Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger shuffled the top ranks of his gubernatorial staff some this week, mostly moving people around and filling a couple of holes. The core of the staff remains the same: Democrat Susan Kennedy as chief of staff. Moderate Republican Adam Mendelsohn as communications director. And Democrat Dan Zingale as First Lady Maria Shriver’s chief of staff, picking up the title of senior advisor to the governor, which he actually has been all year anyway.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger shuffles his staff amidst some criticism from the right.
The changes sparked some howling from the right, with Flash Report publisher Jon Fleischman and others decrying the Democratic influence in the “horseshoe,” as the governor’s suite of offices is called. But you could also argue that the operation is equally as if not more conservative than it was. For example, Dan Dunmoyer, a conservative former insurance industry lobbyist, is now in charge of coordinating with all the state agencies as cabinet secretary, a key lynchpin in running the government. Or you could argue that the various changes and shifts don’t amount to much more than a wash.
Two departed top staffers, cabinet secretary (handles the state agency chiefs and much policy coordination) and legislative secretary (handles lobbying on legislative relations, especially with Schwarzenegger’s fellow Republicans), were replaced by Republicans. Chris Kahn, a former Pete Wilson aide and Assembly Republican Caucus chief of staff who has since lobbied for various corporate interests, takes over for the departed ex-Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Richard Costigan in the legislative post. Dan Dunmoyer, already on board as a deputy chief of staff partly balancing Kennedy, takes on the cabinet post from former legislator Fred Aguiar, a more moderate Republican.
With all the other changes among existing staffers, Kahn is joined as the only other new person by Ross LaJeunesse, a new deputy chief of staff who until just now has been chief of staff for ex-eBay honcho-turned-state Controller Steve Westly. He was also Kennedy’s chief of staff when she was on the state Public Utilities Commission.
The rest of the changes, which do not yet include the key press secretary slot, are more in the area of shifts.
Cynthia Bryant, a top policy deputy to former state Senate minority leader Jim Brulte and a senior staffer in Schwarzenegger’s 2003 campaign, shifts from deputy legislative secretary to director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. Alice Dowdin Calvillo becomes chief deputy cabinet secretary. Margaret Fortune, a Democrat who was a key African-American advisor in the campaign and former education advisor, becomes senior advisor to the governor. Luis Portillo moves from a deputy in constituent affairs to director of constituent affairs. Michael Prosio is the new chief deputy legislative secretary, working for Kahn. And Sean Walsh shifts from head of the Office of Planning & Research to senior advisor to the governor.
Walsh is an interesting character. A former communications director for ex-Governor Pete Wilson, Walsh was a key part of the original Schwarzenegger political team. He was communications director for the Proposition 49 after school programs initiative that served as the former action superstar’s political shakedown cruise in 2002 and was part of the core group for the 2003 recall campaign, although he was one of the aides under the distinct impression that Schwarzenegger would not run for governor. As aggressive operatives are sometimes wont to do, he ran afoul of his own efforts and those of others to discredit some of Schwarzenegger’s accusers in the famous late-breaking LA Times expose of Schwarzenegger’s purported “Gropinator” persona. He went back into private consulting, but returned, not to do communications, which he’d done, but the policy shop over at OPR, a place which can be either central or political Siberia. Now he’s back in the “horseshoe,” where he was with Wilson.
One slot which is not resolved is that of the governor’s press secretary, the replacement for the just departing Margita Thompson, who was popular with the press corps. Communications director Adam Mendelsohn, with a Washington background, is known to favor an aggressive approach in the press secretary role, someone to help create and drive an ongoing narrative about Schwarzenegger and be ready to deal with critical elements. My guess, based on who is available, is that that person will come from outside of California.
It might have been Matt David, the affable but relentless deputy communications director in the Schwarzenegger campaign who drove a metronome-like storyline about defeated rival Phil Angelides and the governor. But David is one of “Arnold’s Texans,” as I call them, though actually he is from Oklahoma, a Bush campaign veteran who has all the signs of being thoroughly bitten by the campaign bug. It looks like he’s going to one of the big presidential campaigns, though he’s been consulting with the governor’s communications shop.
** DRAFT OBAMA TV AD STARTS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE. The Draft Obama for President committee starts running a TV ad next week in New Hampshire produced by Bud Jackson and John Hlinko, who did a Draft Wesley Clark ad last time around. The 60-second ad seems a little flat, not catching all the fizz around the proto-candidacy of the freshman Illinois senator. It posits a coming choice between, in the intonations of the best-selling author himself, “a politics of cynicism and a politics of hope.” Well, by all means, Senator, a politics of cynicism, of course.
Intriguingly, two of the lowest turnouts, not much than 50%, were in major partisan strongholds, Democratic Los Angeles County and Republican Orange County. You may recall a lot of caterwauling a month ago that Orange County turnout was under 40%.
** EDWARDS LEADS DATED IOWA POLL.John Edwards has a big lead in the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses, or at least had one, according to a poll conducted for Environmental Defense nearly two months ago but only released last night. Edwards had 36% to Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s 16%, Barack Obama‘s 13%, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack’s 9%, and John Kerry‘s 6%. Al Gore wasn’t included in the poll.
UPDATE: INCOMING SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID JUST HELD A PRESS AVAILABILITY AND SAID THAT HE HAS VISITED WITH TIM JOHNSON, HE IS DOING WELL, AND ALL SYSTEMS REMAIN GO FOR THE SENATE HANDOVER FROM REPUBLICANS TO DEMOCRATS.
** SENATOR’S CONDITION CONGENITAL. South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson, whose permanent absence from the U.S. Senate would likely lead to Republican retention of the body, is said now to suffer from a congenital arteriovenous malformation, rather than a stroke. Johnson underwent brain surgery last night and is in critical but stable condition in its aftermath. His recovery is likely to be lengthy. Assuming that he does survive, there is ample precedent for him to retain his seat even while he is unable to participate in the Senate.
** L.A. TIMES AND ANGELIDES.The LA Times has a story today on the infamous tapes scandal from the campaign, in which opposition researchers for defeated gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides surrreptitiously obtained audio files of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s private conversations with staff from his computer server and slipped a heavily edited version of one to the Times in hopes of jump-starting their campaign. The whole affair backfired badly on its various participants, after top Democrats defended Schwarzenegger for his mildly politically incorrect musings.
The Times article doesn’t mention the paper’s own role in the controversy. What it does go into is the fact that the state attorney general’s office doesn’t think there is a case to be made against the oppos, due to lax computer security, yet the California Highway Patrol investigation has not been closed out. The article also goes on to dribble out a bit more information on what is on those tapes, some 100 hours of which former Angelides staffers say they have in their possession. They’ve refused to actually release any tapes due to legal concerns. In this case, the dribbled information is that Schwarzenegger said some critical things about Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, insinuating this could be a problem for Schwarzenegger because the two men must work together. But Perata already knows what was said, as does Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. The actual impact of the tapes, and their big play on the front page of the Times after the Angelides campaign slipped one to the paper, was to cause the ouster of Assembly Republican Leader George Plescia, described on the tape by tart-tongued Schwarzenegger chief of staff Susan Kennedy as a dear in the headlights, or something like that.
** Track global and national energy prices in near real time via Bloomberg. Crude oil prices are up to $62 per barrel on word of a coming OPEC production cut. OPEC is said to have another 500,000 barrel a day production cut coming, starting in February. The group previously adopted a 1.2 million barrel a day production cut, which has apparently been lower in practice.
** UPDATE: SENATOR TIM JOHNSON, THE SOUTH DAKOTA DEMOCRAT, HAS JUST UNDERGONE SURGERY FOR AN UNDISCLOSED AILMENT. JOHNSON’S SPOKESPERSON SAID THAT HE DID NOT SUFFER A STROKE OR HEART ATTACK EARLIER. WHILE HIS PROGNOSIS IS AS YET UNKNOWN, THERE IS AMPLE PRECEDENT FOR SENATORS TO UNDERGO MANY MONTHS OF RECUPERATION WITHOUT GIVING UP THEIR SEATS.
** SENATOR NOT DEAD.For hours today, conservative web sites and others have been feverishly speculating about a Republican retention of the U.S. Senate after South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson became disoriented during a media conference call and ended up in the hospital. He’d had a stroke, it was reported. He was dying. Or at the least he would be incapacitated. Then Republicans would be back in power, due to South Dakota having a Republican governor with the power to appoint and Vice President Dick Cheney’s tie-breaker vote.
Such is the toxic atmosphere of American politics with the yip-yappings of talk radio, cable chattering heads, and the hyperpartisan blogosphere.
As “Marvin Lucas,” he fashioned a siren call of idealism and ambition for Robert Redford’s novice politician “Bill McKay,” guiding him into and through the process. He reels McKay, a guy he knew at Stanford and maverick son of a popular ex-California governor, into a race for U.S. Senate, telling him he he has no chance to win so he can speak the truth and say what he wants. McKay easily wins the Democratic primary on the family name and his youthful charisma, then has the reality sit-down with Boyle’s character (in the men’s room, many things in politics happen quickly in mundane circumstances), who shows him polling data indicating he’ll be blown away by the powerful Republican incumbent. “I thought I was supposed to lose,” McKay says plaintively. “Well, now I’m telling you you’ll be wiped out, humiliated,” Lucas tells McKay, who supposes he’ll just have to quit in that case. “You can’t quit,” Lucas explains patiently. “You’re the Democratic nominee for Senator.” “You make that sound like a death sentence,” exclaims McKay. Oh, but Bill, it doesn’t have to be. You see, you’re only reaching the people who already agree with you. If we just do more with TV, and say things in the right way … A great movie, and Peter Boyle’s character makes it work.
** CALI TO HOST INTERNATIONAL GLOBAL WARMING SYMPOSIUM. The California Air Resources Board will host an international symposium March 5-7 to identify existing technology to be used in reducing greenhouse gas emissions “in the near term.” The information is not yet on the web site, but it will be.
** ADVANCED NANNYISM. SMOKING IS ILLEGAL. Incoming LA area state Senator Jenny Oropeza has introduced legislation to ban smoking in California parks and on state beaches. To protect others from the possible threat of second-hand smoke. Um, Senator, parks and beaches are outdoors. The air moves around. It takes a lot of intense exposure to cigarette and cigar smoke to make a smoker sick, much less a non-smoker. I’ll never forget talking with Oropeza during the worst of California’s budget crisis, when Gray Davis was still governor and she chaired the Assembly Budget Committee. Her solution, along with other legislative Democrats, to the state having taken on unsustainable long-term spending commitments on the basis of the dot-com bubble, was to have legislative Republicans vote to increase taxes. But what if they wouldn’t go along? They just would, she insisted. They, of course, did not.
** LOCKYER APPOINTMENTS. Incoming California state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, the outgoing attorney general and former head of the California state Senate, has announced some of his executive staff appointments. They include his longtime chief of staff Steve Coony as chief deputy state treasurer. And longtime Steve Westly associate Paul Rosenstiel as the deputy state treasurer working with the financial markets.
Coony was head of a major public employees union in LA before hooking up with Lockyer. Rosenstiel is a Stanford classmate of Westly’s, serving as his campaign policy director in his near-miss bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. While he cut a modest presence at Westly’s side, usually striking observers as perhaps someone brought over from state government to the campaign, Rosenstiel was actually a high-powered San Francisco investment banker. As a partner in one of the country’s few Latino-owned firms, he handled municipal bonds around California and in much of the West.
The Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada are gearing up. Organizers are meeting Friday in Las Vegas to review and develop plans for what will be the second-in-the-nation contest for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, following the Iowa caucuses and preceding the New Hampshire primary.
Anti-climate change champion Al Gore, the former vice president, is a past Nevada winner.
Nevada Democratic Party Chairman Tom Collins yesterday announced the formation of a team to work with the Silver State’s party leaders in organizing the Nevada presidential caucuses, which on January 19th, 2008 will be the second-in-the-nation event in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, following Iowa and preceding New Hampshire. Former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Jean Hessburg will provide overall coordination for the Nevada Caucuses, assisted by former Iowa Democratic Party field director Jaysom Sime.
Three Democratic PR experts will also work on organizing the Nevada contest. Roger Salazar of the rising Acosta Salazar firm was a strong campaign press secretary for former California Governor Gray Davis’s winning 2002 re-election campaign, as well as national spokesman for John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign. A co-publisher of the Democrats’ California Majority Report web site, he’ll work with Jamal Simmons and Bill Buck, who were top aides to General Wesley Clark, former Florida Senator Bob Graham, former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, and former Vice President Al Gore.
Nevada has had presidential caucuses for years, but never in this sort of power slot, hence the emphasis on getting them organized with some people who’ve been through the process.
Expect California and Nevada to become a two-step for the party’s presidential candidates. A stop in Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area to raise money followed by a quick flight to Las Vegas or Reno for some key early campaigning.
The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses will now be followed by the Nevada caucuses, then the New Hampshire primary. Following the Granite State classic will be the South Carolina primary.
Why the changes? Long-standing concern that the party’s nomination contest was overly influenced by two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, that in no way reflect the emerging diversity of America. And that regions key to the party’s future, the West and the South, went neglected as presidential campaigns were conceptualized and structured to score early breakthroughs in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The shift west is seen as key. Democrats have become increasingly competitive in the West, not just in California.Nevada had competition for the second-in-the-nation Western slot from Arizona and, earlier on, Colorado. In the end, Nevada got the nod, in large measure because it is heavily Latino and has a major labor presence. And because Nevada has the third highest per capita population of veterans in the country. One in six Nevadans has served in the military, making it a good place to develop national security themes. Nevada also prevailed because incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada’s senior senator, wanted it, as did much of organized labor.
Arizona had the additional burdens of being substantially bigger and thus more expensive to campaign in and of being the home to Senator John McCain. If McCain is the Republican presidential nominee, as most political insiders in a new National Journal poll expect, that would essentially remove the possibility of the Democratic nominee carrying the state in the general election. Whereas Nevada — which for many years was part of “Reagan Country” — went for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. And John Kerry nearly beat George W. Bush there in 2004, losing by little more than two percent.
Nevada moving into the lead group in presidential nomination politics means that Western issues of development, water, energy, the environment, and immigration will move to the fore. And labor is happy because Nevada, contrary to its old image as an anti-labor haven, is one of the most unionized states in the country. Nearly a quarter of the state’s population is Latino, and roughly a quarter of its voters are in union households.
Democrats who’ve done especially well in past Nevada presidential caucuses include former Vice President Al Gore, former Governor and new California Attorney General Jerry Brown (twice a winner there), and former Senator Gary Hart. Each a candidate of the New South or New West.
** IT’S WILLIE TIME. Legendary Democratic power broker and bon vivant Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. will emcee the second inaugural of centrist Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger next month. Brown, who recently served eight years as mayor of a small city by a Northern California bay, had a record-setting 15-year tenure as California Assembly Speaker. His hold on legislative power in California was so pronounced that it sparked the narrowly successful term limits movement. NWN will get to the various Willie Brown-Arnold Schwarzenegger stories as the holidays approach.
Incidentally, NWN will also get back to health care. California Senate leader Don Perata introduced a proposal today that seems to require employers and (uninsured) employees to pay to provide health insurance to the uninsured. But expanding health care in California is going to be a long and winding road, on which a lot of boring analysis can be expended to little effect. Hmm, maybe Willie Brown will help with that. Not the boring analysis part.
** NEVADA PRESIDENTIAL CAUCUSES TAKING SHAPE, CALIFORNIAN SALAZAR IN KEY ROLE. Nevada Democratic Party Chairman Tom Collins has just announced the formation of a team to work with the Silver State’s party leaders in organizing the 2008 Nevada presidential caucuses, which will be the second-in-the-nation event in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, following Iowa and preceding New Hampshire. Former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Jean Hessburg will provide overall coordination for the Nevada Caucuses, assisted by former Iowa Democratic Party field director Jaysom Sime.
Three Democratic PR experts will also work on organizing the Nevada contest. Roger Salazar of the rising Acosta Salazar firm was a strong campaign press secretary for former California Governor Gray Davis‘s winning 2002 re-election campaign, as well as national spokesman for John Edwards‘ 2004 presidential campaign. A co-publisher of the Democrats’ California Majority Report web site, he’ll work with Jamal Simmons and Bill Buck, who were top aides to General Wesley Clark, former Florida Senator Bob Graham, former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, and former Vice President Al Gore.
Nevada has had presidential caucuses for years, but never in this sort of power slot, hence the emphasis on getting them organized with some people who’ve been through the process. I have some fun Nevada stories for the future, including winning there with Gary Hart and many years later spraining my knee in the Vegas airport on Valentine’s Day after covering John Kerry, but we’ll put those off for now.
** NATIONAL JOURNAL INSIDERS PICK CLINTON AND MCCAIN. The National Journal poll of political insiders overwhelmingly picks New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arizona Senator John McCain as the favorites to win the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations. Two-thirds of Democratic insiders think Clinton will win the Democratic nomination. Over 70% think McCain will win the Republican nomination. Among Democrats, Clinton is trailed by Illinois Senator Barack Obama, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, former Vice President Al Gore and others. Among Republicans, McCain is trailed by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and others.
It’s striking that Giuliani is so lowly rated, since in polls he has to be rated a co-frontrunner with McCain among Republicans. But the insiders have doubts about his running, and feel that if he does run his New York background will cause trouble for him in Republican primaries. Interestingly, Republican insiders seem to think that Clinton has a good chance of winning the presidency.
Of course, insiders are not exactly always right. Last year, this poll had outgoing Virginia Senator George Allen as the insider favorite for the Republican nomination. And it ranked him second earlier this year. Allen, of course, got into big trouble running for re-election, losing in the end to former U.S. Navy Secretary and Vietnam War hero James Webb.
** GRITTY CASINO ROYALE‘S GLOBAL TAKE. The much grittier and darker new Bond film, Casino Royale, is doing roaringly well around the world. After just three-and-a-half weeks in release, the Daniel Craig-starrer has grossed $375.5 million in global box office. That puts it in the Top 100 of all-time, at number 92.Casino Royale has already passed three of the four Pierce Brosnan Bond films, which were very successful. While the film is doing extremely well in the US, nearly two-thirds of its take comes from foreign markets. It’s already the highest grossing Bond film in Britain.
This is probably of great interest to the guy who is perhaps California’s number one Bond fan, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former action superstar did his own version of a Bond film, True Lies, which opened with an homage to Goldfinger, replete with Schwarzenegger emerging from the water in a wet suit with a tux underneath. Actually, True Lies is about to be passed on the all-time global box office list by Casino Royale. Schwarzenegger has three films in the Top 100, Terminator 2, Terminator 3, and True Lies.
A get out the vote operation is effective only on the margins. If you are in a close race, it can make the difference. This is why Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger raised $20 million for it, anticipating at the beginning of this year that he would be in a close race against a Democratic candidate. Which of course did not happen. The point is, unless a candidate is right there in the ballpark in a close race, GOTV doesn’t make much difference. Aside from Schwarzenegger and new Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, the moderate Silicon Valley entrepreneur, California Republicans simply don’t have many good candidates. I’ll get into this more at another time.
** COURT ORDER OR NO?The LA Times says that a federal judge has ordered the Schwarzenegger administration to immediately reduce prison overcrowding or face mandatory releases. The San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee say that advocates of mandatory releases were disappointed. What actually happened is that Judge Lawrence Karlton punted, for six months, saying the court will revisit the question in the middle of next year and might consider actions at that time. The court has not imposed a population cap. It’s pretty hard to see a court taking the action that prisoner rights advocates want.
** Track global and national energy prices in near real time via Bloomberg. Crude oil prices have risen slightly above $61 per barrel on word that OPEC may institute more production cuts at its December 14th meeting in Nigeria. But producing countries appear pretty happy with $60 per barrel, and Bloomberg says the last oil production cut has turned out to be less than half the amount publicly agreed to.
** GORE’S GLOBAL WARMING HOUSE PARTIES. He may not be running for president, or maybe he is, but the winner of the national popular vote in the 2000 presidential race, former Vice President Al Gore, is sponsoring what he and allied groups like the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, and MoveOn.org hope will be thousands of house parties around the country on global warming this coming Saturday. They’ll all watch Gore’s documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, and talk about how to pressure Congress and other leaders for action to curtail the emission of greenhouse gases.
An Inconvenient Truth sold well over a million DVDs in its first week of release. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger described it last spring as one of the most important movies he’s seen.
Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential frontrunner, and independent Senator Joe Lieberman, Gore’s 2000 running mate, co-sponsored a bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the last Congress.
Westly, who narrowly lost the Democratic primary for governor to eventual nominee Phil Angelides, despite the fact that Westly ran much better in the polls against Schwarzenegger and had far more resources, has good polling numbers and may well take another shot at high office. He’ll be announcing his personal plans in the near future.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has an intelligence problem. Her pick for the crucial chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, Texas Congressman Silvestre Reyes, turned out not to know basic facts about Al Qaeda, facts that most well-informed newspaper readers would know.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s victory speech.
Pelosi picked Reyes because she clashes with the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, LA Congresswoman Jane Harman, who is widely recognized as an intelligence expert. Her alternate pick, Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, though backed by the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, proved to be untenable on account of his having been one of the few federal judges impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate for malfeasance in office. (Both the House and Senate were controlled by fellow Democrats when it occurred, in 1989, on overwhelming votes.)
Many suggested that Pelosi go back to Harman or go off the committee to find an intelligence chair. But Pelosi disdained Harman for her early, along with most of the country, backing of the Iraq War, even though Harman has become quite critical of the Iraq policy. The two don’t get along.
Besides, in the way of internal Democratic politics, if she could not please one constituency, African Americans, she could please another, Latinos. So she went with Reyes, by most accounts an affable fellow and a champion of liberal immigration policies.
I’ve been reporting that Reyes, a Texas Democrat who was in the Border Patrol for 27 years, is not, shall we say, highly regarded among foreign policy and intelligence experts. A “timeserver” on the committee, as I quoted one intelligence expert on a few occasions.
Chairman Reyes does not know the religious makeup of Al Qaeda. Nor does he know the makeup of Hezbollah, which merely fought a war with Israel earlier this year. He actually believed that Al Qaeda includes Sunnis and Shiites, the two fundamental rival sects of Islam. Actually, he thought Al Qaeda is mostly Shiite, which is not only wrong, but horribly wrong. A Shiite would not last long in Al Qaeda. (They’re Sunnis, of course, which is why so many of the 9/11 bombers were Saudis. Iran is Shiite, which is why the Saudis say they may intervene when the US withdraws from Iraq.) For someone who has spent years — or “served time,” as my source had it weeks ago as he typed the congressman as a typical political hack — on the House Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, to have this level of ignorance is astounding.
“It’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories,” Reyes said, somewhat plaintively.
Harman may be a brusque at times, and undoubtedly reminded Pelosi on more than a few occasions of her intellectual credentials, but even when she is wrong, she knows what she is talking about. And, unlike Pelosi’s first alternative to Harman, Alcee Hastings, she didn’t lose a federal judgeship for malfeasance in office.
Then there is the matter of Reyes’ views. Pelosi’s position has been to back a fairly prompt pullout from Iraq. Hence her failed championing of Congressman John Murtha for House majority leader. Murtha criticized the Iraq Study Group report for keeping a major American presence — albeit not a combat presence — in Iraq.
At a Saturday speech in San Francisco, Pelosi said her first priority would be to bring the troops out of Iraq. But Reyes seems to be going in another direction. It turns out that, although he voted against the Iraq War, he actually now says that he favors sending tens of thousands of additional US troops into Iraq to disarm the various militias. How this is at all coherent with where Pelosi and Murtha are — and ironically, this places Reyes well to the right of the disdained Harman on Iraq — is completely unclear.
Then there is the matter of Reyes and family ties to a major government contractor providing national security services.
Reyes, of course, voted against the 700-mile border fence enacted in the last Congress and signed into law by President Bush. Instead, he backs the “virtual fence” idea. By an odd coincidence, the new House Intelligence Committee chairman’s daughter is vice president of contracts for a firm that provides these surveillance services. The firm won a huge government contract that, according to the Washington Post, was poorly performed. Reyes’ son also has worked for the firm.
** 35 TO 24. (No, not the Saints-Cowboys score, that ended up 42-17.) Just 35 days till the season premiere of the official NWN show, 24. Should I spoil the DVD prequel of what happens in between last season and the next?
** WHY JANE HARMAN WAS THE BEST CHOICE FOR HOUSE INTEL CHAIR. I’ve been reporting that incoming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat who was in the Border Patrol for 27 years, is not, shall we say, highly regarded among foreign policy and intelligence experts. A “timeserver” on the committee, as I quoted one intelligence expert on a few occasions.
Chairman Reyes does not know the religious makeup of Al Qaeda. Nor does he know the makeup of Hezbollah. He actually believed that Al Qaeda includes Sunnis and Shiites, the two fundamental rival sects of Islam. Actually, he thought Al Qaeda is mostly Shiite, which is not only wrong, but horribly wrong. (They’re Sunnis, of course, which is why so many of the 9/11 bombers were Saudis. Iran is Shiite, which is why the Saudis say they may intervene when the US withdraws from Iraq.) For someone who has spent years — or “served time,” as my source had it weeks ago as he typed the congressman as a typical political hack — on the House Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services Committee — to have this level of ignorance is astounding.
LA Congresswoman Jane Harman may be a brusque pain in the butt at times, and undoubtedly reminded incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on more than a few occasions of her intellectual credentials, but even when she is wrong, she knows what she is talking about. And, unlike Pelosi’s first alternative to Harman, Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, she didn’t lose a federal judgeship for malfeasance in office.
Of course, let’s not forget that outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was shocked by the guerilla war in Iraq, the very existence of which he denied for months. And all the other misjudgments that have led us to this preposterous situation.
** OBAMA DAY IN NEW HAMPSHIRE. Media sensation Barack Obama, the freshman Illinois senator who has vaulted into the top ranks of presidential prospects, makes a highly-anticipated trip today to New Hampshire, the legendary early primary state. Along with a few thousand activists, 150 to 200 media reps are expected to be on hand as he signs copies of his best-selling book, “The Audacity of Hope,” and then speaks to a crowd of state Democrats celebrating last month’s Democratic victories.
On the strength of his polished and rousing keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama has emerged as a major player in national Democratic politics. But is he for real, or is he someone famous for being famous?
He runs a distant second to Hillary Rodham Clinton in national Democratic polls, roughly tied with John Edwards and Al Gore, the latter of whom may not be running. But he has the buzz.
One major politician who I know quite a few NWN readers like thinks he is for real. He does make an impressive impression. Yet he was a state legislator less than two years ago. He’s never been in a real, competitive statewide race, much less a national campaign. Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate in mostly blue Illiniois. His first Republican opponent, millionaire Jack Ryan, was forced to drop out when records of his divorce with Star Trek star Jeri Ryan, a former Miss Illinois, were revealed. He was alleged to have forced her to go to live sex clubs with him, where of course he allegedly wanted her to perform. Ryan dropped out of the race. The Republicans then imported right-winger Alan Keyes from Maryland to run against him. It’s safe to say Obama’s never been in a real campaign.
Then there’s the question of expertise. Would America elect a president with so little national security credentials in such a dangerous time? And, of course, the biggest elephant in the room. Obama is African-American.
But he’s a very smart guy — first black president of the Harvard Law Review (I suspect he knows the difference between Sunni and Shia) — and a lot of people are excited.
** FOR ARNOLD, GOOD NEWS AND NOT SO GOOD NEWS. In good news for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, state appelate court justices have upheld a lower court ruling that there are no limits on contributions to candidate-controlled committees promoting or opposing ballot measures. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission had tried to limit contributions to Schwarzenegger’s political committee pushing initiatives in 2005 to what was then the limit on contributions to his own election committee, $22,300. But a Sacramento Superior Court judge disagreed with the commission. The appelate court decision upholds that ruling and grants Schwarzenegger continued flexibility as he pursues his agendas. He can’t raise much now for his gubernatorial campaign committee as he is now prohibited by the state’s term limits law from running again for governor.
Did Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger turn a serious warning about the Devil among us into mere Hollywood entertainment?
In more mixed news, a self-published author who had claimed that Schwarzenegger’s movie End of Days was based on a premise stolen from him may get his book back on the market. The publisher had taken the tome, “The Devil’s Reign,” off the market because of several offending passages. The movie, as I’m sure you know, is about a deeply troubled, alcoholic ex-New York cop tellingly named “Jericho Cane” (hey, he once played a Southern sheriff, this is far more believable) who saves the world at the Millennium by protecting a virgin, impersonated by the estimable Robin Tunney, from impregnation by the Devil, who comes to earth in the guise of a slick investment banker played by Gabriel Byrne, the event which would bring about the apocalypse or end of days or something like that. (Action movie theology is not my strong suit.) The author of the self-published book who believes his unique premise was stolen had developed his movie idea after decades of discerning the presence of the devil among us. His purpose in pursuing the movie idea was to warn the world.
** A VERY POPULAR JOB OPENING: SADDAM’S EXECUTIONER. Hundreds of Iraqis have applied for the job of executioner of Saddam Hussein. The former dictator is slated for death by hanging. The government considered having a public execution in a stadium, but realized it would present a tempting target for guerilla attacks. The event will be photographed, of course, and a videographer will record it for later showing on Iraqi TV news. How much do you want to bet that becomes a very popular Internet video item?
** IRANIAN ELECTIONS UPCOMING. Iranian election coming up at the end of next week. On December 15th, Iranian voters will select the new national Assembly of Experts and local elected officials. The Assembly of Experts selects and oversees Iran’s Supreme Leader, currently the ailing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. We can safely say that Iranian electoral politics is not the strongest suit of New West Notes, but NWN will be delving into it. In the somewhat murky, to say the least, internal politics of the Islamic republic, the Supreme Leader is the highest ranking religious and political figure in the country, essentially the head of state. The President, everyone’s favorite fanatic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is the head of government.
** AN INTEGRATIONIST IMMIGRATION POLICY. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a great friend of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, has just made a major immigration policy statement. While Blair says he continues to support multiculturalism, immigrants to Britain are now to pass an English test and agree to integrate into British culture. “We protect this attitude,” Blair said of multiculturalism, “by defending it. Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain. So conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed.” The government will crack down on the introduction of religious law and forced marriages and discourage the wearing of veils.
London, not surprising for the former seat of the late British Empire, may be the most multicultural capital city on the planet. But it was hit with a major Islamic terrorist bombing, and lately has been the scene for some very odd Russian spy games.
** MEANWHILE, IN THE OTHER WAR … British Royal Marines a few days ago were driven out of a valley in Southern Afghanistan by a Taliban counterattack. Even air strikes weren’t enough to allow the Brits to hold the position. Guerilla activity is on the rise around Afghanistan, including large formations of Taliban fighters, following a series of suicide bombings in the cities earlier this year. Taliban and key Al Qaeda cadre continue to operate out of Pakistan, a situation which has remained unresolved for years.
Bush had 31% support for his Iraq policy at the time of last month’s election. Now support is down to 27%. Just 9% believe that the end result in Iraq will be victory. 87% expect some sort of a compromise. Most do not expect a stable democratic government in Iraq.
71% support a two-year time line for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. 60% support a six-month timeline for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The poll was conducted Monday through Wednesday of this week.
** REACTION FORMATION. The cadre of believers in the Iraq policy has reacted vehemently against the report of the Iraq Study Group. Hysteria seldom gets more intense than the “Surrender Monkeys” cover of yesterday’s New York Post. It’s been a very rugged month for the believers. The loss of both houses of Congress by the Republicans, the firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the further descent into chaos of Iraq itself, the pilgrimages of Iraqi leaders to Iran, President George W. Bush‘s subsequent failed summit in Jordan, the announcement of British intentions to withdraw most of their remaining forces, the appointment and swift confirmation of former CIA Director Bob Gates as defense secretary, the scathing assessment of the Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission for its co-chairmen, former Secretary of State and Reagan White House chief of staff James Baker and former House Intelligence Chairman Lee Hamilton.
In California, voter sentiment was overwhelmingly against the war in the November election. That’s true nationally, as well, as is obvious from the national election results. Nothing that has happened over the past month will have changed the direction of public opinion. That doesn’t mean the country wants an immediate withdrawal, even though it has turned against the war.