In a new audio tape given to Al Jazeera, Osama Bin Laden claimed responsibility for the failed attack on a U.S. airliner on December 25th. Bin Laden, whose identity was not immediately confirmed by U.S. intelligence officials, warns President Barack Obama that Al Qaeda will launch more attacks on the U.S. unless he solves the Israeli/Palestinian crisis.
** OBAMA TODAY – SUNDAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington today.
He has received the daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
He has no scheduled public events today.
Obama is prepping for his State of the Union address on Wednesday night. He had hoped to play up the positive aspects of the national health care reform bill that, in different versions, has passed both houses of Congress. That, however, is now stalled, perhaps permanently.
So instead Obama will focus on more efforts to revive the economy and grow jobs. The U.S. economy was on the verge of another Great Depression when Obama took office a year ago. That threat has been averted, and a recovery is now underway.
However, it’s a jobless recovery so far. And it’s a jobless recovery occurring in the midst of ongoing buckracking on Wall Street and in other major financial institutions, to the natural anger of the public.
So Obama, as previously reported, is pivoting back to the populist themes of his 2008 campaign.
He’s also more clearly reconstituting his political team, placing presidential campaign manager David Plouffe in the national role of overseeing Democratic campaigns across the country. The economic advisors who’ve counseled a cautious tack in dealing with the excesses of the financial industry are being moved more to the sidelines, at least politically.
Obama is in this predicament — no national health care bill to play up in the State of the Union, no super-majority in the Senate, a preposterous defeat this past Tuesday in the Massachusetts special election — because people at all levels of the Democratic Party apparatus were asleep at the switch. (See my column linked below.)
Adding to the complications of Obama’s life, an audio tape that Al Jazeera says is from Osama bin Laden is out claiming that he ordered the barely averted Christmas Day disaster over Detroit. The tape plays above.
And Afghanistan’s elections for national parliament, scheduled for May, have been postponed to September. Why? Because donor nations, in the wake of the highly fraudulent Afghan presidential election, have not ponied up the $50 million needed to conduct them. And Afghanistan, despite massive foreign aid, doesn’t have the money itself. Or so Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration says.
This is just the latest blow to the legitimacy of the Afghan government, coming in the wake of two successive parliamentary rejections of Karzai’s Cabinet nominees.
Without a legitimate government, there is no hope of the big new military surge in Afghanistan succeeding.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE – SUNDAY. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is out of state today.
He has no scheduled public events.
In today’s Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times, Schwarzenegger discusses the difficulty of enacting sweeping change in government — think back to the entire year he spent on trying to pass a universal health care program after winning a landslide re-election victory in November 2006 — and has some interesting things to say about his successor as governor.
Arnold freely talks about his admiration for Jerry Brown. Would he be upset if the Republicans lost and Brown succeeded him?
“No,” he said, taking a final puff. “I think the best person should win, whatever party that is.”
President Barack Obama continues his renewed populist theme in his weekend video/radio address, talking about his barring of lobbyists from his administration and the fight to come in the wake of the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in federal elections.
** OBAMA TODAY – SATURDAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington today.
Obama has received his daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
He has no scheduled public events.
The U.S. Marine Corps today ends its mission in Iraq.
Nearly seven years after playing a leading role in the invasion, the Marines are pulling out of Iraq, leaving Army units as the only American ground forces in the still deeply troubled country.
It is not as though, however, that the Marines are simply coming home. Under the new Obama strategy for Afghanistan, the Marines are playing the lead role in clearing operations in Taliban territory.
In fact, the Marines will launch a major offensive in Afghanistan next month.
Nevertheless, the drawdown of American combat forces in Iraq is underway. By September of this year, only 50,000 troops are slated to remain in Iraq.
Of course, most of the withdrawals are scheduled for after the March parliamentary elections, which are likely to draw major terrorist activity.
And that’s not the only problem for the Iraqi elections. The largely Shia-dominated government has barred over 500 Sunni candidates from running on the grounds of continued de-Baathification, i.e., claims that these candidates were linked to the late Saddam Hussein’s once ruling Baathist party.
Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq now to mediate the dispute.
Vice President Joe Biden has flown to Iraq to help ease rising tensions that threaten to delay the March parliamentary elections. At issue is whether hundreds of candidates should be blacklisted for suspected links to Saddam Hussein’s regime, a move which many see as a Shia ploy against the Sunni.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Bob Gates is in South Asia. He said that the Obama Administration agrees with Afghan Presiden Hamid Karzai’s plan to engage the Taliban and bring them into the process. Gates described the Taliban as “part of the fabric” of Afghanistan.
But, he said: “The question is whether they are prepared to play a legitimate role in the political fabric of Afghanistan going forward, meaning participate in elections, meaning not assassinating local officials and killing families and opposing education of children and so on.”
Gates is also dealing with the ongoing enmity and rivalry between India and Pakistan, as well as persistent reports in the Pakistani press that America will seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and set up permanent bases in the country.
Gates has urged Pakistani leaders to further expand their successful counter-offensives of last year against the Pakistani Taliban to North Waziristan, where key Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban cadre are believed to have a safe haven. The Pakistanis are refusing, claiming that their military and intelligence bandwidth is stretched by current operations.
On the domestic front, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are working on a path forward for national health care reform. Specifically, they are doing what I wrote about the other day: Figuring out how to make changes in the Senate bill through the budget reconciliation process — which requires only 51 votes, and which was used to pass the sweeping tax cuts of the Bush/Cheney era — to satisfy House members.
And, lest anyone imagine that only Barack Obama has had a rugged week, his old rival, 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, is about to get a serious primary challenge to his Senate re-election in Arizona.
Former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, unseated by a Democrat in 2006, has just quit his Phoenix radio show. He’s been attacking McCain for months, and some polls have shown him running fairly close to the Vietnam War hero, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986.
McCain, in turn, has been running ads attacking Hayworth on his own radio station as a big spender during his 12 years in the House.
Incidentally, in case you were wondering why McCain has been so silent on the question of his 2008 running mate, Sarah Palin, even as she savaged his top advisors and staffers, here is why: Palin will appear with McCain in March, both for a big rally and a fundraiser.
Palin is coming to Arizona to save McCain from the very far right elements she champions.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE – SATURDAY. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Los Angeles today.
He has no scheduled public events.
** WHAT SCOTT BROWN KNEW IN 2010 AND BARACK OBAMA KNEW IN 2008. This past Tuesday night, the politics of positioning beat the politics of branding. As it frequently does. Scott Brown figured it would. As Barack Obama did in 2008.
Here’s something to keep in mind amidst all the hype, hysteria, and hubris srrounding last Tuesday’s Massachusetts special election. But for one of the worst Democratic campaigns in American political history, you wouldn’t be hearing any of this. … From my January 22nd column.
** 24 NATION. Well, 24 has returned, with a vengeance. The controversial hit TV series, one of the key shows of the past decade, is proving relevant in this decade, too. As recent polling clearly shows, it turns out that its hardball ethos on terrorism resonates just as well in the Obama Era as it did in the Bush/Cheney years. … From my January 19th column.
** DOCTOR WHO: THE LONG GOODBYE. … From my January 6th essay.
** THE BAND OF THE DECADE: THE BEATLES?! What does it say that the biggest musical group of the first decade of this new millennium recorded its last album 40 years ago? … From my January 1st essay.
** DOCTOR WHO: THE ENDING IMPENDING. … From my December 28th essay.
** THE COMMON THREADS OF AVATAR. Is Avatar the future of cinema? Probably. … From my December 22nd essay.
** COPENHAGEN BLUES: OBAMA’S WEAK HAND ON CLIMATE, AND THE CALIFORNIA OPTION. … From my December 16th column.
** OBAMA’S LINCOLNESQUE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE. … From my December 11th column.
** HOW JERRY BROWN CLEARED THE DEMOCRATIC FIELD FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA. … From my December 9th column.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th, 2009 Huffington Post column.
** HELP FOR HAITI.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer, bringing you English-language, jargon-free, fast-paced coverage of global and Russian news from the Russia Today channel. You probably already know about CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera. Russia Today, which also features culture, entertainment, and sports, is based in Moscow and is owned and operated by the TV Novosti division of Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti. While it’s quite foolish to expect to see, say, criticism of Vladimir Putin on Russia Today, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. With U.S. cable news chattering away as it does, this sort of respite can be informative. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in two wars in the region, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Based in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, Al Jazeera is very influential and more than a bit controversial. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, 2008, crude oil closed at $74.54 per barrel on Friday. Energy markets are closed on the weekend.
This is up about $41 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity.
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