Good Sunday morning. The staff is working its way in and we're preparing for today's program. Prepare along with us – check out what we're reading this morning.
On our radar: a deadly earthquake in Italy, protests in Chicago during a NATO summit with world leaders and a recall election in Wisconsin that that political world is watching closely.
Check out what we're reading, and be sure to watch our exclusive interviews with senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and the secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Also joining us: Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas); and our political panel, Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times and CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.
State of the Union airs today at 9am/12pm ET.
ROME (CNN) - A strong earthquake struck early Sunday in northern Italy, leaving at least five people dead, authorities said.
Leaders of the world’s richest countries banded together on Saturday to press Germany to back more pro-growth policies to halt the deepening debt crisis in Europe, as President Obama for the first time gained widespread support for his argument that Europe, and the United States by extension, cannot afford Chancellor Angela Merkel’s one-size-fits-all approach emphasizing austerity. ...
The leaders did concede somewhat to Ms. Merkel’s position on austerity, acknowledging that national budget deficits had to be addressed. But they added that spending cuts must “take into account countries’ evolving economic conditions and underpin confidence and economy recovery,” a recognition of how much the austerity packages have dampened consumer and political confidence in Europe. ...
“How’ve you been?” Mr. Obama asked Ms. Merkel.
She shrugged and pursed her lips.
“Well, you have a few things on your mind,” Mr. Obama said consolingly.
AFGHANISTAN / NATO
President Obama on Sunday will unveil a new package of NATO initiatives that includes the alliance purchasing a fleet of surveillance drones, sharing weapons and training facilities, and sustaining nuclear deterrence in Europe even as disarmament efforts continue with an often belligerent Russia, according to senior administration officials.
Although debate on winding down the Afghan war will dominate the NATO summit meeting in Chicago, Mr. Obama will also disclose agreements designed to guarantee mutual security in an era of global austerity that includes sharply reduced military spending across the alliance.
A central element of Mr. Obama’s announcement will be the hand-over to NATO of control for the components of an emerging European missile-defense system built by the United States. ...
Another major agreement is that the alliance will purchase and maintain five Global Hawk surveillance drones, said one administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the initiatives in advance of the meeting.
Three men charged with conspiring to commit domestic terrorism during the NATO summit were plotting to attack President Obama's Chicago campaign headquarters, the Chicago mayor's home and police stations, authorities said Saturday.
A police investigation that began early this month revealed that the three suspects are "self-proclaimed anarchists" and members of the "Black Bloc" group who traveled together from Florida to Chicago to commit violence as a protest against the NATO summit, authorities said in a statement. ...
An Illinois judge set bail at $1.5 million for each of the three suspects: Brian Church, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jared Chase, 27, of Keene, New Hampshire; and Brent Betterly, 24, who told police he resides in Massachusetts, authorities said.
Protesters gathering in Chicago for the NATO summit were gearing up for their largest demonstration Sunday, when thousands are expected to march from a downtown park to the lakeside convention center where President Barack Obama and dozens of other world leaders will meet.
Several hundred demonstrators wound through the city's streets for hours Saturday, testing police who used bicycles to barricade off streets and horseback officers to coax them in different directions. Increasingly tense clashes between protesters and police resulted in 18 arrests, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said.
...after a highly contentious debate within a war cabinet that was riddled with leaks, Mr. Obama had reluctantly decided to order a surge of more than 30,000 troops. The aide told Mr. Obama that he believed military leaders had agreed to the tight schedule to begin withdrawing those troops just 18 months later only because they thought they could persuade an inexperienced president to grant more time if they demanded it.
“Well,” Mr. Obama responded that day, “I’m not going to give them more time.”
A year later, when the president and a half-dozen White House aides began to plan for the withdrawal, the generals were cut out entirely. There was no debate, and there were no leaks. And when Mr. Obama joins the leaders of other NATO nations in Chicago on Sunday and Monday, the full extent of how his thinking on Afghanistan has changed will be apparent. He will announce what he has already told the leaders in private: All combat operations led by American forces will cease in summer 2013, when the United States and other NATO forces move to a “support role” whether the Afghan military can secure the country or not. ...
“Just think how big a reversal of approach this was in just two years,” one official involved in the administration debates on Afghanistan said. “We started with what everyone thought was a pragmatic vision but, at its core, was a plan for changing the way Afghanistan is wired. We ended up thinking about how to do as little wiring as possible.” ...
Mr. Obama began to question why Americans were dying to prop up a leader, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who was volatile, unreliable and willing to manipulate the ballot box. Faced with an economic crisis at home and a fiscal crisis that Mr. Obama knew would eventually require deep limits on Pentagon spending, he was also shocked, they said, by what the war’s cost would be if the generals’ counterinsurgency plan were left on autopilot — $1 trillion over 10 years. And the more he delved into what it would take to truly change Afghan society, the more he concluded that the task was so overwhelming that it would make little difference whether a large American and NATO force remained for 2 more years, 5 more years or 10 more years.
A new, more radical insurgent group has begun a campaign aimed at terrorizing both Afghan officials and moderate insurgents, according to Afghan officials.
While the Taliban publicly disavowed the new group, Afghan intelligence officials depicted it as a faction of the Taliban that is “behind the current campaign of psychological and terror attacks,” as one official put it.
Calling itself the Mullah Dadullah Front, after a notoriously bloodthirsty Taliban commander who was killed in 2007, people claiming to represent the group have in recent days sent text messages and made telephone calls to numerous members of the Afghan Parliament, threatening suicide attacks if they vote to ratify the strategic partnership agreement between Afghanistan and the United States.
CAMPAIGN 2012 / POLITICS
No governor in recent memory has been so controversial. No governor in America is so polarizing. Everyone has an opinion about Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Here's ours: We see no reason to remove Walker from office. ...
...Barrett, like Walker, is a capable and honorable public servant. But this election isn't about Tom Barrett. It's about Scott Walker.
Even if you disagree with Walker's policies, does that justify cutting short his term as governor? And if so, where does such logic lead? To more recall elections? More turmoil?
It's time to end the bickering and get back to the business of the state. We've had our differences with the governor, but he deserves a chance to complete his term. We recommended him in 2010. We see no reason to change that recommendation.
"Go back to your communities, go back to your neighborhoods, go back to your churches and let them know that the fight continues," Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty told gay-marriage opponents gathered outside the Capitol last Tuesday.
Colorado Democrats predict that their loyalists, as well as independents, will rally behind Obama, given his support of same-sex marriage.
"That will have a positive impact on the chances of the president being re-elected and winning Colorado in November," said Democratic Rep. Mark Ferrandino, a gay lawmaker who co-sponsored the civil unions legislation and said that its supporters would be "very active" in the fall on the issue.
A day after his social media company went public, Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg married his longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan on Saturday.
The news was announced where else but on Facebook.