New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on his first trip to Afghanistan after about a week in his new job. He says there are plenty of challenges ahead as U.S. and NATO forces draw down and security is handed over to Afghans.
** QUICK HITS. Former Secretary of State George Shultz of California, who served in four Cabinet posts during the Reagan and Nixon Administrations, was in Washington today pushing action on climate change. He also backed renewable energy and hydraulic fracturing. Shultz joined with then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and hedge fund enviro Tom Steyer in leading the charge against a 2010 ballot measure to do away with California’s landmark climate change program. … Former state Senate leader and San Francisco Congressman John Burton is going for another term at the California Democratic Party convention next month in Sacramento. With Governor Jerry Brown’s backing. I’m not aware of him having an opponent. Burton, now 80, has the state party organization humming along, with a huge warchest, and has avoided collateral political damage from his famously, er, pithy comments while still scoring opponents in his inimitable fashion.
** NEW SURVEY: TEXAS LEADS THE WAY! A new Gallup Poll survey shows that Texas not only leads the way in one of the most important measures of well-being, it is increasingly that lead.
Unfortunately, it’s on the negative side of the well-being equation.
For the fifth straight year, Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country — the 28.8% of adult Texans lacking healthcare coverage in 2012 is the highest for any state since Gallup and Healthways started tracking insurance coverage in January 2008. This widens the gap between Texas and the state with the second-highest uninsured rate in the country, Louisiana (24.0%), to 4.8 percentage points — the largest number separating these two spots on record. Massachusetts continues to have the lowest uninsured rate in the U.S., at 4.5%. …
The gap between Texas and the state with the second-highest uninsured rate — which has varied from year to year — has increased from 3.5 points or less in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
These state-level data are based on daily surveys conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index from January through December 2012 and include at least 900 residents in every state.
An average of 16.9% of all adults reported lacking health insurance last year, similar to the 17.1% in 2011, but still much higher than the 14.8% in 2008. In most states, the uninsured rate was unchanged in 2012 compared with 2011. The percentage of uninsured adults increased statistically significantly in eight states last year: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Louisiana, Texas, California, and Arizona.
The uninsured rates in 24 states remained statistically higher in 2012 than they were in 2008. And four states have seen at least marginal increases in their uninsured rates every year since 2008: Rhode Island, New Jersey, California, and New York. No state has recorded consistent year-over-year declines in the uninsured rate during the past five years.
** THE SUDDENLY SCRAMBLING OBAMA. Quite a week for President Barack Obama. A week of reversing field after unforced White House errors and Republican intractability.
First there was his suddenly quieter and more realistic tone on the budget sequester, the latest over-hyped Beltway melodrama.
Then, after many weeks of demonization, came his sudden charm offensive with congressional Republicans.
Finally, after his administration’s intransigence helped produce a new national star in Senator Rand Paul, there was a hint of some clarity in the still alarmingly murky situation around our drone strike policy.
* The fabled budget sequester, the latest chapter in Washingtonian government-by-melodramatic-crisis, is here. And it looks none too dramatic so far.
Not surprisingly, I never sensed a lot of panic about the sequester outside the hype-prone political and media classes.
Which, though he still has the rhetorical upper hand over Republicans, not exactly a feat these days, is a problem for Obama. He seems to have oversold the impact of $85 billion in automatic budget cuts, over half of which hit what is by far, which is to say several orders of magnitude, the most heavily funded military apparatus in the world.
As a result, he’s had to throttle back the rhetoric dramatically from his dire forecasts of recent weeks.
* From crushing Republicans to charming Republicans.
Obama’s public schedule is frequently not very helpful in discerning what his actual schedule is. But this week some Republicans started popping up on it. Now it turns out that he has been spending a great deal of time in a mostly private charm offensive with congressional Republicans.
Obama, trying a new tack on the sequester and overall fiscal fronts, has embarked on an extensive program of reaching out to Republican members of Congress, having privately had a number of them over a couple of evenings this week at the White House.
On Wednesday night, he even took a dozen Republican senators to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, including his 2008 rival John McCain and McCain’s fellow antagonist of new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and UN Ambassador Susan Rice, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
The Republican-bashing strategy crashed around the sequester. (In part because most of the public didn’t buy the, if you will, Skyfall scenario.) Republicans didn’t move and, in classic Washington fashion, nothing happened except that preordained by earlier autopilot.
So Obama is opting for something new. Does it make sense? We’ll see. It would probably seem less necessary to the White House had it not oversold the sequester.
* A ray of light on drone policy.
There’s even a ray of light shining on the still too murky drone policy. Following a dramatic and all-too-rare real filibuster on Wednesday, John Brennan was confirmed Thursday as the new director of the CIA on a 63 to 34 vote in the Senate. This came after Kentucky Senator Rand Paul finally got a direct answer from Attorney General Eric Holder to his question about whether, under our highly classified drone policy, an American citizen who is not engaged in a terrorist attack can be killed on American soil.
He or she cannot be executed by the government in such a situation. Why the administration couldn’t say that the first few times it was asked is mysterious.
Paul launched an old-fashioned, for-real filibuster of CIA Director-designate John Brennan’s confirmation in the Senate, citing the Obama administration’s refusal to rule out a clandestinely-determined drone strike against an American citizen in the U.S. Paul acknowledges that he does not fear such an Obama order actually taking place but is troubled by the expansive powers being claimed in drone policy. The first-term senator was joined by several other conservative Republican senators and by liberal Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.
Paul is out to shine a light on the very clandestine U.S. drone strike policies which, among many things, allow for the execution of American citizens abroad without any apparent due process beyond an anonymous star chamber proceeding which is anything but due process. Brennan was in large measure the architect of the drone policies in his role during Obama’s first term as chief White House counter-terrorism advisor.
To be clear, as longtime readers know, I personally favor aggressive intelligence and special operations actions as part — emphasis on part — of an approach to dealing with transnational jihadism. Carefully targeted drone strikes play into that.
But at a certain point, drone strikes move from being carefully targeted to being a wholesale measure, likely creating more problems than they solve, fomenting widespread antipathy toward the U.S. and creating more recruits for jihadism than would otherwise exist. …
Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law has been charged in a federal indictment with conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens. He was arraigned this morning in federal court in lower Manhattan.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … THE SUDDENLY SCRAMBLING OBAMA.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received the intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
Obama then met with senior advisors in the Oval Office.
Meanwhile, Biden swore in White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room.
Following that, Obama met with faith leaders to discuss the need for immigration reform, also in the Roosevelt Room.
Obama got some good news this morning.
The economy added 236,000 jobs last month, more than anticipated. And the unemployment rate dipped to 7.7%, the lowest since 2008.
Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, captured, apparently, by US special forces accompanied by CIA officers and FBI agents while trying to travel from Jordan to Kuwait, was arraigned this morning in New York City on charges of conspiring to kill Americans. The Kuwaiti citizen has been an official spokesman for Al Qaeda. We’ll be hearing a little bit about this going forward.
Security was very tight in the Manhattan courtroom.
New Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is off to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. The Vietnam War hero is there to confer with Afghan leaders and American soldiers about the “glide slope” to full transition of security responsibilities in Afghanistan.
Here is what Hagel said about the Afghan War transition on his plane en route to Manas Air Base outside the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek:
Q: You had your own experience in Vietnam, and I’m wondering to what extent this is reminiscent of Vietnam in that the U.S. is trying to wind down there? And also what is your sense of how does this end?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, let’s not forget the beginning. What was the point of going to Afghanistan? Many of you — David was there. Thom you were probably around as I recall. It was to — part of the reason we went there was to give the Afghan people an opportunity for their country, their people, to be free of terrorists and a government that was very hostile to what was going on in the neighborhood, and certainly as an effect of what happened September 11, 2001. It was never the intention of the United States to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.
So I — I think we need to follow through the reasons we first went there, what we have tried to do. It is the — it is the Afghan people who need to make, and will make their own decisions about their future. We can help. We have helped, as well as our allies.
But there does come a time when — when that should be transitioned, that role that we — we had. As to the parallels to Vietnam? There are always parallels to any war. The only thing I would say is the world we live in today is so complicated. And we have to factor that into our policies and everything that we do.
And I — I think that, that speaks for itself, that complicated world that we live in. And I think one — one other additional point on this to your question of how it ends, I think we — we all, who have invested an awful lot here in this effort, especially the men and women who have made tremendous sacrifices for our country and their families, I — I think we are transitioning in a way that give the Afghan people a very hopeful future.
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.
Oz the Great and Powerful looks like the first big hit movie of 2013. James Franco, star of the mega-budget prequel to The Wizard of Oz, got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday. Governor Jerry Brown was, as is his practice, not in attendance.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
The California legislature yesterday approved expansion of MediCal (i.e., Medicaid) as part of the national Obamacare program.
This is in keeping with Brown’s strategy to accelerate California’s move into the new national health care system.
The legislature also moved to appropriate $24 million to get guns out of the hands of people legally prohibited from having them due to criminal convictions or mental illness. How? By cross-checking against registered gun owners.
This is one of the least controversial of the new gun control proposals made in the wake of recent massacres.
** CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS: OUT OF STUNTS. … From my March 6th column.
** WILL JERRY BROWN BE UNOPPOSED FOR RE-ELECTION? … From my March 4th feature.
** SECRETARY HAGEL AND THE SENATE’S MASSIVE WASTE OF TIME. … From my February 27th essay.
** OSCARMANIA! (OR NOT): A POLITICAL STEW ON LIGHT SIMMER. … From my February 25th essay.
** THE HAILSTORM AROUND HAGEL POINTS UP THE SYSTEM’S DYSFUNCTIONALITY. … From my February 21st essay.
** THE ANTI-HAGEL GAMBITS: CLEVER, BUT NOT REALLY THAT CLEVER. … From my February 15th essay.
** WITH LITTLE POLITICAL OR POLICY IMPACT AND DUMBED DOWN LANGUAGE, DOES THE STATE OF THE UNION EVEN MATTER? … From my February 12th 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 $91 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $57 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 $23 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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