British Prime Minister Tony Blair steps down from the prime ministership tomorrow after over 10 creative and tumultuous years in office. He met today with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at 10 Downing Street. Here is his speech last month in which he announces his intentions and steps away as head of the Labour Party.
** BLAIR SLATED FOR MIDDLE EAST ENVOY POST AMIDST CONTINUING DISARRAY IN U.S. POLICY ON THE REGION. Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair is slated to serve as the special envoy for the Middle East on behalf of the so-called Quartet of international powers seeking a peaceful solution in the region — America, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. The announcement may come as soon as tomorrow. When it does, Blair is expected to stand down as member of Parliament for the Sedgefield constituency. In addition to being the longest serving Labour prime minister in British history, at more than 10 years, Blair has also served in the British parliament for 24 years, being first elected at the age of 30.
Of the four Quartet members, Russia was least enthusiastic, with the major push for Blair coming from the US and EU. Ironically, Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin got on very well in the beginning. But major strains have emerged lately. London is a world center of Russian emigres, especially of the super-rich kind. Substantial criticism of Moscow emanates from the emigre community. And London was the location of a spectacular murder of a Putin critic. British authorities later identified former Soviet agents as prime suspects in the murder, but Russia is stonewalling the investigation. In addition, Russia has just essentially seized a large natural gas field back from BP (the former British Petroleum), which is going along with its reduction to minority owner in a bid to keep doing business in the country.
Meanwhile, with the politics around Blair’s appointment seemingly settled, US policy in the Middle East becomes more unsettled by the day. The victory of Hamas in the Gaza Strip wreck’s Bush’s play in Palestine, and points up the weakness of the Palestinian and Israeli leadership with whom Blair has to work. Both camps like Blair, but if they can’t deliver anything, he’s not off to a flying start.
And the giant elephant in the room, the ever evolving US policy in Iraq, already deeply unpopular in America, just received two more body blows with two senior Republican senators calling for a US exit plan. Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, the highly respected former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Ohio Senator George Voinovich have both just labeled the Bush surge strategy a loser in real world politics.
Voinovich, incidentally, is also the former governor of Ohio, the state which barely granted Bush re-election in 2004. And many years ago, Voinovich began his rise into big-time national politics by winning election as mayor of Cleveland. Who did he beat for the office? One Dennis Kucinich, now the anti-war firebrand congressman running a quixotic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, then the “boy mayor” of Cleveland.
** FRED THOMPSON LOOKS OVER LIKELY CAMPAIGN LOCALE, DEFENDS LOBBYIST HISTORY. Back from his own British tour last week, where he sought the favor of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a lasting conservative icon from the Reagan era, former Senator and Law & Order star Fred Thompson is on the hustings in the US this week, hitting his home state of Tennessee. There in Nashville, he looked over a prospective campaign headquarters in Nashville and holds a fundraiser tonight. He also answered questions about his lucrative past as a lobbyist, which seems at odds with his positioning as a pickup-driving, plain-speaking populist outsider. Thompson lobbied for the savings & loan industry, a failed nuclear power project, and a British asbestos company. He explained it by saying that government is so intrusive that people need lobbyists.
I’m not sure that answer works all too well. As Democratic candidate John Edwards is learning with regard to his work for a hedge fund while advocating for the poor. Meanwhile, Thompson’s emergence, showing the very unsettled nature of the Republican race following the popular collapse of the Bush presidency, has taken the form of a strong second in most national polls, new leads in the early states of Nevada and South Carolina, and signs that he is moving into second in Iowa.
** CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN TROUBLES: THE GROVER NORQUIST FACTOR. In an op-ed piece in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Republican National Committee member Tim Morgan, the sole vote on the state party’s board against hiring Australian citizen Michael Kamburowski, decries the lack of thorough review in his appointment by state Republican chairman Ron Nehring as the party’s top staffer. Morgan says he was slated to head up a search effort for what is in essence an executive director but that new state chairman Ron Nehring immediately short-circuited the process.
He also mentions that controversial Washington conservative power broker Grover Norquist came to California to help Kamburowski get the post, appearing before state party board members. Jon Fleischman, proprietor of the conservative Republican Flash Report web site and Southern California vice chairman of the party, says the decision was taken in a conference call, and that Norquist was not on the call. But he confirms that Norquist came in to California on Kamburowski’s behalf.
“Grover was out,” Fleischman told me this morning, “and traveled with Ron and Michael around California to meet with folks,” talking with key Republicans just prior to the decision.
Who is Grover Norquist? He is the former employer of both Nehring and Kamburowski, who worked on Norquist projects in the 1990s. Nehring is no longer on Norquist’s staff, but he does have Norquist as a client of his new consulting firm.
Wall Street Journal editorial board member John Fund says that Norquist is at the hub of conservative politics in Washington, D.C. He was a co-author of Newt Ginggrich’s “Contract With America.” He has a web of issue-related groups. He is a longtime friend and close associate of disgraced influence peddler Jack Abramoff, having run Abramoff’s campaign to be head of the national College Republicans back in the day. More recently, Norquist, according to reports, ran funds from Abramoff clients through his issue-related groups.
A key Norquist quote: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
** BILL CLINTON MAKES THE PITCH. In a missive to supporters and other interested parties, former President Bill Clinton just tossed a big pitch for his wife’s presidential campaign. I hope you enjoyed the Sopranos spoof Hillary and I did last week. Campaigns should be fun, but they are also serious business — especially now. … America is ready for change, and we need a president ready to lead on day one. …
Hillary can be a great president, but she needs your support to win. And she needs it now as we come down to the wire in the last critical days of this quarter. Come June 30, all the campaigns will be measured on what they raised in the last three months. We have to raise more online before then to show her strength and keep her campaign going.
The fact is, our opponents may very well outraise us — and we can’t afford to lose momentum now. …
** EDWARDS LAUNCHES NEW HAMPSHIRE TV AD, COULTER WISHES HE’D “BEEN KILLED IN A TERRORIST ASSASSINATION PLOT.” John Edwards, who has previously advertised in Iowa, launches a new TV ad today in New Hampshire, saying it’s time to ask Americans to be patriotic about something other than a war. Meanwhile, right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, whose favorable treatment by Fox News in the wake of her calling Edwards a “faggot” at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington did much to cost the network a scheduled Democratic presidential debate, told ABC’s Good Morning America yesterday that she’s learned her lesson about talking trash about Edwards and will henceforth merely hope he is killed in a terrorist attack. Two things occur. Why is ABC sullying its air with this harridan? And why does no one get her some help?
** SCHWARZENEGGER AND BLAIR CONFAB IS P.M.’S LAST IN OFFICE. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his friend, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, met early today at 10 Downing Street in London reviewing the state of play on climate change and other issues, holding a press conference, and conducting a roundtable with The Climate Group of top British executives before touring an energy efficient school. It was, Blair’s office announced, the final official visit for Blair during his more than 10 year tenure as Britain’s prime minister, as well as his last press conference in office. Blair steps down tomorrow as prime minister.
Last year, he and Schwarzenegger held several meetings in California as the former action movie superstar made plans for the state’s greenhouse gas reduction program. Later, Blair participated live by satellite when Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez’s landmark climate change bill in a dramatic ceremony on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
This morning in London, Schwarzenegger praised Britain under Blair for helping show the way for California in reducing greenhouse gas emissions while growing the British economy. He praised Blair for his impending appointment as international envoy for the Middle East — a post for which the outgoing prime minister has reportedly been approved by the Quartet group of the US, UN, European Union, and Russia — but mock lamented that Blair could not play a similar role with regard to the global greenhouse effect.
I’ll have a full report on this tomorrow, when Blair steps down as prime minister.
** REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE SET FOR WEEK BEFORE CALIFORNIA PRIMARY. The Reagan Library outside Los Angeles will host another Republican presidential debate at the end of January, just days before California and several other states hold primaries on February 5th. The event will be cablecast on CNN and co-sponsored by The Politico and the Los Angeles Times.
** MORE TROUBLE FOR CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS. The embarrassing flap over their party’s appointment of a seemingly unqualified fellow with a background of serious immigration problems as their top staffer hits page three of today’s Washington Post.
Describing the state party as “marginalized” by its ideological estrangment from the successful centrism of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the article quotes former state Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte: “They either failed to do due diligence and therefore did not know, not only about his citizenship status but the pending lawsuit, or they did know and didn’t care. Either their process is broken or their judgment is off.”
** AL QAEDA’S AMERICAN PRISONERS STILL NOT LOCATED. American troops are now in the midst of a 45th day of searching for the remaining two US soldiers captured by Al Qaeda in an ambush south of Baghdad. They have had no luck so far. A video put out by Al Qaeda forces in Iraq claims that all three men were executed after being captured. But, with the exception of the Californian found floating in the Euphrates River, that claim can’t be confirmed. The US high command in Baghdad has revealed that ID cards for the other two American prisoners were found in an Al Qaeda safehouse on June 9th.
** Track global and national energy prices in near real time via Bloomberg. Most crude oil prices are in the $68 to $69 per barrel range.
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