Four American hostages were killed by Somali pirates today on a yacht sailing around the world from Los Angeles. These are the first Americans killed as a result of a hijacking.
** QUICK HITS. The chaos in Libya, one of the major oil producing nations, intensified late today when longtime ruler Col. Moammar Gaddafi gave a long a fiery televised address urging his followers to attack protesters against his 42-year old regime, claiming that the unrest is caused by Islamic fundamentalists. The mercurial Gaddafi was a fiery pro-Marxist agitator after he seized power in a military coup, financing terrorist groups around the world and undermining the multinational oil companies. But he normalized relations with the Bush/Cheney Administration in the last decade and many now say he’s an American stooge. Be that as it may, he made his address today from the ruins of his home destroyed by a Reagan-ordered air strike in 1986, with a statue of a fist crushing an American fighter as a backdrop. … Oil shot up to over $95 per barrel on the New York futures market. … More protests are expected tomorrow in Bahrain, home of the U.S. 5th Fleet. Over one-seventh of the country’s population, more than 100,000 people, joined protests today in the island kingdom. … President Barack Obama, after another foray to publicize his promotion of the innovation economy, has no public events scheduled for tomorrow.
** JERRY BROWN APPOINTS! WITH A FOCUS ON THE POLITICAL WATCHDOG AGENCY. Issuing the first set of new appointments he’s made in the past few weeks as he focuses on California’s chronic budget crisis, Governor Jerry Brown today appointed eight people to various state boards and commissions. All but one were Democrats. I believe Brown has appointed two Republicans so far, former Arnold Schwarzenegger financial spokesman H.D. Palmer, who plays the same role in the Brown Administration, and new Fair Political Practices Commissioner Sean Eskovitz, a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles and former assistant U.S. attorney in New York.
He will be joined on the Fair Political Practices Commssion, which oversees the state’s elections and lobbying practices and was created by the Brown co-authored Political Reform Act of 1974, by new FPPC Chair Ann Ravel. She is the deputy assistant U.S. attorney general for consumer litigation and former Santa Clara county counsel.
She replaces Republican Dan Schnur, the director of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politcs, who took a leave from his academic position last year to take over the FPPC at Schwarzenegger’s behest. Schnur, notwithstanding his past reputation as a staunch partisan as communications director for Senator John McCain and Governor Pete Wilson, undertook a number of notable reforms, which I will will delve into in depth in a forthcoming piece on political reform, creating much greater transparency in the process.
In other action, Brown re-appointed Agricultural Labor Relations Board member Genevieve Shiroma and named stalwart Orange County Democratic attorney Wylie Aitken to the California Arts Council.
He also named Robert Dresser, former general counsel of the state Labor Agency, as the new chairman of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, indicating that Brown does not intend to do away with the agency.
** NEW SURVEY: NUMBER OF SOLID DEMOCRATIC STATES DECLINES. The latest Gallup Poll survey indicates a significant decline in the number of solid Democratic states from 2008 to 2010
This is not a surprise given the 2010 results, but here we go anyway. It’s significant to note that there has not been a commensurate rise in solid Republican states. What’s happened is the creation of more toss-up states.
The poll, incidentally, indicates about a five point drop in Democratic identification in California. Barack Obama carried California in 2008 with a crushing 61% to 38% victory over John McCain.
But despite the supposed slide in Democratic ID, Jerry Brown trounced billionaire Meg Whitman’s biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history, 54% to 41%, and the supposedly very vulnerable Barbara Boxer easily defeated ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, 52% to 42% in another landslide.
Gallup’s analysis of party affiliation in the U.S. states shows a marked decline in the number of solidly Democratic states from 2008 (30) to 2010 (14). The number of politically competitive states increased over the same period, from 10 to 18, with more limited growth in the number of leaning or solidly Republican states. …
Looking more closely at the changes in state party affiliation since 2008, only one state moved from a Democratic positioning to a Republican positioning — New Hampshire, which was solidly Democratic in 2008 but now is considered leaning Republican. Alabama, Kansas, Montana, and South Dakota moved from a competitive designation to solidly or leaning Republican status. A total of 12 states — Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin — shifted from solidly or leaning Democratic to competitive. No states have moved in a more Democratic direction since 2008. (A listing of each state’s classification for 2008, 2009, and 2010 is available on page 2 of this report.)
Gallup has documented the decline in Democratic Party affiliation at the national level from its recent peak in 2008 and early 2009. After several years of increasing Democratic affiliation beginning in late 2005, the current political situation is similar to what it was in the mid-2000s, when the parties were more or less even. …
The United States, both nationally and in every state, has moved in a more Republican direction during the last two years. Though the losses are not welcome news for the Democratic Party, the decline since 2008 is from a high point in the party’s support, the highest in at least two decades. Thus, while the losses have clearly hurt the party’s positioning compared with what it was as President Barack Obama was taking office, its strength is generally back to where it was in the mid-2000s, before a series of events including the Iraq war, high gas prices, and the recession eroded public confidence in George W. Bush and the Republican Party.
At the same time, the Democratic losses have not led to major gains in Republican affiliation. Rather, Gallup finds greater increases in the number of competitive states than in solid or leaning Republican states.
>>>>>>LIVE VIDEO FEED
President Barack Obama speaks at 10:55 AM Pacific at the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business at Cleveland State University. The event will be streamed live here on New West Notes. You can mute the sound by clicking on the pause button.
** LIVE FROM THE WHITE HOUSE.
With massive geopolitical events swirling and the 2012 presidential race unfolding, the White House is increasingly a pivot point for the day’s events.
Live streaming of key presidential events is now available as a matter of course here on New West Notes.
You can mute the audio by clicking on the pause button.
NWN will continue to present other live webcasts in full streaming mode, as it did with the Ronald Reagan Centennial events from the Reagan Library, as they emerge and are technically available and as significance dictates.
Two Iranian naval vessels transited the Suez Canal today. The new Egyptian government allowed the passage, the first by Iranian vessels since the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979. Israeli officials expressed grave displeasure in advance.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington and Ohio.
Obama takes his “Win the Future” theme of developing the innovation economy to the heartland today, with appearances in Cleveland, Ohio.
He also monitors and deals with the continuing upheaval in the Arab world.
Obama flew to Cleveland early this morning, where he delivered remarks at the opening session of the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business at Cleveland State University.
At 9:05 AM Pacific, Obama attends breakout sessions of the conference at Cleveland State University.
At 10:55 AM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at the closing session of the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business at Cleveland State University.
At 12:10 PM Pacific, Obama departs Cleveland on Air Force One en route to Andrews Air Force Base.
At 1:20 PM Pacific, Obama arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, where he boards Marine One.
At 1:35 PM Pacific, Obama lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
At 1:45 PM Pacific, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Secretary of Defense Bob Gates in the Oval Office.
While Obama is very far from being out of the woods with regard to the multiple crises he must address in the Arab and Muslim worlds, he has some continuing good news today.
His call late Friday to Bahrain’s King Hamad resulted in a pullback of governmental military and security forces which had brutally cracked down two days running on peaceful protesters.
The peace is holding in Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, despite the arrival today of an exiled opposition leader and a demonstration by over 100,000 anti-government protesters, over one-seventh the island nation’s population.
That may be the extent of his good news, though, as four American tourists on a continuing round-the-world voyage from Los Angeles were killed by Somali pirates off the coast of East Africa, major oil producer Libya is exploding in violence, Yemen’s pro-American leader is hanging on, and the highly complex situation in Pakistan just got a whole lot more complicated. Obama is also gauging the fall-out from the US veto late Friday of a UN Security Council resolution criticizing Israel for continuing settlements in hotly disputed former Palestinian territories.
Obama is monitoring the now tragic conclusion to the the hijacking of an American yacht, and kidnapping of four Americans, by Somali pirates in retaliation for the conviction of one of their colleagues last week in a New York court.
Scott and Jean Adams of Los Angeles were sailing their yacht, the Quest out of Marina del Rey, with Seattle’s Phyllis Macay and Robert Riggle when it was hijacked by Somali pirates. The vessel has been shadowed for the last few days by U.S. Navy vessels, with negotiations throughout.
It’s unclear what happened, but both couples were shot just prior to Navy Seals boarding the yacht. At least two of the American civilians were alive when forces arrived on board, but died of their wounds. Two pirates were already dead when the yacht was boarded, two were killed in the encounter, and 15 were captured.
There’s far worse violence in Libya, with hundreds reported dead in the uprising which has seen eastern cities fall away from the 42-year regime of Colonel Moammar Gaddafi. The one-time radical chic revolutionary figure, now an entrenched despot, made a long defiant speech today insisting that he will remain in power and that radical Islamists are behind the uprising against his regime.
Meanwhile, there have been multiple defections from the Libyan diplomatic corps, some defections from the armed forces, and some signs of incipient civil war. Most of the armed forces seem loyal to Gaddafi, and the air force has been used to attack several targets, including some civilians.
Libya is the first major oil producing nation to be wracked by the turmoil sweeping the Arab world. The North African nation is one of the leading suppliers to Europe.
Then there is Pakistan.
You recall the tense high-level stand-off there about the status of Raymond Davis, a seemingly junior level US consular staffer who shot two Pakistanis dead in Lahore. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top US officials have been demanding his release on grounds of diplomatic immunity. Pakistan has refused. And an AfPak summit in Washington set for this week was canceled.
Well, not surprisingly, it turns out that Davis is really a CIA contract agent. And that, following a lengthy stint as a Green Beret, he worked for a time for Blackwater, the notorious security firm which is particularly anathema in Pakistan.
What was he doing? The situation is still very cloudy, but the story now is that his job was to provide security for other CIA agents.
In addition, Obama is also monitoring geopolitical crises in Tunisia, Jordan, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, as well as the still unfolding Wikileaks crisis.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Sacramento today.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
He’s working on California’s chronic budget crisis and his nascent administration.
His plan received a boost Friday when budget committees in both the state Senate and Assembly approved his budget proposal, with a few changes.
Now the Legislature is set today to vote on the beginning of the budget conference committee on Wednesday.
Brown is still working on getting a few Republican votes to place tax extensions on a June special election ballot, something he wants to be able to do on or around March 10th.
He is also still dealing with local officials who support the continuing of the redevelopment agency pot of gold. They have a complex counter-proposal and will be presenting it to him this week.
Their problem, of course, as always, is that while financing shopping malls and stadiums is cool and arguably economically beneficial, it doesn’t compare to the provision of basic services.
** IS THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION STILL WAY BEHIND THE CURVE ON EGYPT? President Barack Obama’s comeback since the November elections has been very impressive professionally, if not always politically. What has not been at all impressive is how far behind the curve his administration has been on Egypt, a distressing development over the past few weeks that reached a nadir of sorts on Thursday with an epic level of confusion.
There are clear limits to American power. The failure of neoconservative adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan make that obvious. But there should not be many limits to American knowledge. Especially given the limits to American power. …
The real power games have only just begun. And, this administration — stunningly, given Obama’s choice of Cairo for his great address to the Muslim world in 2009 — has been behind the curve repeatedly throughout the crisis thus far. … From my February 11th essay.
** JERRY BROWN 2.0: HOW’S IT GOING? So how’s Jerry Brown 2.0 going? The new/renewed governor of California won a landslide victory over billionaire Meg Whitman 90 days ago, took over from Arnold Schwarzenegger four weeks ago, and has worked on laying out an austerity-with-revenues budget plan and slowly building his administration ever since.
It’s going, well, well enough. Well enough to begin to straighten out the state’s chronic budget crisis in the first half of this year? We’ll see. … From my January 31st feature.
** OBAMA AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE JFK INAUGURAL 50 YEARS ON. … From my January 22nd essay.
** THE JERRY BROWN ERA UNFOLDS (AGAIN). … From my January 11th feature.
** FROM GOVERNATOR TO MOONBEAM. … From my January 3rd feature.
** 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.
Composer David Arnold, best known for the last five James Bond film scores, was named over the weekend as the musical director for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Here in Madrid he conducts part of the score to Casino Royale.
** 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 is trading around $91 per barrel.
This is up about $57 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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