Jihadists today seized a BP natural gas facility in Algeria, killing two and taking some 40 Westerners hostage. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed subsequent to this French broadcast that Americans are among the hostages held, reportedly, by members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The hostage-takers say they want France to end its anti-jihadist intervention in Mali.
** QUICK HITS. President Barack Obama will name longtime aide and current Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough as his new White House chief of staff. McDonough was Obama’s traveling foreign policy aide during his 2008 campaign and before that was a top aide to former Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle. He will be Obama’s fifth White House chief of staff. … Governor Jerry Brown had a busy day of participation at the University of California Board of Regents meeting today where he found agreement with his call for new online course offerings from the board and from UC President Mark Yudoff. UC will move forward developing a program of online courses with an emphasis on high-volume classes needed for establishing introductory capabilities. … Brown is staying over for a second day of meeting with the UC Board of Regents tomorrow, going to dinner this evening with the crew.
** OBAMA CALLS FOR BAN ON ASSAULT WEAPONS AND HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES, AS WELL AS UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS, AMONG OTHER GUN CONTROL MOVES. As moved as many have been by the latest massacre, this last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in leafy Newtown, Connecticut, I have serious doubts that the most serious of these moves will be enacted.
First, of course, there is the problem of the House of Representatives, dominated for now by a deeply conservative Republican caucus for which untrammeled gun rights is a pillar of faith. Then there is the Democratic Senate, where just enough senators come from states with hyper-active gun lobbies.
As a society, we tend to indulge in national fits of emotionalism about these tragedies, consuming them as we go, then move on without action.
Here’s an excerpt from Obama’s remarks today at the White House:
“As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence. We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system. We will help schools hire more resource officers, if they want them, and develop emergency preparedness plans. We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence, even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.
“And while year after year those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to de-fund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it. And Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.
“Now, these are a few of the 23 executive actions that I’m announcing today, but as important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress. To make a real and lasting difference, Congress too must act, and Congress must act soon. And I’m calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away.
“First, it’s time for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun.
“(Applause.) The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years, that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check. That’s not safe; that’s not smart; that’s not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers.
“If you want to buy a gun, whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller, you should at least have to show you are not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one. This is common sense. And an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with us on the need for universal background checks, including more than 70 percent of the National Rifle Association’s members, according to one survey. So there’s no reason we can’t do this.
“Second, Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines. (Applause.) The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high- capacity magazines, has one purpose: to pump out as many bullets as possible as quickly as possible, to do as much damage using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage. And that’s what allowed the gunman in Aurora to shoot 70 people — 70 people, killing 12, in a matter of minutes.
“Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater.
“A majority of Americans agree with us on this.
“And by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994 urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons. (Applause.)
“And finally, Congress needs to help rather than hinder law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.
“Since Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones, who will be — who has been acting and I will be nominating for the post. (Applause.)
“And at a time when budget cuts are forcing many communities to reduce their police force, we should put more cops back on the job and back on our streets. …”
** NEW SURVEY: ECONOMIC CONFIDENCE INCHES BACK UP. A new Gallup Poll survey shows economic confidence inching back upward again.
But it’s significantly below what it was prior to the fiscal cliff shenanigans, which resulted in the easily predicted last second compromise but did not result in many solutions.
Washington is still a drag constituency when it comes to the overall health of the country.
Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index averaged -18 the week of Jan. 7-13, a bit less negative than the -21 the prior week. Confidence remains lower than it was in the final weeks before, and first few weeks after, the 2012 presidential election. However, the current reading is among the more positive in the last two years. …
Americans remain more negative than positive about current conditions and the economy’s direction. Last week, 16% described current conditions as excellent and 39% as poor, for a net -23 current conditions score. Americans were a bit more upbeat about the nation’s economic course, with 41% saying the economy was getting better and 53% worse, for a -12 economic outlook score. …
Americans’ confidence in the economy is higher on a relative basis than at almost any point in the last five years, though Americans remain more negative than positive in their overall evaluations of the economy. There are certainly positive signs in the economy, such as lower unemployment, modest economic growth, and an improving housing market. Still, even those indicators of economic health are hardly indicative of a strong economy.
The more positive feelings about the economy peaked around the time of the election, but began to fade in mid- to late December, perhaps due to concerns about the lack of an agreement to avoid the “fiscal cliff” tax increases and spending cuts. Now that an agreement has been reached, confidence has changed little, perhaps because Congress dealt mainly with the fiscal cliff tax increases while postponing more concrete action on spending cuts. The president and Congress are also faced with the need to raise the federal debt ceiling again, and the government’s ability to deal with both issues could have an impact on Americans’ economic confidence.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that a majority of Americans favor a national ban on military-style, rapid-fire weapons and limits on gun violence depicted in video games, movies, and television.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received the intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
At 9 AM Pacific, Obama and Biden hold an event at South Court Auditorium of the White House to unveil a package of proposals to reduce gun violence.
Incidentally, this is the seventh anniversary of Obama’s launch of his presidential campaign in Springfield, Illinois.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is stepping down in a few months, joining the Cabinet exit crowd.
The US is weighing options in the new war in Mali, options which do not include ground forces in combat. France intervened there on Friday after jihadist forces, which had already seized much of the vast desert of the north, executed a swift offensive against government-held cities to the south, seizing a key city on Thursday.
We already have a checkered past in Mali, the former French colony. The counter-insurgency doctrine which has been much in vogue for most of the past decade was in use in Mali for the past several years, with US Special Forces trainers trying to spin up the Malian military.
As Mali underwent a complex series of insurrections last year, involving a few factions, including mostly secular Tuareg ethnic militants and vehemently Islamist insurgents now busily instituting harsh sharia law in their occupied territories, several US-trained units defected from the government ranks joining the insurrectionists.
Then a US-trained Malian Army captain, at the crucial moment, led a military coup that crippled the democratically-elected government’s ability to respond to Islamist moves.
Why did he act then? I don’t know.
Nor have I seen a good explanation beyond opportunism.
Stage managing events in a country we barely understand turns out to be a tricky business.
French Air Force jets are in their sixth day bombing targets in support of a Malian government offensive against rebels in the north. Late on Tuesday, Malian and French troops began trying to take back the town of Diabaly — close to the capital Bamako — which has been captured by Islamist militants.
I’ve never been to Mali (and know little about it), though I have been to neighboring Algeria, but only on its Mediterranean coast. I suspect that is far closer than most of those who are making judgments on Mali today.
Obama is monitoring several other geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Syria, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: West Africa is eight hours ahead of Pacific time, 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.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in San Francisco and Sacramento.
Brown continues his push for higher ed online this morning at a meeting of the University of California Board of Regents in San Francisco. He will also discuss the need for professors to spend more time on teaching. He discussed these issues at the last meeting, but said later that he didn’t think his message had gotten through.
Brown revealed that he found Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun, now partnering with San Jose State as announced today, last year by looking him up online and sending him an e-mail after noticing a mention of the online learning company in the New York Times.
Online education is actually what I call a back-to-the-future “new idea” of Brown’s. He championed online education — then known as distance learning — in the 1980s through his National Commission on Industrial Innovation.
** POWELL POSITIONS THE DEBATE OVER CHUCK HAGEL. … From my January 14th essay.
** JERRY BROWN’S NEW BUDGET FOR POST-CRISIS CALIFORNIA: DISCIPLINE BEGETS OPPORTUNITY. … From my January 11th essay.
** WHY THE HAGEL BATTLE MADE MORE SENSE FOR OBAMA THAN THE RICE BATTLE. …
From my January 9th essay.
** CALIFORNIA’S FUTURIST AGENDA: A TALE OF THREE GOVERNORS. … From my January 4th essay.
** THE CLIFFS WE AREN’T FALLING FROM (AND ONE FROM WHICH WE ARE). … From my December 15th column.
** EXIT SUSAN RICE. … From my December 13th column.
** 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 $94 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $60 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 $20 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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