More attacks on Monday in Afghanistan in the ongoing wave of anti-American protest, including a bombing at the airport in Jalalabad that killed nine people.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE: IRAN, ISRAEL, AFGHANISTAN.
MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK.
A huge week on tap in presidential politics, with much of the action for President Barack Obama occurring off-stage and overseas even as the Republican presidential race holds primaries tomorrow in Michigan and Arizona. And another intriguing week in California politics, as Governor Jerry Brown wraps up a big trip to Washington and continues working on the November initiatives, his high-speed rail revamp, and the chronic state budget crisis.
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum continue battling before Tuesday primaries in the Romney strongholds of Michigan, Romney’s home state, where his father was a popular governor and car company CEO, and Arizona, where Romney has a built-in advantage with a large Mormon vote. Romney appears to have a sizeable lead again in Arizona, but his lead in the latest polls in Michigan is more like a statistical tie. These states were viewed as slam dunks for Romney only a few weeks ago, so any wins tomorrow will do nothing more for him than stanch the intense bleeding.
As the Republican presidential field staggers forward, major geopolitical crises are unfolding.
The weekend brought stunning news from Afghanistan, where two relatively high-ranking US officers, a colonel and a major, were murdered early Saturday in a highly secure area of the Afghan Interior Ministry headquarters in Kabul. The Taliban have claimed credit for the killings, apparently carried out by a young Afghan intelligence officer.
Just hours later, Marine General John Allen, with whom I’m acquainted from many years ago, ordered the end of all regular US/NATO advisory missions inside Afghan ministries.
This was just more bad news from Afghanistan, during yet another day of widespread demonstrations against America across the country in which several more people were killed.
Obama has apologized after Afghan employees at the big Bagram Air Base discovered that Korans and other Islamic religious material were being burned by US military personnel on Monday. The Afghan Parliament moved Wednesday to require that any US personnel involved in the debacle be turned over for trial by sharia law. Failure to comply would lead to the US being denied access to the country after 2014.
More than 40 people have been killed so far, with four of them Americans.
As Afghanistan moves toward the boiling point for the US and NATO presence there, the looming crisis with Iran and Israel has ratcheted up further.
First came word from the UN’s nuclear watchdog that Iran has accelerated nuclear enrichment efforts beyond those needed for their expressed civilian purposes. Then came another warning from Iran’s defense minister against any Israeli military strike against the Iranian nuclear program. Israel, he declared, would not survive a war.
Iran, which last week refused to allow UN inspectors access, bringing their visit to a quick halt, appears to be pushing forward to expand nuclear enrichment activity deep inside another mountain fastness.
This comes after the UN nuclear watchdog’s visit to Iran ended ahead of schedule on Tuesday when Tehran refused to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors any access to key nuclear facilities.
Meanwhile, some 70 mostly Western and Arab nations met Friday in Tunis, capital of Tunisia, where the Friends of Syria demanded an immediate ceasefire by the Assad regime and the granting of access for the provision of humanitarian relief to besieged portions of the country.
Speaking at the Friends of Syria gathering, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton blasted Russia and China as “despicable” for opposing U.N. Security Council action on Syria.
Gulf Arab states are pushing for more, namely for direct intervention in Syria. Qatar wants an Arab force sent into the country to bring order. Saudi Arabia, which showily walked out of the conference, its reps claiming the contact group isn’t aggressive enough, wants to arm the Syrian opposition.
On Sunday, Syria actually held an election, lightly-attended naturally, in which the Assad regime’s reform plan passed. Not surprisingly. But it’s an afterthought which does nothing to change the dynamic there, and gives precious little for Assad regime apologists like Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba to hang their hats on. Indeed, Chinese officials, mindful of the pasting the PRC is receiving in international circles, have been in Damascus urging a slowdown of the violence.
Back in California politics, the dynamics are far less dramatic, but remain intriguing.
Conservative Republicans on Friday barely qualified a November referendum to do away with the bipartisan Citizens Redistricting Commission’s new maps for state Senate districts. The effort, which cost the state Republican Party more than $2 million which it does not otherwise have, made it to the ballot with fewer than 7000 signatures to spare.
Will the party now spend the many millions more it would take to try to win the election? Or will it accede to the obvious, that it has no hope as a sour grapes effort, especially in light of its failure before to get the state Supreme Court to draw new lines even if the referendum qualified?
I expect the latter, because there is simply no money. Indeed, state Senate Republican sources say their money will go to try to defend their districts and try to win one or two swing districts, rather than pursue the referendum.
Meanwhile, the California Republican Party held the first of its two annual conventions this weekend near the San Francisco Airport in Burlingame, a thoroughly desultory affair which I discussed on last Friday and earlier in the week. Very little of any substance occurred there, and nothing of particular interest.
The party has no significant candidate to run against U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein this year, and no serious contender to take on Governor Jerry Brown in 2014 was on hand or indeed is on the horizon. Some ultra-rich person might be tempted, of course, but they need look only at billionaire Meg Whitman’s landslide loss little more than a year ago, when the Romney protege broke all spending records for a non-presidential campaign in American history.
For his part, Brown is wrapping up a big trip to Washington, the first of his governorship. Well, this particular governorship. He appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday and continues to meet with a host of major officials, while also continuing work on his November revenue initiative, high-speed rail, and other top priorities. We won’t know for a while what Brown has gotten from his meetings, which are being very closely held.
Though one thing is clear already.
Brown had lunch on Friday with People’s Republic of China Ambassador to the U.S. Zhang Yesui. Following that, he met with State Department officials. Brown, who hosted Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping for two days the week before last and announced new California trade offices in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as a California/China task force, not surprisingly plans a China trip later this year.
Prior to that, on Thursday night, Brown appeared at a fundraiser for his revenue initiative hosted by lobbyists Tony Podesta, former Clinton White House chief of staff, and an old colleague of mine from Gary Hart for President days, Mike Stratton.
On yesterday’s edition of Meet the Press, Brown appeared opposite Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who announced her endorsement of Romney in tomorrow’s primary and continued bashing Obama, who was vigorously defended by Brown. Brown decried the drift to war with Iran and noted how his blend of pragmatic (budget-cutting) and visionary (high-speed rail, renewable energy, etc.) programs, which confounds some, is actually the same thing in a dynamic environment.
Later, hours before he and First Lady/Special Counsel Anne Gust Brown went to dinner at the White House, Brown got into a bit of a hassle with a decidedly clueless Washington Times reporter, who falsely claimed that Ronald Reagan followed Brown as governor (it’s the reverse, of course), that Brown was defeated for re-election (he won by 20 points in a landslide even bigger than his pasting of Meg Whitman), and that California has a worsening budget crisis under Brown and is going bankrupt (actually, well, you know). Brown and members of his small traveling party disputed this in lively fashion, with Brown asking if the reporter is “a Moonie.” (The paper, which is quite right-wing and low-quality, is owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.)
Is it a good thing, in such a situation, to get into it at all with an ignorant ideologue? It’s not my flavor of ice cream, but it doesn’t matter much.
Brown received good news at the end of last week in the form of the latest Field Poll, which shows that his initiative is favored by nearly 60% of California voters. The potential rival “Millionaires Tax” initiative, is also around the 60% mark, doing marginally better than Brown’s at first blush.
But the latter, of course, is far more likely to draw heavily funded opposition, and the coalition of a few smaller unions and left-wing groups probably lacks the resources for a hotly contested campaign.
Not lacking in resources is the proponent of of a third tax hike measure, heiress Molly Munger, whose billionaire father is Warren Buffett’s business partner. But she does seem to be lacking in political sense.
As I’ve been saying and writing all along, Munger’s measure, which would raise income taxes on most everyone in the state while raising money for education, does not fare well in polling. In fact, the Field Poll shows its starting out losing, with a plurality of voters in opposition.
This is simply Politics 101. You don’t start out a tax hike campaign in a losing position in California and end up winning. But, of course, extremely rich people sometimes imagine that they are immune to how things actually work.
In fact, she hasn’t taken the hint at all. She’s told her operatives to start gathering signatures. People seldom get paid much, if anything, to tell the wayward super-rich in politics to save their money.
But at a certain point, the light will dawn.
Incidentally, here is what Obama’s week looks like. As usual, it leaves plenty of room for crisis monitoring and management. And as usual, it reflects hardly at all what is going on behind the scenes with regard to those crises.
On Monday, Obama and Biden host a meeting with the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room. On Tuesday, Obama delivers remarks at the United Auto Workers conference in Washington.
On Wednesday, Obama and the first lady will host a dinner at the White House to honor Armed Forces personnel who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn and to honor their families. This dinner will include hopefully representative men and women in uniform from all ranks, services, states and backgrounds.
On Thursday, Obama will travel to Nashua, New Hampshire, and deliver remarks on the economy. In the evening, Obama will attend fundraisers in New York City. And on Friday, Obama will travel to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, to visit with wounded veterans of the Afghan War and the Iraq War.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday morning that the US is “fully committed” to its strategy in Afghanistan, despite a week of protests over the burning of Qurans at Bagram Air Base and the murder of senior US officers inside the highly secure Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
He has received the daily intelligence and economic briefings and met with senior advisors in the Oval Office.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden then hosted a meeting with the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room.
At 12:15 PM Pacific, Obama and Biden meet with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in the Oval Office.
At 1:30 PM Pacific, Obama attends a fundraiser at The Jefferson Hotel.
Obama is monitoring multiple geopolitical crises having to do with the Arab Awakening, AfPak, Iran and Israel, and Iraq.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Arabian Gulf 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 Washington.
Brown attends the National Governors Association closing session, then takes part in a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.
Following that, Brown meets with the California Congressional delegation and holds some talks with labor leaders.
** DEBATING IN DISARRAY: SEARCHING FOR SOME CLARITY IN THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL MESS. If Wednesday night was the last Republican presidential debate, it sure was another missed opportunity. And a great example of the deep disarray afflicting the Republican field at this stage of the race.
What do we know, in this period after the last debate and before Tuesday’s must-win primaries for Mitt Romney? … From my February 24th essay.
** OBAMA’S CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH: ECLIPSING THE EMPIRE STATE. In the latest dramatic sign that California has supplanted New York at the premiere locale for Barack Obama’s fundraising, the Democratic president raised, according to sources, close to $8.5 million here last week on his two-day swing through the state. Even before this, it was clear that California was well ahead of New York in Obama’s fundraising operation. … From my February 21st essay.
** DRIFTING TO WAR WITH IRAN: BEWARE THE HYSTERIA. … From my February 16th essay.
** RICKROLLED: ROMNEY WILL BE “INEVITABLE” AGAIN WHEN … … From my February 9th essay.
** NEWTONIAN MOTION, THE BIG NEVADA BUST, THE ROAD AHEAD (AND THE RISE OF RICK?). … From my February 7th essay.
** ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT SILVER: HOW NEVADA AND THE WEST GOT SHORT-CHANGED. … From my February 3rd column.
** WHAT LIGHT FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE? What light has been shed by the Florida Republican presidential primary? It’s not easy to see how Newt Gingrich wins. And it’s not hard to see how Mitt Romney falls. … From my February 2nd column.
** REPUBLICANS LOSE BIG ON REDISTRICTING GAMBLE, BROWN MOVES FORWARD. … From my January 30th essay.
** NEWTONIAN MOTION: WILL GINGRICH BLOW IT (AGAIN)? … From my January 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.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in several major military operations 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 $109 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $75 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 $5 from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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