Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Gift of the gas

 

Gasoline drips off a nozzle during refueling at a gas station in Altadena, California in this March 24, 2012 file photo. Picture taken March 24, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

After negotiating a tricky stretch of road, the Obama campaign may be easing into the straightaway in the gas-driven presidential race.

News on Monday of a delay in the planned closure of the largest refinery on the East Coast could mean an end to skyrocketing gas prices. And that would effectively take the wind out of a forceful Republican line of attack — that the president is to be blamed for $4 a gallon gas, arguably the most visible price in the American economy today.

The narrative was working against the president, who currently gets some of his lowest poll marks for his handling of energy prices, even though the causes of higher prices are largely beyond his control. Even so, we shouldn’t expect the Republicans to simply drop the rhetoric.

“Until we are at the point where people don’t feel like they’re squeezing their entire paychecks into the gas tank, it’s an issue that Republicans are going to keep talking about,” said a Senate Republican aide.

Washington Extra – Happy Thanksgiving

dinnerHappy Thanksgiving! Washington Extra will return on Monday.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

U.S. vows unified response to North Korea, eyes restraint

The U.S. urged restraint following a North Korean artillery attack on South Korea and vowed to forge a “measured and unified” response with major powers including China.

For more of this story by Phil Stewart and Andrew Quinn, read here.

N.Korea pulls U.S. back to a “land of lousy options”

North Korea‘s artillery attack on South Korea poses the second test in three days of Washington’s vow that it will not reward what it deems bad behavior with diplomatic gestures, and underscores that options are limited without serious help from China.

For more of this analysis by Paul Eckert, read here.

Bernanke’s plea for fiscal help goes unanswered

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s unusually blunt plea for fiscal help will probably go unanswered, leaving the economy too limp to put people back to work any time soon. Bernanke has warned that the country is on an economic trajectory that will leave millions unemployed or underemployed for many years, and he said there were limits to what the central bank alone could do to help.

Washington Extra – Bad behavior

“We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today, after revelations that the world’s most reclusive state showed off its latest advances in uranium enrichment. “They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result. We’re not going to buy into this cycle.”

Those are sound intentions, although analysts are already predicting the United States will find a way to restart six-party talks in the next six months or so if only as a containment strategy,  despite the fact that North Korea appears completely unwilling to talk seriously about denuclearization.

kimJack Pritchard, a former State Department official responsible for dealings with North Korea who visited the country earlier this month, said Kim Jong-il’s effort to build the credibility of his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, meant “they can’t negotiate away what little leverage they have.”

McCain sees India, U.S. teaming up against “troubling” China

SUMMIT-WASHINGTON

As President Barack Obama begins his visit to India, his erstwhile rival John McCain is voicing hope that Washington and New Delhi will tighten up their military cooperation in the face of China’s “troubling” assertiveness.

McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a think-tank audience in Washington on Friday that the two huge democracies were natural allies in the quest to temper China’s ambitions.

“While India and the United States each continue to encourage a peaceful rise for China, we must recognize that one of the greatest factors for shaping this outcome and making it more likely is a robust U.S.-India strategic partnership,” McCain said.

State Dept seeks new ally vs. North Korea: PETA

North Korea — you have been warned.

The State Department on Monday held out the possibility that the isolated Stalinist state’s belligerent rumblings could earn it a powerful new foe on the world stage:  animal rights activist group PETA.

RTRFRGY_CompAsked at a news briefing about North Korea’s latest move, which saw it fire a barrage of artillery shells into the ocean near South Korea, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was blunt:

“Well, I’m sure it resulted in a lot of dead fish.  And we certainly hope that PETA will protest,” he said.

In Bill-Hillary popularity contest, Bill wins

Hillary Clinton may be Secretary of State, but her husband Bill still wins the popularity contest.

The former president grabbed the headlines recently on what could be considered her diplomatic turf by going to North Korea and securing the release of two American reporters.

And then he was off to Las Vegas to celebrate his upcoming 63rd birthday with pals at a steak house where an 8 ounce goes for $240 — and that’s without a baked potato or veggies — according to the New York Times.

North Korea requests Clinton. So off he goes.

KOREA-NORTH/It turns out that it was North Korea which had suggested that former President Bill Clinton would be the best person to come and negotiate the release of two journalists who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in the Stalinist state.
 
The U.S. government — particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — had been working for months on trying to free the two journalists. The secretary of state reportedly proposed sending various people to Pyongyang, including Clinton’s former vice president Al Gore, to lobby for the women’s release.
 
But North Korea rejected Gore and other possible envoys like Senator John Kerry, Governor Bill Richardson and former ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg. Pyongyang wanted President Clinton and passed that word along through the two detained journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were making occasional phone calls to their families.
 
“In mid-July during one such phone call, Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee shared what the North Koreans had told them — that they would be willing to grant them amnesty and release the two Americans if an envoy in the person of President Clinton would agree to come to Pyongyang and seek their release,” a senior administration official said.

KOREA-NORTH/The families passed the request along to Gore, who co-founded the media group that employs the women. Gore then asked the Obama administration if the former president could make the trip.

Once the administration determined that North Korea would indeed release Ling and Lee if Clinton made the trip, the former president agreed to travel to Pyongyang on a “private, humanitarian mission.”

Bill grabs spotlight from Hillary

KOREA-NORTH/For months, Bill Clinton has stayed out of the diplomatic spotlight in deference to his wife.

But the former U.S. president has dominated the news since he turned up in North Korea seeking the release of two American journalists, while Hillary Clinton headed to Africa for her first major trip there as the top U.S. diplomat.

Secretary of State Clinton stayed out of sight from reporters traveling with her on the 15-hour flight to Kenya. Her staff said she would not comment on her husband’s mission to Pyongyang, which the White House billed as private.

from Global News Journal:

How Ill is Kim Jong-il?

Photo:A compilation by Reuters of pool photographs and images provided by North Korea's KCNA news agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 2004 to 2009. The photograph in the lower right was released this week by KCNA

By Jon Herskovitz

The image the world once had of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with a trademark paunch, platform shoes and a bouffant hair-do, is gone and may never come back. He has now become a gaunt figure with thinning hair who has trouble walking in normal shoes, let alone ones with heels 8-10 centimetres (3-4 inches) high like he used to wear.

A look at photographs the North’s official media has released of Kim over the past few months indicate he is not a healthy man. There has been an enormous amount of speculation about what is wrong with Kim, 67, including a report from South Korean TV network YTN this week that he has life-threatening pancreatic cancer.

The First Draft: missiles, jobs and a soldier captured

USA-SUMMIT/PROTESTAs sometimes happens in Washington, much of the news reverberating around town this morning started someplace else.

From the other side of the world, reports that North Korea has test-fired short-range missiles, including two surface-to-ship missiles, from its east coast. From Afghanistan, the Pentagon confirmed a U.S. soldier has been captured, and Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility. What is not known now is why and how.

There is some domestic news on this getaway morning — the official U.S. Independence Day holiday starts tomorrow, one day ahead of July Fourth celebrations — and it brings some gloom to the picture: U.S. employers cut 467,000 jobs in June, more than analysts expected. That brings the U.S. unemployment rate to 9.5 percent, the highest since 1983.