo

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Rick Perry’s Lawyers Accuse Democrats Of Pushing A ‘Red Herring’

Rick Perry’s Lawyers Accuse Democrats Of Pushing A ‘Red Herring’

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s legal team on Thursday stepped up its aggressive strategy to fight two felony charges against him, arguing that Democrats were floating a “red herring” by suggesting that Perry was motivated to veto funding for a Texas public integrity unit because the office was investigating one of his pet projects.

Perry’s legal battle is complex, but basically it amounts to this: The Democratic Travis County district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, had an ugly, videotaped confrontation with police when she was arrested last year on drunken-driving charges. Lehmberg oversees the county’s Office of Public Integrity, which has statewide jurisdiction. Perry threatened to veto $7.5 million in funding for the unit, which investigates public officials, unless she stepped down.

Lehmberg refused and Perry followed through on his veto threat. That led a government watchdog group to file a complaint against Perry alleging improper intimidation. After being indicted by a grand jury Friday, Perry and his allies framed the legal drama as a political persecution that amounted to an attack on the U.S. system of government.

But Perry’s opponents have alleged that he had other motives to target the public integrity unit beyond Lehmberg’s conduct — namely that the office was conducting an investigation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Questions had been percolating about the funding of the institute, which is known as CPRIT, and how money was being distributed to some of the governor’s allies.

But on Thursday, two of Perry’s lawyers, Tony Buzbee and Ben Ginsberg, dismissed the questions about the institute as a political diversion being pushed by Democrats.

“The CPRIT issue is a red herring that the Democrats are trying to make float upstream,” Ginsberg said on a call with reporters. “This thin indictment really falls apart without them being able to float this unsubstantiated rumor.”

Perry’s lawyers produced an affidavit by Chris Walling, who was a criminal investigator with the public integrity unit. He said he was at one time the primary investigator for the probe into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

In the affidavit, Walling said that Perry and other aides in the governor’s office had never been a target of the investigation. “At no time did I ever obtain evidence that suggested any wrongdoing on behalf of Gov. Perry or the Governor’s office,” Walling said in the affidavit provided by Perry’s lawyers. “Any suggestion that Governor Rick Perry or anyone associated with him was being investigated is untrue.”

But questions about Perry’s feud with Lehmberg and the office have persisted. On Tuesday, Dallas Morning News reporter Christy Hoppe detailed how Perry did not speak out against two other district attorneys who faced drunken-driving charges under similar circumstances. Both were Republicans.

“This case will be decided by facts not spin,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin said of the assertions by Perry’s lawyers. “The fact is Perry will have his day in court. When that day comes we look forward to seeing the evidence that convinced a jury of Gov. Perry’s peers to indict on two felony charges.”

Earlier this week, the Texas governor appeared at the criminal justice center in Austin to be booked after a grand jury indicted him on charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. The formal proceeding — where he was photographed and fingerprinted — took on the air of a campaign rally as he vowed to fight the charges against him “with every fiber of my being.”

He said the actions that he took were “lawful and legal,” and that he was entering the courthouse with his head high.

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

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Clinton Takes A Step Away From Obama On Islamic State; Will Democrats Follow?

Clinton Takes A Step Away From Obama On Islamic State; Will Democrats Follow?

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

When President Barack Obama announced airstrikes this week in Iraq to address the humanitarian crisis and contain the alarming expansion of the Islamic State across Iraq, his reluctance was visible as he repeatedly said he would not send ground troops in Iraq.

It was an ironic twist for a president who defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2008 presidential race in part because of his vow to withdraw U.S troops from Iraq, a conflict for which Clinton had voted as a senator. But as he steps into the quagmire in Iraq, the term-limited president will not have to face war-weary voters at the ballot box as vulnerable Democratic colleagues — and possibly Clinton, if she decides to run for president in 2016 — will.

Obama’s acknowledgment that Iraq’s problems cannot be solved in weeks, and his refusal to outline a timetable, raised the possibility that his actions in Iraq could shadow the midterm election — creating another tricky issue for Democrats.

With many Americans wary of greater U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria, there was no rush by vulnerable Senate Democrats this week to put out statements on the airstrikes. It remains to be seen whether they will forcefully back the president’s actions on the campaign trail or try to focus more on other topics.

At the same time, with hawkish Republicans like Arizona Sen. John McCain and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio charging that Obama did not act quickly enough to contain Islamic State and urging a more robust military operation, Democrats could have an opening this fall to tie their Republican opponents to the unpopular war policies of former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The debate within the Democratic Party over whether Obama could have done more — at an earlier stage — to prevent the current crisis in Iraq and Syria may be stirred by Clinton’s comments in a recent interview with the Atlantic magazine, which was published overnight Sunday.

In her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton wrote about her regrets over her 2002 Senate vote authorizing Bush to use U.S. military power in Iraq, stating that she “got it wrong.”

But the former secretary of state also asserted in the book that she advocated within the administration for greater U.S. involvement in Syria as the situation deteriorated. In the interview conducted Tuesday with the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton appeared to create more distance between her position and that of the Obama administration, emphasizing that she advocated for carefully vetting, training, and equipping “a core group of the Free Syrian Army.”

Asked whether Islamic State would have the same strength today if the United States had done more to build up moderate Syrian opposition three years ago, Clinton said she didn’t know.

But she immediately added that “the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”

Obama did not accept that argument earlier this year when others said that the United States should have provided more military assistance to the Syrian opposition.

“Those who believe that two years ago, or three years ago, there was some swift resolution to this thing had we acted more forcefully, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the conflict in Syria and the conditions on the ground there,” he told Goldberg in an interview for Bloomberg. “When you have a professional army … fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer — who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict — the notion that we could have — in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces — changed the equation on the ground there was never true.”

Clinton and her fellow Democrats will undoubtedly have more to say on the Iraq crisis in the coming weeks, but her comments suggested that she plans to use Syria as a way to subtly distinguish herself from Obama as she mulls a run for president.

Other Democrats will face that strategic decision even earlier as they look ahead to November.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

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In Colorado, Lines Are Drawn For Election Battle Over Fracking

In Colorado, Lines Are Drawn For Election Battle Over Fracking

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

GREELEY, Colo. — When Rep. Jared Polis found that a 100-foot tower and a drilling operation had been built last year across the road from his weekend home, he told his story on YouTube, predicting that by fighting for “sensible regulations” he would become the anti-fracking “poster boy.”

That could come true if two Polis-backed ballot measures to restrict fracking in Colorado qualify for the November ballot. If proponents have collected enough valid signatures by Monday, the state’s voters will decide on one initiative requiring all new oil and gas wells to be set back 2,000 feet from any home or school — a major expansion of the current buffer requirement of 500 feet — and a second that would give communities more control over drilling by adding an “environmental bill of rights” to the state’s constitution.

Polis’ proposed ballot measures have touched off a furious battle in this state, where the number of active wells has doubled in the last decade, creating thousands of jobs in what has become a $29.5 billion industry. Among those who do not share his views: two fellow Democrats in re-election races for governor and U.S. Senate. Those races would be far more unpredictable with the measures on the ballot.

Polis said he was prompted to act after learning that thousands of constituents faced experiences similar to his own in Weld County. The quest to find “some sense of balance” in fracking regulations, he said, has become a pressing issue. Polis, who is independently wealthy, has not disclosed how much he plans to spend on the ballot measures or how much he has put in so far.

At least nine other states have enacted regulations governing fracking, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and hundreds of bills to restrict the practice have been proposed in state legislatures across the country.

“People are worried about their health, their family’s health, water and surface spills,” Polis said. “The jobs this is costing, the damage to our economy, the damage to the quality of life, continues every day that we don’t have sensible regulations.”

Opponents argue that the two measures would amount to a backdoor ban on hydraulic fracturing, a technique in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground at high pressure to extract oil and gas. Primed for the fight by the decision of five Colorado towns to ban fracking since 2012, the oil and gas industry and aligned business groups have vowed a vigorous campaign that is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.

The anticipated flood of spending has made the initiatives the biggest wild cards in the November election, when Coloradans will also decide whether to re-elect U.S. Senator Mark Udall and Governor John Hickenlooper, both Democrats.

The reason: Colorado’s views on fracking do not break neatly along party lines, and voters have been almost evenly divided.

The ballot measures “could have an impact on all sides,” said Craig Hughes, a Colorado political consultant who ran Democratic Senator Michael Bennet’s winning campaign in 2010. “It’s too easy and simplistic to say it will help one side or the other.”

Several political experts said a get-out-the-vote program funded by wealthy opponents of the measures could turn out more white Republican men than a normal midterm election year, but could also motivate low-income Latino and African-American voters who are concerned about the potential loss of jobs.

Complicating the ability to predict voter behavior is the fact that the intensity of sentiments about fracking tends to vary widely depending on how close voters live to wells. Residents in Weld County, where the concentration of wells is the highest, are often far more engaged, for example, than those in the more populous Denver suburbs.

Hickenlooper, a former petroleum geologist who once drank fracking fluid to show that it was “benign,” spent months trying to forge a compromise. When that failed, he vowed to fight the measures, which he said “risk thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, and millions of dollars in tax revenue.”

The governor’s stance on oil and gas issues has angered some environmentalists, who view him as too closely aligned with the industry. That could cost him in the toss-up race against Republican Bob Beauprez.

In the Senate race, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner has accused Udall of failing to fight for Colorado jobs when he avoided taking a position on the ballot measures for months.

“If an energy ban is passed in Colorado, it will overnight wipe out 120,000 jobs, $12 billion of our economy, $1 billion of taxes that fund new roads and new schools,” Gardner said in an interview, drawing figures from a University of Colorado economic study.

Udall ultimately came out against the ballot measures, framing them as “one-size-fits-all restrictions.” He said Gardner was putting up “a straw man” by suggesting that he would stand in the way of energy development.

“Coloradans believe that we should not drill everywhere, but there are many places we should,” Udall said in an interview. “But there is a balance; we can protect jobs and we can protect our quality of life.”

As those debates play out on the campaign trail, activists on both sides are preparing for battle.

The Polis-backed group leading the signature drive, Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, has publicized the more than 495 spills that occurred in 2013. An analysis by the Denver Post last week showed that oil and gas spills are occurring at a rate of two a day this year, often without notification to residents.

“This industry is completely running roughshod over the state right now,” said Nick Passante, a spokesman for the signature group.

But opponents of the ballot measures say the spill data are being distorted for political gain. An industry-backed issue committee called Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence is already running ads meant to dispel what they say are myths about fracking.

Spokeswoman Karen Crummy criticized “fear-mongering by environmentalists,” saying many Coloradans do not understand the practical effect of the two ballot measures. She noted, for example, that the state’s current 500-foot setback rule for wells affects an 18-acre area. Increasing that radius to 2,000 feet, she said, would affect a 288-acre area.

“There won’t be anyplace to really drill,” she said.

The other side disputes that analysis. The argument over who is doing more cherry-picking of the data will continue well into the fall, at great cost.

“I think people understand what’s at stake here,” said Dan Hopkins, spokesman for a business group known as Coloradans for Responsible Reform, which has reserved $8 million in television time against the ballot measures. “Over the next few months it will get even clearer.”

Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr

Colorado At Heart Of Democrats’ Campaign For Women’s Votes

Colorado At Heart Of Democrats’ Campaign For Women’s Votes

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Senator Mark Udall strode into his new Western Slope headquarters last week with a very specific target in mind: women.

In two of the first three television ads aired by his re-election campaign, Udall has hammered his opponent’s conservative positions on abortion and past support for Colorado personhood initiatives, which would have changed the state’s constitution to protect a person’s rights from the point of conception.

Last week, the Supreme Court handed Udall a fresh talking point to motivate female voters, particularly the single women who are so critical for Udall’s fellow Democrats in presidential elections but often stay home in midterm contests. It was the first issue he raised with the crowd after walking through the door.

“Five men made a decision for millions of American women,” Udall said of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which gave some employers the right to claim a religious exemption to the healthcare law’s requirement of contraception coverage. “These are personal matters. These are intimate matters. … A judge, your boss, your congressman shouldn’t be telling women what to do.”

To keep the issue alive, Udall co-sponsored a legislative fix to the Hobby Lobby decision this week, and many of his endangered Democratic colleagues signed on.

Issues like abortion, personhood and birth control don’t rank anywhere close to the top of the priority list for most female voters, but Udall and other vulnerable Democrats hope that a decisive number of women in hotly contested states will find their arguments persuasive. Their push against the traditional midterm slump comes as the party faces the possibility of losing control of the Senate.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is spending $60 million on the Bannock Street Project, aimed at raising turnout among women, Latino and African-American voters to what might be seen in a presidential election year.

Though single women make up a growing share of the electorate — nearly 4.2 million became eligible to cast ballots since 2008 — their voting drops off dramatically in non-presidential years. In 2010, some 22 million fewer unmarried women voted than in 2008, according to a study by the Voter Participation Center and Lake Research Partners; 10 million fewer married women voted.

The national project, aimed at turning out voters in as many as 12 contested states, gets its name from the Denver street where Senator Michael Bennet’s campaign was headquartered in 2010 when he won women’s votes by a double-digit margin en route to a victory of less than 2 percentage points overall. Colorado Democrats, along with Udall’s campaign, have already hired 100 organizers with the goal of registering 40,000 new voters, many of them women.

The opportunities in Colorado are significant for both sides. Though Udall led his Republican opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma, among women, 52 percent to 35 percent, in a Quinnipiac University poll earlier this year, 58 percent of women said they did not know enough about Gardner to offer an opinion. (By contrast, 19 percent of women said the same about Udall, a first-term senator.)

Udall has spared no opportunity to argue that Gardner is, as he said last week, “not in the mainstream — he’s in the extreme, and he’s running away from his record every chance he gets.”

Yet this year remains a challenge for Democrats. President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings are mired in the low 40s here; though employment has rebounded recently, many voters are still uneasy about the economy. And polls show Republican voters are more energized.

Colorado Democrats have worked in recent years to draw in more socially moderate voters, taking advantage of the state Republican Party’s move to the right. Those voters played a major role in defeating, by 3-to-1 margins, the 2008 and 2010 ballot initiatives defining personhood in Colorado’s constitution.

Now that issue has returned in Democratic attacks on Gardner, who was closely identified with the ballot initiatives as a state lawmaker. Gardner renounced his support for the Colorado personhood language when he entered the race this year, a reversal he said he made after learning that the measures could restrict some forms of birth control. But the congressman has been hit with millions of dollars in attack ads highlighting the issue, aired both by Udall’s campaign and outside groups like Planned Parenthood.

Udall’s ads note that Gardner sponsored a 2007 state bill that would have made it a class 3 felony to perform an abortion except when the life of the mother was at risk, and allege that his support of Colorado personhood amounted to “an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control” — a claim Gardner says is deceptive and untrue.

But the message has alarmed even some Republican voters like 28-year-old Leslie Coblentz of Fort Collins. “The ads are definitely persuasive,” she said on a recent weekday, moments after watching Udall and Gardner work the parade route at the Greeley Stampede. “When you hear about women not being able to make their own decisions, it’s a turnoff. That’s why I’m not quite sure who I want to vote for, because I just don’t know enough.”

At the same time, many women said they didn’t have a clear opinion of either Senate candidate and a number said they immediately hit the mute button when they saw the anti-Gardner ads.

“No offense, but I could care less,” one Grand Junction woman replied when asked whether the spots had swayed her.

Perhaps the Democrats’ biggest challenge is re-engaging voters like Mary Stockum, a 24-year-old music teacher from Greeley. Though she voted for Obama in 2012, she said this year’s election “doesn’t feel like a priority.”

“It would be good to care about something that would have an effect on me and that would actually matter,” Stockum said. “But right now I don’t see it.” Access to birth control, she said, “is not really on my mind.”

The anti-Gardner ads seemed to invoke the most passionate response from conservatives like Sandy Peeso, 62, of Grand Junction, who said Democrats had been distorting the facts both in the Udall-Gardner race and after the Hobby Lobby decision.

“It really irritates me that the truth is not being said,” said Peeso, who predicted a backlash that could bring out more conservative women this fall. “They are purposely not saying the truth to gain in this, quote, war on women.”

Gardner has aggressively countered Udall’s approach in recent weeks, calling for common forms of birth control to be sold over the counter. He also took the unusual step of airing an ad explaining why he changed his mind on the Colorado personhood initiative: “I learned more from listening to all of you.”

Udall has suggested that Gardner’s position change was disingenuous because he is still a co-sponsor of a federal bill that declares that the right to life begins at fertilization. But Gardner rejects Udall’s characterization and said it “is a pro-life statement” that would not affect contraception. Gardner says Udall is trying to distract voters from the economy and the unpopularity of the federal healthcare law, which only 37 percent of state voters backed in the Quinnipiac poll this year.

“He’s the social-issue warrior in this campaign, and I’m going to be focused on jobs, the economy and those issues that matter at the kitchen table,” Gardner said.

Floyd Ciruli, an independent pollster and analyst, said Gardner had strengthened his position by switching his position on personhood, which he said was the candidate’s greatest liability. “Painful,” he said, “but a smart move.”

Ultimately this year, Ciruli said, “Colorado is a battle for looking like you’re reasonable.”

Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr

Cleveland Picked To Host 2016 Republican National Convention

Cleveland Picked To Host 2016 Republican National Convention

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

Cleveland was picked Tuesday by the Republican National Committee’s site selection panel to host the GOP’s national convention in 2016.

Cleveland edged out five other finalist cities: Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City and Las Vegas in the hotly contested race that brought in each state’s power players and top fundraisers. Dallas was the last city in the running before the site selection committee made its decision Tuesday.

The RNC and Cleveland are now slated to begin negotiations on final details. The recommendation will be submitted for a vote by Republican National Committee members at their August meeting in Chicago.

The choice of the mighty swing state of Ohio has already renewed debate over whether the site of the party’s convention can help generate excitement among the state’s voters and help tilt the election in the GOP’s favor. But that political theory has been disproved time and time again.

Though Republicans held their convention in Tampa in 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ultimately lost the state to President Barack Obama by a narrow margin. But Romney won North Carolina, where the Democrats had held their 2012 convention in Charlotte, by 3 percentage points.

As various cities submitted their bids this year, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus played down the importance of choosing a swing state that might have a bearing on the party’s chances of winning the White House. In a call with reporters earlier this year, Priebus stressed that the top concern was selecting a city that could produce a logistically smooth convention, including the capacity to house as many as 50,000 delegates in area hotels and ensure transportation for them around the city.

To address those concerns, Cleveland and Dallas had both committed to raising nearly $70 million to cover expenses and security for the four-day event.

On Tuesday, Priebus said a Cleveland convention would offer the GOP “a great stepping-stone to the White House in 2016.”

“The team from Cleveland has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and I think they’re representative of a city eager to show the country all the fantastic things they have to offer,” Priebus said. “Not only will the convention be held earlier in 2016, but there are also substantial guarantees in place for funding that put us well ahead of previous conventions and will give our nominee the best opportunity to succeed.”

Ohio’s leaders heralded the decision as a boon for the city. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, said the choice represented another step forward in Cleveland’s renaissance. Ohio Governo John Kasich — a potential 2016 presidential candidate — told reporters that the decision would “put Ohio at the top of (the) stack of states.”

RNC officials were in Cleveland last week visiting the Quicken Loans Arena. Since Republicans want to hold an earlier convention in June or July, one consideration in the final Dallas-Cleveland competition was whether the cities would be able to guarantee the availability of their arenas several weeks before the convention regardless of the NBA schedule.

Cleveland had been trying to accommodate that request, while touting the $5 billion in public and private investment that the city has put into their downtown core over the last few years.

Photo: DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Hillary Clinton Book Tour Offers A Campaign Preview

Hillary Clinton Book Tour Offers A Campaign Preview

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

The world may have to wait until 2015 for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decision on whether she runs again for president, but the last 48 hours have offered a preview in miniature of what that campaign would look like — with all its advantages and burdens.

With Tuesday’s splashy publication of her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton demonstrated the unprecedented attention she would draw, with wall-to-wall coverage on every television network in which she tossed off zingers and parried unwanted questions.

Hours before she breezed onto the set of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” breathless fans were lined up for blocks around a bookstore in New York’s Union Square (some having waited since Monday) in hopes of getting orange wristbands that would give them a chance to have their copies signed in person.

But the downside of the heavy scrutiny was also apparent. The former secretary of State was drilled in television interviews on the Benghazi, Libya, controversy, which threatens to shadow her potential bid for office, as she was pressed repeatedly to admit that she had made a mistake leading up to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound, in which four Americans, including an ambassador, were killed.

And she was already cleaning up a clumsy assertion in a prime-time ABC special that aired Monday that she and her husband, President Bill Clinton, were “dead broke” when they left the White House and had struggled to come up with the money for multiple mortgages and their daughter’s education. Although they had incurred millions in legal fees, each also is a bestselling author, and Bill received a pension and Hillary a U.S. Senate salary.

“Let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton told ABC’s Robin Roberts, after Republican critics had disseminated photographs of the Clintons’ five-bedroom house on D.C.’s Embassy Row and their spread in Chappaqua, N.Y. “It’s an issue that I’ve worked on and cared about my entire adult life.” And, as the video below shows, Clinton again had to clarify what she meant by her comments when speaking to her old pal and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Pushing back against Republican attempts to paint her as out of touch, Clinton detailed how both she and her husband had worked multiple jobs to pay off student loans, and said her husband’s experience growing up poor had made him a “hard worker.”

“We have a life experience that is clearly different, in very dramatic ways, from many Americans, but we also have gone through some of the same challenges,” she said on ABC.

Her misstep also illustrated what even her allies have said for months: After four years largely outside the political fray, Clinton needs practice. And the practice that the book tour can offer may be even more important since she has essentially frozen out Democratic rivals, whose challenges might otherwise have helped her sharpen her arguments.

With Clinton’s announcement months off, her memoir serves as a suggestion of what her campaign might emphasize. “Hard Choices” is an exhaustive account of her tenure as secretary of State, with colorful anecdotes that establish her gravitas, her foreign policy credentials and her command of issues around the world.

Early on, Clinton outlines what some have called the “Hillary Doctrine” when she writes that she combined elements of the traditional foreign policy approach of “hard power,” or military force, and the “soft power” of diplomacy. She defines her strategy as finding “the right combination of tools — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural — for each situation.”

The administration’s approach to Iran, she writes, exemplified that style: using economic sanctions to cut Iran off from the global economy and using social media to communicate with Iranians as they pursued “old-fashioned shoe-leather diplomacy” to advance U.S. objectives.

By far the chapter that has drawn the most attention is Clinton’s account of the terrorist attack in Benghazi. She says the events unfolded in the “fog of war” and that the administration did everything it could to save U.S. personnel. But she disputes the notion that she should have seen cables requesting enhanced security in Libya. They were addressed to the secretary of State as a “procedural quirk,” she said.

“I’m not equipped to sit and look at blueprints to determine where the blast walls need to be or where the reinforcements need to be. That’s why we hire people who have that expertise,” Clinton told Diane Sawyer in the prime-time interview.

Pressed by Sawyer on whether Americans were waiting for a statement from her on Benghazi that begins with “I should have … “ Clinton crisply cut off that line of inquiry. “I take responsibility. But I was not making security decisions,” she said.

Although Clinton’s book does not delve into the details of her marriage the way her first memoir did, the issue clearly continues to be a topic of fascination with the public.

In her interview with Sawyer, she testified to the strength of her marriage and dismissed the re-emergence of her husband’s one-time paramour, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

“I am 100 percent in the camp that says forgiveness is mostly about the forgiver. I know too many people, having now lived as long as I have, who can never get over it,” Clinton said.

The former first lady added that Lewinsky was free to say what she pleased and that she hoped she would “construct a life that she finds meaning and satisfaction in.”

Clinton seemed to almost dare her rivals to continue using the topic against her as political ammunition. When told by Sawyer that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had called it “fair game,” Clinton coolly replied that “if he decides to run, he’ll be fair game, too, for everybody.”

That steeliness is, in part, what has inspired the loyalty of supporters like Holly Vichers of New York, who lined up at 6:30 a.m. to get her copy of “Hard Choices” signed and hopes to see Clinton as the next president.

“You need someone up there who’s not afraid to take on the world,” she said.

AFP Photo
Video via NDN

Bill Clinton ‘Dumbfounded’ By Rove’s Comments About Hillary

Bill Clinton ‘Dumbfounded’ By Rove’s Comments About Hillary

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

Bill Clinton said he was “dumbfounded” by Karl Rove’s suggestion that his wife might have suffered from a traumatic brain injury, but shrugged off the incident and suggested that it was just the beginning of a GOP effort to raise questions about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s stamina.

“I’ve got to give him credit — that embodies that old saying that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” the former president said Wednesday when asked at a fiscal summit in Washington about Rove’s comments. “First they said she faked her concussion, and now they say she’s auditioning for a part on ‘The Walking Dead.’

“Whatever it takes,” Clinton continued with a chuckle. “Look, she works out every week. She is strong. She is doing great — as far as I can tell she’s in better shape than I am. She certainly seems to have more stamina now. And there’s nothing to it.”

Rove, the former White House adviser to President George W. Bush, raised questions about Clinton’s health at a conference in Los Angeles last week. According to a report in the New York Post, Rove erroneously said that Clinton spent 30 days in the hospital. (She was hospitalized for just three days.)

“When she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that,” Rove continued, according to the Post.

On Tuesday, Rove denied he had said Clinton suffered “brain damage” — terminology used in the Post’s headline — but insisted that the public needed more information about what he called a “serious health episode.”

Clinton was hospitalized at the end of 2012 after doctors discovered a blood clot behind her right ear. They said it stemmed from a concussion that she had suffered after fainting while weakened by a stomach virus.

The injury led the then-secretary of state to delay her testimony to Congress on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. At that time, some Republicans questioned whether she actually had a medical condition or was simply trying to put off the hearing.

Offering a vigorous defense of his wife’s health Wednesday, Bill Clinton told his interviewer, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill, that he was dumbfounded, particularly after Republicans “went to all this trouble to say she faked what was a terrible concussion that required six months of very serious work to get over.”

“It’s something that she never lowballed with the American people, never tried to pretend it didn’t happen. Now they say she’s really got brain damage,” he said with a laugh. “If she does, then I must be in really tough shape because she is still quicker than I am.”

Photo: mou-ikkai via Flickr

Hillary Clinton Spokesman Slams Karl Rove Allegations About Her Health

Hillary Clinton Spokesman Slams Karl Rove Allegations About Her Health

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

Smacking down incendiary allegations that Karl Rove made about Hillary Clinton’s health, a spokesman for former secretary of state said Tuesday that Rove was “lying” and that “the right has politicized” Clinton’s health from the moment she was treated for a blood clot after a fall 17 months ago.

Rove, the former White House adviser to President George W. Bush, raised questions about Clinton’s health at a conference last week in Los Angeles. “Thirty days in the hospital?” Rove said at the conference, according to the New York Post, which first reported the comments late Monday night. “And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”

Rove’s remarks grossly misstated the length of Clinton’s hospitalization, which was only several days at the end of 2012 after doctors discovered a blood clot behind her right ear that stemmed from a concussion.

The then-secretary of state suffered the concussion after fainting at her Washington home while weakened from a stomach virus. The clot was discovered during a follow-up exam for the concussion at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

The injury led Clinton to delay her testimony to Congress on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. Republicans are expected to try to use the attacks in Benghazi as a central issue against Clinton if she runs for president in 2016.

Rove attempted to roll back his remarks Tuesday in an interview with Fox News — but continued to raise Clinton’s age as an issue, calling her injury a “serious health episode.”

“I didn’t say she had brain damage,” he told Fox, pushing back at the New York Post’s headline. “This was a serious deal. … We don’t know what the doctors said about what does she have to be concerned about. … I mean, she’s hidden a lot of this.”

Noting that reporters raised questions about the health of 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Rove told Fox that “this will be an issue in the 2016 race whether she likes it or not.”

“Every presidential candidate is asked for all of their health records. … Look, she’ll be 69 by the time of the 2016 election. She will be 77 if she serves two terms.”

Clinton has kept up a brisk schedule of public appearances since leaving the State Department, delivering speeches all over the country while writing her memoirs, which will be published on June 10.

Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said Rove’s comments were part of a “flagrant and thinly veiled” attempt by the right to politicize Clinton’s health. Rove’s comments last week came shortly after Republican leaders in Congress announced that they were forming a select committee to expand their investigation into how the Obama administration handled the Benghazi matter.

Merrill noted that when Clinton first had to delay her testimony to Congress, Republicans questioned whether her health issues were real.

“First they accused her of faking it, now they’ve resorted to the other extreme — and are flat-out lying,” Merrill said in a statement. “Even this morning, Karl Rove is still all over the map and is continuing to get the facts wrong. But he doesn’t care, because all he wants to do is inject the issue into the echo chamber, and he’s succeeding.

“They are scared of what she has achieved and what she has to offer,” Merrill said. “What he’s doing is its own form of sickness. But she is 100 percent, period. Time for them to move on to their next desperate attack.”

Obama Hopes To Win Over Voters With New Focus On Climate Change

Obama Hopes To Win Over Voters With New Focus On Climate Change

By Maeve Reston and Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — President Barack Obama capped a weeklong focus on climate change with a push for greater energy efficiency, a pitch particularly attuned to reaching two groups: big-dollar donors in the green movement and activists once inspired by his 2008 ambition to heal the planet.

Both groups will play a role in turning out Democratic voters in November, a crucial factor for the party’s hope to retain control of the Senate. But Obama has faced palpable frustration among some supporters who had hoped for more progress on his 6-year-old promises.

Although he notched some early accomplishments, such as increasing fuel economy standards for automobiles and placing limits on air toxins from new power plants, he abandoned his pursuit of cap-and-trade and major energy legislation because of opposition in Congress.

More recently, though, Obama has pleased the environmental community by again delaying a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which environmentalists oppose. And next month, the administration plans to issue major new regulations to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants.

This week, the White House seized the moment to build greater credibility on climate change, a push timed to the administration’s release of a major report and a Senate debate over energy efficiency legislation.

After the White House released the National Climate Assessment, which warned that the effects of climate change were immediate and widespread, Obama sought to highlight the issue in interviews with meteorologists, remarks at Democratic fundraisers across California and a speech Friday.

The White House on Friday also touted the completion of a largely symbolic accomplishment — the installation of solar panels on the White House 28 years after President Ronald Reagan removed them and four years after Obama promised to put them back.

From a stage surrounded by racks of tube socks and glitter-encrusted flip-flops in a solar-powered Wal-Mart store in Mountain View, Obama announced a series of corporate pledges to increase renewable energy use and several incremental steps to boost solar generation.

“Together, the commitments we are announcing today prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” Obama said. “Inside of Washington, we’ve still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they’re wasting everybody’s time on a settled debate.”

The message was a notable detour for Democrats, who have emphasized stagnant middle-class incomes and a higher minimum wage as their top-tier message in the midterm election. The shift reflects a strategy to use every lever to push the party’s base to the polls — and ensure that left-leaning groups have the money needed to execute that plan.

The White House said it believes its climate push speaks to voters across the spectrum.

“For voters, any time you’re taking an action that cuts pollution, it is as close as you can come to a position that has broad and deep appeal across the board,” said one White House official, who would not be named talking about the politics of what the administration said was a policy effort.

The official said the message resonated with some of the groups that Democrats are most worried may sit out the election — particularly young people, who view acceptance of climate change as a threshold issue.

A number of pollsters and political scientists said, however, that the approach has its limits. Many noted that the voters who would be most excited by Obama’s renewed focus on climate change formed a sliver of the electorate.

“There is a group of people who are intensely interested in climate change, but as a percentage of the American population, they’re pretty small,” said Arthur Lupia, a political science professor at the University of Michigan.

Only 29 percent of Americans believe global warming should be a top priority for the president and Congress, and it ranked second to last on a list of 20 issues, a Pew Research Center survey found this year. But a Gallup poll in March found that about 70 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they either worried a “fair amount” or a “great deal” about climate change.

Though young people tend to care more about the issue, John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard University Institute of Politics, noted that their “mood is so sour when it comes to politics and voting, frankly for both parties right now, that it’s unlikely that one issue will make a significant difference.”

At the same time, Della Volpe said, “There could be a series of these kinds of events between now and October where (the president) re-establishes a connection with this generation” and reinforces the notion “that there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans.”

But Stanford University professor Jon Krosnick, who has done extensive polling on climate change, said that his research on the 2008 and 2010 congressional elections showed clear evidence that candidates who publicized their support for tackling climate change gained an advantage with voters.

The president’s focus is a “smart move,” Krosnick said, “because it stands to address what is likely to be understandable feelings of disappointment and frustration among his potential Democratic supporters and independents … because he essentially made promises that he hasn’t been able to deliver on.”

Next month, when the administration unveils regulations to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants, the renewed attention to that issue could also activate the environmental donor community, which has sought a more assertive voice in the 2014 cycle.

California billionaire Tom Steyer, the mega-donor who elevated the Keystone XL pipeline into a litmus-test issue, has promised to raise and spend at least $100 million — half of it his own money — to target congressional and gubernatorial candidates who oppose initiatives to curb global warming.

Other environmental groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resource Defense Council Action Fund, say they had seen a notable uptick in their fundraising efforts for the 2014 races.

“This is our biggest opportunity to prevent the most carbon pollution from going into the atmosphere that we’ve ever had,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, the director of the NRDC Action Fund. “Everything is kind of lining up for us to be able to make progress on this very real, very important issue.”

Chris Lehane, a strategist for Steyer’s NextGen Climate, said the White House advanced the issue this week with the National Climate Assessment by “really bringing it down to a local level.”

“The president stepping out and really standing up on this is a real leading indicator that the politics are changing on this in a really fast way,” said Lehane, who said NextGen would soon outline its electoral targets. “When elected officials begin to realize that they can talk about this, and not only be on sound ground, but talk about it and use it as a wedge issue to win — that’s when you begin to change the politics.”

At several fundraisers this week, the president used the climate change issue to make a forceful case to donors that they should “feel a sense of urgency” about the midterm election and the difference between Democrats and “this particular brand of Republicans” in Congress.

“We think climate change is real,” Obama told an intimate gathering of high-dollar donors in Los Angeles’ Bel-Air neighborhood. “Some of them say it’s a hoax, that we’re fabricating it.”

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

Obama Raises Money For Senate Democrats In Los Angeles

Obama Raises Money For Senate Democrats In Los Angeles

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — President Barack Obama made a somber plea before an intimate crowd of some of Hollywood’s biggest donors Wednesday night, asking for help energizing disillusioned voters to give Democrats a chance of keeping their Senate majority in the midterm election.

“I’m in trouble at home,” the president joked at the Los Angeles home of Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn and his wife, Cindy. “I told Michelle back in 2012 I had run my last campaign. But a couple months ago, I had to let her in on a secret and that is, ‘Honey, I’ve got one more campaign I’ve got to run.’ ”

Speaking for about 15 minutes before a group of about 90 people — including Hollywood titans Barbra Streisand, James Brolin and Jeffrey Katzenberg — Obama acknowledged that many voters were dissatisfied with Washington gridlock. That will spell trouble for Democrats in November, he said, because many of their most loyal voters, including young people and minorities, will turn out in lower numbers than they do in presidential years.

“Despite the progress we’ve made on issues that are important to everybody here, there’s still a disquiet around the country. There’s an anxiety and a sense of frustration,” Obama said. “The challenges out there remain daunting and we have a Washington that’s not working.”

He argued that a majority of Americans agreed with Democrats on issues like raising the minimum wage, and opposed some of the more austere cuts that Republicans have proposed for the federal budget. But because of government dysfunction, “those who don’t believe government can do anything are empowered,” he said.

“We get this downward spiral of even more cynicism and more dysfunction, and we have to break out of that cycle. That’s what this election is about,” Obama said. “A lot of people are already excited for 2016. You were excited for 2008. You got geared up for 2012, and I am grateful. But I need some partners; I’ve got to have a Democratic Senate.”

Polling released this week by the Pew Research Center underscored the challenge facing the president and his party heading into the November midterm election. In a poll conducted for USA Today, 47 percent of registered voters said they planned to cast their ballot for a Republican candidate or were leaning in that direction. About 43 percent said they were supporting or leaning toward a Democrat. The poll also showed Republicans held the advantage with voters who tend to turn out for midterm elections.

Republicans need to pick up six Senate seats to take the majority.

At the end of the third quarter, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had outraised the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee with more than $22 million in cash on hand to the NRSC’s $15.9 million. But as the two sides battle for control of the Senate, Democrats have been heavily outspent by Republican outside groups.

On an evening when Obama was raising money to help candidates in some of the most competitive races in the country, NRSC spokeswoman Brook Hougesen noted that some of the candidates had distanced themselves from Obama on the campaign trail.

“Democrats like Michelle Nunn, Kay Hagan, Mark Begich and Mark Udall poke President Obama with one hand and collect Obama’s liberal political cash and resources with the other; a brazen display of hypocrisy if there ever was one,” Hougesen said. “If these Democrats want their actions to match their words, they’ll refuse to accept campaign money and resources from President Obama and the DSCC.”

Tickets for Wednesday evening’s event ranged from $10,000 to $64,800, according to a DSCC official.

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

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Immigrant Tuition Bill Slated For A Vote In Florida With GOP Push

Immigrant Tuition Bill Slated For A Vote In Florida With GOP Push

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

As Republicans look to improve their standing with Latinos, some GOP strategists had pointed to a bright spot in the Florida Legislature, where their members were pushing a bill granting in-state college tuition to some students who are in the country illegally.

The measure had looked like it would die in a Senate committee as Florida’s legislative session wrapped up this week, despite vocal support from former Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 presidential contender. But it got a once-unlikely push from Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whose 2010 campaign was marked by a hard line on immigration issues — most notably his support for an Arizona-style law allowing police to check whether people they arrested were in the country legally.

Scott later dropped the issue and now, locked in a margin-of-error re-election race against former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat, Scott is making an aggressive bid for Latino support.

The measure now before the Legislature would cover immigrants brought to America illegally as children who had studied at Florida high schools. Currently, many of those students could not qualify for in-state tuition because their parents could not meet the state law’s requirement that they prove a Florida residency. A two-thirds vote in the Senate on Tuesday put the bill onto the calendar for Wednesday. A final Senate vote of a House-passed measure is expected Thursday.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, who sponsored the Senate version, said he expects to have the backing of as many as 25 members of the 40-member Senate.

For the Republican Party, Latvala said in a telephone interview, “It’s important that we be inclusive, as opposed to being exclusive — instead of pushing people away; we need to be pulling people in.” He described the bill as “an equity issue. … To have to pay three or four times the in-state rate just because your parents don’t happen to be citizens, I thought was wrong.”

In the final drive to get a vote, Latvala said Scott “made a lot of phone calls and pushed a lot of people on this.”

Scott’s positioning on the in-state tuition measure is already a major issue in the his re-election campaign.

On Tuesday, Crist’s spokesman, Kevin Cate, described Scott as a last-minute convert on the legislation.

“He’s there to take credit for the work of others, and is disingenuous and a fraud,” Cate said. “The fact that it took Jeb Bush and (Republican House Speaker) Will Weatherford to make it happen speaks volumes of the tea party governor that ran on an Arizona immigration bill in 2010.”

On his campaign website, Crist has called for immediately passing the in-state tuition legislation, saying that “it simply isn’t fair to punish the children of undocumented parents.” Crist has also criticized Scott for vetoing a bill last year that would have permitted some young Floridians in the country illegally to get temporary driver’s licenses, even though the bill had broad support in the Legislature.

The Republican Party of Florida, in turn, noted that in 2006 Crist was quoted in the Miami Herald as saying Florida lawmakers had done the right thing by rejecting a measure granting in-state tuition to such children.

Asked about Scott’s role in the revival of the in-state tuition bill, his spokesman John Tupps emailed a one-sentence statement: “Our office has been working with the Legislature to make college more affordable for all Floridians.”

Scott is under intense pressure this year from multiple directions: Even as many Republicans object to assisting immigrants in the country illegally, the business community has been supportive of the bill, said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. In addition, the state’s burgeoning Latino population has increasingly tilted toward the Democrats in part because of the Republican position on such immigrants.

“The realities of what Florida is like and is going to continue to be like — the demographics — and the importance of the issue in tourism and agriculture, two of Florida’s key sectors, have really pushed (Scott) in this direction,” MacManus said. She noted that the Latino share of the electorate rose from 12 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2012, according to exit polls.

Republican operatives “are looking at the demographics like everybody else,” she said.

Gage Skidmore via Flickr