Sunday, October 21, 2012

Newsweek ceasing print edition in US, going all-digital


After 80 years in print, Newsweek will publish its last print edition in the U.S. on Dec. 31 and will go all-digital starting in the new year.
In an announcement posted Thursday on The Daily Beast, which merged with Newsweek two years ago, the iconic news weekly said the online publication will be called Newsweek Global. It "will be a single, worldwide edition targeted for a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context" and will require a paid subscription.  
The joint statement from editor-in-chief Tina Brown and CEO Baba Shetty said a challenging print advertising environment was the motivation behind the move. Newsweek said it was seeking to take advantage of the swift growth in the use of tablets, online and e-readers. 
"This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism—that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution," the statement added."Tablet-use has grown rapidly among our readers and with it the opportunity to sustain editorial excellence through swift, easy digital distribution...." the statement said.
The statement said Newsweek expected reductions among its editorial and business staff in the U.S. and overseas, but did not give a specific number.
Barry Diller, the head of the company that owns Newsweek, had announced in July that the publication was examining its future as a weekly print magazine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

U.S. nonprofit 'names and shames' businesses to put bite into Iran sanctions

John Makely / NBC News
Mark Wallace, right, talks with United Against Nuclear Iran Executive Director David Ibsen in the group's New York City offices.
Editor’s note: This story contains a graphic image that some readers may find disturbing.
Perched high above midtown Manhattan, behind security-locked doors in an unmarked office, a half-dozen 20-somethings sit at computers, looking for ways to inflict hardship on the Iranian government and the people it rules. The “war room,” as its occupants call it, is a mere 20 blocks from Iran’s Mission to the United Nations and even closer to the hotel where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stays during his visits to New York.
But this is not a U.S. government intelligence facility brimming with incoming feeds of classified data. The offices belong to the private nonprofit group United Against Nuclear Iran, and the computers contain a wealth of (mostly) open source economic data culled from Iranian and other sources. 
That’s not to say the group doesn’t have roots in government. It is headed by Mark Wallace, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and former heads of the CIA, the counterterrorism office of the National Security Council and the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, sit on its advisory board.UANI, as it calls itself, has one mission: to wage “economic warfare against the Islamic Republic of Iran ...The regime must be forced to choose between having a nuclear weapon or a functioning economy."

John Makely / NBC News
UANI printed up T-shirts for a recent protest against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Part of what UANI does is psychological warfare, though it’s the smallest part. The group pays for a billboard high above Times Square that takes shots at Ahmadinejad and placed a blow-up Ahmadinejad punching-bag doll outside the Hotel Warwick when he stayed there recently while in town to address the United Nations. It also lobbies effectively, working with friendly congressmen to get sanctions strengthened.
Using 'name and shame' tacticsMostly, it uses “reputational risk” to achieve its aims, trying to shame U.S. and international companies to end business dealings with the Islamic Republic or Iranian businesses, particularly those with Revolutionary Guard ties. If those efforts don’t succeed, Wallace isn’t averse to using a bigger hammer: If you work with Iran, he is fond of saying, you shouldn’t get contracts from the U.S. government.
While the group’s impact is difficult to quantify vs. the overall impact of economic sanctions against Iran by the U.S., European Union and the United Nations, Wallace’s private network has contributed to some significant successes. Those include persuading an international money exchange to ban Iran and forcing Ahmadinejad out of his preferred New York hotels in September when he visited to deliver his final speech at the U.N. General Assembly as Iran’s president
U.S. officials welcome the private group’s efforts, telling NBC News that UANI’s “name and shame” campaigns complement the government’s efforts to enforce the sanctions, which are limited to pursuing civil or criminal cases when companies are found to be in violation.
The public shaming is a familiar strategy -- with a twist. Activists demonstrated and demanded U.S. pension funds and university endowments divest stock in South African companies during the dying days of apartheid in the 1980s and ‘90s. The AFL-CIO and Harry Wu, a Chinese labor activist, exposed U.S. companies that used Chinese prison labor in the 1990s. And Chinese companies doing business in Sudan were accused in the early 2000s of aiding genocide in Darfur.
But UANI’s mission is more comprehensive and it’s led by a high-profile political figure, not a celebrity or anonymous activist. In addition to serving as U.S. ambassador, Wallace worked in the presidential campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008, working as the GOP nominee’s debate coach.  
It’s also riskier and could backfire. Iran is not without the capability of striking back.
But Wallace feels comfortable that he’s on the side of right and believes he has a unique opportunity to affect history by forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, which Tehran insists are intended to meet its energy needs, not build nuclear weapons. In his view, that begins with “crashing the currency.”
“You have all the elements that are there with the currency,” he said. “We measure everything we do. I challenge you to find a better mechanism of judging the impact of economic hardship that we're placing on the elites.”
UANI has a modest budget -- less than $700,000 in 2010, according to federal records – that it says it raises only from U.S. donors.  It declines to identify them, citing security concerns.
But it claims some big results.
'Stealth sanctions' have big impactThe biggest was its lobbying of SWIFT, a Belgian-based international financial clearinghouse, to expel Iran, then pressuring the U.S. Congress to demand that SWIFT ban Iranian financial transactions from its worldwide network. Without SWIFT codes, international financial transactions become difficult, if not impossible, to complete.  Since SWIFT expelled Iran on March 15, the value of the Iranian currency, the rial, has dropped precipitously. 
“Much of the international focus on sanctions has been on the oil side,” Yergin told NBC News. “But the SWIFT and other related banking restrictions have been the ‘stealth sanctions’ that are impacting on Iran’s ability to do business in the international economy.Dan Yergin, the energy historian and author of  “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World,” calls the SWIFT expulsion the “stealth sanctions.”
“Less attention may have originally been paid to them, but they rank with the oil sanctions in terms of their effects on Iran. Overall, the … sanctions are imposing a much bigger cost on the Iranian economy than Tehran would have anticipated last winter and thus are creating a much bigger problem for the leadership.” 
Now, UANI and Wallace want to strike harder. Iran’s currency, the rial, is near collapse, by some estimates having lost 80 percent of its value in the last year and 15 percent in the last week as measured against the dollar and euro. One dollar now equals 36,000 rials at the unofficial rate.
Iran, which for months resisted the suggestion that the sanctions were effective, now acknowledges that inflation, much of it caused by sanctions and the SWIFT ban, is hurting the economy. 
In recent weeks, Wallace’s group publicly pressed European companies that it believed were supplying Iran with the special paper, inks and presses used to print Iranian currency to stop doing business with Tehran.  In a letter early this month to the German company Koenig & Bauer AG, which had provided the Central Bank of Iran with presses in the past, Wallace demanded to know if the company was still supplying Iran, then raised the possibility that continuing work with Iran could threaten its business with the U.S. government. 
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“UANI finds KBA’s apparent business in Iran particularly galling in light of its extensive contracts with the U.S. Department of Treasury and its role in U.S. banknote production,” Wallace wrote. “KBA has been the recipient of over $131 million in contracts from the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in addition to $2.39 million awarded to KBA subsidiary KBA North America by the U.S. Department of Defense.
“UANI strongly believes that the only responsible action for KBA in light of the fact that the CBI is a sanction-designated entity under U.S. and EU law is for KBA to immediately and publicly reject CBI solicitations for KBA services.”
On Wednesday, KBA told NBC News that it had stopped supplying printing presses to Iran nine years ago.
But in a written response to Wallace dated Oct. 10, KBA acknowledged it had provided “spares and auxiliary equipment” to its “Iranian client” since then. KBA also said that early this year, it submitted a “conditional offer” to the Central Bank of Iran when it sought bids on a contract to for new banknote machines.
Ultimately, KBA decided to discontinue sales to Iran, not long before it received Wallace’s letter, it said.
The lack of such equipment could have the added benefit of making Iranian currency more susceptible to counterfeiting, perhaps by an enemy of Iran, Wallace said. That uncertainty about the rial would make it even less valuable on whatever open markets on which it was still exchanged.
KBA’s rapid response to Wallace is indicative of UANI’s growing clout in the international business community.
Beyond SWIFT, Wallace said UANI’s efforts have led to dozens of agreements from U.S.-based and other international companies agreeing to stop doing business with Iran. As a result of actions like these, “regime change” in Iran is now being discussed seriously in Washington policy circles. Wallace won’t say whether that is his specific goal, but acknowledges that virtually any alternative would be preferable to the current “theocratic regime.”
In some cases, trading partners have credited UANI in announcing their decisions to stop doing business with Iran. In others, they have not.
Targeting Iran's auto industry
Iran has the world’s 13th largest auto manufacturing industry and the largest in the Middle East and Central Asia. The industry is a major employer and a prestige piece for the Iranians. Not every country’s president can boast that his limousine is built in a local factory. Ahmadinejad can.
Numerous European and Asian auto companies had supplied parts and “build kits” to Iran. But UANI lobbied the companies early this year and again “called them out,” as Wallace put it. He again cited the EU and U.N. sanctions and suggested that a publicity campaign would hurt U.S. sales of their cars.
Of the companies targeted in the campaign -- Hyundai, Fiat, Peugeot, Porsche and Renault – Wallace says only the latter continues to supply Iran.
Renault did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
The Hyundai Motor Co. said it decided to discontinue operations in Iran after being contacted by UANI. The other auto companies that are no longer doing business with Iran didn’t cite UANI’s campaign, but numerous Iranian press accounts have connected the pullout to the threatened publicity blitz.
The auto company withdrawals contributed to a 42 percent nosedive in Iranian auto production over the past six months, Agence France Press reported last week, citing industry ministry figures.
UANI also says it forced Caterpillar, the huge U.S.-based construction company, to stop supplying equipment to Iran. After a letter-writing campaign failed, UANI bought a billboard opposite the company’s headquarters in Peoria, Ill., showing a piece of earth-moving equipment alongside a photo of Ahmadinejad and the words, “Today’s work, tomorrow’s nuclear Iran.” As soon as the company halted the sales in February 2010, the billboard came down.
At the time, Caterpillar said it did not have extensive business dealings with Iran, and that it couldn’t control sales in the secondary market. But it did bar non-U.S. subsidiaries from accepting orders that it knew were destined from Iran.
The company did respond to requests from NBC News this week for comment.

Vahid Salemi / AP file
Two Iranian police officers look at the dangling body of Mohammed Bijeh, convicted of raping and murdering 16 children, after he was hanged from a construction crane in a public execution in Pakdasht, Iran, on March 16, 2005.
The most vivid of UANI’s efforts was its “cranes campaign.” After grisly images emerged showing of Iranians being hung by construction cranes, UANI tracked down all the crane manufacturers who had done business with Iran and asked them to divest.  For the most part, they did.
There are other less obvious successes,  like pressuring all 13 of the world’s major shipping registries, including those in Russia, South Korea, and Japan, to deny Iran access to their services. That, in turn, has prevented the regime and from insuring their tankers. UANI also quietly obtained pledges from Moldova, Mongolia and other nations to stop reflagging Iranian vessels.
Not all of its initiatives have worked, however. 
Its biggest campaign has been against MTN, the South African cell phone company that owns 49 per cent of Irancell, which controls the mobile market in Iran and has been accused of tracking Iranian dissidents. But MTN has refused to get out. 
Last week, Wallace excoriated MTN’s leadership in typical, no-holds-barred language. “It is widely known that MTN has carried out orders from the Iranian regime to shut off text messaging and Skype during times of political protest in Iran, and reportedly has a floor in its Tehran headquarters where Iranian military officials compile and access data to track, apprehend, torture, and murder regime opponents,” he wrote in a letter to the company that also went out as a press release.
'A liberating force for Iranians'“MTN has blood on its hands … We call for a global boycott of MTN's products and services and divestment from its stock, until it ends its reckless partnership,” he concluded.
MTN did not immediately respond to Wallace’s most-recent broadside, but in a press release in February in reply to an earlier letter, it said its investment in Iran was “in compliance with applicable sanctions regulations and law” and that it viewed its non-controlling stake in Irancell as being in keeping with its core mission: “to speed up the progress of the emerging world by enriching the lives of the people within it.”
“Our success in widening access to mobile technology has been, and continues to be, a liberating force for Iranians, whatever their political allegiances,” it said. “Mobile technology has brought communities together, empowered individuals and helped raise living standards for millions in the developing world.  MTN is proud of this legacy.”
Swatch, the Swiss watch manufacturer, has also resisted UANI’s appeals, saying in a letter to Wallace that it “sells to consumers, not regimes.” Why would UANI, which is concerned with nuclear proliferation, care about watches?  Because, Wallace said, the high-end watches Swatch sells and other luxury items go to the “elites,” particularly officials of the Revolutionary Guards, and he wants them to feel the pain of sanctions, even if only on their wrists.
UANI’s allies in Congress give it high praise. 
“What I like,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “is they are in the weeds. You name a sector in the Iranian economy and they have been inside it, putting a lot of pressure on them. We’ve worked with them, especially on embargo and sanctions legislation. So many of the bills had their genesis with them.”
The campaign also finds favor on the other side of the aisle.  
“Part of their approach involves putting pressure on corporations to end existing business relationships with Iran,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. “Along with their success on that front, UANI has used that experience to communicate effectively with members of Congress on how best to strengthen existing sanctions and ensure companies are complying with our laws.”
One major concern about the success of the sanctions is that the Iranians might lash out, having tired of seeing their nuclear scientists assassinated, their nuclear research sabotaged, their currency ravaged.
That may already be happening. U.S. officials ascribe continuing attacks on U.S. banks’ computer networks that began last month to Iran, perhaps in response to U.S. and EU sanctions on its banks. Israel claims Iran was behind the drone mission Hezbollah carried out over northern Israel this week, and Hezbollah acknowledged that the unmanned aircraft that was shot down was manufactured in Iran. And Tehran still has many other options for retaliation, experts say.  
“The main concern for the market is that the Iranian regime acts out in desperation, as the financial noose tightens,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital and a CNBC oil analyst. “If Iran attempts to make good on its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz or attempts some other attack, prices will spike higher, at least temporarily. If, however, there is regime change in Iran, resulting in a Western-friendly government, we could see the mother of all price breaks at the gasoline pump.”
'Punishing the innocent'
There are those who also characterize what Wallace and UANI are doing as harming the Iranian people rather than the government.

John Makely / NBC News
UANI Executive Director David Ibsen works in the "war room" of the organization's offices.
“It is profoundly immoral. It is punishing the innocent,” said Haroon Moghul, a fellow at both the New American Foundation and the Fordham Law School Center for Security, speaking of UANI’s campaign. 
“I'm no fan of Iranian government,” he continued. “I wish it would go away. But what do the people have to do with the government?  It is weakening the people of Iran. We are making harder for them to change their government. Sanctions empower criminal elements, make it harder to civil society to operate, make it harder for Iran to become a real democracy.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry said it is aware of the efforts of UANI and Wallace, but says the group’s campaign is misguided.Reacting to that kind of criticism, Wallace acknowledges that his and his colleagues are involved in “a proxy war,” but adds, “I'm comfortable fighting that war.”
“I think that the nature of this organization is known to all of us,” said the spokesman, Alireza Miryusefi. “They take actions based on the false presumption that my country is pursuing a nuclear weapon program. As we have emphasized on several occasions, Iran's program is fully peaceful and their presumption is totally wrong.”
Wallace, however, has no doubts that Iran is bent on becoming a nuclear military power, and remains convinced that the pressure that UANI is bringing to bear will ultimately succeed.  
“Our message is clear: You have to choose between doing business with our checkbook or their checkbook -- with the reality being we're the biggest checkbook in the world,” he said. “Notwithstanding the purported demise of the United States, we're still the biggest checkbook in the world.”
Richard Engel is chief foreign correspondent of NBC News; Robert Windrem is a senior investigative producer.

Former Sen. George McGovern, presidential candidate and outspoken war critic, dies at age 90

Cliff Owen / Pool via Reuters, file
Former Sen. George McGovern was overwhelmed in the 1972 presidential election but eventually came to be seen as an influential elder statesman of the Democratic Party.
New in this version: statement from President Barack Obama
Updated at 12:36 p.m. ET: George McGovern, the unabashedly liberal Democratic senator whose outsider campaign against President Richard Nixon led to a landslide defeat and the eventual reformation of the Democratic Party as a more centrist organization, died early Sunday, his family said in a statement. He was 90 years old.
McGovern died at a hospice in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he had been admitted  Monday.
Steve Hildebrand, a spokesman for the family, said in a statement to NBC News: "At approximately 5:15 am CT [6: 15 a.m. ET] this morning, our wonderful father, George McGovern, passed away peacefully at the Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls, SD, surrounded by our family and life-long friends.
"We are blessed to know that our father lived a long, successful and productive life advocating for the hungry, being a progressive voice for millions and fighting for peace.
"He continued giving speeches, writing and advising all the way up to and past his 90th birthday, which he celebrated this summer."
Senior Democrats praised McGovern on Sunday as a visionary whose political sacrifices opened up the party to women and minority groups.
Although McGovern was ridiculed for many years for having led the Democrats to an overwhelming defeat against Nixon, former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, his 1972 campaign manager, argued Sunday that McGovern "helped save the Democratic Party."
In 1968, McGovern headed a committee that reformed the party's nominating process. In a column for Politico remembering McGovern on Sunday, Hart wrote:
Those rules were designed to open party participation, especially in nominating candidates, to women, minorities, and young people. The reforms succeeded and the Democratic Party opened itself up to democratic participation. The control of power-brokers and party bosses was broken. Decrepit political machines largely collapsed. ... We will never know the nature of a McGovern presidency. But someday the American Democratic Party will find a way to honor him as it should.
President Barack Obama called McGovern "a statesman of great conscience and conviction," saying in a statement that "this hero of war became a champion for peace. And after his career in Congress, he became a leading voice in the fight against hunger."
Among the most prominent Democrats to get their political starts on McGovern's insurgent 1972 campaign were former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a statement Sunday, they lamented the passing of a "friend" and a "tireless advocate for human rights and dignity":
We first met George while campaigning for him in 1972. Our friendship endured for 40 years. As a war hero, distinguished professor, Congressman, Senator and Ambassador, George always worked to advance the common good and help others realize their potential. Of all his passions, he was most committed to feeding the hungry, at home and around the world. The programs he created helped feed millions of people, including food stamps in the 1960s and the international school feeding program in the 90's, both of which he co-sponsored with Senator Bob Dole.
In 2000, Bill had the honor of awarding him the Medal of Freedom. From his earliest days in Mitchell to his final days in Sioux Falls, he never stopped standing up and speaking out for the causes he believed in. We must continue to draw inspiration from his example and build the world he fought for. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

Ed Widdis / AP
The life of former Democratic Sen. George McGovern, who lost the 1972 presidential election to Richard Nixon and gained fame throughout his career for his devotion to fighting hunger and opposing war.
George Stanley McGovern was bomber pilot who flew 35 combat missions in World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. Hebecame a history professor after the war and was elected to Congress in 1958. He won the first of three Senate terms in 1962. 
McGovern became an early critic of the Vietnam War and a leader of the Democrats' liberal wing, propelling him to a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 as an anti-war candidate.
Four years later, McGovern emerged at the top of the heap after a fractious campaign that divided the party between his corps of young, idealistic supporters and the more establishment organization of Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine, who was the losing vice presidential candidate on the ticket with Hubert Humphrey in 1968.
Particularly damaging was McGovern's failure to win the endorsement of organized labor, despite his strong pro-labor voting record. McGovern publicly feuded with AFL-CIO President George Meany, who strongly supported the war in Vietnam. Many factors contributed to McGovern's defeat: the dirty tricks of the Nixon campaign, which soon exploded into the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation in 1974; unresolved differences with key Democratic leaders after the bitter campaign, including Humphrey and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts; and the successful tarring of McGovern as a far-left fringe candidate by Republicans, which was summed up most succinctly in Vice President Spiro Agnew's dismissal of McGovern as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion and acid."McGovern lost to Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in history, winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia — Nixon even won McGovern's own state, South Dakota. 
But the biggest blow probably was the Democrats' mishandling of the selection of Sen.. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as their vice presidential nominee. In a 1986 interview on C-SPAN, McGovern said that party leaders were divided among several higher-profile possibilities, including Kennedy, and that he eventually settled on Eagleton because he was "everybody's second choice."
Within two weeks, it became public that Eagleton suffered from severe depression, having been hospitalized several times and, on at least one occasion, having undergone electroshock therapy. By Juy 31, 1972 — less than three weeks after he had been nominated, Eagleton witrhdrew and was replaced by Sargent Shriver, former director of the Peace Corps and a member of Nixon's administration as ambassador to France.
Nixon walked to victory, collecting 520 electoral votes to McGovern's 17. 
He returned to the Senate, only to be defeated by Republican James Abdnor in the 1980 Reagan landslide. But over time, his reputation was rehabilitated, and he made a creditable showing — finishing fifth — in the 1984 Democratic presidential primaries, in which he ran as a peace candidate. 
Through the years, McGovern insisted that his biggest mistake hadn't been taking such liberal stances — it was not having stuck to his liberal beliefs fiercely enough.
"If anything, I don't think the Democrats have been strong enough in clinging to their principle," he said in a 2011 interview with the Argus-Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D.
"You can say they were too ideological. Well, I don't think you hold political convictions just to be able to spout out a complicated philosophy or ideology. You try to support what you think is in the best interests of the country. My qualms with the Democrats in recent decades is they aren't strong enough in dissenting from policies that they should be able to see are against our best interest."

NBC/WSJ poll: Presidential contest now tied

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As Obama and Romney prepare for the debate on foreign policy Monday night in Florida, new polls emerge showing the candidates are in a 47-47 percent tie among likely voters. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
Heading into Monday's final debate and with just over two weeks until Election Day, President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are now tied nationally, according the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Obama and Romney both get 47 percent among likely voters in the latest edition of the poll, conducted entirely in the aftermath of the second presidential debate last Monday. In the previous national NBC/WSJ poll, which was conducted before debate season began, the president held a narrow, three-point lead over his GOP challenger, 49 percent to 46 percent.
But among the wider pool of all registered voters in this new survey, Obama is ahead of Romney by five points, 49 percent to 44 percent.
"We definitely have a barn burner," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart.Read the full poll (.pdf)

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White House adviser David Axelrod discusses the latest numbers reflecting a statistical tie in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Hart adds, "The election is close, close, close."
Voters more comfortable with Romney
What appears to have benefited Romney, especially after the first two presidential debates, is that voters are more comfortable with him.
A combined 47 percent of registered voters say they are either optimistic and confident or satisfied and hopeful that Romney would do a good job as president -- up five points since the last NBC/WSJ poll. By comparison, Obama's percentage stands at 50 percent on this question, which is unchanged from the previous survey.
In addition, heading into Monday's foreign-policy debate, Romney trails Obama by just three points (44 percent to 41 percent) on which candidate would be better commander in chief, which is down from the president's eight-point edge on this question last month.
And Romney's favorable/unfavorable rating has slightly improved -- from 41 percent favorable/44 percent unfavorable in the last poll, to 43 percent favorable/44 percent unfavorable now.
Obama's score stands at 49 percent favorable/43 percent unfavorable.
Growing economic optimism
But if voters are becoming more comfortable with Romney, they also are becoming more optimistic about the economy.

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A panel of experts visits Meet the Press to discuss foreign policy and the 2012 presidential campaigns.
Forty-five percent believe the economy will improve in the next 12 months. That's up one point from the last poll and a whopping 18 points since July. What's more, 41 percent think the country is headed in the right direction, which is the highest mark on this question since June 2009.
Overall, Obama's approval ratings are unchanged from the last survey -- 49 percent approve of his overall job performance, 46 percent approve of his handling of the economy and 49 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy.
Macro-messaging vs. micro-messaging
Despite this growing economic optimism, however, Romney holds a six-point lead over Obama (46 percent to 40 percent) on which candidate would better deal with the economy. That's up three points (45 percent to 42 percent) since the last poll.
Romney also has the advantage on jobs and unemployment (46 percent to 39 percent) and the federal budget deficit (48 percent to 35 percent).
But Obama leads on almost all other issue and character-trait questions -- being easy going and likable (57 percent to 25 percent), dealing with issue of concern to women (53 percent to 25 percent), being compassionate enough to understand average people (53 percent to 29 percent), looking out for the middle class (52 percent to 36 percent) and dealing with Medicare (46 percent to 37 percent).And by a four-point margin (45 percent to 41 percent), voters think Romney is better prepared to create jobs and improve the economy over the next four years.

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David Gregory analyzes this morning's Meet the Press with a preview of the third and final debate on foreign policy between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
"Romney is dominating the macro-messaging of the economy," Hart says, "and Obama is dominating the micro-messaging" -- on things like women's issues, compassion and likeability.
The demographic breakdown
Taking a look at the key demographic groups in this election, Obama leads among African Americans (92 percent to 5 percent), Latinos (winning about seven in 10 of them), women (52 percent to 41 percent) and voters 18-34 (61 percent to 33 percent).
Romney, meanwhile, has the edge among seniors (60 percent to 35 percent), whites (55 percent to 38 percent) and men (47 percent to 45 percent).
But Romney's gender gap narrows when you move from registered voters to likely voters -- Obama's lead with women shrinks to eight points (51 percent to 43 percent), and Romney's advantage with men grows to 10 points (53 percent to 43 percent).
The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Oct. 17-20 among 1,000 registered voters (including 300 cell phone-only respondents) and 816 likely voters. The margin of error is plus-minus 3.1 percentage points for the sample of registered voters and plus-minus 3.43 percentage points for the sample of likely voters.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Thursday, President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave keynote speeches at the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City. The fundraiser, held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, offered a light-hearted evening for the candidates. 
Past speakers at the dinner ranged from politicians and journalists to presidential candidates, including former Pres. George H. W. Bush & Michael Dukakis in 1988; Al Gore & Jack Kemp in 1996; and Pres. Obama and then-Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in 2008.
Founded in 1946 by Francis Cardinal Spellman, the Foundation honors the memory of Alfred E. Smith who died in in 1944. Smith was a four-time governor of the state of New York and former presidential candidate.

Updated: Thursday at 9:46pm (ET)

Self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Mohammed airs his views at Gitmo hearing

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, is pictured before judge Army Col. James Pohl on the third day of pre-trial hearings in the 9/11 war crimes prosecution at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on Wednesday.
The judge in overseeing proceedings against the five men who allegedly orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks allowed what he said was a one-time only opportunity for the key defendant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to air his views on Wednesday.
A transcript of Mohammed’s remarks, translated from Arabic, offer a window into the thinking of the 47-year-old Kuwaiti-born militant, who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 2006. Before that he was detained in secret CIA facilities and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, including dozens of sessions of "waterboarding":In the divergence from ongoing pre-trial proceedings aimed at laying the ground rules for a trial at a U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba came in the third of five scheduled days of hearings.
Yes. In the name of God, most graceful, the government at the end of the argument gave you an advice. They told you any decision you're going to issue you have to keep in mind the national security and to remember that there were 3,000 people killed on September 11. And I would like to give you a similar advice.
Any decision you will take, you have to keep in mind that the government, that the government is using the definition of national security as it chooses. And this expression has a definition in the Military Commission's Rules.
We have heard the expression of national security again yesterday and today about tens of times. And everyone use this expression as he or she chooses. But legislators and legal people who deal in the legal field, they have to differentiate between the politicians' use of this word and the legal people's use of this word.
When the government feels sad for the death or killing of 3,000 people who were killed on September 11, we also should feel sorry that the American government, who is represented by General Martins and others, (has) killed thousands of people—millions.
This definition is a resilient definition, lasting. Every dictator can put on this definition as they choose, as he chooses to step on every definition in this world, every person, and every law and every constitution.
With this definitions, many can evade the rule and also can go against it. Many can kill people under the name of national security and to torture people under the name of national security and to detain children under the name of national security, underage children.
I don't want to be long, but I can say that the president can take someone and throw him in the sea under the name of national security. And so—well, he can also legislate the killings, assassinations under the name of national security, (of) American citizens.
My only advice to you, that you do not get affected by the crocodile tears. Because your blood is not made of gold and ours is made out of water. We are all human beings. Thank you.
"Okay," said Pohl, addressing civil defense attorney David Nevin. "Just I think we need to make something clear here, is that I didn't interrupt Mr. Mohammed. He requested to make a statement to the court. But this is a one-time occurrence. If accused wish to represent themselves as attorneys, that's one issue. But no matter how heart-felt, I'm not going to again entertain personal comments of any accused about the way things are going. Do you understand what I'm saying, Mr. Nevin?"The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, did not interrupt the speech, but made it clear that the speech was a one-time opportunity in the proceedings.
"I understand," Nevin responded.
"I'm not pointing a finger," Pohl continued. "I want to make it very clear, I didn't interrupt him on this, but it is clear this was his personal statement of what he thought. Although he has the right to have that opinion he does not have the right to voice that opinion or any accused to stop the proceedings to give his personal observations and comments. I just want to make it clear the fact that I did not interrupt and let him finish should not be interpreted that this is an acceptable procedure of this Commission.
Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators are accused of terrorism and murder in the attacks, which killed 2,976 people. Mohammed has previously said that he was behind Sept. 11 and other terror attacks, and personally beheaded American journalist Daniel Pearl in February 2002 after the reporter was abducted in Pakistan.
The court's hearing on arguments on some two dozen motions, mainly involving secrecy and prisoner's rights, continued Thursday and were scheduled to run through Friday.
NBC News' Courtney Kube and Kari Huus contributed to this report.