There was outrage today from human rights groups in Egypt and internationally after Thursday’s raids on NGOs in Cairo by Egyptian security forces.
** QUICK HITS. A chaotic day in the Republican presidential race. Mitt Romney and minions in media and elsewhere are again trying to create the impression that he’s got it locked up. (My experience is that’s a a mistake.) Newt Gingrich teared up today when he explained his interest in brain science as a consequence of his mother’s mind spiraling away with age, which Romney boosters mock as his “Hillary moment” (recall her crying as she was about to lose again in New Hampshire, which she then won). Ron Paul tried to ignore the mounting attacks on his apologies for Iran as the Strait of Hormuz crisis bubbles. Rick Santorum, who’s suddenly moved up in Iowa, did the smart thing of just campaigning energetically. Meanwhile, off in New Hampshire, the pro-Jon Huntsman super PAC is hitting longtime NH frontrunner Romney hard, saying it’s up to Granite Staters to “stop the chameleon.” … Governor Jerry Brown has raised $1.2 million for his proposed tax initiative for the November 2012 ballot. He also has millions left over from his 2010 landslide win over billionaire Meg Whitman’s biggest-spending non-presidential campaign in American history, but he may want to keep that in his re-election kitty.
** IOWA THEN AND NOW. The chaotic jumble of holding the Iowa presidential caucuses on January 3rd is now fully apparent. With rampant confusion about who will actually participate, and yoyo-ing swings in support — all playing out against a bizarre backdrop of the holidays, millions in disembodied attack ads, and Barack Obama pondering a US-Iran showdown in the Strait of Hormuz — the folly of the accelerated nomination calendar is clear.
It didn’t used to be this way.
When I was Senator Gary Hart’s political director for the first-in-the-nation contest, the Iowa presidential caucuses were held on February 20th, 1984. There was plenty of time for those who voted in the caucuses to consider the candidates and in a great many cases to actually meet them.
Unlike the situation this year, when most have campaigned from TV studios, barely deigning to sweep through Iowa behind carefully controlled facades, the candidates then spent ample time in the state, with voters able to get a measure of them.
Then there were campaign spending limits which were largely adhered to. I say “largely” because campaigns found ways to scrimp and save by renting cars across the state line, a minor dodge which seems quite quaint in today’s post-Citizens United decision milieu of anything goes spending.
And there were no shadowy “independent” campaign groups spending megabucks on TV ads which those in the know understand are actually very much part of the campaign, but fool most voters, such as the Mitt Romney super PAC “Restore Our Future”run by Romney’s aides from his first presidential campaign and funded by Romney backers at his old leveraged buyout firm Bain Capital.
Let’s just say things have not improved.
In January 1984, I was fortunate enough to be on hand for Steve Jobs’s first public unveiling of the Macintosh at Apple’s annual meeting in Silicon Valley, just four weeks before Iowa, as guest of Silicon Valley’s marketing/PR guru Regis McKenna, a big Hart backer with whom I later worked.
From there, I went to the airport and flew to Des Moines for the four-week stretch run of Hart’s Iowa campaign, coming on as political director, joining a state coordinator, Keith Glaser, who had moved over from a choice spot on the Senate staff when the Iowa campaign imploded a few months earlier to inherit what looked like a moribund booby prize. We were in fifth place. …
** NEW SURVEY: OF WELLBEING, AND NOT SO WELLBEING. As 2011 creeps toward its little lamented end, and thoughts turn to New Year’s resolutions, or not, a new Gallup Poll survey presents some interesting findings from the year almost just past with regard to how we view our own wellbeing in these Untied, er, United States.
There are a few good signs. For example, obesity has ebbed ever so slightly. Though that may be because too many can’t afford enough food. And young people have more health insurance, thanks to Obamacare. Not that they necessarily need it.
And there is the very interesting question of why obesity is at its lowest level in Colorado, and its highest in West Virginia.
Is it because the mountains are a lot higher in Colorado than in the Mountaineer State? And why is obesity so high in West Virginia? Are they clinging to their gods and gun there? I may have got that last bit a bit wrong …
“1. Lengthy, cumbersome job searches lower wellbeing: The longer Americans are unemployed, the more job applications they fill out, and the more job interviews they go on, the worse their wellbeing becomes. Unemployed Americans who have been out of work for 11 weeks or more are significantly less likely to be thriving and more likely to experiences worry, stress, sadness, and anger.
2. Americans’ weight problem subsides slightly: For the first time in more than three years, more Americans are a normal weight than are overweight, according to Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index data from the third quarter of 2011. The obesity rate also decreased in 2011, but just slightly.
3. More young adults get health insurance: The percentage of Americans aged 18 to 25 who were uninsured declined in 2011, coincident with the implementation of the provision in the new healthcare law that allows adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26.
4. Colorado still the skinniest state: Residents of Colorado are the least likely in the nation to be obese, as they have been in past years. The obesity rate in that state is 20.1%, which stands in stark contrast to the 34.3% in West Virginia, the highest in the country.
5. Fewer Americans can afford food: The percentage of Americans reporting that they have enough money to buy the food they or their families declined in 2011, nearing a level not seen since the 2008 financial crisis.
6. Employer-based health insurance on the decline: Fewer Americans are getting their health insurance from an employer, with the percentage falling to 44.5% in third quarter of 2011, down from 49.8% in the first quarter of 2008.
7. “Suffering” in the United States holds steady: Four percent of Americans rate their lives poorly enough to be considered “suffering” — this figure has remained essentially the same for the past two years. Low-income Americans continue to be much more likely than those who are better off to be suffering.
8. Many Americans act as caregivers: More than one in six American workers also provide care to an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend. Middle-aged, black, and Hispanic Americans are among the most likely to be caregivers.
9. Unhealthy workers carry $153 billion price tag: American workers who are overweight or obese and have other health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work annually compared with those who are healthy. This results in a cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity per year.
10. Bad job more harmful to wellbeing than no job: Workers who are “actively disengaged” — meaning they are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace — rate their lives worse than even those who are unemployed. Forty-two percent of actively disengaged workers are thriving in their lives, compared with 48% of those who are unemployed.”
The Republican presidential candidates are at last fully engaged across Iowa.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Hawaii.
He has received the daily intelligence and economic briefings in Kailua, where he is staying with his family.
Obama has no scheduled public events.
Obama is vacationing in his home state with First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha through January 1st.
Four polls of the Iowa Republican caucuses in the last few days have different results.
NBC News has Mitt Romney narrowly ahead of Ron Paul, 23-21, with a three-way scrum for third between Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich, at 15%, 14%, and 13%.
Another, from Insider Advantage, which was pretty on the money last time, has a three-way tie between Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul, all at 17%.
In contrast, a poll by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic outfit, has Paul ahead of Romney, with Gingrich third, while a Time/CNN poll has Romney ahead of Paul.
Because of the timing, and how difficult it is to poll Iowa, not to mention the race’s unusual twists, I’m leery of all polls till the end of the week.
Ron Paul, speaking yesterday in Iowa, called economic sanctions against Iran for its nuclear weapons program “horrendous.”
And top Iowa Republicans are denouncing Paul himself as a horrendous choice, with Senator Chuck Grassley and hard right Congressman Steve King weighing in heavily this morning.
I think it’s clear, as I wrote last week, that Gingrich has slid in the Hawkeye State after many millions in attack ads and his own tardy responses. Paul has his core following, expanded some by anti-war folks flirting with someone whose actual politics are very archaic. And Romney has his consistent quarter of the vote.
Iowa is a difficult contest to poll properly, and it’s usually badly done by out of state outfits. The gold standard is the Des Moines Register poll, and we won’t have that until Saturday evening.
Iranian saber rattling about closing the Strait of Hormuz is continuing on state television, and Iranian air and naval forces continue their exercises in and around the vital choke point for the world’s oil supply.
Despite all the threatening activity, and the obvious threat that Iran poses, oil markets are mostly stable, as you can see from the Energy Market Watch below.
But those markets are based on conventional wisdom as much as insight, and can be stampeded in an instant by decisions made elsewhere.
Egypt’s interim ruling military council late yesterday raided pro-democracy NGOs across the country, including three US-based groups — the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House.
In all, 17 groups were stormed by security forces which seized computers, phones, documents, money and detained staffers.
The Iranian navy continued its 10-day drill on Friday in international waters near the strategic oil route that passes through the Strait of Hormuz.
Their claim is that foreign groups are behind the ongoing protests against the continued military rule which followed the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last February.
31 groups which have not yet been raided today said that the raids are an effort to hamstring and discredit the opposition movement. The brazen crackdown on these groups, a few of which are funded by the Obama Administration, comes in the wake of bloody repression of demonstrators in the famed Tahrir Square and elsewhere.
The US-based groups are actually officially accredited by Egypt as monitors of its elections, the next phase of which takes place next week.
Islamist parties have won about 65% of the vote so far.
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.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
As expected here, the state Supreme Court yesterday validated Brown’s plan to redirect most of the tax revenue from redevelopment agencies to basic services.
For his part, Brown is working on his 2012 fiscal, political, and rhetorical plans.
The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the right-wing challenge to the state’s Citizens Redistricting Commission maps for the state Senate on January 10th.
That’s the same day on which Brown unveils his new state budget proposal.
** IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD CAST IN THE GOP’S RACE TO CASA BLANCA. The Republican presidential race was a reality TV show. But now that the primaries and caucuses are coming right up, it’s a road picture. Here’s how each candidate, a distinct type, is doing right now.
The Legend in His Own Mind
There aren’t many historical figures that the ostentatiously intellectual Dr. Newton Leroy Gingrich hasn’t compared himself with lately, and always quite favorably. He even declared himself the nominee.
But he should have paid a little more attention to sports than that National Merit Scholarship, especially in a process that doesn’t value intellectual capability all that highly. Because there really aren’t many games that are over before half-time. … From my December 24th essay.
** KEYSTONE PIPELINE: SMALL PART OF A VERY BIG PICTURE. In the chaos that passes for governance in Washington, the Keystone XL pipeline project looms as a seemingly supreme issue. But it is not. To view it as such is to miss the overall, something our media excels at. … From my December 21st essay.
** NEWTONIAN MOTION: THE BIG TALK CAMPAIGN. … From my December 17th column.
** JERRY BROWN PULLS A TRIGGER, INVOKES ROME, AND FOCUSES ON CLIMATE AND INITIATIVES. … From my December 14th feature.
** TOP DOG IN THE BIG DES MOINES DOGPILE? IT’S NEWT! … From my December 11th column.
** NEWTONIAN MOTION: ACTION BEGETS FLAWED REACTION. … From my December 10th column.
** NEWTONIAN MOTION: IN IOWA, A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN FOUR WEEKS. … From my December 6th column.
** JERRY BROWN AND THE 2012 INITIATIVE WARS. … From my December 3rd feature.
** ALTERNEWT: GINGRICH “ALTERNATE HISTORY” NOVELS REVEAL MUCH ON PRESENT POLITICS. … From my December 1st essay.
** A SUBLIME AND RIDICULOUS DAY: MARS MISSION AND AFPAK DEBACLE. … From my November 28th 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.
** 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 $100 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $66 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 about $14 from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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