Despite serious tensions, unprecedented numbers showed up to cast their ballots in Egypt, many for the first time.
** QUICK HITS. After more than two days, there is an emerging US storyline around the air strikes on two Pakistani border outposts which killed some 25 Pakistani troops early Saturday. It’s all a case of mistaken identity by US forces, who thought the Pakistani Army outposts were Taliban emplacements. Pakistani officials preempted this explanation over the weekend, saying their outposts on the border with Afghanistan clearly display their national flag. Meanwhile, China is seizing the opportunity to side with Pakistan, as you might suppose. … LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s strategy of benign attrition in dealing with the Occupy LA camp outside LA City Hall seems to be kicking in. With his midnight deadline well in the rear view mirror, the campers are fading away. But some will remain to be arrested, whenever that determination is made. … At last, a California Republican is running against U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein next year. Someone named Elizabeth Emken, an autism activist who made an unsuccessful run for a GOP congressional nomination last year. I’ve never heard of her, either. … The University of California Board of Regents’ bid to dilute protests by holding a teleconferenced meeting from four locations appears to have been largely successful. Let it not be said that California is no longer a leader in innovation.
** A SUBLIME AND RIDICULOUS DAY: MARS MISSION AND AFPAK DEBACLE. This Thanksgiving weekend saw the greatness of America and the failings of America both on dramatic display. On Saturday we simultaneously reached for the heavens and got further stuck in the mud.
First, very early in the day in the nebulous Afghan-Pakistan border region, NATO air strikes hit two Pakistani Army outposts, creating a severe crisis in the ill-fated Afghan War. Later on, halfway round the world on a bright Florida morning, the most ambitious mission yet to explore another planet lifted off on a nine-month flight to Mars. …
Two major events, both quite possibly historic, on the same day. Which direction will be the more powerful? …
** NEW SURVEY: AS EGYPTIANS VOTE, MOST OPPOSE ONGOING PROTESTS BUT AGREE WITH MUCH OF THEIR SUBSTANCE. Turnout in today’s parliamentary elections in Egypt is high. Of course, it’s against the law not to vote there, so make of that what you will. (Egypt’s compulsory voting law is little enforced.)
Perhaps the better point is that there has been little disruption so far in this epicenter of the Arab Spring, with many polling places remaining open past their closing times due to long lines. And some delays in opening in the first place.
The liberal reformers who spurred much of the protest that so dramatically brought down Hosni Mubarak in February — and ushered in a “temporary” ruling military council — may end up squeezed between the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and a variety of other Islamist and old guard parties on the other.
A new Gallup Poll survey indicates that most Egyptians grasp this, and sympathize with many of the goals of the renewed protests in Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the country.
But they probably think that the continued protests are bad for the country.
I say probably, because the Gallup numbers are at least two months old. And polling in Egypt is not the simplest thing to do in the first place.
In case you didn’t think that we’re feeling our way forward in a darkened room when it comes to the new dynamics of the Arab world.
The recent resurgence of protests in Egypt leading up to Monday’s elections is likely not something most Egyptians want to see, even though they may share overall frustrations with the pace of change in their country. In September, 84% of Egyptians said continued protests were a bad thing for the country, echoing the clear majority sentiment Gallup has measured since June. …
The high level of negativity toward continued protests contrasts the high level of support for the initial protests in January that led to the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. In September, 75% of Egyptians said they supported protesters who called for Mubarak’s resignation, down slightly from 83% who said so in March, but still a significant majority. …
While Egyptians did not see the benefit of continued protests when polled in September, they still wanted Mubarak held accountable for corruption despite the current focus on the Tahrir protesters and their rejection of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Seventy-five percent of Egyptians believed Mubarak should be put on trial for corruption, compared with 81% in August and 76% in June. …
Until the most recent wave of violence between security forces and protesters in Tahrir, Egyptians saw a path to stability for the country. Initial accounts suggest a sizable turnout for parliamentary elections currently underway, which the vast majority of Egyptians expected to be fair and honest. Yet despite passion at the ballot box, fewer Egyptians see their lives as improving in post-Mubarak Egypt. Egyptians still face many challenges such as education, jobs, the cost of food, and others as they chart a course for progress. With the failure of the first interim government and the future of a newly appointed one unclear, many are watching as events unfold.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is the first international monetary think-tank to declare the Eurozone has already tipped into recession.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … ALTERNEWT.
MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK.
A very big week in presidential politics on tap, and a developmental week in California politics.
Just over five weeks remain until the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, and the Hawkeye State is up for grabs, as is the nomination. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich leads in most national polls over long putative frontrunner Mitt Romney, who never moves beyond a fifth to a quarter of the vote and has been caught and passed by a few other flavors of the week/month.
What’s clear is that, no matter how much the established media and political communities want to call Romney an unassailable frontrunner — despite his numbers being far lower than those of real dominant frontrunners of the past, such as Hillary Clinton and Walter Mondale — most of the party is looking for someone else. At times, anyone else, be it Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, or Herman Cain, each of whom was lacking intellectual plausibility.
Gingrich is different. Unlike the others, he was well known from the start, having led the Republicans to victory in the 1990s, and then to disaster. He’s melted down in this race, and slowly built back up.
Unlike the other top contenders — and sadly I can’t include Jon Huntsman in this, as his brand of moderate conservatism has found no traction in a radicalized Obama Era party — Gingrich sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. In fact, he frequently does, whether one agrees with his conclusions or not. At the turn of the millennium, he was a useful member of the Clinton-created U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, a comprehensive review of geostrategy and national security co-chaired by my old friend and boss former Senator Gary Hart, which warned of major terrorist attacks inside the US.
Not that Gingrich has the infrastructure that Romney has. But Romney is less well-funded this time than he was last time, and much of what is done in politics is irrelevant or at least not determinative, despite what the consultant/vendors say. The trick is knowing what is critical.
It will be a fascinating five weeks.
Gingrich on Sunday won the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union-Leader, formerly Manchester Union-Leader, the state’s biggest newspaper and a longtime bellwether of conservative politics.
This is a blow to neighbor Mitt Romney, who has courted the paper assiduously both this time and in 2008, when he lost the endorsement to John McCain, who went on to win the primary. New Hampshire has always been the bulwark of Romney’s candidacy. If he loses there, or is even seriously challenged, his remaining aura of frontrunnership goes into eclipse.
Unlike most newspapers, the Union-Leader, as the saying goes, endorses every day, turning its pages into a campaign.
The Union-Leader endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980, Pete du Pont in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, Steve Forbes in 2000 and John McCain 2008. (Years not mentioned featured incumbent Republican presidents.) All those candidates either won the New Hampshire Republican primary or finished a strong second.
Meanwhile, Obama is moving forward, already working to define Romney around his fundamental problem, that of perpetual flip-floppery, and his glaring problem, that of being a leveraged buyout artist seeking to win the presidency in a bad environment for mega-rich money maven candidates.
He also has some big issues to deal with which are far more consequential than the usual ping-pong that gets so much attention.
For one, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a leading European institution, says that the Eurozone is already in recession. A mild recession, but recession nonetheless. One which could become far worse, and with global implications, with any more financial missteps.
That’s a big reason why Obama is holding a mini-summit today at the White House with European Union leaders. And a major reason he’s pushing the Senate this week to pass an extension of the payroll tax cut to keep our tenuous recovery going.
For another, he has major ongoing geopolitical crises to try to manage.
A huge AfPak crisis emerged over the weekend, Syria is in increasing chaos, and Egypt is holding parliamentary elections today after more than a week of big protests over the supposedly interim ruling military council’s grip on the country.
Also this week the UN global climate change summit kicks off for two weeks in Durban, South Africa. Not much progress is expected there, despite ample signs of increasing climate change and extreme weather events, not to mention ominously melting ice packs. But something will get cobbled together to at least keep the Kyoto process alive until more steps are taken in a wiser political moment.
Obama is dealing with the very intense fall-out to the attack by NATO forces on two Pakistani border outposts along the northwest border with Afghanistan early Saturday morning.
Some 25 Pakistani troops were killed in the incident and more than two days later, still no clear explanation has been offered.
Late on Saturday night, the State Department and the Department of Defense put out this joint statement which notably provided neither explanation nor justification.
This is an event that is a full-fledged AfPak disaster.
First, Pakistan halted all transport of supplies and fuel for US and NATO forces moving through its territory. As much as half of the materiel for the landlocked Afghan War flows through Pakistan.
Then, later on Saturday, Pakistan ordered the US out of Shamsi Air Base in Baluchistan. This is where much of the US drone strike operation is serviced and coordinated.
While US and NATO forces have ample supplies for now, if the breach continues things could become problematic. After earlier stoppages of shipments through Pakistan (through which 80% of supplies once passed), the US prevailed upon Russia to open up Central Asian lines of supply.
But US relations with Russia have taken a frosty turn, with Moscow very upset about heightened moves to create a missile shield, ostensibly to guard against Iran, but not to include Russia as a partner.
Egypt is holding parliamentary elections today. Things have quieted there since the lethal tumult of last week. But no one really knows what will happen. The ballot is said to be confusing for money, and the reformers who started the anti-Mubarak revolution are less organized electorally than the Muslim Brotherhood.
The ruling military council appointed a Mubarak regime retread as the new prime minister following the resignation of the entire cabinet, and earlier apologized for the deaths of 40 demonstrators, but vowed to make no more concessions after agreeing to move up the presidential election from 2013 to the middle of next year.
The Arab League voted overwhelmingly over the weekend for sanctions against Syria. The vote was 19 to 1, with Iraq and Lebanon, both influenced by Syrian ally Iran, abstaining. Iraq, of course, went against US policy on this.
Syria was a key founder of the Arab League, which has now struck at the one-time capital of pan-Arab sentiment Damascus with sanctions including an end to transactions with Syria’s central bank, an end to new investments, a freeze on assets, and a travel ban on Syrian officials.
The Obama Administration eschews military intervention, unlike the case with Libya. But France and Turkey are talking about establishing “humanitarian corridors” with military power.
Here’s what Obama’s week looks like.
On Monday, Obama will welcome the leaders of the European Union to a summit at the White House. On Tuesday, he will host will host Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, America’s ninth largest export market and third largest source of foreign direct investment.
On Wednesday, Obama is back on the road to a key swing state. He will travel to Scranton, Pennsylvania where he will deliver remarks urging Congress to act to extend and expand the payroll tax cut. That evening, Obama will travel to New York City for fundraisers. On Thursday, the Obama family will attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse. And on Friday, Obama will host the White House Tribal Nations Conference at the Department of the Interior and deliver remarks.
Back in the not so Golden State, Governor Jerry Brown is back from his vacation in the proverbial undisclosed location.
The stealthy governor has chronic state budget woes to deal with, including the looming prospect of triggered budget cuts, the public pension reform issue, a climate change conference in mid-December to prep for, and 2012 initiatives to sort out.
In that regard, last week’s long awaited and much touted Think Long Committee reform proposal, fatally flawed by what turns out to be its centerpiece, a tax plan featuring the lowering of tax rates for the wealthy and large corporations — never a clever idea for an election campaign, and especially not in this environment — could be problematic for Brown and Democrats.
Not because it’s not denounced by the Republican Party as a $10 billion tax hike on most Californians through expanding sales taxes to services, which it is, but by indirection.
Its most important practical political effect could be to fuzz up the tax issue for other initiatives contemplated by Brown and others, making it impossible to pass anything.
Brown still has had nothing to say about the controversial Occupy protests, and the at times still more controversial police over-reaction to them.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa late on Friday gave Occupy LA protesters until just after midnight on Monday morning to withdraw from the encampment outside LA City Hall. But the deadline has come and gone and many are still there.
Villaraigosa praised the Occupy Wall Street movement for rekindling a sense of social justice and focusing on wealth inequality and problems with the financial system, but said the encampment is in danger of killing the trees and grass of the City Hall grounds, and of concentrating on a piece of ground in a place which has nothing to do with Wall Street.
In San Francisco, Occupy protesters tried to disrupt the annual Christmas Tree lighting in the city’s iconic Union Square, loudly criticizing Black Friday shoppers for consuming and briefly causing a huge traffic tie-up — in an already highly congested scene — by “occupying” a key intersection before being arrested.
Can you say “Counter-productive?”
More protests are on tap this week, as the LA scenario plays out, what’s left of Occupy Oakland looks at re-taking the City Hall plaza, and the University of California Board of Regents, which canceled its meeting the week before last, citing supposedly likely disruptive protest, regroups by teleconference from four separate UC locations.
How will students react to this, and to the ongoing fall-out from the brutal pepper spray incident at the otherwise mellow UC Davis?
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
Obama has received the daily intelligence and economic briefing in the Oval Office.
At 8:45 AM Pacific, Obama hosts a summit meeting with the leaders of the European Union in the Roosevelt Room.
At 9:30 AM Pacific, Obama hosts an EU summit lunch in the Cabinet Room.
At 10:40 AM Pacific, Obama, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso deliver statements in the Roosevelt Room.
Obama is monitoring a variety of other geopolitical crises, mostly related to the Arab awakening, AfPak, and Iraq.
War Zone Times: Iraq is eleven hours ahead of Pacific time, and Afghanistan is twelve and a half hours ahead of Pacific time.
Many Occupy LA demonstrators remained at the encampment outside Los Angeles City Hall, hours past Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s midnight deadline to evacuate.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
Brown and First Lady/Special Counsel Anne Gust Brown have returned from an out of state vacation in an undisclosed location.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
** SOUND AND FURY: THE UTTERLY UNSURPRISING “SUPER-COMMITTEE” FLOP.
“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Macbeth – Act V, Scene V
** DARWINIAN: OBAMA GOES POST-IRAQ IN OZ, REPUBLICANS RACE TO THE PAST. Things are getting very Darwinian in presidential politics. It’s a matter of competition, a matter of evolution — as in who gets the future and who does not — and a matter of the little city of Darwin, Australia. Ironic, in that most of the Republican presidential field rejects Darwin’s evolution science. …
Obama is rolling out the major beginnings of a post-Iraq geopolitical posture for the US and a revamped political, economic, and security architecture in the Pacific Basin, in large part to counter the rise of China. Which has been undercutting US industries and making new aggressive moves over the past year in the South China Sea — most of which it claims, to the consternation of its neighboring countries — and some threatening moves, as always, towards Taiwan. …
Obama recognizes that the distinction between local and global politics is becoming evanescent. … As for the rest of Obama’s strategy in what he calls the Asia Pacific, much of it hinges on Darwin, Australia.
This lovely tropical city of 125,000 at the northern edge of Oz, which I’ve visited, is about to loom very large on America’s geopolitical map. Though the numbers are small — only a company of Marines at first, ultimately a brigade — Obama has decided to flow US military forces in such a way that the Australian base there will become a de facto joint base with the United States. … From my November 21st essay.
** ALI, FRAZIER, JACKSON, STALLONE: OF IMAGE, RACE, POLITICS, AND MYTH. … From my November 16th essay.
** VETERANS DAY IN A FRACTURED AMERICA. … From my November 12th essay.
** RECALLING JOE FRAZIER: AN APPRECIATION, AND A NOTE OF HORROR. … From my November 10th essay.
** OCUPADO. … From my November 4th essay.
** HIGH-SPEED RAIL: JERRY BROWN’S BIG MOVE TO THE FUTURE. … From my November 2nd essay.
** “OUT OF CONTEXT”: HILLARY’S P.R. OFFENSIVE. … From my October 29th column.
** STEVE JOBS: HARDLY A PERFECT PERSON, PERHAPS A PERFECT ICON. … From my October 26th essay.
** FROM GOVERNATOR TO MOONBEAM. … From my January 3rd, 2011 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.
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity is continuing on its way to its rendezvous next summer with the Red Planet following Saturday’s successful launch. The Mars mission, like all unmanned deep space explorations, is run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in three wars in the region, and the Arab awakening underway, 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.
** 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.
** 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 $98 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $64 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity, and down $16 from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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