Monday, April 16, 2012

'SNL' says the real Romney is 'considering' an appearance

Dana Edelson / NBC; EPA

Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney on 'SNL'; Mitt Romney on the campaign trail.

Mitt Romney may take a turn on "Saturday Night Live."
The sketch-comedy show has had a field day satirizing the former Massachusetts governor. In March, the comedy powerhouse had some fun with the Romney sons and the most recent episode showed a bar full of failed GOP candidates chummily crooning to Romney as the presumptive nominee.
And while Jason Sudeikis has handled the gig of portraying the contender thus far, 'SNL' executive producer Lorne Michaels said he has put out an invite to the actual Romney to appear.
Romney is "considering it," according to a New York Times interview with the show's writers.
Though the show would love a visit from Romney they said he's not quite the gift horse Sarah Palin was to the show when actress Tina Fey famously depicted the “mama grizzly."
"Sarah Palin was a once-in-a-lifetime situation,” head writer Seth Meyers told the Times' Maureen Dowd. “She was incredibly magnetic and came with a built-in catchphrase.”
Romney’s taken a ribbing, but a guest spot on the show could give him a chance to hit back a bit while poking fun at himself.

Romney offers policy details at closed-door fundraiser


PALM BEACH, Fla. — Mitt Romney went well beyond his standard stump speech at a closed-door fundraiser on Sunday evening, and offered some of the most specific details to date about the policies he would pursue if elected.

Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney floated the idea of eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the cabinet-level agency once led by the candidate's father.

In a speech to donors in the backyard of a private home here, the former Massachusetts governor and presumptive GOP presidential nominee outlined his plans to potentially eliminate or consolidate federal agencies, win back Latino voters and reform the nation's tax code.
And even Ann Romney, the subject of a national debate last week over the role of women in the workplace, was more direct than usual. She sounded like a political tactician when she described a Democratic consultant's criticism of her decision to be a stay-at-home mom as "an early birthday gift."
Romney went into a level of detail not usually seen by the public in the speech, which was overheard by reporters on a sidewalk below. One possibility floated by Romney included the elimination of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Cabinet-level agency once led by Romney's father, George.
"I'm going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I'm probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go," Romney said. "Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I'm not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we've got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states."
Asked about the fate of the Department of Education in a potential Romney administration, the former governor suggested it would also face a dramatic restructuring.
"The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I'm not going to get rid of it entirely," Romney said, explaining that part of his reasoning behind preserving the agency was to maintain a federal role in pushing back against teachers' unions. Romney added that he learned in his 1994 campaign for Senate that proposing to eliminate the agency was politically volatile.
At that time, Sen. Ted Kennedy ran ads against Romney — then a political neophyte — accusing him of being uncaring for saying he wished to eliminate the agency.
Romney told the audience here tonight (along with the Weekly Standard in an interview in early April) that that experience remains fresh in his mind. It's contributed to his caution in publicly naming federal agencies and programs he would eliminate or dramatically curtail.
Romney's wife Ann also spoke briefly, where she described her role in a controversy over women in the workplace and Republicans' efforts to make inroads with female voters.
Mrs. Romney acknowledged Republicans' deficit at present with female voters, and urged the women in attendance to talk to their friends, particularly about the economy. She also discussed the criticism she faced this week, and her pride in her role as a mother.
"It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a defining moment, and I loved it," Mrs. Romney said.
Gov. Romney went further in engaging the so-called "war on moms" that followed in the media — upon which his campaign has been aggressively fundraising — calling it a "gift" that allowed his campaign to show contrast with Democrats in the general election's first week.
Romney also went into greater detail than he has on the campaign trail in describing how he would maintain the progressive structure in the tax code after implementing his 20 percent across-the-board tax cut.
Democrats have argued that Romney's tax proposals would disproportionately help the wealthy, but on Sunday, Romney identified specific loopholes and deductions for the wealthy that he would eliminate in order to both finance his tax cut, and ensure that the nation's top earners face the same tax burden they do today.
"I'm going to probably eliminate for high income people the second home mortgage deduction," Romney said, adding that he would also likely eliminate deductions for state income and property taxes as well.
"By virtue of doing that, we'll get the same tax revenue, but we'll have lower rates," Romney explained. "The nice thing about lower rates is that small businesses not get to keep a larger share of what they're earning and plow it back in to hire more people and expand their business."
Romney covered much of the ground he does in his standard stump speech before a crowd of several dozen donors, who were gathered to contribute to his new general election "Victory Fund." But Romney also offered, over fried chicken and snapper, a simpler way of understanding his economic policies.
"I'm asked — how do you boil it down, how do you encapsulate this into a campaign message: Two things, jobs and kids," Romney said, explaining that restarting job growth and preserving a better future for the next generation were the campaign's guiding principles.
Though the general election campaign has only begun in earnest — and the policy proposals floated by Romney on Sunday evening were far from formal platform items — the former governor's remarks marked the campaign's acute sense of what awaits them in the coming months.
That sense was represented in Ann and Mitt Romney's discussion of how they might win back women. The former governor also addressed how he might make strides toward winning back Hispanic voters, another crucial voting bloc with whom he and other Republicans lag, according to recent polls.
Predicting that immigration would become a much larger issue in the fall campaign, Romney told his audience, "We have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party," warning that recent polling showing Hispanics breaking in huge percentages for President Obama "spells doom for us."
Romney said the GOP must offer its own policies to woo Hispanics, including a "Republican DREAM Act," referring to the legislative proposal favored by Democrats that would offer illegal immigrants a limited path to citizenship, to give Hispanic voters a real choice between parties.
Romney nonetheless predicted that, by November, the economy would trump immigration as a driving issue for Hispanic voters, and he vowed also to remind the Hispanic community that, despite promises of comprehensive immigration reform by Obama, Democrats ultimately fell short in passing legislation in their two years in control of Congress and the White House at the start of the president's term.
Romney also described his media strategy going forward, including his views on so-called "earned media," and how the campaign might pair surrogates with complimentary news outlets.
He said his campaign had been well-covered by Fox News, but that Fox was watched by "the true believers," and that he knew he would have to reach out to a broader audience in order to win over independents and women voters that will decide the election in November. He painted a picture of a media landscape in which liberal voices won out on television, but conservatives were strongest online.
"We are behind when it comes to commentators on TV. They tend to be liberal," Romney said. "Where we are ahead or even is on twitter and on the Internet."

World's armies circle as Arctic warms to reveal untapped supplies of oil and gas

Lucas Jackson / Reuters, file

U.S. Navy safety swimmers stand on the deck of the Virginia class submarine USS New Hampshire after it surfaced through thin ice during exercises underneath ice in the Arctic Ocean north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 19, 2011.

YOKOSUKA, Japan -- To the world's military leaders, the debate over climate change is long over. They are preparing for a new kind of Cold War in the Arctic, anticipating that rising temperatures there will open up a treasure trove of resources, long-dreamed-of sea lanes and a slew of potential conflicts.
By Arctic standards, the region is already buzzing with military activity, and experts believe that will increase significantly in the years ahead.
Last month, Norway wrapped up one of the largest Arctic maneuvers ever — Exercise Cold Response — with 16,300 troops from 14 countries training on the ice for everything from high intensity warfare to terror threats. Attesting to the harsh conditions, five Norwegian troops were killed when their C-130 Hercules aircraft crashed near the summit of Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest mountain.
The U.S., Canada and Denmark held major exercises two months ago, and in an unprecedented move, the military chiefs of the seven main Arctic powers — Canada, the U.S., Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland — are to gather at a Canadian military base in May to specifically discuss regional security issues.
None of this means a shooting war is likely at the North Pole any time soon. But as the number of workers and ships increases in the High North to exploit oil and gas reserves, so will the need for policing, border patrols and — if push comes to shove — military muscle to enforce rival claims.

High stakes

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its untapped natural gas is in the Arctic.
Shipping lanes could be regularly open across the Arctic by 2030 as rising temperatures continue to melt the sea ice, according to a National Research Council analysis commissioned by the U.S. Navy last year.

UK report analyzes risks of Arctic development

What countries should do about climate change remains a heated political debate. But that has not stopped north-looking militaries from moving ahead with strategies that assume current trends will continue.
Russia, Canada and the United States have the biggest stakes in the Arctic. With its military budget stretched thin by Iraq, Afghanistan and more pressing issues elsewhere, the United States has been something of a reluctant northern power, though its nuclear-powered submarine fleet, which can navigate for months underwater and below the ice cap, remains second to none.

                                                                                                  Lucas Jackson / Reuters, file

U.S. Navy watch a display in the control room of the Virginia class submarine USS New Hampshire as it surfaces during exercises underneath ice in the Arctic Ocean north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 20, 2011.

Russia — one-third of which lies within the Arctic Circle — has been the most aggressive in establishing itself as the emerging region's superpower.
Rob Huebert, an associate political science professor at the University of Calgary in Canada, said Russia has recovered enough from its economic troubles of the 1990s to significantly rebuild its Arctic military capabilities, which were a key to the overall Cold War strategy of the Soviet Union, and has increased its bomber patrols and submarine activity.
Huebert said that has in turn led other Arctic countries — Norway, Denmark and Canada — to resume regional military exercises that they had abandoned or cut back on after the Soviet collapse. Even non-Arctic nations such as France have expressed interest in deploying their militaries to the Arctic.

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"We have an entire ocean region that had previously been closed to the world now opening up," Huebert said. "There are numerous factors now coming together that are mutually reinforcing themselves, causing a buildup of military capabilities in the region. This is only going to increase as time goes on."
Noting that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, the U.S. Navy in 2009 announced a beefed-up Arctic Roadmap by its own task force on climate change that called for a three-stage strategy to increase readiness, build cooperative relations with Arctic nations and identify areas of potential conflict.

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"We want to maintain our edge up there," said Cmdr. Ian Johnson, the captain of the USS Connecticut, which is one of the U.S. Navy's most Arctic-capable nuclear submarines and was deployed to the North Pole last year. "Our interest in the Arctic has never really waned. It remains very important."  

US 'inadequately prepared'

But the U.S. remains ill-equipped for large-scale Arctic missions, according to a simulation conducted by the U.S. Naval War College. A summary released last month found the Navy is "inadequately prepared to conduct sustained maritime operations in the Arctic" because it lacks ships able to operate in or near Arctic ice, support facilities and adequate communications.

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The findings indicate the Navy is entering a new realm in the Arctic," said Walter Berbrick, a War College professor who participated in the simulation. "Instead of other nations relying on the U.S. Navy for capabilities and resources, sustained operations in the Arctic region will require the Navy to rely on other nations for capabilities and resources."
He added that although the U.S. nuclear submarine fleet is a major asset, the Navy has severe gaps elsewhere — it doesn't have any icebreakers, for example. The only one in operation belongs to the Coast Guard. The U.S. is currently mulling whether to add more icebreakers.

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Acknowledging the need to keep apace in the Arctic, the United States is pouring funds into figuring out what climate change will bring, and has been working closely with the scientific community to calibrate its response.
"The Navy seems to be very on board regarding the reality of climate change and the especially large changes we are seeing in the Arctic," said Mark C. Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences University of Colorado. "There is already considerable collaboration between the Navy and civilian scientists and I see this collaboration growing in the future."
The most immediate challenge may not be war — both military and commercial assets are sparse enough to give all countries elbow room for a while — but whether militaries can respond to a disaster.
Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the London-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said militaries probably will have to rescue their own citizens in the Arctic before any confrontations arise there.
"Catastrophic events, like a cruise ship suddenly sinking or an environmental accident related to the region's oil and gas exploration, would have a profound impact in the Arctic," she said. "The risk is not militarization; it is the lack of capabilities while economic development and human activity dramatically increases that is the real risk."

Painter Thomas Kinkade was 'drinking all night' when he died

Gene Blythe / AP file

Thomas Kinkade in 2006.

The cause of painter Thomas Kinkade's April 6 death may not be known for months, but according to an emergency call placed that evening, he had been "drinking all night," and his brother says that the artist had relapsed into alcoholism.
"You can be doing real real well and suddenly, the bottle calls you and you fall off," Kinkade's brother Patrick, a professor at Texas Christian University, said of the artist's struggles.
The San Jose Mercury News reported last week that Kinkade's girlfriend, Amy Pinto, called for help after the painter, 54, had stopped breathing.
"Apparently he's been drinking all night and not moving," a fire-department dispatcher says in a recording made by (Listen to the audio from the call.)

Patrick Kinkade told the newspaper this brother had battled alcoholism for years, sobering up and then relapsing before his death. 

Although Thomas Kinkade's art was loved and purchased by millions, his work was also criticized -- the London Independent dubbed him the "king of kitsch." And his brother says he internalized and struggled with that reaction.
"As much as he said it didn't bother him, in his heart deep down inside it would sadden him that people would criticize so hatefully his work and his vision when people didn't understand him," Patrick Kinkade told the Mercury News.
Thomas Kinkade struggled with other issues as well. He was separated from his wife, and his company had filed for bankruptcy in 2010. According to a report in The Daily, local police had responded to calls from the painter's house and broken up fights between Kinkade and Pinto.
"He was awfully human," Patrick Kinkade told the Mercury News.

Cuba issue deals blow to US stature at 'Summit of the Americas'

Enrique Marcarian / Reuters

President Barack Obama and other leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean pose at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, on Sunday.

CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Unprecedented Latin American opposition to U.S. sanctions on communist Cuba left President Barack Obama isolated at the Summit of the Americas on Sunday and illustrated Washington's waning influence in the region.
In contrast to the rock-star status he enjoyed at the 2009 summit in Trinidad and Tobago shortly after taking office, Obama has had a bruising time at the two-day meeting in Colombia of some 30 heads of state from across the Americas.
Eleven Secret Service agents and five military personnel were caught in an embarrassing prostitution scandal, Brazil and others have bashed Obama over U.S. monetary policy, and he has been on the defensive over calls to legalize drugs.
Thanks to the U.S. and Canadian line on Cuba, the heads of state were unable to produce a final declaration as the summit fizzled out on Sunday.
"There was no declaration because there was no consensus," said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who hosted the summit.

President Obama's visit to Colombia was overshadowed by an alleged prostitution scandal involving 15 members of the Secret Service and U.S. military. Obama said he'll "be angry" if it turns out the allegations are true. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

"That is not a failure, on the contrary," he said, trying to spin the outcome and frank exchange of different views as a sign of strength.
At a press conference with Santos, Obama responded to a question about Cuba by saying that while his administration has eased travel by Cuban Americans to Cuba, the Cuban government had not taken steps toward democracy and "has not yet observed basic human rights."
The prostitution saga, above all, was a major blow to the prestige of Obama's Secret Service bodyguards and turned into the unexpected talk of the town in the historic city of Cartagena.
For the first time, conservative U.S-allied nations like Colombia are throwing their weight behind the traditional demand of leftist governments that Cuba be in the next meeting of the Organization of American States.

Ronald Kessler, author of "In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect," talks to TODAY's Matt Lauer about the Colombian prostitution scandal involving members of the Secret Service and U.S. military.

"The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective," Santos said.
A major U.S. ally in the region who has relied on Washington for financial and military help to fight guerrillas and drug traffickers, Santos has become vocal over Cuba despite his strong ideological differences with Havana.
In an ironic twist, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went dancing after midnight on Sunday at a Cartagena bar called "Cafe Havana" where Cuban music is played.
Havana was kicked out of the OAS a few years after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, and has been excluded from its summits due to opposition from the United States and Canada. Latin Americans also oppose Washington's trade embargo on the island.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who has insisted Washington recognize its claim to the Falkland Islands controlled by Britain, left the summit on Sunday morning, before its official closure.
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa boycotted the meeting over Cuba, and fellow leftist Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua also stayed at home. The leftist ALBA bloc of nations - including Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean nations - said they will not attend future summits without Cuba's presence.
"It's not a favor anyone would be doing to Cuba. It's a right they've had taken away from them," Ortega said from Managua. "At this meeting in Cartagena, I think it's time for the U.S. government, all President Obama's advisers, to listen to all the Latin American nations."
Though there were widespread hopes for a rapprochement with Cuba under Obama when he took office, Washington has done little beyond ease some travel restrictions, saying democratic changes must come on the island before any further steps can be taken.
Obama has not spoken of Cuba in Colombia, though he did complain that Cold War-era issues, some dating from before his birth, were hindering perspectives on regional integration.
"Sometimes I feel as if in some of these discussions, or at least the press reports, we're caught in a time warp, going back to the 1950s and gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the Cold War, and this and that and the other," the 50-year-old Obama said.
"That's not the world we live in today."
The controversy at the summit added to strain on the Washington-dominated system of hemispheric diplomacy that was built around the OAS but is struggling to evolve with changes in the region.
Perceived U.S. neglect of Latin America has allowed China to move strongly into the region and become the leading trade partner of Brazil and various other nations.
Regional economic powerhouse Brazil has led criticism at the summit of U.S. and other rich nations' expansionist monetary policy that is sending a flood of funds into developing nations, forcing up local currencies and hurting competitiveness.
Cheering the mood a bit, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement will come into force in the middle of May.
With a presidential election looming, Obama has portrayed his visit to the summit as a way to generate jobs at home by boosting trade with the region.
Reuters contributed to this report.