The White House says President Barack Obama has called a Georgetown law student whose stand on contraception coverage prompted Rush Limbaugh to deride her as a “slut” on his radio talk show.
It’s the Friday before. The Friday before Saturday’s Washington Republican presidential caucuses, the Friday before the Super Tuesday primary, the Friday before, perhaps most importantly, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu hits the States. Not to mention the Friday before the Russian presidential election, in which Vladimir Putin seems set, despite growing dissatisfaction, to return to the presidency, and the time in which we learn the latest Iranian election results.
The Republican results over the next several days may be as spread out as the contests themselves, with Mitt Romney trying to reassert his frontrunner status after barely winning his home state Michigan primary on Tuesday and Rick Santorum showing strength in the Midwest and Newt Gingrich in the South. Santorum hopes to notch another win in Washington state going into Super Tuesday, but Romney has regained momentum there, where he is benefited by a large Mormon vote.
And Romney, who has survived by virtue of massive spending, dwarfing that of his rivals, is now working hard to replenish his warchest, which he’s drawn down rather dangerously.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama did an interview with the Atlantic in advance of Netanyahu’s visit, which will dominate much of the next week, seeking to define his position with regard to the Iran crisis. Israel is pushing hard to create an environment supportive of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Obama is pushing back against that, not taking the military option off the table but arguing that sanctions are taking a big bite out of Tehran now and need more time to work.
I discuss the crisis in depth in the “Thinking the Unthinkable” piece linked below.
Iran’s elections show much less sign of the reformers we saw a few years ago, with the leaders of the opposition Green movement under house arrest and the peaceful revolution that so many Western liberals imagined was happening effectively squelched by the theocratic regime that rules from Tehran. But unrest is growing again.
Things continue to be dangerously unsettled in Afghanistan as well, a day after two more American soldiers were murdered by Afghan colleagues. The killer of the two relatively high-ranking officers shot to death on Saturday inside the high-security Afghan Interior Ministry headquarters in Kabul remains at large.
But these problems are not affecting Obama’s standing. At least, not so far.
New polling shows Obama in a relatively good position in swing states vis a vis his Republican opponents.
He’s helped, of course, by the antics of the far right and its tremendous influence on the Republican presidential field. As we’re seeing again with Romney scrambling to contain the damage from his statement Wednesday that he opposed the narrowly defeated Senate bill to allow health plans to cut contraception coverage on religious or “moral” grounds. A few hours later, the Romney campaign announced that Romney had been confused by the question and of course supports the bill. But that is a tough sale as anything but his latest flip-flop.
Yet Romney and the rest are doing the kow-tow to extremist elements, including talk radio yakker Rush Limbaugh who may finally have gone too far with his viciously ranting attacks on a young Georgetown law student advocating that contraception be required in health plans.
Compared to presidential politics, at least at present, California politics is relatively placid, though it has many complications.
One of the bigger ones for Governor Jerry Brown may have come yesterday when death penalty opponents turned in some 800,000 signatures in their drive to qualify an initiative for the November ballot.
Brown has long personally opposed the death penalty. But he is trying to focus attention in November on his revenue initiative.
I suspect he’ll continue that focus. Though there are no doubt many who want to distract him.
** JERRY BROWN MAKES SOME SPLASHY MOVES. Governor Jerry Brown is in the midst of a series of moves to raise his public profile and set up much of his operations for the rest of this year and beyond. It’s a big change from most of last year, when he focused largely on inside baseball moves to manage California’s chronic budget crisis.
After spending two days hosting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, set to be the ruler of the world’s second largest economy next year, on his visit to California, Brown made a five-day trip to Washington, centering around the annual National Governors Association meeting, which ended earlier this week.
Brown didn’t go to Washington last year for the NGA because he was closeted away in endless behind the scenes talks on the state’s chronic budget crisis, in which he made a very serious dent without in the end getting any needed Republican legislative votes to even place tax extensions on the ballot. This year, of course, he’s going the initiative route, bypassing one of the most far right state Republican parties in the country, which is saying quite a lot.
Brown, who might be just as happy rolling on his own as he often does, traveled with a very small crew consisting of First Lady/Special Counsel Anne Gust Brown and two senior staffers, gubernatorial executive secretary Nancy McFadden and press secretary Gil Duran. While there, he visited with President Barack Obama and top Obama Administration officials, coordinating on renewable energy and high-speed rail and working to get the administration to go along with more of his proposed cuts on health and welfare spending. The administration doesn’t seem accommodating about the cuts, which most legislative Democrats want to avoid while hoping for more revenue that hasn’t yet materialized.
Some imagine that Brown is at last embracing the way of his father, the legendary late Governor Pat Brown, widely credited as the builder of modern California, in developing what might be called an Edifice Complex. But that’s not quite it.
Jerry Brown famously differed with his father — whom I knew pretty well, last lunching with him the year before he died — earlier in his career but later developed more of an appreciation for him and what he called “the family business.” (This is an intriguing topic fit for its own article.) But pop psychology doesn’t capture the dynamic in question.
This Governor Brown is more into what might be described as developing the infrastructure of the future. Rather than preside over the building of dozens of nuclear power plants, as was the wont of the big utilities during his first tenure as governor during the 1970s and early 1980s, he put California on a course of energy efficiency (known in those days as energy conservation) and renewable energy.
As a result, California became for many years the most efficient user of power in the country. Governors of both parties kept on the efficiency path, though they strayed off of renewables. Brown’s former chief of staff, Gray Davis, renewed the renewable course, and Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, ramped things up dramatically, turning the path into a superhighway. Brown, naturally, is continuing that.
His focus on high-speed rail, which he shares with Schwarzenegger and Davis, is a focus not on expanding existing transport infrastructure but developing a new path. A new path in America, that is, which is why he is working closely with the Obama Administration on it. In Europe and Asia, high-speed rail is well-established.
In Washington, Brown followed his earlier hosting of Xi with lunch meeting with Chinese Ambassador Zhang Yesui. Following that, he met with State Department officials. Brown, who had earlier 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. …
Seven American staffers for NGOs charged with inciting unrest in Egypt have been allowed to leave the country after extensive diplomacy carried out by the Obama Administration.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington and Maryland, after returning late last night from four fundraisers in New York City.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received the daily intelligence and economic briefings and met with senior advisors in the Oval Office.
They then met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office.
At 10:50 AM Pacific, Obama departs the White House on Marine One for Bethesda, Maryland.
At 11 AM Pacific, he arrives in Bethesda, Maryland.
At 11:20 AM Pacific, Obama tours the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, where he visits with wounded veterans of the Afghan War and the Iraq War.
At 12:50 PM Pacific, Obama departs Bethesda on Marine One en route to the White House.
At 1 PM Pacific, Obama lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
At 2:15 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a conservation event in the Department of the Interior.
Obama is also monitoring and managing multiple geopolitical crises involving 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 Southern California and Northern California today.
He took part early this morning in the ribbon cutting ceremony for CarbonLITE Industries’ big new plastic bottle recycling plant in Riverside.
The largest such recycling plant in the world, the facility will process some two billion plastic bottles a year.
At present, most plastic bottles collected in California are shipped to China.
** THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE: IRAN, ISRAEL, AFGHANISTAN. It may well be time to start thinking the unthinkable on Iran, Israel, and Afghanistan.
* Israel may be on an inexorable path to an air war against Iran.
* With conventional weapons said by some to be ineffective against Iran’s increasingly underground and hardened nuclear development sites, Israel may come to use nuclear weapons against them.
* And as this melodrama between two governments dominated by conservative religionists plays out, the US and its NATO allies may be on the verge of being run out of Afghanistan in the wake of the latest debacle there.
Israel may well have painted itself into a corner — a metaphor which doesn’t quite work in a dynamic situation — with regard to Iran.
If the present Israeli government really does regard Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons as an “existential threat” to their nation, what would they not do to prevent it? And if conventional bunker buster bombs won’t work, or at least not yet — the Senate approved an advanced version earlier this month, but it apparently won’t be ready till late this year — why would they not use nuclear bunker busters to stop the Iranian program.
And the Iranians certainly seem bent on moving forward with their program, which they publicly insist is for civilian purposes only, despite all the moves against them and despite offers of having nuclear fuel enriched for them.
Israel has placed itself firmly on the path of brinksmanship. It is evidently in an intelligence war with Iran already and threatens overt war.
If Iran continues on its course, as it gives constant, indeed, accelerating signs of doing, especially in the past week, Israel will be faced with a classic go/no-go decision. … From my February 29th essay.
** 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. … 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.
** 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 $110 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $76 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 $4 from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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