Thursday, April 26, 2012

First Thoughts: Strengths on display

Carolyn Kaster/Chuck Burton / AP
This photo combo shows President Barack Obama in Chapel Hill, N.C. on April 24, 2012, and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on April 18, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.

Romney’s and Obama’s strengths were both on display last night… But so were their weaknesses… Romney, as expected, sweeps the GOP primary contests of CT, DE, NY, PA, and RI… Gingrich: “We are going to look realistically where we are at”… Santorum still not 100% embracing Romney… Have both of these men ensured they’ll be speaking in the afternoon in Tampa?... Veepstakes watch: Rubio delivers foreign-policy speech… Ad watch: Priorities USA and Crossroads GPS up with new TV ads… And two incumbent Dems (Altmire and Holden) go down to defeat.

*** Strengths on display: For the two men who will square off for the presidency in November, Tuesday night displayed the strengths of each. As he swept last night’s five primary contests, Mitt Romney delivered one of his best speeches of the cycle, focusing on the economy and emphasizing his business background. “As I look around at the millions of Americans without work, the graduates who can't get a job, the soldiers who return home to an unemployment line, it breaks my heart,” he said. “This does not have to be. It is the result of failed leadership and of a faulty vision.” Romney also stated, “After 25 years, I know how to lead us out of this stagnant Obama economy and into a job-creating recovery.” Indeed, our recent NBC/WSJ poll found Romney leading Obama (40%-34%) on who would be better for having good ideas how to improve the economy.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd explains Mitt Romney newest test – explaining why he should replace President Barack Obama. 

*** Romney on the economy, Obama on likeability: Meanwhile, we saw President Obama address two audiences of enthusiastic college students -- and he’ll speak to a third today at the University of Iowa at 2:20 pm ET -- pushing for Congress to keep student loans low and reminding these students that his own situation was similar to theirs. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  And yet, the Republicans who run Congress right now have not yet said whether or not they’ll stop your rates from doubling,” Obama said at the University of North Carolina. He added at the University of Colorado, “We only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago. Think about that: I'm the president of the United States, and so here I am and we were writing those checks every month.” Then he slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, demonstrating personal skills that his GOP opponent doesn’t have.  And in our NBC/WSJ poll, Obama crushed Romney on being easygoing and likeable (54%-18%) and being compassionate enough to understand average people (52%-23%).

*** But weaknesses were also on display, too: But we also caught glimpses of weaknesses of both men, which will certainly come up again in the next six months. Romney last night laid out the “why not Obama” case very well, and that could be a powerful argument with nearly six in 10 thinking the country is headed in the wrong direction. Yet what was missing was the “why him?” In fact, he talked about his wife Ann and his father who grew up poor. But outside of his business background, he didn’t talk about himself. In addition, we were reminded that Romney will have a difficult time relating to others. “I’d say that you might have heard that I was successful in business. And that rumor is true,” he said. (Romney didn’t seem to realize that the line about “it’s still the economy, and we’re not stupid” needed a punchier/smirkier delivery.) For Obama, we were reminded that despite his enthusiastic audiences, this isn’t 2008. As the New York Times’ Peter Baker writes, “Mr. Obama is no longer the avatar of promise and possibility; he is the incumbent presiding over an anemic job market awaiting future graduates. He is a figure of compromised ideals asking for forbearance as he seeks to live up to the sky-high expectations he inspired the first time around.”

*** Romney’s sweep: As mentioned above, Romney -- as expected -- swept last night’s five GOP primary contests. With the Republican race effectively over since Rick Santorum’s exit earlier this month, Romney won either 60% of the vote, or close to it, in every state.
  • In Connecticut (with 91% reporting), it was Romney 67%, Paul 13%, Gingrich 10%, and Santorum 7%; 
  • in Delaware (99% reporting), Romney 56%, Gingrich 27%, Paul 11%, and Santorum 6%; 
  • in New York (77% reporting), Romney 62%, Paul 16%, Gingrich 13%, Santorum 9%; 
  • in Pennsylvania (99% reporting), Romney 58%, Santorum 18%, Paul 13%, and Gingrich 10%; and 
  • in Rhode Island (99% reporting), Romney 63%, Paul 24%, Gingrich 6%, and Santorum 6%. 
  • And here’s NBC’s delegate breakdown after last night: Romney 844, Santorum 260, Gingrich 137, and Paul 79. 
*** Gingrich: “We are going to look realistically at where we are at”: As for Gingrich, he made Delaware a do-or-die contest, and he didn’t win. And after his disappointing finish, he suggested that he may exit the presidential race in the coming days, NBC’s Alex Moe reports. “I want you to know over the next few days, we’re going to look realistically at where we are at” in the campaign, Gingrich told a crowd of just one hundred people at his election night rally, calling himself a “citizen” rather than a candidate. And this just happened this morning while Gingrich was campaigning in North Carolina today, Moe adds: Gingrich called Romney the nominee. “I do think it's pretty clear that Gov. Romney is ultimately going to be the nominee, and we'll do everything we can to make sure that he is, in fact, effective, and that we as a team are effective both in winning this fall and then, frankly, in governing."

*** Santorum still not 100% giddy about Romney: Santorum, meanwhile, announced on CNN last night that he will be meeting with some of Romney’s advisers today, and NBC’s Andrew Rafferty has confirmed that Santorum and Romney will meet together on May 4. But on CNN last night, Santorum didn’t enthusiastically embrace Romney. Here was the transcript, per NBC’s Morgan Parmet:
PIERS MORGAN: But you believe that Mitt Romney is the right guy?
SANTORUM: I believe he's the better--obviously, I believed I was the better choice, but then I'm not in this race anymore.
MORGAN: So he's won the race?
SANTORUM: He's won the race.
MORGAN: Is he therefore the right guy?
SANTORUM: Yeah, absolutely. He's the person that is going to go up against Barack Obama. It's pretty clear and we need to win this race. We need to beat Barack Obama.
MORGAN: You've just endorsed Mitt Romney
SANTORUM: Well, if that's what you want to call it. You can call it whatever you want.

*** Did Santorum and Newt hold out too long? After reading that exchange and also seeing Gingrich stay in the race probably a month too long (after not winning Alabama and Mississippi), we have this question: Did both Santorum and Gingrich hold out too long? What does Romney owe them now? Hope they enjoy speaking in the afternoon in Tampa.

*** Veepstakes watch: Marco Rubio will deliver a foreign-policy speech at the Brookings Institution at noon ET.

*** Ad watch: As we first reported on Monday, the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action and the League of Conservation Voters have teamed up for a new TV ad to air in Colorado and Nevada. And we now have the ad -- it hits Romney for being “in the tank for Big Oil.” And Crossroad GPS has announced it’s going up with a $1.2 million ad buy in the Senate contests of Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Virginia.

*** Two Dem incumbents go down to defeat: Also in Pennsylvania last night, two Democratic congressional incumbents – Jason Altmire and Tim Holden – were defeated. Altmire lost to fellow Dem Rep. Mark Critz in a match-up of two incumbents due to redistricting. And Critz ended up winning due to old-fashioned labor’s boots on the ground; it was the old Murtha machine in action (and Critz used to work for Murtha). Bottom line: Altmire got out-organized. Meanwhile, Holden lost to a political neophyte. But with Congress’ low approval ratings, it is surprising when these longtime members lose?

Countdown to Election Day: 196 days

Gingrich to leave campaign, but not the national spotlight


Chris Keane / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks at a rally on the night of the New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware primaries in Concord, North Carolina April 24, 2012.

Newt Gingrich will suspend his campaign next week, ending his pursuit of the presidency, but almost certainly not his life in the national spotlight.

NBC News learned that Gingrich will suspend his campaign on May 1, and may well endorse Mitt Romney, his nemesis throughout the primary season.

But if one thing seems unassailably true about the end of Newt Gingrich's bid for the presidency, it's that we haven't seen the end of Newt Gingrich.

The former House speaker's career has, if nothing else, been marked by its series of peaks and valleys. Gingrich ends his campaign for the Republican nomination exploring the depths of one such valley: his campaign wracked with debt, his political stature at an all-time low within the GOP, and his private business seriously threatened.

But like a cat with nine lives, throughout his career, Gingrich has shown a penchant for achieving unthinkable political resurrections. While he might have cashed in several lives during this campaign -- and had certainly spent more in his preceding political life -- it seems unthinkable that the public has seen the last of this man.

“We had an avalanche fall on us, and Newt dug himself out. And that's the story of his entire career,” said Rick Tyler, the spokesman for a pro-Gingrich super PAC. Tyler was a longtime aide to the former House speaker before having joined a mass resignation of senior staff last June -- a particular low point for the candidate and his campaign.

Those mass resignations came after a rocky rollout for Gingrich, during which he criticized a controversial budget drafted by House Republicans. Gingrich also struggled with the revelation of a six-figure line of credit he’d maintained with the jeweler Tiffany’s, and an ill-timed Greek vacation he took with his wife Callista, an omnipresent figure on the campaign trail.

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks to supporters in Concord, N.C. saying he will evaluate his position in the race over the next few days.

His campaign was considered all but dead after June 9, 2011 -- the day of those resignations. But students of his career could just as easily draw parallels with other scenes from the Gingrich political biography, moments when it also appeared his luck had run out.

“I think there's a little bit of Richard Nixon in Newt Gingrich. His political career was pronounced dead as many times as well,” said Craig Shirley, the GOP public affairs veteran with close ties to Gingrich. Shirley, a biographer of Reagan, is currently working on a political biography of Gingrich.

“He likes the high wire in the same way that Nixon did,” Shirley said of Gingrich. “They all like the high wire, but there's some who handle it better than others.”

There are many instances when, over the last three and a half decades, Gingrich had appeared to fall out of favor with both Republicans and voters at large. There were his failed early bids for Congress in the 1970s and clashes with Republican leaders throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

His biggest political achievement came in 1994, when Gingrich led Republicans to win back a majority in the House for the first time since 1954. But his tenure was well-documented for its internal and external tumult, and led to an attempted coup toward its end. Gingrich resigned amid growing Republican anger toward his leadership following the elections of 1998 – a dramatic development used to great effect by Mitt Romney’s campaign throughout the 2012 primaries.

That resignation might have otherwise meant the end for any other political figure, but the story of Newt Gingrich has always been a story of reinvention and resurrection.

In the more than 10 years since leaving Congress, Gingrich took on the persona of a party elder. He became a commentator on FOX News, a lucrative opportunity, and made millions more through consulting and the establishment of “Newt, Inc.,” the consortium of interest groups built in his name that has pervaded Washington.

His brand had been rehabilitated sufficiently enough by 2011 to wage a credible bid for the Republican presidential nomination, but Gingrich’s campaign was marked by the same turbulence that had defined his entire career.

Gingrich soldiered on following the June resignations, only to re-emerge in late November 2011 as the top choice of Republicans in the first nominating contest in Iowa, at least according to polls. But his presidential aspirations bottomed out again after suffering an onslaught of negative advertising from the Romney campaign.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd explains Mitt Romney newest test – explaining why he should replace President Barack Obama.

Undeterred, Gingrich rebounded again to shock Romney in the South Carolina primary – the first time a candidate had won the influential primary since its inception without continuing to become the eventual Republican nominee.

Then came the Florida primary several days later, where Romney again dispensed with the former House speaker by using a barrage of critical advertisements. It was Gingrich’s last true gasp as a candidate. He retreated to Georgia, the state he had served as a member of Congress, and hitched his candidacy to winning that state – and only – on Super Tuesday.

Even in nearby Mississippi and Alabama several weeks later, Gingrich lost those primaries to Rick Santorum. His inability to score a meaningful win fueled perceptions of Gingrich as a kind of “ghost candidate,” even though he defiantly vowed to push forward with his campaign through the August convention in Tampa, where he would conceivably challenge Romney in a messy floor fight for the nomination.

His relationship with FOX lies in tatters following the publication of a report in which Gingrich made critical comments of the network before a private crowd. More significantly, the Center for Health Transformation – the crown jewel of Gingrich’s personal empire – was forced to file for bankruptcy in the former speaker’s absence. His campaign is millions in debt, and CHT’s bankruptcy will likely cost Gingrich some personal wealth, too.

Gingrich’s path to redemption – again – is steep, possibly steeper than at any previous point in his career.

That path begins with a speech at the Tampa convention this summer meant to unify Republicans behind Romney, despite the personal animosity over time between Romney and Gingrich, said Shirley.

“Newt has the ability to arrest people because he’s interesting,” said Rick Tyler of the attributes that might help Gingrich accomplish another turnaround. “That didn’t translate into people wanting him to be president.”

Fans of the former speaker assert that it would be inconceivable for Gingrich, at the least an irrepressible gadfly in Washington, to fade from public view.

When will Americans finally see Gingrich’s final act as a public figure?

“I guess when he's getting last rites,” Shirley said.

Norwegians to protest mass killer Breivik, singing song he hates

Haakon Mosvold Larsen / NTB Scanpix via Reuters

Marie Naess and Aashild Nestdgaard Roe (R), both 16, tie roses onto railings outside a courthouse where admitted mass killer Anders Behring Breivik is standing trial on Tuesday.

OSLO, April 25 (Reuters) - Norwegians protesting against mass killer Anders Behring Breivik will take to the streets of Oslo on Thursday to sing a children’s songs that they're hoping he will just hate.

They plan to sing arm-in-arm a few blocks from the courthouse where Breivik is on trial for the killings of 77 people in a gun and bomb rampage last year.

"I grew up with this song and have sung it to my child," said Lill Hjoennevaag, one of the organizers of the demonstration.

"Everybody I know feels strongly about this song and we need to take it back," she told public broadcaster NRK.

Lillebjoern Nilsen's "Children of the Rainbow," a Norwegian rendition of American folk singer Pete Seeger's 1971 "My Rainbow Race," is a popular song in Norway.

"Breivik has used it as an example of brainwashing, but it is rather an example of the opposite," said Christine Bar, another organizer, who launched the event on Facebook.
"We think it represents diversity, and it stands for the community we have chosen to live in, and which Breivik and similar people want to tear down," she added.

Breivik, set off a car bomb in the capital Oslo, killing eight people, then gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a youth summer camp organized by the ruling Labor Party on July 22.

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Breivik has shown no remorse and made no admission of guilt. ITN's Paul Davies reports.  

Also on Wednesday, the confessed mass killer slammed a psychiatric report that declared him insane as based on "evil fabrications" meant to portray him as irrational and unintelligent.

"It is not me who is described in that report," the right-wing extremist, who admitted killing 77 people in bomb and shooting attacks on July 22, said in court.

A second psychiatric examination found Breivik sane. The five-judge panel trying Breivik on terror charges for the attacks will consider both reports.

Breivik admits to the bombing of Oslo's government district and subsequent shooting massacre at the Labor Party youth camp, claiming the attacks were "necessary" and that the victims had betrayed Norway by embracing immigration.

Images: Norway mourns after massacre

If found guilty, Breivik would face 21 years in prison, though he can be held longer if deemed a danger to society. If declared insane, he would be committed to compulsory psychiatric care.

After listening to testimony describing the horrific injuries of the bombing victims, Breivik showed no remorse, saying if anyone should apologize it was the governing Labor Party.
He said he had hoped they would change policy on immigration after his attacks.

"But instead they continue in the same direction, so the grounds for struggle are unfortunately even more relevant now than before July 22," Breivik said.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Oslo to sing a children's song calling for peace, as a protest against mass killer Anders Behring Breivik.’s Dara Brown reports.


Breivik: Voices in my head said, 'Don't do this'

Norwegian on trial in mass-slayings gives horrific account of attacks

By Valeria Criscione Correspondent
Christian Science Monitor
Image: Norway massacre defendant Anders Behring Breivik



Defendant Anders Behring Breivik gave a detailed his attack on a children's camp in Norway.

Scanpix Norway  /  Reuters

updated 4/20/2012 2:47:03 PM ET
Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik gave his most gruesome evidence yet Friday during testimony in the trial of the July 2011 terror attacks that left 77 people dead.
After warning people to leave the courtroom because his testimony might distress them, Breivik explained in his fourth day of cross-examination how he arrived on the island of Utøya on July 22 and calmly and methodically executed Labor party youth members, many who stood paralyzed in fear as he shot them with a Glock pistol and Ruger semi-automatic rifle.

"I thought 'It's now or never,'" said a red-faced but composed Breivik, referring to his thoughts before taking his first victim. "A hundred voices in my head said, 'Don’t do this.'"
He said his intention was to kill not just the 69 who did die on the island that day, mostly from shooting, but all of the camp attendees by frightening them into fleeing into the water to drown. He said he didn’t understand why some "just stood there" and tried to scare them into attempting to swim away by shouting a "psychological cry" twice in the campsite area: "You shall die today, Marxists."

SEE ALSO – Chronicle of a trial foretold: Breivik is following his manifesto's script

He said he used a cellphone he found on the ground to call the police during the attack to surrender because he felt he had "achieved his objective," although he continued shooting after the call.

Breivik’s cold-blooded recount has been the most emotionally provocative moment so far in the trial for Norway’s worst peacetime atrocity. The Norwegian confessed to both the car bomb attack on government headquarters, which killed eight, and the shooting rampage at Utøya that took 69 lives, mostly teenagers. Victims' families in court Friday cried and held on to each other as they listened in disbelief.

Breivik revealed during cross-examination earlier today that he almost called off his plans for the attacks. He said he lost faith in democracy after the Norwegian media censored their coverage of the Muslim riots in Sweden and France that year, just a few weeks ahead of Norway's general elections in September 2009.

He said he felt that the "Marxist" media feared that if they covered the events, the far-right Progress Party — an anti-immigration party of which he was a member — would have gained more votes, upending the Labor-led coalition government. Breivik has blamed his attacks on the Labor party for promoting multiculturalism and the "ethnic cleansing" of indigenous Norwegian with its immigration policies, which have allowed many Muslim immigrants into the country.

"If the media had given the Progress Party a fair chance without demonizing them before an election, then I wouldn’t have carried out the attacks," Breivik told defense attorney Vibeke Hein Baera.

He added that he drove to Utøya after the bomb attack in Oslo only because he heard on Norwegian P4 radio that only one person was confirmed dead and the government’s main building had not collapsed as planned. His inspiration for that type of car bomb attack was taken from the Oklahoma City and 1993 World Trade Center bombings, he said.

"I knew the whole time that if the action has been 100 percent successful, that the building had collapsed and all employees had died, the action at Utøya would not have been necessary," he said. "Then I would have driven straight to Grønland (police station) and surrendered."

The defense spent the bulk of the morning establishing the sources for Breivik's radicalization and how he had gained the knowledge to carry out such an attack. Breivik said he had found most of his information on the Internet, including Arabic literature on al-Qaida, whose methods and media effect he had studied since 2006.

"I wanted to make a version of al-Qaida for European Christians and nationalists," Breivik  told Geir Lippestad, his defense attorney, during cross-examination.

The comments follows yesterday’s shocking revelation that Breivik had originally planned to decapitate Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway’s former Labor prime minister, at Utøya and film the event. He also said he sought to kill all on the island that day by using the water as a weapon of "mass destruction" by forcing them to swim and drown. Neither plan succeeded.
He also detailed a list of other potential targets for his original plan to use three car bombs, one at the government headquarters, which he did carry out, and two more at the Norwegian Royal Castle and Labor party headquarters.
This article, "Norway killer Breivik: Voices in my head told me 'Don't do this'" first appeared on

Analysts say North Korea's new missiles are fakes

Ng Han Guan / AP, file

In this photo taken on April 15, 2012, what appears to be a new missile is carried during a mass military parade at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea. The photo shows the warhead's surface is undulated, suggesting it's a thin metal sheet unable to withstand flight pressure, analysts say.

The Associated Press reports — Analysts who have studied photos of a half-dozen ominous new North Korean missiles showcased recently at a lavish military parade say they were fakes, and not very convincing ones, casting further doubt on the country's claims of military prowess.
Since its recent rocket launch failure, Pyongyang's top military leaders have made several boastful statements about its weapons capabilities. On Wednesday, Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho claimed his country is capable of defeating the United States "at a single blow." And on Monday, North Korea promised "special actions" that would reduce Seoul's government to ashes within minutes.
The weapons displayed April 15 appear to be a mishmash of liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that could never fly together. Undulating casings on the missiles suggest the metal is too thin to withstand flight. Each missile was slightly different from the others, even though all were supposedly the same make. They don't even fit the launchers they were carried on.

Ng Han Guan / AP, file

Adding more doubt to North Korea's claims of military prowess after its flamboyant rocket launch failure, analysts say the half dozen missiles showcased at the military parade were low-quality fakes.

"There is no doubt that these missiles were mock-ups," Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, of Germany's Schmucker Technologie, wrote in a paper posted recently on the website that listed those discrepancies. "It remains unknown if they were designed this way to confuse foreign analysts, or if the designers simply did some sloppy work."
The missiles, called KN-08s, were loaded onto the largest mobile launch vehicles North Korea has ever unveiled. Pyongyang gave them special prominence by presenting them at the end of the parade, which capped weeks of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il Sung.

David Guttenfelder / AP, file

North Korean civilians, some weeping, wave flowers as they look up at Kim Jong Un, unseen, at the end of the military parade on April 15, 2012.

Richard Engel, NBC's chief foreign correspondent, shares a rare and revealing look inside the reclusive kingdom of North Korea.

Launch slideshow

The unveiling created an international stir. The missiles appeared to be new, and designed for long-range attacks.

That's a big concern because, along with developing nuclear weapons, North Korea has long been suspected of trying to field an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, capable of reaching the United States. Washington contends that North Korea's failed April 13 rocket launch was an attempt to test missile technology rather than the scientific mission Pyongyang claims.
But after poring over close-up photos of the missiles, Schiller and Schmucker, whose company has advised NATO on missile issues, argue the mock-ups indicate North Korea is a long way from having a credible ICBM.
"There is still no evidence that North Korea actually has a functional ICBM," they concluded, adding that the display was a "dog and pony show" and suggesting North Korea may not be making serious progress toward its nuclear-tipped ICBM dreams.
North Korea has a particularly bad track record with ICBM-style rockets. Its four launches since 1998 - three of which it claimed carried satellites - have all ended in failure.
Though North Korea frequently overstates its military capabilities, the missiles displayed this month might foreshadow weapons it is still working on.
David Wright, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists who has written extensively about North Korea's missile program, said he believes the KN-08s could be "somewhat clumsy representations of a missile that is being developed."
Wright noted that the first signs the outside world got of North Korea's long-range Taepodong-2 missile - upon which the recent failed rocket was based - was from mock-ups seen in 1994, 12 years before it was actually tested on the launch pad.
"To understand whether there is a real missile development program in place, we are trying to understand whether the mock-ups make sense as the design for a real missile," he said. "It is not clear that it has a long enough range to make sense for North Korea to invest a lot of effort in."
Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former scientific adviser to the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, said the Taepodong-2 design remains the more real future threat - though even that remains at least a decade away - and the KN-08 is simply a smoke screen.
"I believe that these missiles are not only mock-ups, but they are very unlikely to be actual mock-ups of any missiles in design," he said. "Fabricating a missile like the KN-08 would require a gigantic indigenous technical effort. ... The only way North Korea could develop such a missile with its pitiful economy would be if someone gave it to them."
He noted that a comparable U.S. missile, the Minuteman III, required "decades of expertise in rocket motors, and vast sums of intellectual, technological and financial capital."
Much attention, meanwhile, has been given to the 16-wheel mobile launchers that carried the missiles during the parade, which experts believe may have included a chassis built in China. That raises questions of whether China has violated U.N. sanctions against selling missile-related technology to Pyongyang.
Some missile experts say the launchers were designed to carry a larger missile than the 18-meter-long KN-08, and argue that North Korea would not have spent millions of dollars on them unless it has, or intends to have, a big missile to put on them.
But Wright said the launchers, like the missiles they carried, could also have been more for show than anything else.
"Given the international attention it has gotten from parading these missiles you could argue that the cost of buying the large trucks - which add a lot of credibility to the images of the missiles - was money well spent in terms of projecting an image of power," he said.
(This version CORRECTS spelling in paragraph 8 to "poring")

Judge: Leaning toward approving huge BP settlement in Gulf oil spill

A judge on Wednesday said he was leaning toward approving the settlement proposed by BP and a coalition of plaintiffs' lawyers to compensate individuals and businesses for the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
The plaintiffs' lawyers represent more than 100,000 individuals and businesses, but the proposal also has its critics -- among them shrimp processors, recreational fishermen and Halliburton, BP's cement contractor on the Macondo well.
"I'm leaning in favor of doing it, but I'm not going to do that from the bench here today," U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said during a hearing in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune reported.
Barbier said that he intended to write a full order within a few days and that a final decision would not happen for several more weeks.
While most of the proposal's compensation was not capped, BP has estimated its exposure at $7.8 billion. The oil giant and lawyers' coalition agreed on the terms last month in a bid to avoid a trial that could take years.
The 2,000-page proposal would replace the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which has managed claims so far, and is broken down into two categories:
  • Economic and property damages. Individuals or businesses in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, four Texas counties on the gulf and Florida's Panhandle and west coast may apply as long as they didn't take an earlier payment. Exceptions are: recreational fishermen, financial institutions, casinos, racetracks, oil companies and insurers.
  • Medical benefits. These may be sought by cleanup workers and people who live within a half mile of Gulf Coast beaches or a mile from Gulf wetland areas. "Certain respiratory, gastrointestinal, eye, skin and neurophysiological" conditions, such as "dizziness, headaches, fainting" would be compensated, according to a summary of the proposal.
How much compensation an individual or business receives would be determined by complicated formulas based on various factors.
Some other highlights:
  • The claims deadline would be April 22, 2014, or six months after the settlement's effective date, whichever is later.
  • Lawyers' fees were estimated at around $600 million and would not come from any funds set aside for victims.
  • An appeal process will be in place.
  • A $2.3 billion fund to compensate seafood fishermen is the only part of the proposal that is capped. Shrimp processors want to be included in the fund.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., discusses damage from the BP spill.

BP has already taken a $37 billion accounting loss for the spill but, even with a settlement, it still faces tens of billions of dollars of potential claims from the U.S. government and several gulf states.
Clean Water Act fines alone could reach as high as $17.6 billion if gross negligence is determined.
In addition, BP and Macondo partners Transocean, which owned the drilling rig, and Halliburton, which cemented the well, have sued each other.
Halliburton also objects to the proposed settlement, saying it makes Halliburton "liable in part for settlement payments."
Wednesday's decision comes a day after a former BP engineer, Kurt Mix, was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice. He's accused of having deleted hundreds of text messages about the size of the spill.
Here you will find even more court orders, from the oil companies.

First Thoughts: Obama maintains map edge

Carolyn Kaster / AP
President Barack Obama greets people as he arrives in an overflow before he speaks at the University of Iowa, Wednesday, April 25, 2012, in Iowa City, Iowa.

Obama maintains map edge in latest NBC News battleground map… Breaking down our seven toss-up states: CO, FL, NV, NC, OH, PA, and VA… Given those toss-ups, it’s not surprising that Obama is kicking off his re-election bid with rallies in OH and VA on May 5… Biden to draw contrasts with Romney in foreign-policy speech at 10:30 am ET… Romney camp to respond in 9:30 am ET conference call… Could SCOTUS upholding Arizona’s immigration law fire up Latinos?... And Scott Walker has a significant ad-spending advantage in Wisconsin.

*** Obama maintains map edge: In our latest look at the 2012 presidential battleground map and the first since Mitt Romney became the presumptive GOP nominee, President Obama continues -- and has slightly added to -- his electoral-vote lead. There are 231 electoral votes in the Democratic column (either in the solid, likely, or lean categories), and there are 197 on the Republican side; 110 electoral votes are toss-up.
In our previous NBC News map, which we released in late February, the Democratic advantage was 227-197. The only changes from February until now were that we moved New Hampshire from toss-up to Lean Dem; we moved Indiana from Likely GOP to Lean GOP; and we moved Georgia from Lean GOP to Likely GOP.

Here’s our map:
Solid Dem (no chance at flip): DC, DE, HI, ME (3 EVs) MD, MA, NY, RI, VT (70 electoral votes)
Likely Dem (takes a landslide to flip): CA, CT, IL, WA (94)
Lean Dem: ME (1 EV) MN, NH, NJ, NM, OR, MI, WI (67)
Toss-up: CO, FL, NV, NC, OH, PA, VA (110)
Lean GOP: AZ, IN, IA, MO, (38)
Likely GOP (takes a landslide to flip): AL, AR, GA, LA, MS, MT, NE (1 EV), ND, SC, SD, TX (102)
Solid GOP (no chance at flip): AK, ID, KS, KY, NE (4 EVs) OK, TN, UT, WV, WY (57)
The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd previews President Barack Obama's re-election campaign events.
*** Breaking down the seven toss-up states: As you see above, we have seven states in the toss-up category: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. And if we were to push some of these states -- based on polling, past performance, and what we’ve heard from the campaigns/parties -- we’d give a slight edge to Obama in Colorado and Pennsylvania, and we’d give a slight edge to Romney in North Carolina. And that leaves us with four pure toss-ups: Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia. One other point here: There aren’t enough toss-ups in the Midwest for Romney. He HAS to put Michigan and Wisconsin into play to put map pressure on Obama, especially if the GOP’s Hispanic problem continues to make the Western swing states uphill climbs.

*** Obama to hold upcoming rallies in OH, VA: Given our pure toss-ups, it’s probably no surprise that Obama is kicking off his re-election campaign with rallies in two of our four pure toss-up states: Ohio and Virginia. Last night, the Obama camp announced that -- on Saturday, May 5 -- the president and first lady will attend campaign rallies in Columbus, OH and Richmond, VA, which happen to be swing areas in those two battleground states. “For the better part of the last year, Romney’s tried to tear down President Obama with a dishonest, negative campaign that even his Republicans have criticized,” Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina said on a conference call announcing these two rallies. “Well, the monologue is over. Now Romney has to put his record and his agenda up against the president’s and we look forward to that debate.”

*** Biden to draw contrasts with Romney on foreign policy: In the latest of his campaign speeches drawing distinctions with Romney and the GOP, Vice President Joe Biden will deliver an address on foreign policy at New York University at 10:30 am ET.
  1. “President Obama ended the war in Iraq responsibly.  
  2. He set a clear strategy and end date for the war in Afghanistan. 
  3. He cut in half the number of Americans serving in harm’s way. 
  4. He decimated Al Qaeda’s senior leadership. 
  5. He repaired our alliances and restored America’s standing in the world. 
  6. And he saved our economy from collapse with bold decisions,” 
Biden is expected to say, per released excerpts. But he'll add,
"Gov. Romney’s national security policy would return us to the past we have worked so hard to move beyond...
But Americans know that we cannot afford to go back to the future.
  • Back to a foreign policy that would have America go it alone… 
  • shout to the world you’re either with us or against us… 
  • lash out first and ask the hard questions later, if at all… 
  • isolate America instead of our enemies." 
The Romney camp is holding a conference at 9:30 am ET to pre-but Biden’s speech.

*** Could SCOTUS upholding the Arizona law fire up Latinos? As NBC's Pete Williams reported yesterday, a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices appear to be prepared to uphold part of Arizona's controversial immigration law -- based on their comments during Wednesday morning's oral arguments. Here’s a question we have: If you’re Mitt Romney, aren’t you secretly rooting for the court to overturn the law? Just like with the health-care law, it’s hard to predict how the ultimate Supreme Court decision will play out in November. But you COULD make the case that the court upholding the Arizona law would fire up Latinos in a big way. Just something to keep an eye on... It’s the same theory many strategists believe will drive the political reaction to the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling: that if the law is upheld, it fires up conservatives in a bigger way and forces health care back into the debate.

*** Team Walker’s big ad-spending advantage: Less than two weeks from now, Wisconsin voters will head to the polls to participate in the first round of Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall – the May 8 primary. The marquee contest here is on the Democratic side between Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (whom Gov. Scott Walker defeated in 2010) and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk; Walker also has a minor primary opponent.
Then, just four weeks later on June 5, Walker and the Barrett-Falk winner will face off for the big prize.
A late March NBC/Marist poll showed 46% supporting Walker in the recall, while 48% supporting the eventual Democratic nominee. Walker’s approval rating in the poll was 48%-48%. Yet Walker and his allies (like the Republican Governors Association) have a HUGE ad-spending edge over Dem candidates and affiliated groups, $10.6 million to $4.5 million. And this advantage raises this question:  
  • Is that going to help push Walker over the top in this recall? Or does it mean that  
  • Walker can’t go any higher and that 
  • Dems could impact the race if they get close to parity? 
“There has been no parity on television, and we're going to be up on television,” one Dem strategist tells NBC.
But here’s the GOP counter to that: Everyone has already made up their minds about Walker, and the ads that can make a difference are the others hitting Barrett or Falk.

*** The ad-spending numbers in Wisconsin: Here’s the total ad spending from November (when Walker began his ads) through April 25, according to Smart Media:
Walker: $7.2 million
Right Direction for WI (RGA): $3.4 million
WI for Falk (union-affiliated effort): $2.4 million
Greater WI Committee (anti-Walker, DGA has contributed): $1.1 million
Barrett: $634,000
Falk: $342,000

*** Gregory interviews Sudeikis and Armisen: In his weekly “Press Pass” video, NBC’s David Gregory sits down with the two comedians who play, respectively, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on “Saturday Night Live”: Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen.

Countdown to Election Day: 195 days

Who pays when prez politicks?


 FILE In this Jan. 30, 2008 file photo, Air Force One casts a shadow on an expressway before landing at Los Angeles International Airport. President George W. Bush traveled to the California, Nevada, Colorado and Nevada for the next two days to attend Republican fund raisers. President Barack Obama flies Air Force One when he leaves town. So does Candidate Barack Obama. The distinction between the two roles for Obama matters because it helps determine who foots the bill for his travel. Either way, though, it's a safe bet that taxpayers are on the hook for at least part of the tab. Operating under the same rules that have governed presidential travel dating back to the Reagan years, Obama must reimburse the government for a portion of the costs associated with any political travel. But presidents of both parties have been secretive about the complicated mechanics. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

FILE In this Jan. 30, 2008 file photo, Air Force One casts a shadow on an expressway before landing at Los Angeles International Airport. President George W. Bush traveled to the California, Nevada, Colorado and Nevada for the next two days to attend Republican fund raisers. President Barack Obama flies Air Force One when he leaves town. So does Candidate Barack Obama. The distinction between the two roles for Obama matters because it helps determine who foots the bill for his travel. Either way, though, it's a safe bet that taxpayers are on the hook for at least part of the tab. Operating under the same rules that have governed presidential travel dating back to the Reagan years, Obama must reimburse the government for a portion of the costs associated with any political travel. But presidents of both parties have been secretive about the complicated mechanics.

President Barack Obama flies Air Force One when he leaves town. So does Candidate Barack Obama.
Either way, taxpayers are on the hook for a hefty amount.
The souped-up Boeing 747 that typically serves as Air Force One costs $179,750 an hour to operate, according to the latest Pentagon calculations, meaning that expenses for presidential travel mount quickly.
And, no matter what the reason for the president's trip, there are all sorts of other necessary big expenses anytime he moves around the country: advance teams, cargo planes, armored cars, Secret Service protection, communications and medical staff and more.
Presidents always are quick to stress that they reimburse the government for the costs of their political travel.

That's true, but they do so under rules that still leave taxpayers paying most of the tab.

For political trips benefiting his own campaign, Obama's team repays the government for air travel under a formula that's based on what it would cost to charter a Boeing 737 for a comparable trip, according to the White House. Obama's campaign doesn't have to pay the full cost for a chartered plane, though. It pays a reduced amount based on the number of people aboard Air Force One who were traveling for political reasons. That number excludes Secret Service agents and other support staff who always travel with the president.

Obama's political team also pays for items on the ground like food and lodging that are related to political events. Similar reimbursement rules govern political travel by the vice president and first lady, who fly on smaller, less costly military aircraft.

Despite the high costs to taxpayers, "these White Houses aren't doing anything wrong," says Brendan Doherty, an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who's written a forthcoming book on presidential campaigning.

If a president had to pay the true costs of his campaign travel, says Doherty, he'd never go anywhere for political purposes.

Obama is the first president to pay for re-election travel under updated rules adopted by the Federal Election Commission in 2009 to implement a lobbying and ethics reform law passed by Congress in 2007.

David Mason, a former FEC chairman, said the new rules - linking reimbursement amounts to charter air rates rather than commercial airfare - require the Obama campaign to pay significantly more than it would have under the old rules.

When President George W. Bush was running for re-election in 2004, his campaign and the Republican Party reimbursed the White House more than $1.3 million for "airlift operations," an Associated Press review of federal data shows. Those include itemized expenses for "in-flight services," like food and catering, and the president's helicopter, Marine One.

With the 2012 general election more than six months away, Obama already has exceeded that amount. Since late 2010, a separate Democratic Party "travel offset" account has paid roughly $1.5 million for similar expenses, according to FEC reports. And there can be considerable lag time between when political travel occurs and when reimbursements show up in campaign filings, so more payments are sure to be in the pipeline.

Even under the new rules, taxpayers end up paying a large share of the overall political travel costs for Obama, Mason said. He added that "it ought to be that way," because of all the special costs related to presidential travel, including security and communications.

"Frankly, there are big advantages to being the incumbent candidate which I don't think there's a way to compensate for fully in the campaign finance regulations," he said.
Since this is an election year, the party that's out of power inevitably is sniping about taxpayer-subsidized political travel by the incumbent.

House Speaker John Boehner complained Thursday that Obama's trip this week to the battleground states of North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa, for speeches to college students that were classified as "official" events, was a "pathetic" attempt to turn student loan rates into a political issue.
"His campaign ought to be reimbursing the Treasury for the cost of this trip," Boehner said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney countered that Obama's trip was focused on an important policy issue and said the president goes strictly "by the book" in drawing the line between campaign travel and official travel.

FEC rules specify that when there is any political activity at a particular stop, all travel to that destination must be reimbursed.

When a presidential trip includes multiple stops, some of them for political events and some for official purposes, then travel costs get divided up between the campaign and the government. But following a decades-old White House tradition, Obama aides declined to share details on how that's done.

Asked about Obama's reimbursements, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the administration follows all federal rules governing reimbursements.

Meredith McGehee, policy director of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said the lack of transparency about how costs are divided up is troubling.

"It's a pretty murky business," she said. "Is the campaign paying its fair share? The answer is, we don't know."

Ari Fleischer, who was Bush's White House press secretary, said presidents of both parties need leeway "to do normal things," and that includes campaigning. They don't have the option of traveling commercial or charter airlines, or losing the security and support entourage that always travels with a president.

But Fleischer said Obama seems to cross a line by striking an overtly political tone at non-campaign events, such as a recent speech in Florida on tax fairness and the so-called Buffett Rule, in which the president criticized the economic policies of some "members of Congress and some people who are running for a certain office right now, who shall not be named."

Political rhetoric is in the ear of the beholder, however.

"I don't think the president is doing anything that is out of the norm," says Michael Feldman, who worked in the Clinton White House. "When he's talking about the Buffett Rule, he is campaigning for a piece of legislation and an administration priority in his capacity as president."

The Republican National Committee on Thursday requested a Government Accountability Office investigation into what it said were campaign stops being passed off as "official events."

Every recent president has faced finger-pointing over taxpayer-subsidized travel.
While the president's ability to swoop in to political events on Air Force One is a huge advantage - and a bargain - for his campaign in many respects, it does come with a downside: It's far easier for a challenger to hopscotch the country on a smaller plane and to quickly change plans as political dynamics shift. The high per-hour cost of Air Force One, for example, includes charges for fuel, supplies and short- and long-term maintenance for a plane unlike any other.

The cost breakdown for trips that involve a mix of political and official stops is particularly complex. And both Obama and his predecessor tended to mingle their fundraising with official travel, according to information compiled by CBS News' Mark Knoller, who tracks presidential travel.

From the day he filed for re-election through April 9, Obama had taken 58 domestic trips, including 23 that involved political fundraising. Seventeen of those fundraising trips also included official events.

Whether a presidential event should be considered official or political is an unending source of controversy.

Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, who studied presidential travel for the Brookings Institution, said it's difficult to draw a clear division.

"The office is inherently political," she said. "I'm not sure how you would ever separate the political from the presidential."
FILE - In this Oct. 27, 1988 file photo, President Ronald Reagan, at podium, addresses supporters during an airport rally for presidential candidate, Vice President George H.W. Bush in Springfield, Mo.
FILE - In this Feb. 19, 1992 file photo, President George H.W. Bush waves before boarding Air Force one at Andrews Air Force, Md.

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FILE - In this June 30, 1999 file photo, President Bill Clinton waves from the steps of Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
FILE - In this March 26, 2004 file photo, President George W. Bush waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
 FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

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Rubio’s Gift to Romney on Immigration

Updated: April 26, 2012 | 1:18 p.m.
April 26, 2012 | 7:48 a.m.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Even if he doesn’t get tapped as Mitt Romney’s running mate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is well-positioned to make his mark on the race. His push for an alternate Dream Act, legalizing the children of some illegal immigrants, is getting serious consideration from immigrant advocates, including traditional Democratic allies. It’s putting the White House on the defensive over whether to oppose a measure that could end up being embraced by many in the Hispanic community.

For Obama, the calculus is complicated: The re-election campaign needs to overwhelmingly win the Hispanic vote, and portraying Republicans as insensitive to immigrants’ needs is a key part of their strategy. If they showed any support for Rubio’s efforts, it could undermine that game plan.  But if they urge Latino groups and allies in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus not to work with Rubio, it could give the perception that they’re more concerned about immigration politics than policy. It’s a stereotype they’ve already been facing among Hispanic leaders, who have been disenchanted with the administration’s lack of progress on immigration reform.

Despite the hype that the GOP moved to the hard right in the primary, immigration was the main issue where Romney himself did so, sounding a hard conservative line to position himself to the right of Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. If there was one issue where he would “flip-flop” back to the center, it’s likely to be immigration.

Now Rubio is offering both Romney and the GOP a second chance to court Hispanic voters, and putting the White House in a tough spot.  The freshman senator may not become Romney’s running mate, but he could be giving him a bigger political gift with his immigration advocacy.

—Josh Kraushaar, Hotline executive editor