Japan’s defense minister has ordered missile units to intercept a North Korean rocket that Pyongyang plans to launch in April.
After some embarrassing big defeats at the hands of Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney is trying to take command of the Republican presidential race with wins in next Tuesday’s primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. And Santorum is trying to take advantage of Newt Gingrich’s newly downsized campaign presence, which supposedly will place him mostly on the “Big Talk” sidelines of Washington.
But Gingrich is campaigning in Wisconsin today, and was in Maryland yesterday. And new polling shows Romney opening a significant if uncertain lead in Wisconsin.
While the Republicans play their reindeer games, with establishment figures like former President George H.W. Bush (who had already endorsed Romney), Florida Senator Marco Rubio (who has a dramatic veep-like story to tell about being the child of exiles from the Castro regime which has all the virtues one can imagine it would have short of being true), and House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (whose terribly vulnerable budget proposal passed the House but is headed for instant oblivion in the Senate) rallying around Romney, President Barack Obama has a big set of real world headaches with which to contend.
Not the least of which is the very uncertain fate of the national health care law, which underwent three days of largely deflating oral arguments before a US Supreme Court which may well shoot it down in June. And may have actually done so today, in a secret vote which usually presages a final decision.
But while “Obamacare” may or may not have an uncertain fate — I tend to think it has a certain fate — Obama’s geopolitical crises tend to possess true uncertainty.
The crisis in Syria, linked closely to the Iran crisis and to troubled relations with Russia, due to those alliances, rumbles on with lethal impact. The Assad regime says it has accepted the UN ceasefire plan, but the firing hasn’t ceased today.
This issue is transfixing the Arab League summit in Baghdad, where fewer than half of the 22 member nations are represented by their heads of state. That low turnout reflects the widespread Arab world suspicion of the new Iraq and its Iran-friendly government.
Gee, isn’t that exactly what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney expected to happen when they invaded Iraq nine years ago?
Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Erdogan was in Iran Thursday, where he met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The two confirmed that new nuclear negotiations will begin on April 13th.
Erdogan offered Istanbul as the site of negotiations between Iran and the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China, now set to begin on April 13th.
Which, given Turkey’s apparent preferences, at least in this matter, would offer something of a home court advantage to Iran.
Israel and others, of course, view this all as a stalling tactic as the Iranian nuclear program advances.
Does Israel have a secret deal with Azerbaijan to serve as a staging area for its strike against Iran’s nuclear program? That’s what Foreign Policy is saying in a lengthy new take-out. But how would the planes get back to Israel?
It would be impossible to fly them back over the most direct routes. And ferrying them back in the midst of a war would be quite time-consuming.
Our AfPak problems are continuing. More murders today in Afghanistan, where nearly a dozen Afghan police fighting the Taliban were killed as they slept by a colleague, who then escaped.
And while two of our top generals visited in Pakistan with the chief of staff there, it emerged that Osama bin Laden, according to the testimony of his youngest wife, had no less than five safe houses during his lengthy stay in Pakistan. And his wife gave birth to a couple of children, too, in Pakistani hospitals.
Not exactly a model of stealthy tradecraft, is it?
No wonder the Pakistanis are reneging on the original plan to ship bin Laden’s family to Saudi Arabia. It’s definitely in their interest to hold on to them, as they fully intend to do.
The US on Thursday suspended its massive food aid to North Korea, granted when the Hermit Kingdom agreed to back away from its nuclear weapons program, in the wake of North Korea’s plan to launch a satellite next month, which also doubles as the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Today another large shoe dropped, with Japan announcing that it will shoot down the rocket as it arcs over its territory.
I believe this is known as an act of war.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington, Vermont, and Maine.
Obama received the daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
He then flew on Air Force One to Burlington, Vermont.
There he delivered remarks at a campaign event at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel and at a campaign event at the University of Vermont.
At 12:30 PM Pacific, Obama departs Burlington, Vermont on Air Force One en route Portland, Maine.
At 1:20 PM Pacific, Obama arrives in Portland, Maine.
At 2:15 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a campaign event at Southern Maine Community College in Portland.
At 4:20 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a campaign event at the Portland Museum of Art.
At 5:35 PM Pacific, Obama departs Portland, Maine on Air Force One en route Joint Base Andrews.
At 7:05 PM Pacific, Obama arrives Joint Base Andrews, where he boards Marine One.
At 7:20 PM Pacific, Obama lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Iraq, AfPak, and North Korea.
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.
** CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS IN CRISIS: ANOTHER BIG SHOE DROPS. Another big shoe dropped Wednesday in the ongoing crisis of the California Republican Party. One of its young rising stars, state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a decorated Marine veteran of the Iraq War, dropped his party registration to become an independent. Which might be a path forward for Republicans who don’t reject modernity and governance.
Ranking Republicans privately bemoaned the fact that their party has a very thin bench when it comes to people who might win a future statewide election. Fletcher was part of a very short list.
Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown continued to get good news moving forward toward his November revenue initiative, a measure that would have been unnecessary had Republicans last year not rejected him and his more moderate course at that time on taxation.
Fletcher’s move of course ties in with my “California Republicans Have No One To Blame But Themselves” and “The Real Game Change: Palinism’s Rise, Moderate Republicanism’s Eclipse” pieces here on the Huffington Post last week.
The Republicans have already seen their big strategic move for the year, the attempt to block the Citizens Redistricting Commission’s new state Senate lines from going into effect, fail. The party used up its money on that hare brained venture and will no be hard-pressed to defend its members in new legislative and congressional districts. And it couldn’t recruit a significant candidate to run against U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, even though it’s a great low-risk opportunity for someone with a future to get his or her name out there.
So losing one of its few potentially electable future hopes is a big deal.
Not that it’s not at least somewhat situational, mind you.
Fletcher, 35, is running for mayor of San Diego, with the first round election just under 10 weeks away. And the San Diego Republican Party endorsed a much more conservative city councilman over Fletcher. So Fletcher, who sought the party endorsement, is making a move he wouldn’t have made otherwise.
But it’s a move made necessary by his party’s rightward shift.
It’s not as though Fletcher is some sort of closet Democrat, or a liberal Republican — yes, such creatures did once walk the land, in the Mad Men era — or even a real moderate. He is a moderate conservative,
He hasn’t moved to the left. His party has moved further to the right, with its endorsed candidate, San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, helping lead the way.
Voice of San Diego has a useful compendium of stories chronicling the rightward move of the party in San Diego, as well as Fletcher’s emergence as a rising GOP star and penchant for reaching across the aisle from time to time to get things done.
Fletcher backed Governor Jerry Brown’s jobs plan late last year, in which the governor proposed to swap a much maligned big tax break for corporations doing business out of state for a set of tax breaks for businesses creating jobs in California. Fletcher provided one of the two Republican votes needed to pass the measure in the Assembly, but Brown couldn’t find the two needed votes in the Senate to send the plan to his desk.
Fletcher has also backed gay rights, giving an emotional speech in the Capitol as a decorated Marine veteran opposing the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy and voting for legislation requiring curriculum materials to reflect the role of gays and lesbians in history. And he’s an advocate of renewable energy, voting for Brown’s legislation to require that 33% of all electric power in California come from renewable sources by the end of 2020.
But, no liberal, he says he won’t back Brown’s November revenue initiative.
Actually, Fletcher comes from the mainline of the Republican Party. He’s married to Mindy Tucker Fletcher, who was spokeswoman for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and later a deputy chief of staff for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And he’s backed by some of the state’s top moderate conservative Republicans, such as former Governor Pete Wilson (also an ex-Marine, who was first elected to the Assembly and became San Diego mayor before becoming the last California Republican to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, 30 years ago); Wilson’s longtime chief of staff, Bob White, who managed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s landslide win in the 2003 California recall election; and former Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan.
Fletcher, a graduate of California Baptist University, not exactly a hotbed of the counter-culture, enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve after 9/11, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. He was decorated for bravery in combat in the Iraq War and for his work as an intelligence specialist in the Horn of Africa.
I don’t know Fletcher, but I’ve met him several times, first at a Schwarzenegger party in 2006. He’s personable and smart, with a certain mediagenic quality. I could see him mounting a serious statewide campaign in the future.
He’s being aided in this campaign by new senior advisor Matt David, who served as Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial communications director and a John McCain aide and more recently was Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign manager.
Huntsman, of course, had an impressive third place finish in the New Hampshire primary but otherwise found it difficult to break through in a presidential primary process dominated by the hard right. Not that Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, was anything like a liberal. But the economic conservative Huntsman believes in the science of evolution and climate change. And he had been President Barack Obama’s choice as US ambassador to China, and that was a bridge too far for Republicans this year, as Team Obama anticipated when the president made the appointment.
Fletcher’s move sets up a very intriguing test case for Republicans who haven’t turned their backs on modernity and governance. …
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
Brown proclaimed today “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”
It’s nearly 39 years since the last major ground combat units left Vietnam.
Here’s the text from Brown’s proclamation:
“Over two million Americans served in the Vietnam War and related conflicts in Southeast Asia between 1959 and 1975. More than 58,000 did not return. Of those who survived, over 300,000 suffered physical injuries in combat, and an even greater number developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric ailments as a result of their service.
“Our treatment of the veterans of Vietnam and other wars reflects profoundly on our character as a nation. Too many of our veterans suffer from unemployment, poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and disability. Last year I signed Executive Order B-9-11, creating the Interagency Council on Veterans to coordinate the state’s efforts in providing assistance to veterans in need. While the Council continues to explore every possible improvement in policies and programs related to veterans’ issues, I urge all citizens to act in the same spirit by welcoming home our veterans, thanking them for their service and assisting them in every conceivable way.”
Brown also today signed a new state-tribal gaming compact with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. The compact allows the operation of 3,000 slot machines. Up to 15% of the casino’s net earnings will go to local communities and to regulation and mitigation activities around gambling. Brown says that the tribe estimates that the project will create approximately 700 construction jobs and 2,500 jobs at the new facility. The compact requires regular audits of gaming operations and other enforcement and public safety measures.
** MAD MEN (FINALLY) RETURNS: WORTH THE WAIT? Mad Men is back, finally, after the biggest series hiatus since The Sopranos. Was it worth the wait?
Naturally, there are spoilers ahead. I confess to a certain diffidence about it all, all two hours of it. Which is not to say it’s not quite good. It’s just that more is going on this year in what we laughingly call the real world than in 2010. And not much has happened in the Mad Men universe since Season 4 ended nearly a year and a half ago.
Only about half as much time has passed in the Mad Men universe as has passed for us, and not much has happened that was not otherwise obvious. …
Part of the brilliance of Matthew Weiner’s conception of the show is that it has shown us a world we haven’t really seen otherwise. Yes, it’s set in the ’60s, but the bulk of it has been about the early ’60s. Which for most is terra incognita, aside from hazy images of JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the civil rights movement, Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and the early days of the Beatles.
The massively over-exposed part of the ’60s, which gave rise to culture wars which still exist in this country, not to mention a baby boomer cultural dominance which has become more than a little dull even as it has persisted for decades, is still yet to come. …
But the rumblings of change — in this case racial change and generational change — are getting much louder. And the drumbeat of dissatisfaction despite success, a constant in the show, is louder than ever. … From my March 27th essay.
** THE REAL GAME CHANGE: PALINISM’S RISE AND MODERATE REPUBLICANISM’S ECLIPSE. The term “game change,” like so many sports-oriented terms in politics, is decidedly over-used. But the events depicted in the Game Change film really do constitute just that, though not in the way that my friend Steve Schmidt, the top John McCain advisor who utters the phrase in the film and with whom I communicated throughout the period of the film, intended it. …
Now that Game Change has emerged as one of HBO’s biggest movies ever, in a steady rotation on the cable network, and the film itself has yielded widespread acclaim outside of the Palinista camp, it’s useful to pull back and look at the bigger import of the events the film depicts and the background against which they played out. … From my March 23rd essay.
** CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS HAVE ONLY THEMSELVES TO BLAME. … From my March 22nd essay.
** JERRY BROWN DEALS AWAY TROUBLE ON THE LEFT. … From my March 16th column.
** MAKING SENSE OF KALEIDOSCOPIC PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS. … 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.
** 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.
An unmanned European robotic supply ship has docked with the International Space Station in the first such mission since the US space shuttle retired. The spacecraft carried more than seven tons of supplies including food, and oxygen. It will eventually be filled with rubbish and sent off in a destructiveplunge back through the Earth’s atmosphere.
** 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 $103 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $69 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 $11 from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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