Afghan President Hamid Karzai, after meeting today with families of 16 civilian victims of last weekend’s massacre, said he doubted the US account that the killings were carried out by a lone gunman and said his investigators were denied access to the rogue US soldier who reportedly did the murders. He said he is “at the end of the rope” with the US and urged a withdrawal by next year.
** QUICK HITS. The person charged by US officials with murdering 16 Afghan civilians last weekend outside Kandahar was identified late today. He is Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a soldier with the 3rd Stryker Brigade out of Fort Lewis, Washington who was attached to a Special Forces civic action project to help Afghan villagers. (He is not a Green Beret himself.) Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier today said, as you can see in the video above, that he does not believe the US story of a lone gunman. … Bales was flown today from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he will be held in the maximum security prison. … Having failed in its ballyhooed caucus strategy to win any state caucuses, including some extremely low turnout affairs, Ron Paul’s presidential campaign is just about out of money. His biggest impact in the Republican presidential race has been to help Mitt Romney fend off his most dangerous opponents, first Newt Gingrich and then Rick Santorum, with attack ads while never criticizing Romney on grounds more applicable to him. … California’s Legislative Analyst Office said today that Governor Jerry Brown’s revised revenue initiative, a compromise with the Millionaires Tax initiative proponents, will raise closer to $7 billion per year than $9 billion. The organization also clashed with the Millionaires Tax crew over the revenue estimate for their original proposal. The LAO consistently thinks that rich people in California are making less money than others believe they are. The dispute is apparently largely over how one views capital gains.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … THE REAL “GAME CHANGE.”
The Republican presidential race rambles on toward a Saturday primary in Puerto Rico, and bigger events over the week following in Illinois and Louisiana. And things have, if anything, actually gotten worse in the Afghan War.
It makes for quite a funhouse Friday. Hopefully the weekend isn’t crazier.
Mitt Romney spent Wednesday and Thursday raising money in New York, largely from Wall Street interests, to replenish his campaign warchest which has gotten over-extended with the extended primary contest. His campaign has had to cut back on some of its ongoing operations as a result.
So that’s good for President Barack Obama.
So, too, is Rick Santorum, still celebrating big wins in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday and a blow-out win over Mitt Romney, who finished third in both Tuesday contests, last weekend in bellwether Kansas. But Santorum bungled his surge in Puerto Rico, seeming to say that people there need to be speaking English if the US protectorate is to become a state.
Naturally, the chameleon Romney, who earlier postured in favor of mass deportations of illegal immigrants, jumped on that as evidence of Santorum’s lack of sensitivity. You can’t make this stuff up.
Still, Santorum would be in high clover right now were it not for Newt Gingrich’s insistence on staying in the race.
Why is the former House speaker, who has won only in South Carolina and Georgia, still in there? Well, he did finish a close second in Alabama and Mississippi, making Santorum’s defeat of Romney there even more striking. But his negatives are such that the party won’t turn to him. So his continued presence is somewhat mystifying.
I suspect it has much to do with his own epic sense of himself. What his financial backers, such as Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, calculate may be something far more in favor of helping Romney, however. Or at least staving off Santorum.
That, along with lower unemployment filings, is about it for good news for Obama.
Because while things have quieted down, for the moment, with Iran, Israel, and the Palestinians, the US strategy in the Afghan War is in even deeper trouble than before. And in my view it was terminal before.
The Afghan Taliban withdrew yesterday from nascent peace talks with the US in Qatar. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, told the veteran California political figure that he wants US and NATO forces withdrawn from forward deployment in villages and the countryside to their main bases.
And today, Karzai said that he doubts the US story about last weekend’s massacre of 16 Afghan villagers, reportedly by a lone US Army gunman.
Other reports, again endorsed by Karzai, have more than one American involved.
Karzai also said that he thinks the US should withdraw a year earlier than scheduled. The current plan is to be out, with all but a residual force, by the end of 2014.
All these things would totally short-circuit the slow transition strategy underway, a strategy already hamstrung by having to withdraw US and NATO advisors from Afghan ministries in the wake of six murders of US officers and troops by Afghan colleagues in the wake of the Quran burnings at Bagram Air Base.
Meanwhile, the sergeant who reportedly carried out the massacre has lawyered up. He has a flashy Seattle lawyer who defended serial killer Ted Bundy, who is out in the media now saying that the accused shooter had suffered brain trauma and lost part of his foot during one of his three deployments to Iraq.
That he hadn’t expected to have to go Afghanistan and it is a mystery why the government sent him, thus adding a political element to the dynamic.
And that he had seen a fellow soldier lose his leg the day before.
In other words, the victimizer is really a victim himself.
What “brain trauma” did the accused murderer, who has yet to be identified but was moved back to the States today, suffer? Apparently he had a few concussions.
Having had several concussions myself, I hadn’t noticed the trauma leading to homicidal feelings.
All this promises quite a circus ahead.
Four days before the Illinois Republican presidential primary, President Barack Obama, appearing today in Chicago for some fundraisers, said he hopes the moderation of the Land of Lincoln will “rub off” on Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington, Illinois, and Georgia.
Obama received the daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
He then flew on Air Force One to Chicago, Illinois, where he appeared at two fundraising events at the Palmer House Hilton.
At 1 PM Pacific, Obama departs Chicago on Air Force One en route Atlanta, Georgia.
At 2:30 PM Pacific, Obama arrives in Atlanta, Georgia.
At 3:35 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a fundraiser in a private residence in Atlanta.
At 5:25 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a fundraiser at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
At 6:20 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a fundraiser at a private residence in Atlanta.
At 7:55 PM Pacific, Obama departs Atlanta on Air Force One en route Joint Base Andrews.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Iraq, and AfPak.
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.
** JERRY BROWN DEALS AWAY TROUBLE ON THE LEFT. Governor Jerry Brown has dealt away some potential problems on the left to strengthen his chances of passing a revenue initiative in November.
Brown dealt with California’s chronic state budget crisis by making big cuts in 2011. But he couldn’t get Republicans to go along even with a public vote on extending 2009′s temporary tax hikes, and so has had to go to the ballot this year. After Brown and his allies succeeded in convincing a group of billionaires and former officeholders (the Think Long Committee) to back away from their own tax initiative plans, which would have lowered tax rates on the rich and corporations, likely muddying the electoral waters with a big money campaign even though they had little chance of success, he then had two other initiatives to deal with.
This week he dealt with the most problematic for him. I wrote early in the week on New West Notes that “Brown’s problem with the two other tax initiatives may be smaller than it appears. I’ll have more on that.” Here’s the “more on that” part.
The “Millionaires Tax” initiative was the most troublesome of the two. Unlike a plan by heiress Molly Munger, which would raise income taxes on most everyone to fund schools, the Millionaires Tax polled very well.
But on Wednesday, the Millionaire Tax crew — a coalition of the California Federation of Teachers and a variety of left-liberal organizations — finally acceded to reality. They couldn’t raise the money for a full-tilt campaign, but they could qualify their initiative. (Despite a lot of hype, the $2 million raised by the campaign was almost entirely from the California Federation of Teachers, the state’s smaller of two teachers unions, with the other in Brown’s camp along with almost all the rest of labor.) And then hope that the message was strong enough to stand the storm.
Which, as I discussed on New West Notes last week after their press conference/media conference call insisting on just that, was rather wishful thinking. They tried to talk themselves into the notion that their initiative could not be be beaten. But this view, as I pointed out, required magical thinking.
For his part, Brown acceded to the reality that the initiative and its backers weren’t going away. And that, at least starting out, their approach of taxing the rich more heavily was more popular than his more moderate tack.
So the two camps reached a meeting of the minds on some fairly logical deal points.
The compromise measure would raise taxes on the rich more than in Brown’s original version and less than in the Millionaire Tax initiative version. And it would be a temporary tax increase rather than a permanent increase as in the left-wing coalition version.
Time is very tight on qualifying the compromise measure, so Brown’s original initiative will continue moving forward just in case.
This leaves Munger’s initiative hanging out there as the outlier. She keeps putting money into the campaign, but it is unlikely to be much of a problem in the long run. …
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
** MAKING SENSE OF KALEIDOSCOPIC PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS. Presidential politics has gone kaleidoscopic. Between Mitt Romney’s split decision on a not so Super Tuesday for him and the big geopolitically-driven crises President Barack Obama has to manage, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Here’s a view of the forest.
The Republicans who would be president are the least of Obama’s problems, and what they’ve been doing over the past few months only makes that more so. Obama is most threatened now by a looming war involving Iran and Israel and a collapsing war in Afghanistan. There are a variety of crosscuts with those real and potential wars. … From my March 7th essay.
** IMPOSSIBLE MISSIONS AND 50 YEARS OF BOND. … From my March 6th essay.
** JERRY BROWN MAKES SOME SPLASHY MOVES. … From my March 1st essay.
** THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE: IRAN, ISRAEL, AFGHANISTAN. … From my February 29th essay.
** DEBATING IN DISARRAY: SEARCHING FOR SOME CLARITY IN THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL MESS. … 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.
** 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 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. 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 from the Russia Today channel. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the state-run 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 $107 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $73 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 $7 from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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