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  |   December 10, 2012   11:09 PM ET


WASHINGTON, Dec 10 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has canceled her trip to Morocco this week for a meeting on the future of Syria's opposition because of a stomach virus, the State Department said on Monday.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns will travel to the meeting in her place.

"Since she's still under the weather, we'll be staying put this week instead of heading to North Africa and the Middle East as originally planned," State Department spokesman Philippe Reines said in a statement.

"In her place, Deputy Secretary Burns will travel to Marrakech for the Friends of the Syrian People meeting. We will let you know when she shakes this bug and resumes a public schedule," he said.

Clinton had been due to join foreign ministers from allied nations in Morocco to discuss the 20-month old Syria crisis as rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad push forward on the battlefield and move to unify the political opposition.

The so-called Friends of Syria group is expected to focus on new moves to strengthen and legitimize the recently formed Syrian opposition coalition.

Clinton had planned to continue from Morocco to Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. (Reporting By Mohammad Arshad; editing by Christopher Wilson)

JENNIFER PELTZ   |   December 5, 2012    8:41 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg lashed out Tuesday at reports that he encouraged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to run to succeed him, and he pointedly praised the city official who has long been seen as his pick for the job.

Asked about the media reports, which cited anonymous sources, Bloomberg didn't directly deny a conversation with Clinton but retorted: "Did you hear me say that?" And in a bit of political optics, expected mayoral candidate and current City Council Speaker Christine Quinn stood by Bloomberg's side while he described her as key to his administration's success.

PHOTOS: Hillary Clinton Hangs Out With Meryl Streep

Alana Horowitz   |   December 2, 2012    2:32 PM ET

BFFs? We can dream. But Meryl Streep and Hillary Clinton looked pretty chummy on Saturday night.

The Oscar-winning actress and the Secretary of State met up at the Kennedy Center Honors gala, held at the State Department.

According to the AP, Streep used her iPhone to snap a photo of the two powerful women.

Earlier this year, Streep compared herself to the former First Lady.

"I find a lot of similarities," Streep said when introducing Clinton at the Women in the World Summit. "We're roughly the same age, we both have two brothers -- mine are annoying -- we both grew up in middle-class homes with spirited, big-hearted mothers who encouraged us to do something valuable and interesting with our lives. We both went from public high schools to distinguished women's colleges ... We both went on to graduate school at Yale."

Photos below.

hillary clinton meryl streep

hillary clinton meryl streep

The New Deal

Chris Weigant   |   November 28, 2012   10:24 PM ET

Lest F.D.R. rise up from his grave and begin to haunt me, allow me to begin by putting that headline in the proper context. Correct capitalization should really be "the new deal" -- so as to not cause confusion with historical references. The words are capitalized above merely because they are in a title, and for no other reason.

By this point, even "scare quotes" are not necessary for talking about the upcoming fiscal cliff. The term has been repetitively bandied about in the media world so thoroughly that it is (at least for the time being) self-evident. However, what is lacking from the inside-the-Beltway crowd is some sort of snappy moniker for the (lower-case!) new deal that Congress and President Obama are now working towards. Whether the deal eventually happens or not, it's time to give it a name. I'm going to begin using a rather mundane name for this deal, in the hopes that it goes viral: the "Grand Bargain II" or (for those with an itchy Twitter finger) "GB2." The original "Grand Bargain," a year and a half ago, did not actually happen between John Boehner and the president but it got named all the same, so I think it'll be fine to just recycle it. But I do not write today merely to speak of political branding. Just wanted to get it out of the way so I have something to use for the rest of this article, that's all.

Instead of focusing on whether a GB2 deal will be struck between Obama and the House Republicans, or even when such a deal might be finalized, I think far too few pundits are focusing on what the deal might contain. So I thought I'd peer into my cracked and foggy crystal ball and make an attempt at predicting which way the GB2 chips are going to fall. Please note, though, that I'm not endorsing (or condemning, for that matter) any of the following outcomes, I'm just attempting to read the political language emanating from the principal negotiators involved and draw some likely conclusions of what is likely going to be in such a deal. With that caveat firmly in place, here's how I see things working out.

 

Sequestration

This is really the gorilla in the room that everyone seems to be ignoring. While there is much talk of taxes and entitlements, few are addressing the budget-cutting trigger which was the only pathetic result of the earlier congressional "supercommittee." These cuts are known in Washington-speak as "sequestration."

I'm predicting that this can is going to be kicked down the road (in some fashion or another) to the incoming Congress. While some spending cuts may be part of GB2, most of the military and social program cuts (other than entitlements, which I am addressing separately, below) will quietly be shelved for a period of months, if not a full year. Oh, sure, there'll be talk of "triggers" and dire consequences, but my guess is that they'll be about as substantial as swamp miasma.

Both parties will decide that punting on the sequester cuts is the right thing to do politically, and they will hand the problem off to the next Congress. Which will bring up talk of a "Grand Bargain III," of course, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

 

Debt ceiling

This is a much more immediate problem. President Obama and the Democrats obviously want a debt ceiling raise to be part of the GB2 deal. Republicans, equally as obviously, do not. The reason Republicans are fighting against it is that they know that it'll just force all the budgetary issues to be discussed all over again in the next few months. The debt ceiling will officially be reached some time around the first of the year, but with Treasury accounting tricks, the real crisis won't hit for at least a month or two down the road. Republicans will want another bite at the budget apple after GB2, because they think they will have more leverage in this fight.

They're right, too. Right now, if Congress does nothing, the Bush tax cuts (more on them in a moment, too) will go up automatically -- which gives Democrats lots of leverage to get something done. But with the debt ceiling, if Congress does nothing, then Obama will (the Republicans figure) be the one to pay a political price. Whether they're right or not, it's hefty political leverage to wield.

But I remain optimistic. Obama is going to use a giant threat -- in private, most likely -- to force the Republicans to accept a debt ceiling hike. The president will calmly explain to the Republican leaders that have two -- and only two -- choices: either raise the debt ceiling as part of GB2, or Obama will personally declare the debt ceiling itself null and void and utterly meaningless (using what has been called "the Fourteenth Amendment option"). So Congress can either raise the debt ceiling as part of the deal, or the entire issue will be taken away from them permanently. Republicans may seethe (this is why this bargaining chip will likely be played in private, to allow Republicans to save face in public), but they will in the end swallow this pill. The talking point from the White House will be: "We're not going to do this all over again, a month from now."

 

Taxes

There are quite a few details in the tax portion of the fiscal cliff. Most of the attention has been on the Bush tax cuts expiring for the wealthiest earners, but there are a lot of chips to bargain with that haven't received as much media or public attention.

The Alternative Minimum Tax problem will be solved -- but only short-term, for a year or possibly two. This is an enormous lie that both parties are complicit in foisting on the public, for the purposes of making the 10-year budget deficit projections look much smaller than reality. Neither side's going to want to open up this can of worms. Instead they will both agree to do what they always do on the issue -- fix it for a year, and kick the can down the road one more time. This is a shame, because honestly fixing this tax would truly be the way to solve the problem of taxing upper-income folks fairly. But it's not going to happen.

One big victory for Republicans will be raising a tax (yes, you read that correctly). For the past two years, Obama has gotten a "payroll tax holiday" for all American workers which (unless you make six figures a year) has meant an automatic two percent raise in your paycheck. This is going to end on New Year's Day. Even though it is a tax cut for everyone, Republicans hate it because Obama's for it (that's as near as I can figure), so Obama will allow them to claim victory on the issue. This will mean the "holiday" will be over, and everyone will get hit with a small tax hike beginning immediately.

What Obama will get out of this phase of the bargain will be the continuation of all the minor parts of the "Bush tax cuts" -- increased credits and deductions, for instance. These may be limited to those making under $250,000 a year, but they will continue. The other thing Obama will get is a big rise in the estate tax (what Republicans call the "death tax") -- which was one of the gifts Bush gave to the stratospherically-wealthy in his original tax cut package. Estate tax rates will go back to what they were under Clinton. Taxes on dividends could go either way. If the Bush tax cuts expired, taxes on dividends would go up by five percentage points. If this tax break is continued, it may be phased out for the over-$250K folks.

The big question on taxes, however, is what to do about the Bush tax rate cuts. This is currently the central part of the argument, at least in the media. Obama wants the Bush tax rates to continue for 98 percent of earners, and have the top two percent revert to the Clinton-era rate. Republicans seem adamant about not raising anyone's tax rate, and instead limiting deductions and loopholes for the wealthiest earners.

The 98 percent will be taken care of -- that's as close to a sure bet as you can make about GB2. Whether it happens before or after the first of January is still an open question, but when the deal is struck, it will continue the Bush tax rates for everyone's income, up to $250K.

Both sides in this fight have drawn rather bright and well-defined lines of battle. Obama has repeatedly issued veto threats for any bill which does not raise tax rates on the top two percent. Republicans have made what Harry Reid calls "happy talk" about "raising revenues," but they appear to have dug in their heels on "raising tax rates." Especially in the House. This is going to come down to the question of what John Boehner can sell to enough House Republicans to pass a bill. I could see a compromise being worked out on this one, something along the lines of "the tax rate for the top incomes will rise -- but not up to where they were under Clinton -- while deductions for the over-$250K set will be limited in some way." There's going to be some awfully creative accounting on this question, no matter how it gets resolved -- that's my guess. This way, both sides will be able to claim minor victories on the issue to their base.

 

Entitlements

Republicans are pushing hard for large cuts to the big three social programs -- Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Democrats are pushing hard to exempt all three from any cuts whatsoever.

Social Security will not be touched. This round goes to Obama. If it changes at all, the only change will be raising the "cap on earnings" far above where it stands now (only roughly the first $110,000 anyone makes is taxed currently -- which is an enormous tax break for the wealthy, right there). However, I don't really expect even this to change. Obama will stand firm on Social Security, and Republicans will give up fighting on the issue.

Medicare and Medicaid are another story, however. Chuck Obamacare into that category, as Republicans are insisting. And there's always the yearly "doc fix" (see comments above, on A.M.T. yearly "fixes"). This is where Republicans are going to get some concessions from the Democrats. Hopefully, Democrats will be the ones to write the terms of the cuts, so that benefits to beneficiaries are not impacted, but in some way or another health care spending is going to be cut. Perhaps Democrats can get creative, and demand that Medicare Part D (the Bush "prescription drug benefit") be allowed to negotiate volume discounts from drug companies -- which would be a minor Democratic victory, in the midst of a Republican win. I do think these cuts will stop short of raising the eligibility age for Medicare, but I could easily be wrong about that.

Republicans are going to have to have something in GB2 that they can sell to their House members, and to enough senators to get the bill passed. This is where Obama's going to cave, and allow cuts to be made. This will allow Obama to say he has compromised and position himself as cutting a "centrist" deal. Perhaps he'll get one final bargaining chip out of the deal and continue unemployment benefits, but most likely not.

 

There's going to be pain all around in whatever deal is struck. Most Americans are going to be directly impacted in one way or another by whatever bargain is made between President Obama and congressional Republicans. Obama's got most of the leverage on his side, including the fact that he just won a rather impressive election victory and he currently has a higher job approval rating than he's had since Osama Bin Laden died. The biggest leverage is the deadline of New Year's Day, but I still think it's too early to tell whether a "Grand Bargain II" will be struck before or after the fiscal cliff is reached.

Perhaps the GB2 will be finalized before Congress goes home for the holidays. Perhaps America will go through a "Wile E. Coyote moment" where we dash off the cliff and stand in midair for a moment before realizing that there's nothing under our feet but air. Perhaps the GB2 deal won't be struck until we're on our way down. However it plays out, I've laid out what I consider to be the most probable outlines of such a deal. Once again, I'm not advocating any of these as solutions, I'm merely predicting which outcome is most likely, given the facts on the ground and the way the players on both sides are talking about things in public at the moment.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at:
ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
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Former Clinton Mistress Reveals Information About More Recent Contact

Nick Wing   |   November 28, 2012   12:00 PM ET

Gennifer Flowers, the model and actress who came forward in 1992 with allegations that she'd engaged in a longterm affair with then-Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, recently made new claims that Clinton had reached out to her as recently as 2005.

Speaking with Susan Roesgen of New Orleans ABC affiliate WGNO, Flowers claimed that she received a phone call from Clinton at her house in Louisiana.

(Watch the interview in the video above)

"He wanted to come by my house and talk to me," Flowers, now 62, told Roesgen. "He said, ‘I’ll put on a hoodie and I’ll jog up there.’ He used to do that."

Flowers said that she denied Clinton's request.

"And I said, ‘No, I want you to leave me alone.’ And that was that,” Flowers recalled.

Earlier in the interview, Flowers claimed that her now-famous press conference had finally given Clinton the name recognition that he'd told her he needed in order to be a contender in 1992.

"I made him a household name overnight,” she said.

Did Gaza Save Jordan?

Daoud Kuttab   |   November 22, 2012   10:03 AM ET

The Israeli onslaught on Gaza this week coincided with one of the worst periods in Jordan's history. Protesters, angry with the price hike of energy products, were more violent and protests larger and more widespread than the Kingdom ever witnessed.

Faced with these unprecedented and extensive demonstrations, Jordan's security personnel were spread very thin, leaving some sectors of the country vulnerable.

It is a well-known fact that populations voluntarily agree to be governed, but when this natural loyalty is shaken, it is very difficult to do so. In the absence of the rule of law a vacuum is created and at times, hooligans and criminals fill this vacuum.

Fortunately for Jordan, local groups of citizens came together to protect strategic and vulnerable locations. One photo that went viral on social media showed a group of young men in Madaba creating a human chain to protect the local Housing Bank. The bank, which has the largest number of branches in Jordan, was chosen by the government to disburse up to JD420 in cash to families making less than JD10,000 a year.

While some destruction and looting took place in some Jordanian cities, the protests and rioting passed without any major or continuous damage.

The police chief, Hussein Majali
, held a press conference and tried to restore the stature of the state, insisting that the rules of engagement had not changed and that peaceful demonstrations will be respected.

While Majali insisted that the police treat all citizens equally, he delegitimized some protest leaders, saying that they had previous criminal records and blaming them for some of the thefts and acts of hooliganism that occurred in the first days of protests.

The protests died down over the weekend, despite a large, and peaceful, post-Friday noon prayers and after the nationwide teachers' strike.

The combination of soft and harsh security responses, the prime minister's blitz media campaign and the beginning of cash payments to the needy contributed to a gradual calming of the internal scene. Externally, however, Jordan and its reputation were facing some harsh evaluations.

A statement issued by the U.S. State Department, calling on the government to widen political discussions, must have worried the government. If Amman could not count on Washington for support, who could it count on?

The Americans quickly remedied the situation with a phone call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the King, followed by public support from the spokeswoman of the U.S. State Department.

The calm in Jordan and the exchange with Washington did not stop the world media from converging on Jordan. Journalists and pundits published and broadcast reports of doom about the Kingdom even before the two-day protests died down.

Fortunately for Jordan, however, the Israeli military campaign against Gaza stole the media lights and ended this short spike in unwanted media coverage of the Kingdom.

The media began following the daily shelling of Gaza and the rocket attacks against Tel Aviv, making the troubles in Jordan appear to be a sideshow.

The scaling down of the protests and the disappearance of the world media from the scene gave the government a badly needed reprieve to consider what has happened in these troublesome days. While there is consensus that the economic situation is dire, there is also a realization that decisions affecting the pocket of the average citizen should not be taken with such harshness and all at once. Furthermore, the absence of the political elite defending the government decision also caused harm to the effectiveness of the government in carrying out its policies.

Having chosen to take difficult decisions few months before parliamentary elections -- based on a controversial law -- meant that no politician wishing to participate in elections is willing to publicly defend this unpopular decision.

Politics and economics intertwine, but this time, Jordan, which has a large population of Palestinian descent, has not carried out large anti-Israeli demonstrations for its onslaught on Gaza, as was usually the case. If anything, this proves that in this instant, economics trumped all other issues, putting even more pressure on the country's leadership to find both an economic and a political solution to the dangerous situation it finds itself in

Sabrina Siddiqui   |   November 15, 2012   11:00 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney claimed during a call with donors on Wednesday that he received a call from former President Bill Clinton, who told Romney that had it not been for Hurricane Sandy, he might have won the election.

ABC News offers the following transcript of the former GOP presidential nominee’s comments:

”I spoke with President Clinton the day before yesterday, he called and spent 30 minutes chatting with me. He said a week out I thought you were going to win. And he said, but the hurricane happened, and it gave the president a chance to be presidential, and to look bipartisan, and you know he got a little more momentum, and of course he also said that when he was watching Ann speak at the Republican convention, he decided he was tempted to join the Republican Party. So he may have just been effusive with generous comments as he chatted.”

Clinton, of course, served as one of President Barack Obama’s chief surrogates in the latter months of the campaign, playing a significant role in breaking down and debunking the vague components of Romney’s proposed tax plan.

The former president would not be the first to frame Sandy for Romney’s loss. In the days leading up to the election, Republican strategist Karl Rove and aides within Romney’s campaign began pointing fingers at the hurricane for halting the candidate’s momentum. Republicans also decried top Romney surrogate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for lavishing the president with praise over his response efforts in the wake of the storm.

But the theory that Sandy is accountable for the president's victory is questionable. Little evidence in both national and swing state polling supported the idea that Romney had sustained the momentum he gained following the first presidential debate.

A spokesperson for Clinton did not immediately return a request for comment.

During the same call reflecting on his loss, Romney also attributed his defeat to "gifts" the president handed out to Latino, black and youth voters.

"The president's campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift," he said. "He made a big effort on small things."

  |   November 13, 2012    8:41 AM ET


* A decade on, former president revisits health inequality

* Initial focus on Arkansas, California

* Verizon, NBC, General Electric among first partners

By Sharon Begley

NEW YORK, Nov 13 (Reuters) - In one of his last messages to the U.S. Congress as president, Bill Clinton declared disparities in health "unacceptable in a country that values equality and equal opportunity for all," and called for a national goal to eliminate the disparities by 2010.

It didn't happen. But what Clinton couldn't accomplish with his final-days fiat in 2001, he hopes to achieve through his William J. Clinton Foundation.

On Tuesday, he announced one of the foundation's most ambitious efforts yet: The Clinton Health Matters Initiative will try to close the gap in health based on income, race and education, and also take aim at preventable disease.

Health disparities and preventable illness "are robbing people of a lot of good years. We can't let that continue," Clinton said in an interview.

The two issues have proved to be among the most intractable in healthcare, and it is anyone's guess whether Clinton might succeed where others have failed. But his foundation is amassing a record of success on issues from HIV/AIDS in Africa, where it has persuaded drug companies to slash the price of anti-HIV drugs, to childhood obesity in the United States, partnering with beverage companies to get sugary drinks out of schools.

Clinton is taking a similar approach with the new initiatives, enlisting Verizon, General Electric Co. , Tenet Healthcare Corp. and NBC/Universal as corporate partners.

All four - which together employ some 600,000 people - will start or extend wellness programs in their workplaces and communities to fight preventable illness through free exercise classes, organizing walking groups in poor neighborhoods, bringing farmers' markets to "food deserts" where grocery stores are rare and smoking-cessation programs.

The effort to reduce health disparities will start in California's Coachella Valley - where health disparities between communities like Palm Springs and neighboring rural towns are among the highest in the country - and Little Rock, Ark., Clinton's home state.

Verizon is rolling out a number of technologies to help cut the health gap between often-poor rural areas and wealthier suburbs and cities.

Among them, said Dr. Peter Tippett, chief medical officer of Verizon's health information technology practice, are networks that will allow rural doctors to send X-ray images and EKG readings to hospitals for analysis, wireless networks so patients can take their own blood pressure and other readings and have them sent to their doctor, and technology that automatically alerts a physician when a patient with a chronic disease takes a turn for the worse.


LOST YEARS

Reducing health disparities is not only a matter of justice, Clinton said, but also of economics.

"We're devoting more than 17 percent of our GDP for healthcare costs, and the next highest-spending countries - Germany and France - are at 11 or 12 percent," Clinton said in an interview. "But we're not getting healthier."

The U.S. ranks well below many other industrialized countries in infant mortality, deaths from heart disease and other measures.

If U.S. healthcare costs fell to the percentage of GDP of the next-highest-spending countries - the 6 percent savings is just under $1 trillion - "the savings could be used for pay raises and education and technology investments," Clinton said.

Some of the nation's poor health and resulting healthcare spending comes from the gap between rich and poor, black and white, educated and not.

Babies born to black U.S. women, for instance, are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to die than those born to white or Asian-American women, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year. While 29 percent of white Americans have hypertension, 42 percent of blacks do.

Wealth-based health disparities are just as stark. Poorer Americans are so much more likely than better-off ones to be hospitalized, largely due to preventable illnesses such as diabetes and asthma, that eliminating this rich-poor gap would prevent some 1 million hospitalizations and save $6.7 billion in health-care costs annually, found the CDC.

The Foundation has made forays into improving Americans' health in the past. With the American Heart Association, it formed the Alliance for a Healthier Generation in 2005 to reduce childhood obesity. The group forged an agreement with Coca Cola , PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple and the American Beverage Association to remove most sugar-sweetened drinks from schools.

Treating preventable illnesses such as obesity-related diabetes already costs more than $150 billion a year and is poised to cost another $48 billion to $66 billion a year, Clinton said, citing a recent study by researchers at Columbia University. That contributes to the soaring cost of healthcare - now $2.6 trillion, or $8,400 per person and 18 percent of the economy.

"Big employers with a coherent culture of wellness can make a massive difference" by reducing preventable disease, Clinton said. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

Progressive Group Already Taking Stand Against Secretary Of State Rumor

Zach Carter   |   November 12, 2012    1:31 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The progressive advocacy group Demand Progress is taking a stand against Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), amid rumors that he is being considered as a potential replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The group is arguing that Berman's work on a host of controversial Internet issues, particularly his advocacy for the Stop Online Piracy Act, disqualifies him from the position.

"It's outrageous that Berman's name is even being floated for secretary of state, where he'd play a key role in developing global Internet policy," Demand Progress executive director David Segal told HuffPost. "He's made a career of shilling for Hollywood, and Hollywood's been leading the charge for Internet censorship here at home and abroad -- backing SOPA, compelling the government to block access to scores of sites, and even having website owners extradited for posting links to Hollywood movies."

Berman's office was unavailable to comment on a federal holiday. Due to redistricting, this year Berman lost to fellow Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman in a bid for reelection.

SOPA failed in January 2012 after scores of Internet websites and advocates warned that it would violate free speech protections and do irreparable damage to the web. At the time, the Obama administration was divided over the legislation, with some officials who had longstanding relationships with the entertainment industry quietly praising the bill. But the State Department was packed with SOPA opponents, who viewed the bill as inconsistent with the department's own global call for Internet freedoms.

SOPA would have given the government wide powers to censor sites, including the ability to black out entire Internet domains based on the activity of a few users. Twitter, for instance, could be taken down over a tweet linking to an illegal song. This kind of activity, known as DNS blocking, has been explicitly criticized by the State Department when used in China.

Berman ensnared Clinton in a minor misunderstanding during the legislative wrangling over SOPA. In the late fall of 2011, Clinton wrote a noncommittal letter to Berman that argued ending illegal piracy and protecting Internet freedom were compatible policy goals. Although the letter was written prior to SOPA's introduction in the House, Berman and the Motion Picture Association of America touted the letter as evidence of support for the bill. The State Department was forced to clarify that it had not taken a position on the legislation, as the White House had not done so.

Berman is just one of several names that have been floated as a potential replacement for Clinton, who is widely expected to leave at the end of President Barack Obama's first term, a common move for cabinet officials. Others who are rumored to be up for consideration include Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Susan Rice, currently U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

  |   November 5, 2012    7:59 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- By Sunday, Bill Clinton sounded awful, as if he had been gargling with Liquid-Plumr.

Vote for the B-

Robert Scheer   |   November 5, 2012    5:30 AM ET

It's crunch time, and I want to be on record, just in case some still undecided independent voter cares what I think. And one might, since I did write a decidedly non-partisan book on the origins of the economic crisis entitled The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street while mugging Main Street. I have been a harsh critic of Barack Obama for continuing that bipartisan capitulation to Wall Street, but on this and every other matter of serious contention in this election, Romney is decidedly worse.

A vote for Obama in a swing state is a no-brainer because, on a host of issues, including immigration, women's rights, gay rights, health care, campaign finance, income inequality, tax breaks for the rich and the legitimacy of trade unions, there is a vast partisan difference that should not be ignored. It matters greatly who appoints an anticipated two justices to the Supreme Court, which is already dominated by right-wing ideologues.

In a state where a protest vote will not elect Romney, a vote for the Green Party's admirable Jill Stein, the consistent Libertarian Gary Johnson or the populist Rocky Anderson sends an appropriate but measured signal of contempt for the sorry state of our two-party system.

That disgust is warranted by the fact that this president has followed the broad ideological outlines of his predecessor on national security. Witness the continuing assault on due process that is the island prison of Guantanamo and the killing of innocent civilians through drone attacks, as well as the unwarranted Nixonian persecution of alleged whistleblowers Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.

But on all of that, Obama is the lesser evil compared to Romney, who has promised to increase military spending to fight a new Cold War that might, under his stewardship, turn hot against China, Russia, the forlorn Palestinians and anyone else with whom he can pick a fight. Romney is as dangerous as he is inexperienced in such matters. To compensate for his ignorance, he has turned to the same pack of neoconservative ideologues that lied us into Bush's invasion of Iraq.

On economic policy, Romney has attempted to smear Obama as some kind of big government socialist, although the former vulture capitalist would surely have wasted just as much money as Obama rescuing his friends on Wall Street. Neither candidate would stop the Federal Reserve from continuing to purchase toxic assets to save the banks from their own folly. The candidates split on a bailout of the auto industry, with Obama helping save some decent American jobs, and they disagree about how much the obscenely wealthy should pay in taxes, although sometimes Romney disagrees with himself on that score.

Obama sold out to Wall Street when he appointed Lawrence Summers, who had pocketed more than $8 million in bank and hedge fund fees while serving as a top Obama campaign adviser, to be his key White House expert on the economy. This was an egregious error vastly compounded when he appointed as his Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, former head of the New York Fed and faithful ally of the Bush Administration in filling the lifeboats to capacity with bankers. However, Romney blasts Obama for not being solicitous enough in catering to Wall Street greed and defines the extremely minor reforms of Dodd-Frank as an attack on capitalism, when it is anything but.

As Gretchen Morgenson, the sharpest business journalist of our day, noted in a recent column in the New York Times:

Many Americans probably think the Dodd-Frank financial reform law will protect taxpayers from future bailouts. Wrong. In fact, Dodd-Frank actually widened the federal safety net for big institutions. Under that law, eight more giants were granted the right to tap the Federal Reserve for funding when the crisis hits.

But Romney finds objectionable even the slightest improvement in transparency and accountability in Dodd-Frank, including a much needed consumer protection agency championed by Elizabeth Warren. He absolves Wall Street and the Bush Administration that let greed run wild of any responsibility for the economic mess and, indeed, seeks to cut funding for programs that aid its victims.

Romney's talk of the deficit is specious. He would spend multiples of Obama's stimulus on the military, alone, while castigating the unemployed, disabled and impoverished to the hope of charity and warm weather. Consider the millions of Americans kept fed by Obama's hard-won extensions of unemployment benefits and food stamps during the worst lows of the recession. How would President Romney have handled such a crisis?

To employ the vernacular used in my day job teaching college students, I give Obama a generous B- grade for initiating a national health care plan that, while flawed, is a start, ending discrimination against gays in the military, easing the student loan crisis, signing equal pay legislation and appointing reasonable Supreme Court justices, among other achievements. Meanwhile, the rapacious capitalist-turned-candidate Romney -- poster boy of the 1 percent -- denigrates the less economically fortunate among us while growing filthy rich by slicing and dicing good American jobs out of existence and exploiting every tax loophole to aggrandize his own fortune. He earns a solid F and makes Obama look quite good in comparison.

Obama: 'I'm Sort Of A Prop In The Campaign'

Elyse Siegel   |   November 4, 2012   12:14 AM ET

In a speech to supporters in Virginia on Saturday night, President Barack Obama told the crowd, "I'm sort of a prop in the campaign."

"You know, I was backstage with David Plouffe, some of you guys know he's sort of a mastermind of campaign organization and we were talking about how as the campaign goes on, we become less relevant," the president said. "I'm sort of a prop in the campaign. He's just bothering a bunch of folks, calling, asking what's going on."

He continued, "You know, but the power is not with us anymore. The planning, everything we do, it doesn't matter because now it's all up to you. It's up to the volunteers. It's up to somebody knocking on a door. It's up to somebody making a phone call. It's up to somebody talking to their mom, or their dad, or their wife or their husband, or their grandma or grandpa, and that's how democracy is supposed to be. It's up to you. You've got the power."

Obama delivered his remarks after former president Bill Clinton delivered a fiery speech to introduce the president in the critical battleground. The AP reports:

Clinton, his voice hoarse from a flurry of campaign events, said he had given "my voice in the service of my president." The former president vouched for Obama's economic agenda, saying he had done a good job with a bad hand.

Obama, in his fourth rally of the day, sought to draw a connection between the flush economy Clinton presided over and his own policies for a second term, including increasing taxes on upper income earners.

The joint rally drew more than 24,000 people to an outdoor arena on a chilly November night. Obama and Clinton will campaign together again Sunday morning in New Hampshire.

The latest polls out on the presidential race show Obama holding a slim advantage over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in key swing states, including Virginia.

JULIE PACE   |   November 3, 2012   11:23 PM ET

BRISTOW, Va. — With the White House race in its final days, President Barack Obama and Bill Clinton hit the campaign trail together Saturday night.

Clinton, his voice hoarse from a flurry of campaign events, said he had given "my voice in the service of my president." The former president vouched for Obama's economic agenda, saying he had done a good job with a bad hand.

Clinton Could Remain Secretary Of State Longer Than Expected

Elyse Siegel   |   October 25, 2012   10:20 AM ET

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Hillary Clinton indicated that she could remain President Barack Obama's secretary of state longer than expected.

"A lot of people have talked to me about staying," Clinton explained.

When asked if current events will force her departure date to slip, she said it was "unlikely," but for the first time left open that possibility for the short term.

Clinton has previously said that she plans to step down from her position in the Obama administration after the president's first term should he win reelection.

What the future holds for Clinton, however, remains to be seen.

Clinton reiterated in the interview that she does not plan to mount a bid for the White House in 2016. Despite previously having made the statement on her political future, it hasn't stopped speculation from swirling that she could run in the next election cycle.

Earlier this year, Clinton herself responded to the 2016 buzz during an appearance on MSNBC.

"It's very flattering, but, you know, I'm not at all planning to do that," she said. "I have no, you know, desire or intention."