The United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea’s nuclear test at an emergency meeting today in New York City. But what will be done about it?
** NEW COLUMNS COMING UP … DOES THE STATE OF THE UNION MATTER? and THE ALLURE OF ARABIA.
** QUICK HITS. The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee today approved former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense on a 14 to 11 vote. The full Senate will take up the confirmation later this week, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid flatly refusing to honor any “holds” by senators on the nomination. … Governor Jerry Brown will attend Wednesday morning’s funeral service for Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain. He and his partner, who survived the encounter, were reportedly shot by ex-Los Angeles Police Officer and U.S. Navy Reserve Lieutenant Jeffrey Dorner, who was cornered late today in a cabin up in Big Bear, which, last I saw, was engulfed in flames. Apparently the result of tear gas causing a fire, somehow. … Dorner’s the one who’s the center of the latest media sensation, accused of killing others, with an apparent manifesto about massive malfeasance in Los Angeles involving the police apparatus. I know that’s vague. I confess I know very little about this; ever since the O.J. Simpson spectacular I’ve avoided getting caught up in these things.
** STATE OF THE STATE OF THE UNION: DUMBED DOWN. If you think that the quality of pubic discourse has declined, beyond the problem of nasty hyper-partisanship, you’re right.
The Guardian has a very revealing feature on presidential State of the Union addresses. It indicates that the language employed in these flagship addresses is of a markedly lower level of sophistication now than it was in the past.
The rating utilizes the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, ranking each SOTU in US history by US school grade level.
President Barack Obama’s most recent State of the Union addressed was at grade level of 9.0. Which is to say that it was pitched to be understood by an average 9th grader. That’s a freshman in high school.
In contrast, Obama’s predecessor, the frequently derided George W. Bush, pitched his addresses at a 10.0 level. That’s an average high school sophomore, and a drop of a full grade level from one administration to the next.
Ronald Reagan? His addresses came in at the 10.4 grade level.
John F. Kennedy clocks in at 12.3, Franklin D. Roosevelt at 12.4, Dwight Eisenhower at 12.6. All above the average high school graduate of today.
The scores for presidents before the modern era are higher still. But that’s due in part to how archaic the language seems. Of course, the language of the past is archaic in part because it’s been, wait for it, dumbed down.
** NEW SURVEY: ECONOMIC CONFIDENCE DROPS. Oh, well. That economic confidence level that hit a 5-year high just last week has dropped back again.
A new Gallup Poll survey indicates things have dipped. But not by much.
Of course, there is a reason. That’s the jump in gasoline prices over the past two weeks.
As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his State of the Union address, U.S. economic confidence fell to -13 in the week ending Feb. 10, down from the five-year weekly high of -8 set just a week ago. Weekly confidence hit -10 in the week ending Nov. 4, just prior to the presidential election, and then fell after the election before returning to peak levels during the last week of January and the first week of February. …
Americans’ confidence declined in terms of both current conditions and future expectations last week. Thirty-seven percent rated current economic conditions as poor, sending the current conditions part of the index down to -19 from -13 the previous week. The economic outlook fell to -7 from -3 the prior week as the number of Americans saying the economy is getting worse increased to 51% from 49%. …
North Korea says it has successfully carried out an underground nuclear test of a new, “miniaturized” device, in a move widely condemned by the international community. Such a device would be easier to rig to a missile.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … THE ALLURE OF ARABIA.
** 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 6 PM Pacific, Obama delivers the State of the Union Address at the United States Capitol.
That speech, not surprisingly, will focus on economic revitalization, with climate change and renewable energy/energy efficiency, immigration reform, and an accelerated withdrawal of half the remaining troops in Afghanistan this year in there as well.
North Korea set off a more advanced nuclear device early today, a device that, while not yet ready for rigging on a missile, is much closer to that capability.
While much of what North Korea says can be dismissed as demands for attention to a still impoverished society, this move clearly ups the ante in the geopolitics of the Asia Pacific region. So much so that its longtime ally China has denounced the move as too disruptive.
Yes, we are trying to pivot to the Asia Pacific region, where the US has vast interests to tend to. The confirmation hearing on Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel didn’t delve into such matters. We keep getting hung up on the other end of the pivot.
Speaking of which …
The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee will vote on the confirmation of former Senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today. Current ranking Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, commenting to the far right National Review Online, said yesterday he will “postpone” Hagel’s confirmation. He won’t walk out of the committee vote, however, which was rumored over the weekend.
Inhofe is basing his opposition all around what he calls Hagel’s lack of support for Israel. He’s dropped the latest financial disclosure gambit — in which far right Hagel opponents demanded that not only his own finances be disclosed but that of all organizations he’s been affiliated with — a demand raised just last week. He can’t stop Hagel from winning the committee vote. He can try to delay the confirmation vote of the full Senate. But not, I believe, for nearly as long as he imagines. The Senate has become a much funkier place than it was. But not that funky.
The reality is that Hagel opponents and their rather credulous friends in the media have been blowing a great deal of smoke about what they will and won’t, or more accurately, can and can’t do.
Despite all the trouble that some Senate Republicans are making for their former colleague, he is actually backed by a host of eminent Republicans who are far more expert in geopolitical and national security matters, including General Colin Powell and California’s own former Secretary of State George Shultz.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving Mali and Algeria, the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Syria, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: Mali 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 Northern California.
Brown joins Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan and others at the Elihu Harris State Bldg. in Oakland this morning for a summit meeting on the future of California housing sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
The hoped for face-off between Texas Governor Rick Perry, now in Californian on his ballyhooed business raiding mission, and Governor Jerry Brown, is a bust so far. Perry’s events are all private, as is the identity of whomever he may be talking with on his latest trip to the state he actually enjoys vacationing in, and he won’t interact with the press. He did do an interview with a state reporter who is an opponent of the high-speed rail project, though, and got to say his familiar lines — “California is looking at our backside” (I won’t take advantage of this line …) — without apparent push-back.
More to follow.
** JERRY BROWN FINDS FUN (IN NEW FOIL RICK PERRY) AND MORE THAN A BIT OF ILLUMINATION. … From my February 7th column.
The U.S. Navy is showing off the USNS Spearhead, the service’s first high-speed aluminum vessel designed to ferry troops and military equipment and provide disaster relief. The ship is likely to be useful in the Asia Pacific region.
** COME HAGEL OR HIGH WATER: IN THE SHADE OF IRAQ. … From my February 1st essay.
** THE STATE OF JERRY BROWN’S STATUS: AFTER THE STATE OF THE STATE. … From my January 30th essay.
** OBAMA’S CLEAR YET MUTED TRUMPET: HOPE’S AUDACITY MEETS LOWERED EXPECTATIONS. … From my January 23rd essay.
** HOW NOT TO STAGE MANAGE THE WORLD. … From my January 18th column.
** POWELL POSITIONS THE DEBATE OVER CHUCK HAGEL. … From my January 14th 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 $97 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $63 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 $17 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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