Top US intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the retired Air Force general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said today that cyber attacks and hacking constitute the top national security threat going forward.
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … DRONING, PIVOTING, AND OUR MAN IN KABUL.
** QUICK HITS. Governor Jerry Brown will attend the University of California Board of Regents meeting Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco. … Also on Wednesday, Brown will join US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for an announcement on renewable energy in San Francisco. … Backers of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state’s regulatory framework law which critics want to alter to avert lawsuits and make some developments easier, rallied today at the Capitol led by labor leaders and enviros. They said they opposed any efforts to gut the law but did not say what changes might be unacceptable. … Brown, who has strong longstanding environmental bona fides, is among those calling for adjustments to the law, but has been unspecific about the particulars. …
** NEW SURVEY: IRAQIS SAY THEIR COUNTRY’S SECURITY SITUATION IS BETTER OFF WITH THE AMERICAN PRESENCE REMOVED. A new Gallup Poll survey indicates that Iraqis feel better off with the Americans gone. They even feel better about the security situation, despite the many attacks and bombings that nonetheless still take place as sectarian violence continues.
This is contrary to expectations for the many US leaders who wanted a significant ongoing US military presence in Iraq even after the cessation of major hostilities and withdrawal of most forces.
But most think that the country’s political and economic situation is worse. This number is driven heavily by Sunnis, who are largely shut out of the Iranian-leaning Shiite government now running Iraq.
A little more than one year after the last U.S. military vehicles exited their country, more Iraqis report security to be better (42%) than worse (19%) as a result of the U.S. withdrawal, according to a Gallup poll conducted in Iraq last October. While some military analysts feared that Iraqi security forces would fail to fill the security vacuum left in the absence of U.S. forces, which numbered 170,000 at their height, many Iraqis now perceive security to have been positively impacted by the U.S. departure. Still, Iraqis view the effects of the U.S. pullout on other issues more unevenly, with many saying the country’s economic and political climate is worse as a result of the withdrawal.
The 10-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq passes this month, with violence still down significantly from the darkest periods of Iraq’s civil war in 2006 and 2007. Nonetheless, sectarian tension remains just under the surface, as al-Qaeda continues its bombing campaigns in Iraqi cities and tensions mount between Baghdad and the country’s autonomous Kurdish region. …
Since the U.S. withdrawal, Iraq’s Sunni and Shia communities have taken somewhat different views of the country’s trajectory, with Sunnis seeing the situation in the country more negatively after the pullout.
In particular, Sunnis are significantly more likely than Shias to see corruption as worsening after the U.S. pullout — 69% vs. 39%. And, 73% of Sunnis say the country’s jobs and unemployment situation has worsened since the U.S. withdrawal, compared with 60% of Shias. …
** NEW SURVEY: ECONOMIC CONFIDENCE EASES BACK UP AFTER SLIGHT SEQUESTER SLIDE. A new Gallup Poll survey indicates that economic confidence is moving back up after declining in the wake of the imposition of the federal budget sequester.
At least in terms of perception, the impact of the automatic cuts is not being felt over time, as the revised White House communications strategy would have it, at least so far.
Americans’ confidence in the economy improved last week after it was shaken during the debate in Washington about the budget sequestration. Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index improved to -17 from -22 the prior week, when the budget sequestration took effect. Still, last week’s score is nine percentage points lower than the five-year high reached in early February. …
The Gallup Daily tracking three-day rolling average at the beginning of last week (March 2-4) — after Congress and the president failed to reach an agreement to avoid the automatic budget cuts — was -27, tied for the lowest such average since last September. The three-day rolling averages steadily improved throughout the week to -12 for March 8-10. This may have at least partially reflected consumer reaction to last week’s gains in the Dow and Standard & Poor’s, perceptions that sequestration did not have an immediate impact on many Americans, and Friday’s government jobs report that showed unemployment dropping to 7.7%. The three-day rolling averages’ steady climb indicates that the jobs report was not the only factor relating to the improvement in economic confidence. …
Congressman Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, this morning unveiled the House Republican budget. He says it will balance the federal budget in 10 years. It has a familiar ring to it, if you remember what Ryan was saying in the campaign that ended just over three months ago.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received the intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
Biden earlier hosted a breakfast meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry at the Naval Observatory.
Obama then made remarks at a meeting of his Export Council at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
At 8:10 AM Pacific, Obama holds a bilateral meeting with His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam, with Biden also in attendance, in the Oval Office.
At 9 AM Pacific, Obama and the sultan of Brunei meet for lunch in the Blue Room.
At 10:30 AM Pacific, Obama meets with the Senate Democratic Caucus at the United States Capitol.
At 1:35 PM Pacific, Obama and Biden meet with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the Oval Office.
Clearly, this was a day intended for Pacific pivot geopolitics and coordinating with Congress.
Brunei is on the South China Sea — site of much contention in the region — and will host key summitry later this year.
But Afghanistan has flared into deeper crisis over the weekend, coinciding with Hagel’s first visit there as defense secretary. He and Obama traveled there together as senators in 2008.
White House press secretary Jay Carney yesterday slammed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s claim that the US and Taliban are colluding in Afghanistan. “In fact those bombs,” Karzai claimed in a Monday speech, “set off yesterday in the name of the Taliban, were in the service of Americans to keep foreigners longer in Afghanistan.”
“Any suggestion the United States is colluding with the Taliban is categorically false,” Carney stated angrily in his press briefing. “The United States has spent enormous blood and treasure for the past 12 years supporting the Afghan people and ensuring, in the effort to ensure stability and security in that country. The last thing we would do is support any kind of violence particularly involving innocent civilians.”
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.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
California state Controller John Chiang reported Monday that the state’s revenue picture continues to look strong and ahead of projections, with corporate and sales taxes above forecast while income taxes, due to more early refunds, are down some.
Brown’s balanced budget is holding up quite well. So he had good news to discuss with the Republican legislators he and First Lady/Special Advisor had to dinner last night at the Old Governor’s Mansion.
It was the latest in a series of outreach meetings Brown is holding with state legislators, especially the newer ones and Republicans.
** FOR CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS, STUNT POLITICS WORKED FOR AWHILE AND THEN BACKFIRED (YET DEMS CAN STILL BLOW IT). California Republicans aren’t down to 29 percent registration, with no one serious to run against Governor Jerry Brown, no statewide electeds, and shrinking minorities in the state Legislature and congressional delegation because they need a better get-out-the-vote operation, more spending on ethnic outreach, or more PR, the implicit premise of their “nuts and bolts” approach under new state party chair Jim Brulte. They’re dead in the water because they’re too extreme and out of touch with most Californians.
But even as they were sliding ever farther to the right, and increasingly out of touch with a much more diverse and socially liberal and environmentally conscious populace, Republicans managed to stay in the game with ascending Democrats, largely through a series of stunts.
This grows clearer looking back from the most recent political history to that of nearly 20 years ago, contemporary by any real standard but practically ancient history in our increasingly ADD and ahistorical culture.
* In 2012, after running tens of millions of dollars from a handful of mega-rich donors through the Small Business Action Committee re-branding operation, conservative Republicans upped the ante on stuntsmanship with the biggest anonymous political contribution in California history, a whopping $11 million. All still secret, despite the intervention of the Republican majority state Supreme Court.
All as part of a backfiring attempt to stop Brown’s Proposition 30 revenue initiative and boost the latest losing initiative attempt to hamstring public employee union campaign spending. These shenanigans, when properly spun up by Brown and company, only fed the Democrats’ victory margin last November.
* In 2011, the party spent millions it couldn’t afford in a failed attempt to block new state Senate districts drawn by the citizens redistricting commission. Fearing that, with districts no longer gerrymandered by political horsetrading in the legislature, they would lose their ability to block many fiscal moves through having a “super-minority” of at least a third of the seats in the Senate, they spent heavily to qualify a referendum against the work of the commission created by the redistricting reform commission.
But they couldn’t get the Republican majority state Supreme Court to use the existence of the referendum on the November 2012 ballot as a reason to force state Senate races to take place in unreformed districts. And knowing they could not actually pass the referendum itself, the Republican leadership allowed the entire gambit to simply collapse.
* Before that, in 2010, came the stunt of running a billionaire for governor. But Meg Whitman was crushed by Jerry Brown, despite waging the biggest spending non-presidential campaign in American history.
A cadre of Republican consultants made very big money from Whitman. But the bonanza for political operators — and for local TV stations, which booked endless ads from the free-spending ex-eBay head — was no bonanza for Republicans, or for California.
In the end, the spending itself backfired on Whitman, and on the Republicans, turning off voters who grew tired of seeing and hearing from the candidate.
The frequency of the stunts in the past few years mirrored the growing desperation of the Republican Party. But its competitiveness at the statewide level had been dependent on the success of some very big stunts well before that.
* One of the biggest was the acceptance of global superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took Republicans with him on two landslide election wins as governor. Schwarzenegger ran because he decided to run, not because of a clever master plan by the party. Yet most were eager to jump on the bandwagon. Had Schwarzenegger not run and mounted a credible campaign in the dramatic 2003 recall election, then Governor Gray Davis would likely have retained office.
But most active Republicans missed the underlying point of Schwarzenegger’s candidacy. They expressly rejected the moderation that led to two big election wins and, instead, they kept veering to the right.
* Big as these stunts were, the mother of all stunts, to paraphrase Saddam Hussein, the one that kept Republicans competitive in the Golden State after Bill Clinton moved California into the Democratic column in presidential politics, was back in 1994, when incumbent Governor Pete Wilson, threatened by Kathleen Brown’s candidacy, seized on illegal immigration and rode the draconian Proposition 187 to a smashing re-election victory. Prop 187 was thrown out by the courts, as some more sophisticated Republicans who backed the move anticipated.
With Brown taking a determined stand against 187 in defeat, despite much advice to the contrary on the Democratic side, this stunt proved to be a Pyrrhic victory in the long run for Republicans. Then state Treasurer Brown, sister of the current governor, placed Democrats on the side of the rising Latino community, putting Republicans on the wrong side of the long-term political equation.
With Republicans in such profound disarray, can Democrats still screw up their opportunity for ongoing dominance?
Democratic strategist David Townsend argues that the Republican Party is “too white, too right and too uptight. I think California is going to stay blue a long time.”
But former Governor Gray Davis, who spent seven years as Brown’s chief of staff during his first go-round as governor and then won two terms of his own, only to be recalled, notes tellingly: “Everything that goes up can also come down.”
And Townsend does see a major problem on the horizon. “I think that someday the pension balloon is going to come crashing down and could give a Republican a shot of riding it to the governor’s office. Short of that, the Republicans can’t get out of their own way.”
A combination of things, over time, might yet lead to disaster for Democrats. The shortfall in public pensions and retiree health care, too many examples of bad public spending, a souring economy, scandal, an absence of Brown, and so on.
Over time, such things can add up in very negative ways.
But for now, with Republican stunts exhausted yet, in some cases — immigrant bashing, dark money ploys — backfiring still, Democratic prospects in this election cycle are bright.
The state’s chronic general fund budget crisis is ended. Brown is on a glide path for re-election and should be able to weather any likely near term problems.
Those dark clouds for Dems on the horizon? They’re still out there, on that horizon.
Five US troops were killed today when their helicopter went down in southern Afghanistan.
** THE SUDDENLY SCRAMBLING OBAMA. … From my March 8th column.
** 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.
** 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 $93 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $59 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 $21 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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