The Syrian crisis is spreading. Lebanese troops launched a major security operation today to open all roads and force gunmen off the streets, trying to contain an outburst of violence set off by the assassination of the top intelligence director who was a powerful opponent of Syria. Sectarian clashes killed at least six people. Gunfights have broken out in several areas of Lebanon following Sunday’s funeral of anti-Syrian intelligence official General Wissam al-Hassan, raising fears that his assassination will further destabilize the country.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … THE FINAL DEBATE.
** QUICK HITS. Governor Jerry Brown hits the campaign trail in Southern California and the Central Valley on Tuesday on behalf of the Prop 30 revenue initiative with stops in Los Angeles, San Diego, Bakersfield and Fresno. … Controversy over the massive mystery funding for the No on 30 and Yes on 32 (defund public employee union political committees) campaigns funneled through the Small Business Action Committee continues. SBAC operatives insist they have no idea where the money comes from. … Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger began filming his latest movie, Ten, today in Atlanta.
** NEW SURVEY: ECONOMY IN GENERAL IS NUMBER ISSUE FOR VOTERS AS UNEMPLOYMENT CONCERN DROPS SIGNIFICANTLY. A new Gallup Poll survey indicates that “the economy in general” has replaced unemployment in the past month as the number one issue in the US.
A plurality of nearly 40% identifies the economy in general as the top issue, with unemployment sliding down to number two as the unemployment rate declines.
The budget deficit, favorite issue of well-placed insiders, is a very distant third, not quite into the teens.
No other issue makes double digits.
The “economy in general” ranks No. 1 on Gallup’s Most Important Problem list in October, with 37% of Americans saying it is the top issue facing the country. This is up from 29% in September and exceeds unemployment, in second place at 26%. Mentions of unemployment are down this month from 32% in September, likely reflecting the recent decline in the government’s jobless rate to 7.8%. …
Democrats, independents, and Republicans all became more likely to name the economy as the nation’s top problem in October; however, the increase was sharpest among Republicans, rising 14 percentage points, from 30% to 44%. That contrasts with a five-point increase among independents (from 32% to 37%) and a seven-point increase among Democrats (from 26% to 33%).
The federal budget deficit currently ranks third on Gallup’s Most Important Problem list, at 12%, followed by dissatisfaction with government at 9%, healthcare at 7%, and “lack of money” at 5%. No other issue is named by as much as 5% of Americans.
Current Issue Ranking Similar to 2008, Different Than 2004 and 2000
The economy in general was a more prominent concern for Americans four years ago, on the eve of the 2008 presidential election, than it is today. At that time, the percentage mentioning the economy approached 50% or more. However, unemployment was a much lesser concern then than now (12% in October 2008 vs. 26% today), as was the federal budget deficit (3% vs. 12%). Thus, when factoring in all types of economic issues that are mentioned, including unemployment, the federal budget deficit, and taxes, among others, the percentage of net economic mentions is actually slightly higher today: 72% vs. 69%.
The current emphasis on economic concerns stands in stark contrast to the 2004 and 2000 elections, when less than half of Americans named any type of economic issue as the nation’s top problem. Net economic mentions stood at 40% in October 2004 and 21% in October 2000, while percentages of specific mentions of the economy in general were even lower (at 21% and 8%, respectively). …
Ranking Vietnamese government officials and military officers visited USS George Washington over the weekend. The nuclear-powered carrier is at the center of a US Navy battle group now cruising the South China Sea. Vietnam, America’s enemy in the Vietnam War, is deeply concerned about neighboring China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.
** NEW COLUMNS COMING UP … THE LAST DANCE DEBATE and BOND AT 50: A NOTABLE PREMIERE HARKENS BACK TO BOND’S BEGINNINGS.
** MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK: A FORECAST.
A very big week in presidential politics on tap, possibly decisive, with the third and final presidential debate and the battle over the aftermath of same.
And a very big week in California politics, with labor fighting to stave off massive spending from a relative handful of individuals and business interests, some of them hidden from view, out to pass the Prop 32 initiative outlawing payroll deductions from public employees for political campaigns, and with Governor Jerry Brown and allies struggling to pass the Prop 32 revenue initiative against the same sort of massive financial intervention.
My expectation is for status quo ante to prevail. No change to labor political funding, no change to the California revenue picture. Which means more big budget cuts.
Big money always buys a big no vote on complicated fiscal initiatives, even when it’s funny money. (See my piece linked below.) Though if anyone can pull a rabbit out of the hat, it’s Brown. In any event, Democrats in the California legislature should be closer to the two-thirds vote needed to pass revenue measures after this election.
In other initiative action, look for the three strikes sentencing law to be eased, the death penalty to remain, a complex governmental reform measure to falter, strictures against genetically modified products to fall short, new state senate districts to remain, penalties for human trafficking to increase, and a billion dollar corporate tax break to be ended in favor of renewable energy and a state budget patch.
Back to presidential politics.
Tonight’s debate, on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s announcement of the Cuban Missile Crisis (see his historic speech below), is about geopolitics and foreign policy. These have been areas of significant strength for President Barack Obama and weakness for conservative Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
This is a key moment for Romney, who has yet to cross the threshold of being a credible potential US president on the world stage.
But Romney, who has repeatedly muffed the issue, as I’ve been pointing out for nearly six weeks, has another chance to try to score on Obama for the Benghazi disaster.
Even though I think his administration erred badly, Obama has enough to say, especially with regard to rather erroneous intelligence reports of the moment, to cover himself there while counter-punching nicely on his take-down of Osama bin Laden, a policy that Romney notably opposed the last time he ran for president.
The fact is that the world is a messy place in a state of flux. I think voters have a sense of this, and are not anxious to blunder into more dangerously entangled engagements that expensively go nowhere.
Obama can speak to this if he finds his sense of pith, and stays out of dry professorial mode. Presumably he will be wide awake tonight, unlike the case in Denver when he turned what could have been a decisive election victory into a dicey proposition.
The danger for Romney is that he likes to make two-dimensional statements about such matters, always affirming a past that is almost certainly not coming back.
Romney is trying to make the case that Obama is soft on China — Obama has an aircraft carrier strike group cruising the South China Sea with top Vietnamese officials aboard — and Russia, which Romney, rather unaccountably, identifies as America’s chief adversary in the world.
The reality is that Obama’s Pacific pivot is intended to counter the rise of China — complete with Navy battle groups moved into the South and East China Seas and trade sanctions — though of course the administration doesn’t put it that way publicly, and Romney has his own business-related problems on China.
We will also see how much, if at all now, the two differ on Iran’s nuclear program and Israel. The Israeli government and security establishment have largely turned away from Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s red hot rhetoric of preemptive military attacks, which was mirrored over the summer by his old friend and business colleague Romney.
Here are the topic areas for the debate, selected by moderator Bob Schieffer:
- America’s role in the world.
- The Afghanistan and Pakistan wars.
- “Red lines” and Israel and Iran.
- The “changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism.”
- The rise of China.
On Tuesday after the debate, Obama campaigns in Florida and Ohio. Then he blitzes through Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada on Wednesday. On Thursday, he hits Florida again and Virginia and — after stopping in Chicago to become the first president to vote early in person — Obama hits Ohio again in the evening.
Meanwhile, the fighting in Syria shows signs of spreading. Tensions remain high in Beirut where protesters yesterday fought the police following the funeral of Lebanon’s spy chief General Wissam al-Hassan. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s office, demanding that he resign. The protesters are accusing Mikati, who has been close to the Assad regime of Syria, of being involved in the assassination of al-Hasan.
This is is just one aspect of the multifaceted stew of danger and opportunity that is the Arab Awakening. The post-Innocence of Muslims assaults on American embassies, smaller than advertised at the time, as I pointed out, have subsided.
Egypt’s new leader, USC alum Dr. Mohamed Morsi, seems to get it and may prove to be a relatively reliable US ally. But there are so many crosscuts between so many players in the Arab and Islamic worlds that most every action contains its element of peril and unintended consequence.
Final preparations are underway for tonight’s third and final presidential debate, this focused on geopolitics and foreign policy, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Maryland and Florida.
Obama flew on Marine One early this morning from Camp David to Joint Base Andrews, where he boarded Air Force One.
At 11 AM Pacific, Obama arrives in Boca Raton, Florida.
At 6 PM Pacific, Obama participates in the third Presidential Debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. First Lady Michelle Obama will be on hand.
Obama is finishing prep for tonight’s third and final presidential debate, this time on geopolitics and foreign policy.
Conservative Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is also finishing prep for the debate.
Vice President Joe Biden is campaigning in swing state Ohio, where new polling has the ticket up by 5 points.
Congressman Paul Ryan is campaigning in swing state Colorado, now a toss-up.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Syria, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Persian/Arabian Gulf is ten hours ahead of Pacific time and Afghanistan is eleven and a half hours ahead of Pacific time. The time in Manila, on the South China Sea, is fifteen hours ahead of Pacific time.
** RECALLING GEORGE MCGOVERN’S LAST CAMPAIGN. When George McGovern passed away over the weekend at age 90, it was the passing of a figure out of his time. And yet truths he told are timeless. I met McGovern in 1984, when it was my job to help the manager of his landmark 1972 presidential campaign, Gary Hart, defeat him in the Democratic presidential race.
McGovern, an earnest prairie populist son of a preacher, a man of the New Deal and World War II who became the champion of the anti-Vietnam War movement and, ironically, given his straitlaced lifestyle, a hero of the counter-culture of the ’60s and early ’70s, had lost his South Dakota seat in the U.S. Senate in the Reagan landslide of 1980. Having run twice before for president — belatedly in 1968 to pick up the fallen banner of Robert F. Kennedy, then sweeping to the 1972 Democratic nomination before losing to Richard Nixon in an historic landslide — McGovern in 1984 mounted a classic protest candidacy.
He was quite a figure in 1984. One of the best things about having smaller states early in the presidential campaign process is their human scale and the accessibility they afford. McGovern did much, though hardly most, of his campaigning from a sofa in the lobby of the grand old Savery Hotel in Des Moines, where much of the national political world congregated that winter. McGovern went around the state giving speeches, of course, but he also held forth that cold winter in the lobby of the Savery, where the media gathered, not far from the popular hotel bar as it happened, like a serene yet still fierce Obi-Wan Kenobi of the left. He was a pleasure to speak with.
McGovern had little chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, much less the presidency that year against incumbent President Ronald Reagan. He was there to make a stand, to signal that he and the causes he represented had not gone away, despite his landslide presidential defeat and the landslide loss of his Senate seat.
I got to Iowa, as Hart’s political director there, four weeks before the caucuses. Hart, the McGovern campaign manager of ’72-turned-U.S. senator from Colorado, was languishing in fifth place, in single digits, while former Vice President Walter Mondale, the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, was cruising far out in front with over 50% in the Iowa polls.
Our official goal was a respectable fourth, perhaps third, in a state in which Hart’s campaign had imploded the previous fall. But the real goal, articulated only to a few, was a surprise second, to reshape the race and make possible a victory in the New Hampshire primary eight days after Iowans voted in their caucuses.
There was no chance to catch Mondale, especially with limited funds for advertising, but there were three candidates who could be caught. John Glenn, a boyhood hero for his historic orbital spaceflight, had been running second in national polls but had little knack for campaigning in the states. Alan Cranston, my home state California senator who appointed me to the Air Force Academy (which I did not attend), was well-organized and had pockets of appeal. And there was McGovern, the sentimental choice. Jesse Jackson, a huge presence in later states, had little support in snowy Iowa.
With a greatly heightened campaign tempo, Hart quickly passed Glenn. With aggressive strikes into Cranston’s areas of strength, sometimes undertaken via risky flights on small planes, Hart passed the peace candidate who also championed very big ticket redundant weapons systems.
McGovern was another, more complicated, matter. After managing McGovern’s campaign but before winning election to the Senate, Hart in 1973 wrote a book on the campaign called Right From the Start. Following an intriguing recounting of the campaign, he argued that the Democratic Party needed to retool, to avoid clinging to New Deal shibboleths while embracing the New Deal ethic of experimentation for the common good. He also believed that the party could not simply be an anti-war party, that it needed a credible doctrine of national security.
His solution, guided by Vietnam’s lessons on the foolishness of reflexive interventionism, was to reform the military and get America off its fateful fixation on Middle Eastern oil. McGovern’s was simpler: “Come home, America.” Both opposed the little Latin American wars pushed by the Reagan Administration. …
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
He spoke Sunday at several African American churches in the San Francisco Bay Area.
There he declared that the Prop 30 revenue initiative, which he is fighting to pass against the surprise intervention of mega-bucks contributors, mostly shielded from public view, will mostly affect the wealthiest residents of the state.
When he first became governor in 1975, he noted, the top 1% financially in California received 8% of the state’s income. In the 37 years since then, the top 1% have nearly tripled their share of the state’s income, to 22%.
“They can afford to pay a little more,” he said.
** CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC: PASS THE BANANAS. … From my October 19th essay.
** OBAMA TAKES DEBATE 2: SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? … From my October 17th essay.
** GEOPOLITICS: OBAMA FACES BIG CHALLENGES DESPITE DEBATE WINNER ROMNEY’S LATEST POLICY WHIFF. … From my October 9th essay.
** JERRY BROWN GETS AN OCTOBER SURPRISE. … From my October 8th feature.
** RECALLING TOTAL RECALL: SCHWARZENEGGER’S COMEBACK PROCEEDS WITH A BIG (NATURALLY) BOOK. … From my October 5th essay.
** BOND AT 50: DR. NO IS A TIME CAPSULE FROM THE EARLY MAD MEN ERA. … From my October 4th essay.
** OBAMA PASSES THROUGH THE MINEFIELD OF U.N. WEEK (BUT SETS UP A POTENTIAL EXPLOSION NEXT YEAR). … From my September 28th essay.
** IS POST-PARTISANSHIP PASSE? SCHWARZENEGGER AND COMPANY (AND BILL CLINTON) SAY NO. … From my September 26th column.
** DETHRONED: MAD MEN‘S DOWN SEASON OPENED THE DOOR FOR A SUPERLATIVE HOMELAND. … From my September 24th column.
** JERRY BROWN: GEARING UP A CAMPAIGN AT LAST? … From my September 22nd feature.
** HOW ROMNEY SHOULD HAVE ATTACKED OBAMA: ANATOMY OF A GEOPOLITICAL CRISIS. … From my September 19th 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.
On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced that the Soviet Union was deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis is the closest the world has come to nuclear war.
** 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 $90 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $56 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 $24 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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