Happy April Fools Day. It's no joke that we're up super-early to prepare for today's program. Prepare along with us - read what we're reading this morning.
On our radar: The 2012 GOP primaries move to Wisconsin, where an influential Republican in the state announced his endorsement of Mitt Romney on Friday (he's our guest, see below). We're also keeping an eye on the Middle East and rising tensions in Iran and Syria.
Check out what we're reading, and be sure to watch our exclusive interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. We'll also talk to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan on the winding down Republican primary season; and we'll get a handle on the Mideast with the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. State of the Union airs today at 9am/12pm ET.
As the new US-Gulf security forum wrapped up in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran's time was limited to resolve its nuclear situation. [...]
"It soon will be clear whether Iran's leaders are prepared to have a serious credible discussion about their nuclear program, whether they are ready to start building the basis of a resolution to this very serious problem," said Clinton.
"It is up to Iran's leaders to make the right choice. We will see whether they will intend to do so, starting with the P5+1 negotiations in Istanbul... what is certain however, is that Iran's window to seek and obtain a peaceful resolution will not remain open forever," she continued.
One C.I.A. analyst who had helped develop some of the intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction had a breakdown months after the Iraq war began; he had participated in the post-invasion hunt there that found the weapons did not exist. When he eventually was given a new assignment assessing Iran’s nuclear program, he confided a fear to colleagues: that the intelligence community might get it wrong again. [...]
Today, analysts and others at the C.I.A. who are struggling to understand the nuclear ambitions of Iran are keenly aware that the agency’s credibility is again on the line, amid threats of new military interventions. The intelligence debacle on Iraq has deeply influenced the way they do their work, with new safeguards intended to force analysts to be more skeptical in evaluating evidence and more cautious in drawing conclusions.
Former intelligence officials say that this shows appropriate vigilance in dealing with often murky information, while some detractors argue that the agency is not just careful but also overly skittish on Iran, reluctant to be blamed for any findings that might lead the United States to bloodshed.
The Muslim Brotherhood nominated its chief strategist and financier Khairat el-Shater on Saturday as its candidate to become Egypt’s first president since Hosni Mubarak, breaking a pledge not to seek the top office and a monopoly on power. [...]
Mr. Shater is considered a conservative but a pragmatist. He has argued that Islam demands tolerance and democracy, has championed free trade and open markets and has guided the Brotherhood through its first public commitment to uphold the peace agreement with Israel.
Expectations are low for Sunday's Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, where representatives from more than 70 nations and international organizations will gather to discuss ways to hasten the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
The reason is simple. The most critical piece is missing: Plan B. [...]
More importantly the Syrian National Council, made up of mostly Syrian exiles, has not demonstrated it has support inside Syria. U.S. officials are seeing parallels to the war in Iraq, where the United States relied too heavily upon the Iraqi National Congress – a group of exiles run by businessmen Ahmed Chalabi – which was ultimately found to be corrupt and unreliable. When Baghdad fell and the Baath party disbanded, it became quickly apparent the group had no base inside Iraq from which to draw, and the United States was left to run the country.
POLITICS / 2012
Republican presidential candidates criss-crossing Wisconsin this weekend — including the Madison area — would love an endorsement from Gov. Scott Walker before Tuesday’s primary vote.
Walker’s campaign spokeswoman said he’s not picking a favorite because his full attention is on defending himself against a recall election scheduled for June.
Mitt Romney is on the cusp of taking firm control of the Republican nominating contest for the first time, neutralizing his most powerful critics and rallying a broad spectrum of conservatives behind him as party leaders grow increasingly eager to take on President Obama. [...]
Mr. Romney and his aides continue to work behind the scenes to win support from respected voices in the party and prepare in earnest to take on Mr. Obama. The campaign will soon start raising money for the general election, donors said, as well as drastically expand its Boston headquarters and build state operations across the country.
“Whoever wins Wisconsin is going to have some really serious bragging rights,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a former party chairman in this state. Asked whether the nomination battle has entered its final stage, he said, “I think the election on Tuesday is going to be pivotal in making this determination.”
Mr. Santorum, smiling broadly as he took the microphone at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s presidential forum here, seemed unbowed by the lack of support he has received lately from Republican Party heavyweights like George H.W. Bush and Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who is a hero among Tea Party conservatives. Both endorsed Mr. Romney this week, just days away from the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday.
“People will say, ‘How can you go on?’” Mr. Santorum said, dismissing his skeptics. “One of the campaigns for president a week or so ago suggested that it would take an act of God for Rick Santorum to win the Republican nomination,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but I believe in acts of God.”
After the healthcare arguments, [Harvard Law professor Charles] Fried was among those who worried aloud about the prospect of the Roberts court embarking on a new era of judicial activism.
If the court were to invalidate the healthcare law, "It would be more problematic than Bush v. Gore," Fried said in an interview, referring to the case that decided the 2000 presidential race. "It would be plainly at odds with precedent, and plainly in conflict with what several of the justices have said before."
His comments highlight a growing divide between an earlier generation of judicial conservatives who stressed a small role for the courts in deciding national controversies and many of today's conservative justices who are more inclined to rein in the government.
Fried had confidently predicted the law would be easily upheld. He said he was taken aback by the tone of the arguments. "The vehemence they displayed was totally inappropriate. They seemed to adopt the tea party slogans," he said.
IN OTHER NEWS...
A new study of dolphins living close to the site of North America's worst ever oil spill – the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago – has established serious health problems afflicting the marine mammals.
The study of the dolphins in Barataria Bay, off the coast of Louisiana, followed two years in which the number of dead dolphins found stranded on the coast close to the spill had dramatically increased. Although all but one of the 32 dolphins were still alive when the study ended, lead researcher Lori Schwacke said survival prospects for many were grim, adding that the hormone deficiency – while not definitively linked to the oil spill – was "consistent with oil exposure to other mammals."
Voters lined up by the hundreds across Myanmar on Sunday to cast their ballots in a historic parliamentary election that could see Aung San Suu Kyi win a seat in the legislature after a decades-long fight for democracy.
While the balance of power in the parliament will not change even if the opposition wins all 45 seats up for grabs, the vote is a symbolic victory for many in the country who have lived under military rule for almost half a century.
Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize laureate who has been the face of the country's struggle for representative rule, won by a landslide the last time Myanmar held multiparty elections in 1990.